Monday, June 17, 2019

Sketches from Montreal and Quebec City

My husband Fred and I were in Canada last week for a real honest-to-goodness vacation. No teaching for me or work for him, just a chance to relax and enjoy some time together in a place that neither of us had visited before.

I debated about taking a sketch kit along. I'm feeling burdened lately by all the unfinished travel journals I have - I'm a person who likes to tie up loose ends and complete projects, so it's weighing on my mind that I haven't had a chance to complete my sketchbooks yet from Greece, Sicily, Sweden, and Spain. I didn't want to add to my frustration by starting another travel journal that I wouldn't be able to complete during our trip, so I decided on a different approach. I would eliminate the watercolors from my usual travel sketching process and simply draw.

5" x 7" Earthbound sketchbook from Cheap Joe's Art Stuff

I bought a pretty new journal from Cheap Joe's to try out. It's an "Earthbound" coptic-bound journal with an embossed leather cover. The sketchbook is filled with 90-lb textured handmade acid-free paper made from recycled cotton. I just loved the look of it, and even though the paper is only 90 lb, I figured I could make it work if I decided to use it for watercolor at some point. And for drawing during my Canada trip, it would be just fine.

The sketchbook has 100 pages!


I also had a new fountain pen I was anxious to try. It's the Himalaya fountain pen with steel ultra-flex nib from Fountain Pen Revolution. I was excited about it, because it has a super flexible nib that gives lines of varying widths when sketching or writing.

Isn't it pretty? :)

I took along a brand new bottle of Rohrer & Klingner SketchINK, color Lilly, to fill it with, and also threw a couple of trusty Pitt pens and Pigma Microns into my bag, just in case the new pen didn't work out. Hmmm, a new sketchbook, new pen, and new ink - never tested - never tried before...I'm nothing if not daring!

We flew into Montreal and spent three days there before moving on to Quebec City. The historic district of Old Montreal was our first stop, and the Notre-Dame Basilica, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, was the subject of my first sketch of the day. I loved the intricate wood carvings and painted patterns on the ceiling, walls, and columns and, during a 30-minute guided tour, I decided to seize the moment and sketch the complex altar that fills the front of the basilica. Our group was seated in pews while our tour guide talked, so I pulled out my sketchbook and dove right in. Each time she led us to another area of the church, I positioned myself so I could still see the altar, and I kept right on working. It was kind of crazy to even attempt to draw the elaborate altar, but I wanted to at least capture an impression of the intricacy of the design. My drawing may not be technically accurate, but I think it succeeds in capturing the feel of the place and my emotional reaction to it, and that's what's most important in sketching on location.

We took a mid-morning coffee break at a cafe directly across the street from another historic church, Notre-Dame de Bonsecours, and I sketched the top of the bell tower while enjoying a cappuccino and a slice of warm carrot cake. Lettering was added later at home.

We visited Chinatown, and I sketched the Chinese gate while Fred browsed through some shops. Total time for this sketch was only about 15-20 minutes, making it easy to squeeze into our day. (Lettering was added later.)

I had been having problems with my new fountain pen on all these sketches. The ink wasn't flowing well and it kept skipping, then sometimes, if I used more pressure, it would let out too much ink which would feather and bleed on the soft Earthbound paper. I became increasingly frustrated with it. I'm not sure if it was the ink, the paper, or the pen, but I finally gave up and used my reliable Sailor Fude fountain pen for this next sketch. I'll try the Himalaya pen with a different ink and paper at some point and see if it performs better.

Montreal has a wonderful botanical garden, Jardin Botanique, which features 190 acres of thematic gardens and greenhouses. It was my favorite spot in Montreal.We spent the entire day there exploring different themed gardens, and before we left I did a quick sketch of the "Flowery Brook" area, a meadow with curving beds of annuals and perennials punctuated by soaring trees and flowering shrubs. What a treat, to sit there amidst all that beauty and draw just for the fun of it.

The next day we left for Quebec City. It was a gorgeous day and the 3-hour drive took us through vast stretches of farmland. I sketched this from the car while Fred drove, combining pieces of farm scenes that we passed along the way into one sketch.

We both loved the European feel of the old town area of Quebec. It felt just like a quaint French village - in fact, it seemed more French than France! There were fewer signs in English than I saw when I visited Paris and Provence. But almost everyone spoke English, so it was easy to communicate. The people were welcoming and friendly, and the town itself is beautiful, with old stone city walls, a citadel, historic homes and churches, and even a castle! (The Chateau Frontenac)

There's a wide wooden promenade in front of the Chateau Frontenac It's a perfect spot for strolling, people watching, and taking in the views of the St. Lawrence River. On our first evening in town, we walked down through town to see the castle, then sat for awhile on the Dufferin Terrace, watching the ferries going back and forth across the river. I pulled out my sketchbook and started a drawing of the elaborate teal green wrought iron railing that edges the terrace.

The next morning, we had breakfast on the top floor of our hotel where we had a perfect view of Old Quebec (Vieux-Quebec). Feeling relaxed, and with no particular agenda for our day, I decided to get a second cappuccino and try to sketch the view out the window, or at least a small part of it. I did a pencil sketch first to get things blocked in, then grabbed my trusty Pitt pen (size S) to ink the drawing. Little by little, one building or tree at a time, the whole thing came together like magic. I was pretty tickled with the outcome. All told, it took about an hour from start to finish.

On our last morning, Fred went on a guided tour of the fort and I went sketching. This cute cafe had been tugging at me ever since I first saw it. This was my chance to sit for an hour and finally draw it. I wish you could see the vibrant colors I saw that day: golden walls, bright green awnings, yellow and purple flowers, and red, white, and blue flags. But I'm leaving this sketch and all the others in my Montreal/Quebec travel journal unpainted. I'm trying to be satisfied with the line drawings I did and not feel like they are "less than" because they don't have color.

Giving myself permission to draw without feeling obligated to add watercolor felt very freeing. I liked knowing that I could quickly complete a page onsite in 15-60 minutes. I captured some memories of our trip together without taking too much time out of our days. But the truth is, as much as I like these drawings, I can't help thinking how much better they would look with watercolor. I'm just a fiend for color!


  1. I'm so glad you got good weather when you were in Quebec City. We've had darn little of it thus far so consider yourself lucky. I love your way of quickly capturing some of the sights of Quebec. I wish I had those abilities.

    Lest people get the wrong idea, while you can generally find English-speakers inside the tourist area of Quebec, once you get beyond those tourist areas, you will find it to be near 100% French. It's actually against the law to have English-only signs in the province.

    If you ever come back, let me know. We can go sketching together.

    1. Hi Larry - it would have been so nice to finally meet you! It didn't cross my mind that you lived there. I'd love to return some day, and I'll definitely get in touch beforehand to set up a sketching get-together.

  2. These are beautiful sketches, Leslie. What a great sense of satisfaction you must feel to come home with exquisite pen and ink memories of your vacation that are complete in and of themselves. Although, I do understand what you’re saying about the itch to add paint—as I was reading, I myself kept picturing each scene with your special style of watercolor added to them.

    I hope another paper or ink will be a better match for your gorgeous new pen. I’ve heard the R&K SketchINK is on the dry side.

    I had to smile about Fred’s 15-minute "browse" through the shops. Sounds more like a whirlwind run-through to me!

  3. Fred knows I'm a speed sketcher, and he usually times his return pretty well. Just when I'm starting to think, "Well, that's about it.", he shows up!

  4. Your work inspires me to sketch more. Color/paint later. I love Quebec City and Vieux Quebec. You captured it perfectly!


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