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Saint Patrick Preserve Us!

March 23, 2015


This past Sunday was Montreal’s St. Patrick’s day parade. Unfortunately for us, it was an inhospitable -8 C / 18 F. I heard someone say the wind chill rating was -17 /1. Not a great day for a parade.

But, somehow, St. Pat brings out the Fighting Irish in all of Montreal.

15Mar23_St_Patricks_Day_Parade_03[I liked the Hat Sellers working the crowds]

Thousands of parade watchers were somehow willing to gather, muffled to the eyes in many cases, to tough out the cold in the pre-parade street party. I was surprised how early the crowds gathered, and what a great time everyone seemed to be having.


The parade marchers were even more heroic – the girls in Irish dancing costumes had to face the weather in skirts and tights. The marching bands had to be in uniform, no scarves for them. I imagine the people in giant padded mascot suits were the only ones warm enough that day.


These sketches are a testimony to the power of Urban Sketchers as a drawing club – as in, the great value it has for your own motivation. If I had not set a time to meet the other sketchers on the street I’d probably have given up. But I had made plans to get these drawings, so freezing wind be damned, I was going to draw.

It’s also evidence of another theory of mine – that the hardships of drawing on location actually make the drawings better.  It was necessary to work at great speed. Not just because the marchers were moving at a clip, or that your portrait subjects were constantly vanishing in the crowd – but because as soon as you open your pen, a countdown begins.

[Red Hats invade the Green Hats!]

In moments, the ink begins to stiffen up, and your fingers begin to hurt. Soon the pains are sharp enough you can’t ignore. You have to tough it out to the end of the drawing, and then get your hands back into your coat. Great motivation to make the fastest drawing possible! (I was not wearing adequate gloves. I had read online to try latex gloves as liners for knitted mitts. Don’t try this. It does not work in the slightest).

But either way, difficult conditions really help you make decisive drawings! You’ll find yourself making the swiftest observations. It’s amazing how it changes your work – towards the more aggressive, more spontaneous line.


Just look at this sketch of the fellow wrapped in the Irish flag –  I think it’s one of my best drawings ever. You can’t make this kind of drawing at leisure. At home, in the studio, you just aren’t stressed enough to kick into ‘survival sketching mode’.

For people taking my Sketching People in Motion online class – these are done directly with the pen. No time for the pencil scribbles underneath that I demo in class. Not to say what I teach in the video is invalid, just that the Pencil > Pen > Brush method is a good way to learn, and when you’re ready, you can go ‘all in’. The color, by the way, was done afterwards in the cafe. You can’t watercolor in a sketchbook in the cold. The paint simply won’t dry, and you can’t turn the page to carry on.


You might notice a bit of extra excitement in the line work – even beyond what came from the harsh drawing situation. This was my first test run with a Noodler’s Creaper. Their so-called ‘Flex Nib’.

I have to say it’s not as flexible as a dip nib – but it’s closer than I’ve had in a conventional Lamy or Platinum pen.

I have one minor complaint about The Creaper – the built-in ink filling system. It’s an old fashioned design where you stick the whole pen nose down into the ink bottle and twist the back end to vacuum up ink.

It’s mechanically sound – fills just fine – but there is a flaw.

If you stick the cap on the back of the pen while drawing – trying to fidget it off later causes you to turn the filling mechanism and squirt ink out of the pen. I was lucky to avoid ruining a drawing.  The other downside is, you can’t fill this pen if the ink level is your bottle is lower than the full length of the nib and feed. Whereas a cartridge-style ink filling gadget can get suction on the ink, even with only a few mils left in the bottle. Minor complaints – but there you go.

So far, the drawing feel of this pen is quite good, so I’m going to keep it for a while and report more as I go.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2015 1:06 PM

    I am amazed and impressed that you got those drawings done in those bitter temperatures. Well done!

  2. Mary Warren permalink
    March 23, 2015 1:09 PM

    What a wonderful posting! I felt as if I was watching the parade with oyu and learned so much from your commentary. Thanks for sharing this…especially for us timid newbies!

  3. March 23, 2015 1:19 PM

    WOW. I am always amazed at what you’re able to accomplish in cold weather! SO expressive.

    FWIW: in a fountain pen, what you’re describing is a piston filler. Most folks who are nuts about fountain pens don’t consider it old fashioned – it’s preferred! Piston fillers are usually preferred for the larger ink capacity over a converter.

    Thanks for another awesome post!

  4. Noel R. permalink
    March 23, 2015 2:37 PM

    I don’t know if I’d be able to survive drawing in the cold. As a Florida girl in Ohio, I have trouble enough just walking to my car in the winter!

    About the flex pen–have you tried a Pilot (Namiki) Falcon? It’s several times the cost of the Creaper, of course, but I recently managed to buy one, and its flex is definitely superior, and in general it’s a very smooth pen. I have the soft fine nib, which I find gives me a good range of thin to thick without getting *very* thick (which is a personal thing–I don’t like very thick lines).

    Thanks for showing these images! I’m heading out to sewing expo this weekend for work, and I’m planning to sit down and sketch people at the convention center (though I’m totally nervous about it). I’ll definitely be practicing speed that day.

    • March 23, 2015 3:13 PM

      Dang. I may end up buying a lot of Asian pens when I’m in Singapore. I keep hearing about their great kit.

      • Noel R. permalink
        March 25, 2015 11:20 AM

        They are rather good–probably because they’re designed for drawing non-roman letters. If you don’t find a Falcon to try in Singapore, they do have them at Goulet Pens.

  5. Richard Hall permalink
    March 23, 2015 5:45 PM

    I have been watching your Craftsy class Sketching People in Motion, it a very informative class. Here is my situation. I am brand new to drawing and sketching, a real newbie/beginner. I have no clue how draw people but want to learn to become an Urban Sketcher. Where should I begin. I have been watching a lot of stuff on you tube about figure drawing, not sure how to actually start. Any suggestions. I am pretty with photo manipulation, but can only draw some basic shapes. HELP!!

    Sent from my iPad Richard Hall 213.258.9648


    • March 23, 2015 8:49 PM

      So the thing about being an absolute, never drawn a line before beginner, is that you’re mind is going to be ahead of your hand skills.

      That is, you’re going to want to do drawings, that you can’t yet. In exactly the way a young power lifter might want to lift something they physically can’t – until they build enough muscle. Hopefully you can’t injure yourself drawing above your level, as badly as you can lifting weights. But anyway – you just need loads of exercise – so that your hand can do things automatically.

      When I started life drawing, like everyone I struggled with accurate proportion or even just knowing how to start. But then one day – (I tell this story a lot, stop me if you’ve heard it). I am drawing a model in class. I put a little mark on the lower part of the page – not even thinking. Then I proceed to start at the head and draw the person. Their foot ends up standing RIGHT on that mark. I had, completely unconsciously, put it exactly in the right place – without even thinking. What this means, was my ability to visualize had improved to the point it was happening without conscious thought.

      This is not magic – it’s pure training. Just like you wouldn’t expect the weight lifter to get stronger without exercise – you can’t get better without lots and lots of drawing.

      You might not have the genetics to be a champion, but anyone can get plenty strong enough with effort. If you did four hours in the gym every day – how long would you think it would take to get swole? About a year? maybe 18 months – and you’ll have six pack abs. It’s the same for drawing! About a year to be very capable, about 5 years to be world class. Trust me! It works. I started very late in life, and I don’t think I have especially amazing talent – (I know plenty of people better than me at every aspect of art).

      To be more specific, just practice gesture drawing for a few weeks – just the first exercise in the video. Then go back and start to add in complications later.

      Go to life drawing classes, or the mall, or on the subway, or google croquis cafe on youtube (warning nude models) and use that. Just do the scribbling part. Try to do 100, 30 second gestures in a week of your spare time. I used to watch movies and draw the actors. Whatever it takes to get your practice in. You’ll be amazed how quickly you learn by simply doing it and not giving up!

  6. March 23, 2015 7:55 PM

    Really fabulous work! I agree with Richard Hall above – I’m interested in your suggestions for good ways to get started, as someone with no training at all. I doodle a lot of things, but I find people both fascinating and very intimidating to draw.

    I found the speed drawing part of this post fascinating – I usually like the things I draw the fastest, the best. They’re usually more obviously flawed, but they also have the best lines, and there’s something that I seem to be better at capturing when I move fast that eludes me when I’m working slowly and attentively. So I’ve stopped telling myself I don’t have enough time to draw something. Instead I just see what I can squeeze into the few minutes I’ve got, and it’s a lot of fun.

    My hat’s off to you for managing that kind of cold. Yikes! But clearly, it was worth it. :-)

    • March 23, 2015 8:50 PM

      Well I gave Richard Hall a big rant – so I hope that works for you too!

      • March 23, 2015 9:02 PM

        Yes, it really does – thank you! I’m going to copy-paste that into my notes so I can go back and refer to it later. Thanks for the suggestions. Personally, I think you are mind-bogglingly talented – it’s encouraging to know you “came late” to this – maybe there’s some hope for the rest of us latecomers, too. Thanks for taking the time to write all that. :-)

  7. March 23, 2015 10:42 PM


  8. March 24, 2015 2:06 AM

    Latex or similar gloves are fine on the outside of woolly gloves (especially if you are painting in oils) They are a sort of wind block and keep the ink/paint off your good gloves. Other good drawing gloves are old cashmere-lined leather gloves. Warm and windproof and you can learn to draw in them!
    Add alcohol to your paint water to keep it from freezing. Perfect for those of us who accidentally drink paint water and dip the brush into the tea/coffee.
    Love your blog

  9. March 27, 2015 5:20 PM

    I just finished reading The Urban Sketcher, and came over to your blog to look at more art.

    Thought I’d comment on the Creaper — I own three different Noodler’s flex pens, and the Creaper is the one I like the least. The nib flexes less than the other two (the Ahab and Konrad share the same nib, while the Creaper has a smaller one, being a much smaller pen – making it less comfortable for me as well). Also, the problem with posting the cap and squirting ink out is not present in the other two pens: the Ahab doesn’t have the piston on the back at all, while the Konrad has the piston protected by another little screw-on cap which is impossible to open accidentally. I wasn’t satisfied with the Creaper, my first one, so I got the other two, and I’m very happy with them and carry both in my daily sketching kit, so maybe you don’t need to stray so far looking for one better suited (as the other flex pens are so much more expensive).

  10. April 11, 2015 6:41 PM

    Loved your Craftsy class– so inspiring! Hope you offer another one soon. I would like to suggest a pen from Desiderata Pens Pierre makes these amazing flex pens by hand. They have Zebra G nibs, which have great flex and are cheap to replace. I just got one and it is amazing!

    • April 11, 2015 8:50 PM

      I use the Z nib on a dip pen – so that might be quite nice to have a fountain version. thanks.


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