Ottawa Sketchbook

Monday, February 18, 2013

Skaters on Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada

In bleakest February, the hardy people of Canada's capital turn the Rideau Canal into the world's longest skating rink, get international artists to sculpt fantastical things out of ice blocks and throw a big party in their city called Winterlude. So how could we not go?

Ottawa turned out to be our getaway, our escape from the blizzard Nemo, which left great boulders of snow in places that were already Sandy-scarred. It snowed up there too, of course -- this was a storm that made headlines even in the north country -- but they are used to it there. There were people pedaling bicycles even as the snow kept falling that Friday, blithely commuting through the accumulating drifts to their homes, to stores, to dinner.

So I wasn't about to let the bone-chilling cold stop me from sketching. I was well-prepared for the weather -- I had an ankle-length down coat, a fleece balaclava to protect my head and neck, lined boots and wool gloves.

The problem, of course, is maintaining dexterity when your hands are mummy-wrapped. Nina Johansson inspired me with her recent gloved sketches of Stockholm done with thick markers, so I brought along some Caran d'Ache Neocolor II water-soluble crayons and other supplies to try. When I was browsing through Wallack's, the local art supply store a few blocks from our hotel, I picked up a Sakura SumoGrip mechanical pencil as well -- figured the fat barrel would be perfect for grasping through gloves.

It's a good thing I bought it, because it turned out to be the perfect tool for sketching in the extreme cold. On Saturday morning I skated out to a bench in the middle of the Rideau Canal to draw. The pencil worked like a dream, but the Neocolor IIs didn't cooperate, and trying to dissolve the hesitant marks with a waterbrush just made them turn to flakes of waxy colored ice that skittered right off the page. You can see my attempt in the sketch below (before I sort of salvaged it much later with watercolors).

Skating on the Rideau Canal during Winterlude, Ottawa, Canada

I did the pencil drawing of Parliament Hill while sitting on my folding stool next to Major's Hill Park, just before the Alexandra Bridge, and colored it later with watercolors. I marveled at the number of runners who flew past me in the snow on their way across the bridge to Gatineau (which is in Quebec).

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Sketching Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

On the drive back home, I took out the Strathmore Toned Gray sketchbook and drew the landscape -- it looked this way for hours on I-81.

On the way home from Ottawa, Canada

How about you? What are your tips for sketching in extreme cold?

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