Spring on St. Urbain

It’s almost warm enough to sketch outside. In early February?? Seems very unusual for Montreal. In fact, I think the grass is even greening up in some southern facing exposures. With a bit of time to sketch this morning, I found a window seat in a café on St. Viateur, facing north on St. Urbain (with my favourite rooftop water reservoir in the distance). I don’t think the brownstones are quite as colourful as this, but maybe the warmth, the sunny day and the strolling crowds had me thinking that spring may be closer than we think.


After school

When I go out to sketch I often bring several blocks of paper with me because I never know what format will suit the scene. It took a couple of tries to get the composition I wanted on this one. First I tried a horizontal sketch but the street is so wide that the buildings on the left just seemed to go on forever. I also tried drawing it out in a vertical format but then I wasn’t able to fit in any those same nondescript buildings at all. In the end the square format suited it best. Sketched on a block of Fluid paper, 8″ x 8″.


Three pears

I’ve finally found a good way to use up the paper in the new Moleskine sketchbooks. You know — the ones with the watercolour paper that is incredibly lousy for watercolour. It turns out they are great for markers. The paper is thick enough that even though the markers bleed through the paper, they don’t damage the next sheet in the book. I used one today to do a value sketch for some pears that I was painting.



The white cloth in my still life is no doubt a subconscious substitute for the snow scenes I should be painting at this time of year. A few centimetres of snow did fall during the night but that was followed by the disastrous duo of freezing rain and then rain. It made for a very unpleasant drive to work for most Montrealers, including me.



One small thing, or maybe three

Through my online courses on Craftsy, I often get questions about how to start a sketch. I think we all have the same problem when staring at a blank page in a sketchbook. Where do I start? What do I want to capture? What if there’s nothing interesting around me to draw?

I think one of the possibilities when you’re staring at that white page is to have one small goal that you would like to work towards. It doesn’t have to be anything overly ambitious, like a complex street scene on a sunny day or a panoramic landscape at sunset. Make it something small, especially if your time is limited or the light is changing quickly. Every sketch is a practice — in fact every painting is a practice — and if you can learn something each time you put pen or brush to paper, then you are making progress even if you haven’t created anything you’d like to hang on the wall.

Yesterday I had this unforgettable lake view in front of me but the light was fading fast. There was no central focus in the scene and I knew I wouldn’t have time for a full size watercolour. My goal for this quick 8″ x 8″ sketch was simple: separate the distant trees from the close ones using colour temperature (warmer for distant and cooler for the close trees in shadow); paint some interesting tree shapes, different distances apart and each with a slightly different profile (I used my Rosemary dagger brush for that); and finally, get some cool shadows on the snow-covered trees to show them in shadow against the frozen lake.

Ok, so that’s not one small goal, it’s actually three. But the point is, the goal wasn’t to make a great painting. It was just a series of exercises within the sketch. And considering the time I had before I lost the light, I’m happy to have had the chance to practice each of them.




River fence

One of the advantages of living on an island like Montreal is that I often have views of the fleuve Saint Laurent in my paintings. Most often I’m parked on the southern part of the island where the river is quite wide and the opposite shore is distant (and not that interesting.) On the other hand, if I paint along the northern shore, there are lots of vantage points where I can see land across the river. I painted this from a church parking lot in Ste. Geneviève, with Ile Bizard in the distance. Light, wet snow was falling — misting and muting the colours on the river — so I chose a limited palette of Cerulean Blue, Yellow Ochre and Organic Vermilion. Since this scene was more about values than colour, I added in some Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna to ramp up the darks when it came time to paint the fence.


Norway maple

I’m trying out something new this week. It’s a pad of Arches 140 lb, cold press paper. Not a block that’s glued down on four sides, but a pad that’s only glued on the short side. I was curious to see whether the paper would warp, because I usually tape my sheets to a backing board or use the glued block. This paper surprised me. I painted on it with very wet washes and it remained relatively flat. That’s good news, because I find this format very convenient. I love the ease of throwing the pad in my bag and it’s quite a bit more economical than the blocks (although not as cheap as cutting up your own paper!). Perfect for sketch outings because it comes in both 9″ x 12″ and 10″ x 14″ sizes.


Black and white canopy

The last time I painted on rue Henri Julien was in the fall when the trees formed a yellow canopy over the street. This morning we had a sprinkling of fresh snow and I was hoping that I could paint there again but the weather was not on my side. By the time I parked the thermometer had moved up, and the snow turned to rain so I drew instead. I’m not sorry I drew this in pen though, because I think the dismal day and the soggy snow may come across better in black and white than in colour. Sketched in a Handbook Watercolor Journal, 9″ x 12″.



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