Manuel Antonio

My biggest decision before leaving for Costa Rica was not about how many bathing suits to bring or how much sun screen to pack. It was deciding whether or not to bring my travel easel. As light as it is, it still takes up space in the bag and these days, with airlines getting more and more vigilant about the weight of luggage, you want to keep things light. In the end I decided to leave it at home and use whatever chairs or tables I can find. I’ve filled a new palette with some tropical-type colours that I never use in Montreal. Stuff like cobalt teal and permanent magenta. We’ll see where that gets me today.


The view from here

This is a little different from my usual Montreal winter scenes. It’s the view from my balcony in Costa Rica, at 6 am. Everyone is sleeping except me, the monkeys and the toucans. More soon!


Soaking it up

It’s a bit of a silly thing to draw — the natural sponge that was sitting on my drafting table — but after I drew it, I realized it might be a symbol. A symbol of freedom, for a little while, from teaching and grading and preparing for classes. A symbol for the next few weeks of drawing and painting and soaking up whatever I see. And of getting back to posting more regularly. Can’t wait.


The centrepiece

I’ve thrown caution to the wind. Chucked the rule book out the window. For years I made greens from various blue and yellow combinations but now they come straight out the tube. And because I don’t have to add lots of water to make the mixes I can get purer and more saturated colour. Don’t know why I waited so long…


Tree, house, car

As a reward to myself for finishing classes yesterday, I decided to paint a snow scene before attacking the pile of student projects that need to be graded. With several storms hitting Montreal in quick succession yesterday and today, it was probably a prudent idea to stay at home and capture a view from my window.


I haven’t had much time to do any planning before I paint these days so I thought it might be a good idea to do a value sketch first. It didn’t take much work to figure out the placement of the whites and the darks. The big tree out my window provided all the contrast.


The next step was the pencil drawing. Nothing too complicated, just the big shapes on a quarter sheet of Fabriano Artistico. No need to add all the details like the texture in the trees. That will be done with a brush later on.


The big darks of the trees were the first shapes that I painted, all with a two-inch flat. In this step I was thinking about edge quality — hard edge on the right and textured on the left where the snow overlaps the tree. I wanted to put those down first so I would know how dark to make the midtones.


The second step was the big mid tone shapes.


The last step: a bit more texture in the bark, and then the wall of trees behind the house.

And now to the grading…

Through the glass

Outdoor painting season is over. There’s snow on the ground and the temperature on the thermometer is way under the zero mark. So why would I think that I could paint a watercolour outside? Denial of winter perhaps? Eternal optimism? Yesterday I packed up my easel and set it up in the snow, in the woods near my house. I even added some vodka to my water bottle to prevent freezing. Had I thought about it a little bit longer I would have realized that at -9C painting outside would be impossible. No need to describe what happened to the paint and water mix on my palette. You can probably imagine. Today I sketched from the warmth of a window view at school, baseboard heater warming my feet.


Thirty minutes of rain and snow

A few weeks ago a friend recommended that I try a field sketching technique from painter Edward Norton Ward. Instead of using sketchbooks, Ward tapes down a number of quarter sheets of watercolour paper onto a support board. When one sketch is finished, he removes the tape and under that he has a new sheet of paper. I was curious about this painter whose work I had never seen so I ordered his book “First Impressions: Sketching Nature in Watercolor”. He paints in a wonderfully loose way and many of the sketches in the book are painted in less than thirty minutes. What??? Less than thirty minutes. Sounds like a challenge if ever there was one. So armed with my taped quarter sheets, and knowing that I had to be at school in less than two hours, I set out on this rainy, slushy and snowy day to find a place to paint. The sketch below is what I managed to do (in my car) in that amount of time. No lines added after, no work done at home, and mostly painted with a 1″ flat brush. It’s a great exercise that forces you to look at the big shapes and also to try to get the values right the first time. And as the name of the book suggests, it really is about capturing that first impression. It’s something I will definitely be trying again.



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