I arrived a little late at life drawing studio today and ended up in a different spot in the room than usual. Most of the time I sit in a place where the model — lit from the spots above — is about half in light and half in shadow. Today I sat on the darker side of the room and although I was a bit discouraged at first, this turned out to be exactly the right place for what I wanted to do. My aim today was to work with really simple shapes, to unify the shadow areas on the figure and to keep the brush really wet and loose. By sitting in that spot, most of Elissa’s body was in shadow with only a little highlight along the edges. This is in fact easier to paint than when it’s more of a 50/50 split between light and dark. Too bad I figured this out on the last session of the year… I’m hoping that come September my teaching schedule at school will allow me to draw again with this great group of artists.
It was quite fitting that today, on the 139th birthday of Mount Royal, Le Prix du Mont Royal was awarded to an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the life of the mountain. This year the recipient of the prize was Jean Doré, mayor of Montreal from 1986-1994. It was during his term as mayor that the Montreal portion of the mountain was declared a heritage site, plans were set in place for the restoration and conservation of the mountain, and the Chalet lookout was restored. These accomplishments are in part what makes our mountain such a vibrant place. As a proud Montrealer, I was very honoured that my painting “November Panorama” was chosen as the prize. With Mr. Doré (centre) are Peter Howlett (left), president of Les Amis de la Montagne, and our current mayor, Denis Coderre.
I spent some time sketching with Marc Holmes and visiting sketchers James and Jeanette Gurney today. (If you don’t know James’s blog, you should check out Gurney Journey. I promise you won’t regret it.) We chose this spot in Chinatown because of the interesting end-of-day shadows moving up the buildings on this narrow part of La Gauchetière. It’s a really busy pedestrian thoroughfare, and as you can see from the photo, four people sketching on the street always creates some interest from passersby, especially since each sketch was so different. You may not see Jeanette’s beautiful work because I don’t think she posts her sketches online, and I think Marc was facing a different view, but hopefully Jim will post his version of this same scene on his blog tomorrow and then you’ll see what I mean.
I love using ink pens, especially the Platinum Carbon pen that has a flexible nib that comes as close to a dip pen as I have found. I often use the pen twice during the sketch, once before the wash and once after in places where the darks need a little boost. I was just finishing this sketch when I turned my head for a minute — pen poised above the paper —to look at some kids playing in the grass nearby. When I looked back at my sketch there were three blobs of ink that had dripped out of the pen onto the paper. Yikes. I was pretty certain this sketch would be a write-off but I managed to integrate the blobs into the texture of the grass. Can you see them? They are around the tree on the right side, and luckily not in the sky where they would have been much harder to hide.
The long weekend in May is traditionally planting weekend for gardeners, I guess because the chance of frost is finally over. I did some of that, but I also took a break to sketch one of the pots on my deck. This was started this in a Moleskine sketchbook (the new one with the bad paper) but I quickly realized that the book needs to be trashed. I keep trying to paint in it but the paper is really too poor. For the second try I used a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.
There was also a bit of time this weekend to finally watch “Mr. Turner”, a movie I missed in theatres when it came out in December and have been waiting for ever since. If you like director Mike Leigh, or enjoy watching movies about artists, don’t miss the great, grunting, snorting Timothy Spall playing the painter J. M. W. Turner in the last 25 years of his life.
What makes today unique? That’s the question I ask myself when I look for sketching subjects. Walking the dog in the morning often affords me the time to think of what might make a good subject because while I wander around the neighbourhood, I have a chance to assess the weather, the light, the clouds and even the trash that people put out on the street (see some examples here, here and here.) I suppose you can see where this is leading. This week the fruit trees in my neighboorhood are a joyous burst of colour, and I know it won’t last long. I did this series in a Moleskine A4 book, treating the mass of flowers on each tree as a simple shape rather than individual blossoms.
This was a difficult scene to sketch and you can probably guess why. The middle ground in between the two foreground boats and the elevated boatyard further back was very confusing. In that section there’s bits of boats, some water, a rock wall and a sloping section of grass. I’m not sure how I should have clarified this in the sketch, but it doesn’t help that the main sail cover is black, creating a hole in the middle of the sketch. I will definitely have to go back there and give this one another try to see if I can make it read better. I ran out of space on the page but probably having the front of the sailboat in there would help define the space as well. Isn’t this what makes sketching fun?