On my last day in the Pacific Northwest I found some time to sketch the tankers and freighters on English Bay in Vancouver. They seem so solidly anchored out in the bay but I drew them on two different days and each time realized that every time I looked up they had each shifted slightly.
It’s a joy to be a student this week. I’ve been spending the past few days in Tom Hoffmann’s workshop on Lopez Island, painting like a madwoman and enjoying watching and listening to Tom’s thoughtful teaching and fascinating demos. I will have lots to write about when I return to Montreal, after all of this trickles down and settles in my head, but until then this will be the only painting I post. These days are tiring because besides painting for seven or eight hours, we are hiking through woods to our locations, sometimes clambering down cliffs, all the while carrying our gear. I think I’ll wait to post these Lopez watercolours after they’ve been scanned and I have a chance to describe the exercises we are working on (as you can see, this afternoon was skies!)
Lopez Island is known as the most bucolic of the San Juan islands because of the rolling hills and calm bays. I’ll be painting here for the next few days but thought I’d warm up with a sketch in my panoramic sketchbook. I don’t use this book for much else besides panoramas or very vertical sketches like the one I did a few months ago of a sculpture at the museum in Ottawa. It’s too wide for street scenes but perfect for a wide-angle view of Mackaye Harbor.
I’ve never quite experienced anything as eerily magical as the Hoh rainforest in Washington’s Olympic National Park. With waist high ferns and towering 200-foot spruce and hemlock trees draped in thick moss, walking through the forest is a bit like being in Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs. So how do you paint this? Narrow shards of sunlight pierce the dense ceiling of moss and foliage but besides that it’s mostly GREEN! So that’s what I did. A big green wash with bits of white where the sun lit the ferns. And then more warm greens of every type until my sheet was as mossy as my surroundings.
Try as we may to find quiet sketching spots with as few distractions as possible for workshops, Seattle’s various forms of noisy transportation found us in Ballard and followed us to Georgetown. At our Saturday location in Ballard the city buses were diverted from their usual routes because of a seafood festival and ended up passing by our demo location every five minutes, spewing fumes and creating road dust clouds on the corner where we stood. On Sunday our Georgetown spot seemed perfect (shade, great view, lots of room to spread out) until a Boeing jet took off from the test runway nearby. That was followed by another one, and another one, and then a bus almost knocked over one of our group on the street corner. Our final spot was under a deserted freeway underpass (guaranteed shade and relative quiet) until a motorcycle club drove by, saw an audience of observant sketchers and put on a show of various sorts of wheelies for our benefit. That’s location sketching for you. Anything can happen and you make the best of it!
That ends my trio of Pacific Northwest workshops. Each one was a great experience. The groups were filled with astounding talent and I was overwhelmed with hospitality. I am grateful to all of my hosts for helping me organize these past few weeks. I have learned so much from catching a glimpse of nearly 50 different sketchbooks, each of them unique and amazing.
Sketching in Seattle has a special significance for every Urban Sketcher since the movement was founded here by Spanish illustrator and journalist Gabi Campinario. And since I know I won’t have much time to visit the city I was pretty determined to get at least one sketch in, hopefully of the famous Pike Place Market. It’s so crowded in the vicinity that it seemed unlikely that I would find any seating nearby but there was a spot in the corner of a Starbucks with a table that was calling to me and my sketchbook. It wasn’t the original Starbucks with the bare-breasted siren logo (that one is way to crowded!) but a newer one just outside of the market. Good enough for me. It was worth every cent of the $5 juice I had to buy to sit there and have a glimpse into the interior where the fish mongers throw the big salmon in the air and giant bouquets of flowers fill the stalls.
I think that the last day of a workshop is when everything you have learned should start to come together. My students did not disappoint! Today I tried an exercise for the first time. We drew the town of La Conner from a park across the channel in the Swinomish Indian Reserve. And then we turned away from the scene to paint it. We weren’t allowed to look back at the scene (well maybe we each cheated once!) and the results were outstanding. It’s amazing but true —when you’re not looking at the scene it’s very hard to overwork your sketch. If the exercise works as predicted you are focused on good shapes and a great value plan. I think it helped that we had some good shade under the cedar hat shelters of the Swinomish park.
Whereas yesterday was all about slow observation, perspective and lines, today was about quick sketches and big shapes. In the third day of the Anacortes workshop we worked on simplifying those shapes. I confiscated all the pens and we went straight from pencil to paint without the structure of lots of little lines. I think it was a successful exercise because the results were quite impressive but the highlight of the day for me — city-dweller that I am — was watching a seal eat a fish in the harbour near where we sat.
In the window of Marine Supply & Hardware Co. there’s a stuffed bear’s head, a diving bell, ropes, buoys, floats, glass bottles, giant hooks, assorted brass objects, flags and so many other things that I would have had to take notes to remember them all. Inside there’s room upon room of more nautical stuff, and in fact I’m almost certain some of this has been there since the store opened four generations ago. The yellow facade was our drawing spot today and I can assure you that this was not an easy lesson in perspective and architecture drawing. Two-point perspective on a multi-facade structure like this is difficult to begin with, but add to that the hill that the building was situated on. It wasn’t easy! This is the kind of thing that needs lots of drawing time so as you can see below, we spent many hours huddled in front of the shipbuilding yard across the street. Many people stopped to look at what we were doing and someone even asked if we were having a picnic there! Tomorrow: boats. And after this scene I think those will be easy…
Foliage, architecture, boats and rolling farmland. These are the subjects we will be exploring in my four-day Anacortes workshop. Can you tell which one we started with? There isn’t really time between workshops to post photos from the locations so I will have to do a summary post when I get home, but I will say that so far the level of the participants both here and in Vancouver is exceptionally high. There are excellent sketchers in both cities and that makes for fabulous workshops. All I can really say for now is that there are no shortage of places to sketch in scenic Anacortes and I look forward to the next three days.