Roadwork ahead

There’s some roadwork going on in my neighbourhood, diverting lots of traffic onto my street. I took my sketchbook out this morning to see where the action was. It was a good opportunity to paint the gently changing colours in the trees.



I sketched this a few weeks back and just discovered that I hadn’t posted it. I guess it’s the last boat drawing of the year, sketched in a Pentalic sketchbook with no pen lines. The boat shapes from this viewpoint are so complex that I treated it very abstractly. If you try to figure out what mast goes with what boat, or even whether certain darks are part of the boats or the water, you get lost in the details. Instead, in my mind’s eye, I try to flatten the shapes into patterns of lights and darks, horizontals and verticals, and bright and muted colours. And then cross my fingers and hope the spots and dots look like boats.


Two Rivers triptych

Last week I received a special gift — a sample pack of cotton/linen Two Rivers watercolour paper (available at Jackson’s in the UK). Lovely gift it was. But what to paint on it? It took a bit of time but it finally came to me. The three panels of paper are just a little too small for painting on individually, so I taped them together and painted on them all at once. What a perfect way to compare surfaces. On the left is the thinnest (140 lb NOT), on the right is 200 lb NOT, and the middle piece is the thickest beauty — the 300 lb NOT. Gorgeous paper, wonderful for granulating colours and amazing for lifting because of the “hard sizing”. If you are interested in trying it out, have a look at the sample pack on the Jackson’s website.


My current palette and some green mixes

You would think that with 18 slots in my watercolour palette it would be easy to pick colours to fill them. But it’s not. Even after I made my final decisions, I changed my mind, leaving my palette sketch looking something like a flow chart.

I’ve been wanting to make some changes for a long time but I hate wasting paint so I had to wait until I used up most of what was in the wells first. The biggest change is that I have taken out Sap Green. The only green in my palette now is (single pigment) Phthalo Green. You can see from the mixes below that with Phthalo Green plus the blues and yellows I have, I can mix a huge range of greens, everything from yellowish spring green to deep, dark pine tree green.

Another big change is that I switched from the coolish Azo Yellow to a more neutral Hansa Yellow Medium. Many of the colours on my palette are from Daniel Smith, but the only Burnt Sienna I will use is Winsor Newton. My Permanent Alizarin Crimson is from M. Graham because it’s the brand that I find the most saturated. I am still looking for a great sky blue. I may have found it with Sennelier Cinerous Blue which may replace Cerulean Blue Chromium. I’ve also added Quinacridone Rose which is great for flowers and also for mixing with Phthalo Blue to get a great purple for shadows.

I change colours in my palette often, so next month this may be different. Colour is very personal and there are no rights and wrongs with colour. It really depends on what you are most comfortable working with.

Also, I am in no way a colour scientist, but this summer I met someone who is. Jane Blundell has an encyclopaedic knowledge of watercolour pigments, and by sketching next to her for an hour (at the Urban Sketchers Symposium) I learned more about colour than I have in all my years of painting. She has an excellent website and if you are interested in colour I suggest you check it out. I consult her site often and I am indebted to her for doing all the research she does with pigments and mixes.

2015_PaletteBelow are some of the greens that I can mix with this new combination of colours. I love having lots of variety in greens and my favourite mix lately is Phthalo Green and Burnt Sienna. The result is sort of an olive hue that’s quite beautiful. One warning for when you make this mix: if you are painting trees or foliage make sure the Phthalo Green is well blended into the Burnt Sienna because there are no greens in nature (that I know of) that look like pure Phthalo Green.

An old friend

For years I sketched exclusively with a good old Pilot Fineliner pen. In fact the first sketch I did on this blog was with that pen. I stopped using it when I started adding colour to my sketches because the ink is water-soluble and it dirtied up the colour, but recently I bought a few of them and today I found myself downtown without my palette so decided to use it. I remember why I liked it so much. It’s got a very pointy nib which makes it great for drawing (unlike my usual Micron pens which have a flatter nib) and when you lightly wet it, it’s just like having some Payne’s grey on your brush. It seemed just right for the grey stone of the Strathcona Music Building at McGill University.


Colour shift

Autumn has shown up late this year. Normally by the end of September the trees are bright yellow, but with the warmer than usual temperatures this month, we are only just now seeing the slightest softening and shifting of the colours. I sometimes use my blog archives to look back at weather in previous years and indeed, the trees had definitely changed by this time last year.

This morning Urban Sketchers Montreal met at the Atwater Market. A big group of us sat across the canal to look back at the city and enjoy the perfect day. I spent the morning drawing and talking. Apparently too much talking because I didn’t notice that I had painted shadows coming from both directions in my sketch. But that’s ok. We had so many new people coming out to join the group that it might have been one of our biggest groups ever. Quite amazing to see. As always, the group is open to everyone and there are often visiting sketchers. Today we had a visitor joining us from Yorkshire, England.

And in case you are interested, I just noticed that there’s a weekend sale on all online classes at If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the new class from Marc Taro Holmes called “Travel Sketching in Mixed Media“. I’ve been watching it and it’s full of wonderful techniques for pen drawing, ink brush sketching and watercolour washes. Well worth the money, even at full price!


Pilgrim Stories

It’s around this time every year when I hunt around my studio for art supplies I haven’t used in a while or have never tried. It probably has something to do with change of seasons. I dug up this sketchbook —given to me as a gift last year and never used — made by Ex Libris Anonymous in Portland, Oregon. It’s kind of a cool idea for a book. The company slices and dices old novels (cover and selected pages) and spiral binds them with sketchbook paper. The end result is part novel/part sketchbook, although you wouldn’t want to read a novel with this many pages missing. The acid-free sketch paper is great for pencil drawing but it would probably buckle if you added a wash to it. And as you might have guessed from the title of my post, my novel is Pilgrim Stories, adapted from Margaret Pumphrey’s Pilgrim Stories. If you want to have a look at the books, here’s a link. And the pencil? It’s a water-soluble Cretacolor pencil from the Urban Sketchers goodie bag at the Symposium in Singapore, although I didn’t add any water to the drawing.



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