Cousins Farm pond

One of the most beautiful places that we painted on Lopez Island was at a farm on Cousins Road. Surrounded by apple trees, a garden in full bloom, some barns and two curious horses, it was an idyllic setting. In the afternoon we walked up to the pond (followed by those horses) that overlooks the property and instead of leaping straight into the painting we had to spend a bit of time looking and analyzing the areas in the scene that might be problematic. It really helps to spend a few minutes painting a little section of the scene instead of finding out in the middle of a painting that you don’t know how to deal with an area.



What seemed most difficult to me was the glint of sun on the dark pond on top of the tree reflections in the water, so I tried it out first on a test sheet. You need a really dry brush to create that glint. Of course you need to be able to replicate the test too, because as you can see, that glint of sun was more successful than in the larger study.


Below is the test


Fallen cedar

About a month ago I bought some loose sheets of watercolour paper from an art supply shop (not in Montreal) where the sales person clearly had no idea about the products in stock. I was sold some Canson Antique White paper that I thought was watercolour paper but it turns out it’s probably for printmaking.I guess I could have dealt with this problem in several ways. 1. I could have returned the paper to the store but I had already torn it up and I was already back in Montreal, so too far to return it. 2. I could try to paint on it and use the unexpected qualities of the paper to try something new.

Since I was in the Tom Hoffman workshop to learn and to try new things, I used it for my second forest painting and I can’t say I’m unhappy with the results. I love the way the paper stayed wet for a long time, the way the paint granulated on it, and the soft, slidy washes and unexpected drips that kept happening. One of the things Tom encourages in his workshops is to let paint do its own thing, so what happens on this paper fits right in with that. I may even try to buy some of it in Montreal.



Over the next few days I will try to scan and post all the studies I did in last week’s Tom Hoffmann workshop on Lopez Island. And the word “studies” is very appropriate because that was what we were doing. It was a learning experience and Tom encouraged us to try new things, to get out of our comfort zones, to let go of old habits.

One thing that surprised me with the subjects that we painted over the four days was how little drawing we did. We painted skies, fields, trees, water and rocks but hardly anything man-made. That made things easy and difficult at the same time. Think about it. When you look at a farmer’s field as it moves into the distance there is not much to paint. And when you look into the forest there is too much to paint. Every day and every subject was a complex problem to render in paint and that’s what made it thrilling. It involved a lot of looking, thinking and analyzing about how it should be attacked, and even testing out potential problem areas. Day in and day out I paint things (buildings, boats, flowers, household objects) but I was rendered quite speechless in front of a large yellow field of barley. Or this forest clearing. But we looked. And analyzed. And then painted. And the advice from Tom’s wise and patient teaching was to think about where the lights and darks were, and to keep it abstract as long as possible. More to come tomorrow…


Beach logs kill

Of all the places on my Pacific Northwest itinerary I think Kalaloch was the one I was the most curious about. On the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula, it seemed so remote and wild, so unlike anything I had ever seen. A few nights before arriving there a friend sent me a link to the webcam from the Kalaloch Lodge (cloudy and rainy all the time!) with a view that is something like my sketch below. Keep in mind that if you have a look at the webcam when it’s nighttime in Washington State, the view will be dark.

From 40 feet above, the distant beach and the weather-beaten driftwood logs created an interesting and somewhat benign view to sketch but it was only later when I took a walk near the shoreline that I truly understood the meaning of the slogan “Beach Logs Kill” that is boldly printed on all the souvenirs in the gift shop. I’ve never been to a wilder place where you truly feel the power of open ocean, wind, waves and… the logs that come tumbling out of those waves. They’re piled up on the sand like toothpicks, except they’re two feet across and 20 or 30 feet long. My stay there wasn’t long, in fact only one night, but it was enough to know that will go back there one day to paint that wild scene again.


English Bay

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.


McArdle Bay

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!)


Where eagles dive

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.


The Hoh rainforest

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.


The sounds of Seattle

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.



Pike Place Market

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.



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