I haven’t been sketching in the city much this winter because I have been working on some other projects but I miss that urban observation. I was in NDG today and I stopped to sketch the Monkland Taverne. It is a restaurant now but it has one of the best examples of old signage that I can think of in the city. I have been wanting to sketch this for so long. Lucky for me across the way there is a café with a counter and stools in front of the window.
The meeting place for the Montreal Sketchcrawl was an indoor skating rink in a downtown office building but mostly everyone ended up at some point being drawn (no pun intended!) to the heavy snow falling outside and covering the dome and the back part of Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral. I followed my friend Marc, who remembered having seen a great view of the building from the lobby of the Hilton Hotel and we sketched there most of the day. From that vantage point the city seemed silent under the snow but I bet if you listened carefully you could probably hear the cheering of die-hard Montreal Canadiens fans gearing up for the first hockey game of the season at the Bell Centre only a block away.
If I had a view of Jay Peak out of my dining room window I would paint it every day. I don’t but I am lucky enough to have friends who do. It’s a spectacular view that changes so often during the day and throughout the seasons.
I painted today’s early morning light on the mountains on a two-page spread in my 8″ x 5″ Moleskine watercolour book. As you can see from the photo below it was a fairly monochromatic scene although the sun did come out as I was finishing the sketch and that gave me some nice shadows for the snow. I took a photo of the scene through the window so that I could write a bit about how I composed my sketch.
If you look at the scene it seems like one big mass of foliage with very little light in it except for the birch trees on the left. To give it variety I chose to emphasize some of the more prominent evergreens, especially the tallest grouping near the centre. I like the way they break up the sky and give scale to the rest of the trees. I also simplified a lot of the trees as you move back in the scene. It would be impossible to paint every tree so I painted a smaller one on the right and a shorter grouping on the left. The white of the birch added some nice interest in the dark area on the left and some of those smaller branches were done with my rigger brush and a bit of white gouache at the end. I also varied the height of the peaks in the background and used a little yellow on the hills when a ray of sun briefly broke through the clouds. The shadows in the snow gave me a chance to repeat the curves of the undulating peaks in the background and provided contrast to the solid stripe of verticals that runs from left to right.
This is the largest painting I have done in many years. Getting back into watercolour after a longish break was a step-by-step process for me. When I started drawing again 15 months ago, my first sketches were in a 5″ x 3″ Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, then I graduated to a 8″ x 5″ book, moved up to an eighth and then a quarter sheet of watercolour paper and now to this, which is a half sheet (15″ x 22″) of Fabriano 300 lb cold-press paper. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I need a studio to do these paintings so I can use an easel and stand back from time to time to see the work in progress. I often turn the paintings upside down as well because that helps me to see if the value plan is working. I know it seems odd, but if it works upside down it will work right side up. Try it with your paintings and see for yourself. And let me know if it works for you!
It is now becoming embarrassing because I keep sketching these pots and one would think I would tire of them but no, they are endlessly interesting for me to paint in the changing light of any season. I could say that this will be the last time I paint them this winter but I know that with more snow covering them I will probably paint them again.
It was bird day at the Redpath Museum, at least for me. I started with the big old Canada Goose because I am beginning a project soon that involves drawing lots of geese so I thought I’d get in some practice. The wonderful thing about this museum is that there’s something for everyone to draw. Some people in our Urban Sketchers Montreal group drew the dinosaurs and others did musical instruments. I saw sketches of leopards and monkeys and weasels and one man sketched only the eyes of all the creatures. A few of us did a bit of drawing outside in the morning but after 52 minutes (yes, we timed it!) in the frigid temperatures we congratulated ourselves on our hardiness and headed for coffee before the doors of the museum opened.
Today I had a chance to do a real painting using a wet-in-wet technique, something I haven’t done in many years. Now that I have a place to work I can use larger paper, like this 1/4 size sheet of Fabriano (larger than anything I have done this year!). I can’t paint like this in my car because it requires me to completely saturate the paper — both sides — and then remove the surface water. A bit of a messy business unless you are in the proximity of a sink. It gives me great hope that I will do more of these this winter.
Mont Royal is a hill in the middle of the island of Montreal, but Montrealers call it “the mountain”. We go for picnics on the mountain, we have scenic lookouts on the mountain and we have a big greenspace on the mountain designed by Frederic Law Olmstead. And we love our “mountain” because when we have been away, we always know we are close to home when we see its distinctive shape as we approach the city.
We also have a street called Mont-Royal that faces the “mountain” and that was the destination for the second outing of Urban Sketchers Montreal. Marc Holmes and I were pretty happy to have 15 people turn out on this cold morning — a few who even came from Ontario for the event! Some of the people knew each other from a Sketchcrawl group so it was great that we found each other. We sketched the Victorian houses and the back alleys up and down the avenue, stopping to warm up in cafés at lunch and at the end of the day. Seems to me that USK Montreal is going to keep on growing.
I went out today with the intention of trying two new purchases. One was a Raphael #8 watercolour brush (I’ll admit I have a weakness for these sable brushes!) and the other was a different format Moleskine sketchbook.
The brush, as expected, was wonderful. I already have a #14 from the same series but sometimes that is a little too big so I spotted a sale at one of my online suppliers, I jumped on it. The added incentive was that the brush came with free #2 and #0 brushes.
I’ve painted in many Moleskine books but they’ve always been watercolour paper. The new one I am trying is the Moleskine Sketchbook and I bought it because it is a vertical format instead of horizontal like the ones I am used to painting in. It’s listed in the online catalogue as “perfect for pencil, charcoal, fountain pen, tempera, acrylic, etc.” so I assumed it would be good for watercolour too, or at least light washes. Wrong! It is as if the paper has some type of resist on it and the wash just beaded and sat on top of the paper. My sketch in that book was of the same scene as this but it was very unsuccessful. I’ll have to do some more research into this to find out if other people have the same problem as me.
While I observed and sketched today, these two guys solved all of the world’s problems. I kept expecting them to finish their cigarettes and walk away but they stayed on these benches for the whole time I was there (45 min approx.). Occasionally one of them would get up, make a point about some important issue — hands flying, face reddening — and then sit back down with a sigh. From time to time a third man would join them for a few moments and then be off. When I turned away for a few seconds to pack up my paints they disappeared. Solutions had been found.