Discovering digital

Recently I purchased a new iPad. Of course I rationalize it by saying that it’s because I need a bigger screen and a keyboard to write with, but the real reason is that I want to draw with Procreate and the new Apple Pencil.

If you’ve never tried Procreate the first thing you’ll notice is how many types of brushes there are. Last time I tried drawing on an iPad I was using the old Brushes app and a fat stylus to draw, so this a completely different experience. The new pencil also has a double-tap feature which makes it really easy to switch from brush to eraser and back again.

In my usual methodical way, I feel I have to get to know each tool individually, so I’ve been trying out the brushes one by one.

My first experiment was to see how close it could look to a drawing on paper, so I used the 6b pencil. This iPad is pressure sensitive so the harder you press the darker your line will be. And you can use the side of the pencil too, which is really cool.

My second experiment, still in monochrome, was using some of the ink brushes to draw Alice. From there I moved on to my version of toned paper by adding a grey background layer and drawing with both black and white pencil and then adding a bit of ink texture.

And finally colour. The painting tools are harder to get to know since my tendency is to want to blend, but I guess I’ll learn eventually. So far what I like best after all this is drawing with a good old fashioned soft pencil, albeit a digital one.

You might be wondering if this will replace traditional painting for me. It won’t. I love watercolour too much. But it’s nice to have the digital option for my daily sketches, for value planning for larger paintings, and of course for travel.

Signs of the city

I’ve been busy these past few weeks — creating prints of my work and working on commissions, most of them gifts for the holiday season. What could be nicer than a gift of art, whether it be print or original?

The series below are sketches I created for friends who wanted to give each of their three grown kids a sketch of Montreal. They asked me for this last April, but of course I put the project off until now since winter is my favourite painting season (and because I’m a procrastinator). My intention when I finally got around to starting the project was to find some sort of theme to tie the sketches together, and after spending a morning taking some reference photos, the images I liked the best were the ones with lots of signage in them.   

I had so much fun painting the windows and signs that I thought I’d share some tips for painting them:

  • For windows begin with an overall wash of the lightest colour, preferably warm. In St. Viateur Bagel Factory (above) I used yellow and burnt sienna to create a warm glow, especially since the lettering on the window is yellow. Then I painted around the letters (negative painting) with darker tones, leaving the lettering as the lightest element in that area. 
  • Work towards the darkest tones, like in the dépanneur scene below. For these windows, my starter wash was yellow, green and red. I also left a few white highlights for interior lights.
  • If you have a sign with a darker background and light lettering, like the red Coca Cola signs, use some Titanium White watercolour to do the letters. I dip a small brush directly into the tube of paint and use it full strength with almost no water.
  • All the lettering doesn’t have to be legible. Suggest some of it, like I did on the street signs. And don’t paint it all at full strength. Paint parts of the letters. The eye will fill in the rest. I use a small flat brush for this. 
  • Use a bigger brush than you think you need for this, since you don’t want to get caught up in too many details. Again, be suggestive with shapes and colour. And at the very end, go in with a fine rigger brush to add the final details with the darkest paint you have. 

Rue Villeray sous la pluie

It’s end of semester for me which means lots of grading, tests to prepare, etc., but when I have a free hour or two, I grab it. At lunchtime today, I drove to the Villeray neighbourhood, a favourite area of mine to sketch since the streets are full of life, there’s often parking, and I can find lots of great small buildings to sketch.

Today’s struggle was with the rain. It wasn’t coming down hard enough to be a deterrent, but the light drizzle eventually blocked my view and every few minutes I had to turn the wipers on to clear up the car window. An annoyance, no doubt, but worth it because I was able to finish a sketch during my short break. Sketched on a block of Arches CP, 10″ x 14″.

A sneak peek at my book

Last week I spent some time reviewing the final proofs for my upcoming book and just found out that I can share a bit of the content with you here. It’s so exciting to see it all come together and it will be even better when I can hold a printed copy in my hands in April 2019.

This spread is from the chapter on Pigments and Color Mixing. There’s all kinds of cool stuff in this section, like basic watercolour techniques and choosing your colours, but the parts I liked writing the most were the colour recipes for creating greens or darks or colour for shadows. 

It was really fun to go through my archive of sketches and look back at how some of these mixes were created. And if I didn’t remember the details, it helped to go back through old blog posts too, since I often write about what mixes I use. My main goal with the book is to encourage you to be more expressive with colour, and I can’t wait for you to see the work of all the contributors who generously sent me sketches and shared their colour secrets as well.

Painting palettes, before and after

I’ve been wanting to update my list of sketching and painting materials on my blog for a very long time so I started the process today by setting up my two palettes to clean them. I had to laugh because they were both so dirty, that I decided to take a photo first, just to show you what they look like after a bit of use and before a good cleaning.

I’m preparing a materials list for my upcoming 2019 workshops, and restocking my colours is the first step in the process. I often change the colours, so winter is a good time to check what I am using and update my lists. The small palette I use for sketching is an Italian one made by FOME, and I’ve filled it with 23 empty pans, and then added tube colours to that. 

After much cleaning, scraping, and finally refilling, my 23 pan metal palette looks something like this. A bit worse for wear (one hinge broke this summer and has been repaired) but not quite so goopy. I love the size of this palette for travel because when it’s closed it’s about the size of my phone and fits in the smallest of sketching bags.

The updated colours, from left to right, are:
Top row: Cobalt Teal, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Cobalt Violet and Permanent Alizarin Crimson.
Middle row: Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Gold, Transparent Orange, Cadmium Red Deep, Quinacridone Rose.
Bottom Row: Lunar Black, Indigo, Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Leaf Green, Sap Green, Phthalo Green, Forest Green.
If you are interested in knowing the brands, the tubes are below, photographed in the same order as the placement in the palette.

The next post will be the larger studio palette, cleaned and refilled, of course!

Sunday woods

 It’s an abrupt start to winter, isn’t it? It feels like I was painting boat scenes only a few weeks ago. But the snow arrived suddenly and seems to be sticking around in Montreal, much to my delight. Usually I can only paint scenes like this on my winter school holiday in January. 

At -10C, it’s was too cold this morning to be outside with an easel, so this one was painted in my warm studio, after a walk with Alice.  These days, Arches rough paper is working well for me, and I am in the process of working with some different brushes which I will write about soon, probably when my school semester is over. I’m long overdue to update my materials page too, but again, it will be in a few weeks when I have more time. In the meantime, I’m just happy to sneak in a few hours to paint every few days.

Under the oak

Ah, we had the first snowfall  in Montreal last night, and it was a good one. Not a mere sprinkling of flakes, but a thick covering that hopefully will stay on the ground for a few days. I’ve really been looking forward to winter painting season, but as always, the oak tree in the backyard is still holding on to its leaves, messing up all that perfect whiteness. Last year, oddly, the leaves stayed on the tree until February, which left a big mess on the ground in the spring. We’ll see what happens this year. In the meantime, I’ll be getting my snow colours ready — lots of blues and browns to make all those winter neutrals.