Is it just me

I am curious to know if anyone has had the same frustration as me with some Winsor & Newton paper. I painted this bouquet on a block of Winsor & Newton 140 lb CP paper. I’ve had success on this paper before. In fact for my most recent course “Victorian Vignettes” I did all my demos on this. But for some reason, the larger block (12″ x16″) does not seem to absorb the paint the same way it did on smaller size blocks. Is it just me or have you had difficulty with this paper too?

You can see from the detail below that the paint doesn’t get absorbed into the paper unless you add multiple layers of washes. I assume that this might be an issue with the sizing. This was a difficult bouquet to paint from the start because of all the tiny flowers, but I found myself going over areas again and again because every wash seemed to disappear into the paper. Plus there are all these little white speckles that appeared even after going over the surface with a fully saturated brush. Have you used this paper and noticed this same issue? I’d love to know.


A different view

This past year, like many of you, I have been painting my immediate surroundings again and again. And even though it’s nice to get to know your own neighbourhood, sometimes one longs for a different view. Last weekend we were invited to visit friends who have a beautiful lakeside house and garden. The garden is so lush and filled with every sort of perennial you can imagine, but I started by sketching the white birches. I’m always drawn to the subtle colour changes from the shady to the sunny side of these trees.

I also spent some time sketching the shed that’s tucked way back behind the garden. If you look really closely you might even see a wheelbarrow in there somewhere.


Announcing “Victorian Vignettes: Historic Facades in Light & Colour” — a new online course

One of my very favourite places to sketch in Montreal is historic Carré St. Louis, so it’s a real pleasure to launch “Victorian Vignettes: Historic Facades in Light & Colour” today.

In this new course, you’ll learn how to draw and paint stunning facades from start to finish. The lessons cover three full-length projects — a window, an entranceway, and a full facade — so you can feel confident capturing historic treasures wherever you live.

In this three-hour course, I’ll show you the steps I use when I sketch architectural details on location, starting with the all-important pencil drawing. Then we’ll get out our watercolours to add in the larger areas of slate, stone, sky and painted trim. We’ll contrast areas of light and shadow to add depth to our sketches and, to finish up, we’ll create visual excitement with calligraphic details and spots of pure colour. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might recognize some of these facades from my outings!

If you love sketching in watercolour and want a step-by-step process for creating architectural vignettes, this course is for you. In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Simplify the main shapes in your drawing first and add details later
  • Create focus and excitement with watercolour through contrast and colour
  • Use the right brushes for both large washes and detailed ornamentation
  • Glaze with luminous layers of wash on window reflections
  • Mix the right colours for architectural surfaces in both light and in shadow

This course includes:

  • THREE full-length video demonstrations that you can watch at your own pace, as many times as you like
  • A practice exercise in creating colours particular to these scenes
  • Downloadable reference images so you can practice what you’ve learned!
  • A detailed list of materials
  • A comments section where you can ask questions and post your finished sketches

Special price for one week only!

The regular course price is $35 USD or $47 CDN, but I’ve discounted it for this first week to $30 USD or $42 CDN. The launch week special expires on Sunday, July 25th at midnight EST and there’s no coupon necessary at checkout.

To find out more…

Head over to Victorian Vignettes to watch the trailer, read the course details and enrol. And if you have questions about the class, don’t hesitate to ask.


The opaques

I have a bunch of opaque pigments —Lavender, Naples Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Turquoise and Cobalt Green — on my palette. I don’t necessarily use them for mixing but I do put them to good use in the final stages of a sketch or painting to add some sparkle or a few highlights to dark areas of a sketch.

Lavender came in handy when I was painting the Veronicastrum in my garden this morning. (That’s the spiky purple flowers on the left that are a favourite of bees.) While the purple wash was still wet, a wind caught my paper and I ended up with a dark green spot in the middle of the flowers where the paper hit my wet brush. When the sketch was dry, I came back in with some spots of opaque Lavender and a bit of white gouache too, to bring back the spikes of the flower. I also used some Lemon Yellow on the grasses at the right.

Another recent favourite is Buff Titanium. I don’t use it much in a diluted state, but it’s wonderful when I’m painting a marsh scene and want to add some dry texture or grasses like I did in the foreground of Wetlands.


In the red

I was out sketching with my friend Joni on the weekend. She chose our sketching spot at La Croissanterie Figaro because of the red umbrellas. Of course she didn’t realize, and neither did I until we sat down, that having a giant canopy of red umbrellas overhead would make it really hard to see the colour in our sketchbooks. I’ve included photos of both of us so you could see what the colour is like under the umbrellas, and also how beautiful the begonias are, which is why we both sketched them! Many thanks to the folks at the café who let us sketch for a good long time without pushing us out to welcome the Sunday brunch crowd.


White trucks

I don’t spend a whole lot of time choosing subjects to sketch. The skills that I try to practice every day in my sketchbook are simple ones — look at values, compare shapes, try to work in a bit of perspective — so for me it doesn’t really matter what the actual subject is. Take for example the white truck in my neighbour’s driveway. It’s not a very exciting subject. But what caught my eye the morning I sketched it was the pattern of early morning light and shadow on the lawn, the trash bin and the wheelbarrow. There was so much contrast in the scene that I wanted to record the shapes of light and dark. I happened to be reading the news on my iPad at the time, so I opened Procreate and quickly drew what I saw with my 6B Procreate pencil tool before the light changed.

It was the same thing at the Jean Talon Market today. We were sitting at a cafe terrace and what I could see from my table was the view of a back alley behind some vendors. It’s not a very interesting view but it was an opportunity to quickly record lights and darks, as well as brights and neutrals. That’s what I love best about having my sketchbook with me. Every sketch is an opportunity to practice looking.


Alice watches the Stanley Cup Finals

I was very honoured to be interviewed by Colin Devroe of The Watercolor Gallery. If you’re interested, have a look at his wonderful site h2ocolor.com and the interview here.

As for today’s drawings, they don’t need much explanation. There’s no stopping Alice during hockey finals. She’s cheering and shouting the whole time. Can’t keep her down.


Shadows first

The morning light on the greystones on the north side of Carré St. Louis is always so beautiful. I was sketching there quite early today, in my usual spot at the edge of the square under the trees, but I only had a short time to sketch. With that in mind, instead of building up layers or glazes of watercolour, as I usually do, I tried a different way of working. I painted the shadow patterns on the wall first, knowing that if I had to pack up, I would have captured the most important shapes in the scene. I ended up having a few extra minutes so I added another layer of darks, and I suppose it might seem unfinished, but there’s also something nice about leaving it exactly as I saw it in the moment.


White on red

The purple smokebush in my garden is never more beautiful than in the summer when it becomes the background to all the other flowers in front of it. I especially love it when the daisies are blooming. I did a quick sketch of this combo in my Etchr sketchbook, starting with a background wash that moved from deep red to green. An Alizarin Crimson and Phthalo Green mix was perfect for this. I added a little Green Gold at the bottom to warm up the leaf colours. When that was dry, I used negative painting to define the red leaves. The last step was some quick definition in the daisy foliage and flowers.


An invitation to our Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island

It’s official! The Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island is on and it’ll be my first in-person sketching workshop since the start of the pandemic. I’m glad to confirm my attendence, along with three other instructors, now that we’re fully vaccinated and the travel outlook is far more positive this summer. This event was postponed from last summer, so it’s wonderful that it’s back on and that I’ll be teaching alongside Paul Heaston, Uma Kelkar and James Richards! Dates are August 16-20, 2021.

We’ve been working hard to plan this workshop, together with the very capable folks at Madeline Island School of the Arts, and we’re all so excited to be teaching in-person again. We’re also thrilled that it’s a group event, with five full days of sketching, lively group meals, and some great talks we’ve planned for the evenings.

If you don’t know about the school or its location, have a look at the MISA facilities, the beautiful island site on Lake Superior, and a description of our immersive week together. I am SO looking forward to teaching and sketching with people again! There are very few spaces left for this event, so make sure you secure your spot today. To find out more and to register, here’s the link. As for the sketch below, that’s Tom’s Burned Down Café on Madeline Island. Hope to see you there in August!!