Aquarius test

Years ago if you used Strathmore Aquarius paper, it had a nasty side effect of leaving fibreglass fibres in your hand as you painted. Very itchy and to be avoided all costs, for those of you who remember that old stock. But the Aquarius II paper seems to be reformulated without the offending shards, so I tried some today. It’s quite light (80 lb) and even though it’s labeled as cold press paper it seemed more like hot press to me. I like the sharp edges you get with direct painting (no pencil or pen on this) and the way the colours remain bright. The advantage of this paper is that even though it is very thin, the combination of natural and synthetic fibres keep it from buckling (this was just clipped to a board without taping the edges). As the paint dried it created some interesting edges and effects which worked quite well for the echinacea in my garden, but I’m not sure I’d use this for anything more than a quick sketch. When I wet the paper and washed over it with a diluted pale green in the background, the edges dried quickly, making it hard to go back into a damp area with more pigment (a characteristic I dislike about hot press paper). Tomorrow I’ll take it on the road and sketch an urban scene to see how it handles in the field.AquariusTest

Chicago: Sketching with friends

One of the great pleasures at this year’s Urban Sketchers symposium in Chicago was time spent sketching with friends both in the days before and after the event itself. It is both intimidating and exhilarating to sketch with this group, so I thought I’d share my work — not always successful or even finished — as well as links to what other people accomplished on these outings.

The first group event was a trip to sketch both the interior and the exterior of Robie House — Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark Prairie School building on the University of Chicago campus. A few of chose a simple view of the pathway and classic Wright partially hidden main entrance, but when I turned I saw that most of the group was seated under a tree across the street, drawing the full building. Have a look at Lapin’s sketches from Chicago, including a great one of the Robie House.


A great symposium tradition is to get up early and sketch before the day’s events start. One morning a bunch of us sketched under the El train. I didn’t have much time so I drew it with a brush pen. Have a look at Marc Holmes’s sketches from Chicago as well as my favourite photo of this outing (by Laurel Holmes) of this group looking very perplexed by the complex train scene. So many columns to draw! And have a look at Suhita’s take on the El and her seven blog posts about what she sketched in Chicago.TheEl

After the symposium was over (and I was almost too exhausted to walk) I spent a few days moving at a slower pace, visiting The Art Institute and sketching along Michigan Avenue, including a view of the Du Sable bridge.


One evening Uma Kelkar and I went up to the top of the Hancock Building to sketch and watch the sunset. With all of Chicago below us we tried to capture the disappearing panorama. Have a look at what Uma did on her iPad.


In the early morning, while waiting for the big doors of The Art Institute to open, my friend Alison Hall and I sketched The Lurie Garden in all of its wildness. From a shady spot under some trees you have a background of the skyline of Chicago and a foreground of wildflowers, bees, birds and pond-lined walkways.


Thanks to some sketchers who had rooms at the residences of Roosevelt University, a few of us were invited to sketch the view from the 21st floor. This is a bit of a messed up sketch but have a look at Susan Cornelis’s blog to see us all sketching that sight.


My last morning was spent sketching with one of my drawing heroes — Don Colley —who is a resident of Chicago and was one of the volunteers at the symposium. I did a final sketch of Grant Park and then spent a bit of time watching Don make magic with Pitt pens. A great way to end the week. Thanks to all my sketching friends who let me look over their shoulders (I couldn’t find links for all the work I wanted to show!). What I learned from you in a week keeps me going all year.GrantPark.jpg


Trees and the City: an Ottawa workshop

I had a wonderful experience teaching at the Urban Sketchers symposium in Chicago, so it makes me happy to announce that I will be repeating my workshop at a location not too far from home — in Ottawa, Ontario, on September 30, 2017. I don’t usually hold workshops during my college teaching semester, but I said yes to this request from the Ottawa Urban Sketchers since this is a half-day event in a city close to Montreal.


The format of the workshop will be the same as all the symposium workshops — three hours of instruction and sketching together. We’ll focus on capturing trees in an urban environment. If you are interested in joining me, details about the workshop format, supplies and registration are on the Urban Sketchers Workshop page.

I’m usually too busy during my workshops to take photos but I did manage to capture a few pics of participants and their sketches from the symposium in Chicago.



Birches by the lake

I tried out some Strathmore Gemini watercolour paper on the weekend, just to see what it’s like to paint on something other than Arches or Fabriano. When I do paper tests like this, I try to pick a subject that’s not too complex (no street scenes, no architecture) so that I can focus instead on how the paint reacts on the paper. I really enjoyed the experience of working on the Gemini. It’s creamy white, nicely textured for Cold Press paper (140 lb), and softer than Arches. The most important thing for me is colour vibrancy — are the colours just as bright when dry as when wet? Of course all watercolours dry a little bit lighter but if the paper soaks up the chroma and the painting looks faded, then the paper fails the test for me. After this quick test, I can say that Gemini was really easy to work on, both with a light pencil drawing and then with a brush. Definitely a paper I will be trying again.


Patient Alice

Alice is very patient while I experiment with art materials from the gift bags that participants and instructors received at the USk symposium in Chicago. I never try these things out at the event — no time for experimentation on site. But when I get home, it’s so much fun to play.

Today, while Alice waited, I found a tiny sample pad of Hahnemühle Bamboo mixed media paper along with a big fat 9B water-soluble graphite stick from Lyra. A wonderful duo, as it turns out. The paper is creamy, slightly textured and perfect for quick drawings. It takes a light wash well too. And with the sharpened Lyra graphite stick you can make thin marks to obtain soft grey washes, or very thick lines that release into the deep black washes. Definitely a combo I will use again.


Speed painting in Chicago

If you didn’t make it to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago this year, you can see some of what you missed on the USk YouTube channel. Among the many videos from this year’s event, you’ll find one of me trying to speed paint (in 30 minutes!) my way through this demo of a little park kiosk in Grant Park. In the demo I use a triad of primary colours (Winsor Yellow, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue) to illustrate how using a limited palette can create unity in your sketches. Thanks to instructor and amazing sketcher Mike Daikubara for filming this, and to all the participants who had the patience to watch my thirty minutes turn into an hour! I’m glad there were no activities on the symposium schedule after this.ParkKiosk

Dots and dashes

I still have lots of Chicago sketches to post but thought I’d interrupt that broadcast to post my sketch from this morning. Due to flooding around Montreal this spring, sailing season had a rough start with boats going in the water many weeks later than usual. I never made it out to sketch in my usual spots before leaving on my trip to the West Coast, so I have a little catching up to do.

There is a particular vantage point in a park that gives me a clear view of hulls, masts and sail covers at the boat club. No boat can be seen in its entirety, but as a group the sailboats create a fascinating pattern. Before painting this, I start with a pencil drawing of the boat shapes, but most of the work is done with a brush — dots and dashes of flags, ropes, masts and rudders. It’s a complex view but a fairly simple subject to render if you treat it with repeating shapes.