Pressure wash

My sketching outing at the boat club was ruined by drizzle so I wandered around to take a few photos of the boats that had recently been put in dry dock. Between two hulls, I spotted the bottom of a yellow slicker and some rain boots. I approached from another direction, hoping to get a better photo of the man in the striking yellow poncho who was pressure-washing his blue boat. In these situations, I try to be discreet, but I’m always a bit self-conscious in case my subject sees me. There was nowhere to hide from that vantage point, though, so I took the photo anyway. As soon I did, the man in the slicker started walking towards me, and I was ready with my usual speech, “I hope you don’t mind, I am just taking some reference images for painting…” But as he got closer he waved and I realized he was approaching because we knew each other. We both used to work at the same college where he was the technician for our computer labs. We often talked about how much he was looking forward to retirement so he could spend more time sailing. Now he spends his summers on the water, part of autumn trying to get the zebra mussels off the boats, and the rest of the time growing a bushy beard which is the reason I didn’t recognize him in the first place.

Mercury Capsule and my smallest sketch kit

A Concorde, the Lockheed Blackbird, the Space Shuttle Discovery, the Boeing Enola Gay, or a 1903 Wright flyer. How do you choose what to sketch at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum when you only have about 30 minutes? Everything is so big and SO complex. There are aircraft on the ground AND hanging from the rafters in the enormous hangar that houses the museum. It’s a place that I could easily spend a whole day, but with only a bit of time before heading back to the Washington airport I chose something relatively small to draw. Something on a human scale: the Mercury Capsule.

I had a small sketch kit with me for the weekend — a 5 x 8” Hahnemuhle sketchbook, a few ink pens, a pencil, a brush with a water reservoir, and a folding Winsor & Newton palette with a small selection of half pans. This is the kit I often use for travel on airplanes because there’s no need to carry water. I empty the water brush before going through security, and fill it again on the other side. The brush is not ideal for painting big washes but if I’m working with ink and only want to add a few dabs of colour, it’ll do. 

Although the Mercury Capsule is relatively small compared with the massive Space Shuttle Discovery that was behind me, it still has a fair amount of detail on it, including a window that allows you to see inside it. I was only able to draw the basic shape of the capsule, and then add a light wash on top of it before it was time to go. The rest of the drawing and lettering was done while waiting for my (delayed) flight. 

A note about the palette

Although my favourite travel palette is the one where I add my own half pans of artist-quality tube paint, I highly recommend this Winsor & Newton one as well because of the quality of the paint in the half pans. It’s a fairly expensive product that I bought at least five or six years ago, but the pan colours are STILL fresh and soft. That means that they release tons of colour when you re-wet them. The last thing you want when you are using a water brush is to have to empty half the water from your brush into the palette to get good, saturated colour. 

Tools in the studio

I was looking for something to draw for today’s Zoom chat with friends. To be more precise, I was looking for something easy to draw. I found these tools in my studio and plunked them down on my drawing table, under my desk lamp so I would get some cast shadows. Once I started to draw them though, I realized they were more complex than expected. Drawn with a Platinum Carbon Desk pen filled with Carbon Ink, in a Travelogue Watercolour Journal. Still one of the nicest combos I can find for ink drawings.


When I bought these gladioli at the market last week, the flowers were all closed. So I waited. And waited. And then I waited a little too long. By the time I found some time to paint them, the flowers were shrivelled. But then I noticed that the colours in the papery, decaying flowers was so much more intense than the open blooms. I squished out some Quinacridone Coral on my palette and mixed that with some Carbazole Violet for the darks. Painted in direct watercolour with a Rosemary rigger brush on a sheet of Saunders Waterford paper.

Right page, left page

I’ve often strolled by Marché L’Olivier in the Jean Talon Market. From the back entrance it seems like a dry goods store, with all the baskets and bags hanging outside. But as often happens when I’m out sketching, I never venture inside a place to see what’s beyond the door. If I had, I would have discovered that this is a Halal butcher and grocery store. I sketched this in Pitt Artist pen and watercolour, on the right hand side of my Handbook sketchbook.

Later in the day, I used the same pen to sketch Alice, this time on the lefthand page in my sketchbook. The nib on my Pitt pen was almost used up, which made it perfect for the subtle tones on her fur. Yesterday was the first day of #inktober2021. I’m never very consistent and have never completed a full month of ink drawings, but I do love watching what goes by on my Instagram feed. How about you? Will you be joining Inktober this year?

Market produce and people

This really is the week to sketch at Jean Talon Market. Tomatoes are winding down but peppers, pumpkins and apples are plentiful. It was hard to decide where to stand to get the best view but on a weekday morning were picnic tables were empty, which meant that I could have coffee AND sketch at the same time. Quite a luxury, and much appreciated, because that market is always so cold, especially on an overcast day.

I was sitting too close to the produce racks to add people in, but when I finished my colour sketch, I drew a few shoppers on the lefthand page of my book using some Neutral Tint that I just added to my travel palette. It came in handy both for the people and the darks behind the vegetables.

Hello autumn

The first signs of autumn in my neighbourhood are always this row of trees at the edge of the baseball diamond in my park. Instead of going red, they turn a soft yellow. I saw them this morning while walking the dog, and went back later with my easel to sketch them. It’s a fairly simple composition but I tried to make it interesting by really looking at each shape, and separating the yellow ones from the darker ones behind. Sketched on a block of Hahnemuhle Collection Watercolour paper, 12″ x 9″.

Sorry zinnias

I managed to scrounge up a few sorry looking flowers in my garden so that I would have something to sketch today. The asters are just beginning to bloom but the zinnias, sadly, were not a success right from the start. Clearly, I did not read the nursery tags properly when I bought them because I was hoping for tall flowers for cutting, and ended up with short ones that got eaten by bugs. Oh well… These are the last few that were intact enough to cut.

I painted them in direct watercolour, meaning no pen or pencil drawing to start. Sometimes with flowers, the freshest way to go is just to put down the colour on white paper. I start with the blooms and then connect them with greenery, adding layers of negative painting as I go. Painted on a block of Hahnemuehle The Collection watercolour paper.

Down by the river

Last week I taught my first local in-person workshop in Gananoque, Ontario. If you don’t know the town, look it up. It’s situated on the St. Lawrence River, about halfway between Montreal and Toronto, and not too far from Ottawa either. I remember going there as a youngster with my family to take a boat tour of the 1000 Islands, but I haven’t been back since. It was a wonderful surprise to discover how many things there are to sketch there — historic houses, a beautiful town hall, a colourful main street, parks along the Gananoque River, boats on the St. Lawrence — along with some nice hotels and great places to eat.

Our meeting spot each day was the 1000 Island Heritage Museum, which we sketched, of course, and right next to that is the 1000 Islands Boat Museum, which we also sketched. Was it wonderful to be sketching together on these beautiful September days? You bet!! I created a montage of a few photos of the group AND their beautiful work, and I had to include a photo of the little tugboat that was taken out of the docks just for us to draw!

Many thanks to Mary Ann who planned this so well, and to our sponsors: Chrysler House, 1000 Island History Museum and Gananoque Arts Network!

Pinyon Cafe

A few weeks ago I had the best coffee and pastry from Pinyon Cafe in Salt Lake City. But besides the best coffee, Steve also has the best coffee trailer. It’s painted bright orange! You can see why I had to grab my sketchbook and draw it after I finished my breakfast. He parks it at various spots around the city (follow him @pinyoncafe on Instagram to find out where he’ll be), and he’s a popular guy, not just because the coffee is great but because he’s super friendly and loves to chat. Everyone who stops there spends a little time hanging out, so it’s also a great place to draw people and dogs. And if you are lucky you may even get a few flowers from Steve’s garden along with your coffee.