Two from Mount Royal

Thanks to Les Amis de la Montagne for inviting Urban Sketchers Montreal to enjoy the third annual day of sketching in Mount Royal Park. There’s always so many things to draw on the mountain, especially on the weekend. The morning started off pretty quiet with hardly a soul in sight when I sketched the pavilion at Beaver Lake. At the last minute I added in a few figures so it wouldn’t look completely deserted.


In the afternoon things got a little more lively in the park. Entire families arrived with coolers of food, bags of charcoal and kids in tow. Soon the air was filled with the aroma of grilling meat. We were headed up to the lookout to paint a panorama of the city but stopped in our tracks when we saw the birthday party under the trees. Who can resist the balloons, the ribbons, the party favours and loot bags? With a scene like this the hardest part for me is the figures, so I just jumped right in and drew those first. I’m not used to drawing children so I started with the little girl in the white dress and moved on from there. The day ended with a nearby family offering our group of sketchers a plate of food from their table. Can’t get much better than this on a Sunday in the park.


Not anytime soon

The middle of May is usually an exciting time because that’s when the boats around here go in the water. But this is an unusual year, with all the flooding around Quebec, and the water levels at record highs in Lac St. Louis. The other evening I went down to check out the area around the Pointe Claire Yacht Club to see what was happening. The road leading to the club is closed to vehicles but you can walk down towards the lake. I was shocked to see the water up so high that the parking lot where I often paint is submerged. In fact, the waves were so inviting in the lot that my dog wanted to go for a swim.

Today, I went down to the lake again to see if I could see the Yacht Club from the park nearby. There seems to be lots of movement on the grounds of the club — I guess just a bunch of sailors working on their boats and itching to launch them. I tried to get an ETA on launch day from one boat owner who stopped to look at my sketch. He nodded his head slowly and said, “Not anytime soon…”. Instead I sketched the orange cones and the people who came down to the water to stand on the shoreline and fish.


Warm, cool and dark

Continuing my series of faded tulips in the garden, today I focused on greens — warm, cool and dark. At this time of year, as the trees start to leaf out, my mind swirls with recipes for mixing greens. I try to avoid the one-dimensional Sap Green and instead combine yellows and blues to create a wider range of hues that go from yellowish to deep blue/green. When the green is too bright I add in a bit of the complementary colour (red) to dull it down, or sometimes Burnt Sienna to give it warmth. For the darkest greens, instead of using a convenience pigment like Deep Sap, I have been experimenting with a mix of Viridian, Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. One word of warning when using Viridian: this isn’t a colour you often find in nature. I usually tame it with some yellow or blue so that I don’t end up with patches of Astroturf in my sketches.



Join us at the New York Botanical Gardens

In preparation for painting this year at the Plein Air Invitational at the New York Botanical Gardens, Marc Holmes and I spent the day at our local Jardin Botanique in Montreal. It was a perfect day for some plein air painting — just the right temperature and no wind — so we started in the perennial garden where the tulips were just starting to fade. It was a good warmup for painting in New York, where the featured event will be Chihuly in the Garden. If you are visiting the gardens on Sunday, June 11, drop by to say hello. Over 20 painters will be spread out all around the site, and I’m not sure where I’ll be, but there’s usually a map at the garden entrance so you can find us. Hope to see you there!TulipsHyacinths.jpg

Alice in the rain

This is an excerpt that I love from the first page of David Hockney’s Dog Daysa book that is well worth taking a look at if you are interested in any of these: the work of Hockney,  working in a series, or painting dogs.

“I painted and drew my dogs.
This took a certain amount of planning, since dogs are generally not interested in art. (I say generally only because I have now come across a singing dog.) Food and love dominate their lives.
In order to draw them I had to leave large sheets of paper all over the house and studio to catch them sitting or sleeping without disturbance. For the same reason, I kept canvases and a fresh palette ready for times when I thought I could work. Everything was made from observation, so speed of execution was important. (They don’t stay long in one position and one knock on the door is enough to make them leap up; not very good models.)”



A new spot

For years it’s been a running joke in the comments area of this blog that all I do is sketch my wheelbarrow but never use it to haul stuff in the garden. Not true. I move it around, occasionally. Yesterday I put it to good use to move some river rocks from one place to another, but it was so rusty and squeaky that it quickly went back to its corner, albeit to a new spot leaning up against the shed instead of the oak tree.

We’ve had so much rain and cold weather this week in Montreal but the sun made an appearance today and I was SO happy to be outdoors that I just kept sketching outward from the wheelbarrow, right across two pages of my sketchbook. Looking at this scene with sharp and quite dark shadow areas, I was more interested in capturing values than colour so I worked in a limited palette of Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Hansa Yellow Medium. It’s amazing that with only these three primary pigments, I can obtain the secondary colours that I want — the bright greens of the spring trees, the orangey rust of the wheelbarrow and the purple of the shadows on the shed. I’ll be giving a demo of this primary triad at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago this July.


Inside outside

A while back I bought one of those bamboo pens. You know the ones — a fat tube of bamboo with a carved nib that you dip in an ink bottle. I tried it out today on some watercolour paper and really like the effects you get with it. The thick line has varied widths and ends up being nicely textured as it goes over the hills and valleys of the paper (in this case Fluid paper). You can’t get very far with the line before it runs dry, so I ended up stopping and starting quite frequently but I think that makes you more observant about changes in direction and edges. Of course there’s no hiding mistakes with this pen, so you have to live with what you get. When it dried I painted over it in watercolour. Worth trying again for sure.