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.

Backlit house

Lately I’ve noticed lots of new outdoor seating areas in Montreal, created to accommodate more people being outside due to the pandemic. In downtown Montreal there are little enclosures in downtown neighbourhoods that have a single picnic table under a wooden roof and include signage to indicate that they are meant to be used by one family or group. I love that they are on busy corners where you might not normally think of having a picnic.

Closer to home, I noticed some new tables, giant planters and umbrellas on what used to be an empty lot at the corner of Cartier and Lakeshore in Pointe Claire Village. I’ve painted many times in that area but could never get a great view of this little tin roof house. Now that there are tables to spread out on, and umbrellas for shade, I have at least a dozen new angles and viewpoints to choose from at one of my favourite corners. I will try not to think about how close this spot is to an ice cream shop and instead focus on the fact that the best coffee in the village is across the street.

The challenge today was the backlight. The whole house was in shade but the tin roof was glaring white. I started my sketch by painting everything except the white in one wash (green for the trees and blue for almost everything else). I added details when that wash was dry. Sketched in an Etchr Perfect sketchbook, A4 size.

Back to the island

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you probably know that I love to test out art supplies. I’m not fussy about the “best before” date of things. I sometimes find stuff in the back of a drawer that I didn’t know I had, like this mysterious ink without a label, or this old paint tube. But it’s even nicer to try out new stuff, if I’m lucky enough to be the recipient of some samples. Last month, just before I was scheduled to teach at the Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island, I received a pad and a block of The Collection watercolour paper from Hahnemuehle Paper, one of our generous sponsors. I used the paper when I was sketching in Gaspesie, and liked it so much I did all my workshop demos on the pad.

One of my workshop demos was of the old wooden structures of the Madeline Island Museum. My workshop topic was about using triads and other limited palettes in watercolour, so you can see all the swatches I created before we got around to drawing our subject. I was using the 9″ x 12″ pad for my demos. This paper has a really nice texture and a lovely softness for pencil drawing. It also takes colour really well and the 140 lb cold pressed surface allows for some great dry brush effects (like what I did in the grassy foreground).

We also sketched at the legendary Tom’s Burned Down Café, one of Madeline Island’s most iconic spots. The poles, awnings, flags and hand-painted signs make it kind of irresistible for a sketcher. It’s a hard scene to paint because of its complexity, but we tried to contrast inside and outside space. As you can see, the paper takes the saturated, deeper colours really well too, which makes it a winner for me. I painted each of these scenes four times on site, so I can say I put the paper through a full test and I was still happy at the end. It was really durable and great for glazing, but I haven’t tried any scrubbing or lifting yet.

If you’re interested in receiving a free sample of The Collection watercolour paper to try, send an email to, and mention “Shari Blaukopf Blog”. (These samples are only available for shipping to the US and Canada.)

As for the Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island, I’m thrilled to announce that we’ve been invited back to teach again next summer! Dates are July 11-15, 2022, and details are here. If you joined us this past August, have a look at the descriptions, because we’ll all be teaching a little something different next year.

Capitol Gorge

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the experience of sketching on location in Capitol Reef National Park, here’s a studio painting I just completed that is also inspired by walking in the park. On the day with hiked Chimney Rock and Capital Gorge, I didn’t carry my sketchbook with me because it was too hot for a full backpack and a heavy book, so the reference comes from my photos.

I wanted to convey the sense of awe we felt in that park. If you’ve been there you know what I mean. The Waterpocket Fold — that massive ridge of rock layers that runs for a hundred miles through the park — is so magnificent that it’s hard to find words to describe it. Have a look at this to see what I mean. When I decided to paint it at home the only way to express what I saw was to use a full sheet of watercolour paper, and put in some tiny figures. This particular view is near the end of the trail, almost back at the parking area. The larger figure in the painting is our son who walked on ahead as I stopped to take a photo. The other two figures are invented but they seemed necessary.

When you’ve been working in a sketchbook, it’s not easy to scale up to a bigger size. I made two false starts before feeling that I had the beginning of something that might be worth spending time one. My problem often is that I begin by sloshing too much pigment on the paper, but a scene like this requires more layering and glazing so it often takes a few tries before I slow down enough to work my way through it. Of course now that this is done, all I want to do is more large paintings of our trip to Utah.

Golden Throne

The first time I visited the national parks in Utah, it was for work — enjoyable work because I had a commission to paint the parks — but work nonetheless. When we visited again this summer, it was for pleasure, and so I had time both to sketch and to hike at Capitol Reef, my favourite of the parks.

I brought my sketchbook and travel palette with me on a hike up the Golden Throne trail. The view of the rocks in the late afternoon sun was so spectacular and the light so dramatic that I stopped in a shady spot partway up the trail to sketch, and let the rest of the family climb up to see the view at the top. When I think back on it now, I remember sketching a bit frantically as I tried to capture the shapes of the peaks, the changing light and the plunging view. Ink and wash were the best way to work, considering the situation. Drawing in ink allowed me to rapidly suggest the many layers in the cliffs that are so characteristic of that park. The whole scene would have taken much longer if I had tried to do it just in watercolour with no ink.

I regret not adding an element to suggest scale in my sketch. Perhaps a car or a figure on the road below would have helped but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Sketched in a hardcover Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook, 9″ x 12″.

Bouquet in ink

I love being surprised by the properties of new art supplies. I drew this bouquet in pen while on a Zoom call with friends and later added colour with Winsor & Newton drawing inks. I’m more familiar with inks for fountain pens but these inks are made from dyes in a shellac binder so they are best used with a brush (like I did) or in a dip pen, because they are likely to clog a fountain pen. I love the bright, transparent colours (I used purple, blue, green and yellow) and how they swirled into each other when I prewet sections of the paper in my Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. They’re also really easy to mix on a palette, which results in more muted tones, but just remember to use an inexpensive brush and wash it well at the end to get out the ink and shellac before it dries.

Almost gone

With all the travelling I did in August, and a heat wave in Montreal, my garden is looking quite sad. But dead plants can be beautiful, especially if you contrast them with a few living ones. As they dry up, my Echinacea takes on a purplish brown colour, and I used it as an opportunity to try out some new products I received from our sponsors at the Urban Sketching Retreat a couple of weeks ago. A tube of Jadeite (a very deep green) from Daniel Smith makes the most beautiful granulation, especially when mixed with Lemon Yellow, Transparent Orange and Permanent Magenta.


I’m back at my desk, mostly unpacked from my travels, and finally sitting down in front of my trusty scanner. In the next few days I’ll post a few sketches that I did in Utah, but before I get to that, I have one from Bayfield, Wisconsin. There’s a great memory associated with this one. I sketched it on the afternoon of our last day of the workshop at MISA, sitting in Bayfield with my fellow instructors Uma, Jim and Paul. We bought ice cream from a takeout window and then sat in the park to sketch a bit before dinner. We were all pretty tired from long days of teaching, so first we spent a fair bit of time staring out at the boats going by and getting a sugar boost from the ice cream. Even after that it seemed that no one had much energy to sketch, but we all managed to find a pen or a brush and put something down on paper. I was too tired to think about colour so I just painted with blue paint. And as with so many sketches done on location, for me it will always be evocative not so much of what I saw at the time but of what I felt in the moment — a wonderful mix of exhaustion and happiness and a fair bit of guilt for eating a giant cup of French Silk Pie ice cream.

Idaho car sketching

I did some sketching while driving through southern Idaho on the way to Utah. Yes, I was the passenger! The landscape in that part of the state is quite striking — the rolling fields are golden yellow and the rounded hills are a soft green. These were mostly done in the section between Swan Valley and Idaho Falls on a stretch of road that runs along the Snake River.

Sometimes people ask how to draw a constantly changing landscape. I try to take a picture of it in my head and then I put down two or three pen lines. For most of these, I started with the top lines of the yellow fields. Then I added the road. And finally the far hills. Then I add in the details like trees, posts, power lines. Colour is washed on quite quickly because I want to get it right in one go. These were sketched on a hardcover Stillman & Birn Beta book, 9 in x 12 in. The hardcover format makes it really nice for working in a moving vehicle.

A little bit of magic

The Urban Sketching Summer Retreat at Madeline Island School of the Arts has just ended. At times during the past year, it seemed doubtful that this event — postponed from last year due to the pandemic — would ever happen, but the stars aligned and four instructors and fifty students convened in a spectacular location for a week that I can only describe as magical. I think you can see from the photo of me with Paul Heaston, Jim Richards, his wonderful wife Patti and Uma Kelkar that we were pretty happy to be reunited for the week.

I don’t think I’ve fully processed the week in my head yet, but I can probably say that the joy we felt in teaching in person again started from the moment we arrived on the island ferry until the time we said goodbye to the last students at the airport.

Most of the group stayed in cabins right on the campus, so it felt a bit like summer camp for sketchers. We ate meals together in the big red barn and after days spent sketching out at different locations, each instructor gave an evening talk. This was my first time teaching at MISA, but I can see why the school has a great reputation. They do such a fantastic job of making sure that everyone is well taken care of so that instructors can devote all their energy to teaching. If you combine an idyllic location (and five sunny days) with comfortable accommodations and great food, the result can only be wonderful.

Before students arrived we spent a bit of time filling goodie bags with products from our generous sponsors Stillman & Birn, Winsor Newton, Hahnemuehle, Daniel Smith, Caran D’Ache and Legion Paper.

Each group of students spent a day with each instructor. My group spent the morning sketching the iconic Tom’s Burned Down Café. It’s a Madeline Island landmark that needs to be in every sketcher’s journal.

And in the afternoon, we sketched the log cabins of the Madeline Island Museum…

And in the evening, after dinner, each of us gave a talk…

On the last day we sketched all together on the campus and then had a final gathering to look at all of the work.

I think you can probably see that it was a pretty great week for all of us. It still seems like a bit of a dream that we were able to make it happen.

And of course, since we had to get in one last sketch before going our separate ways, Uma, Paul and I drew together in Duluth, Minnesota on our way to the airport.

I think I must have been pretty tired from all that smiling because the only tool I had the energy to use on my iPad was my trusty 6B pencil.