A recipe for snow shadows

On very cold and sunny days in the winter (if you factor in the wind today it’s -29°C in Montreal!) the shadows on the snow are brilliant and sharp. I can’t think of one tube of blue paint that would approximate the colour perfectly. Today in my studio I did a few experiments to see what mix would work best for the scene that I saw while walking the dog this morning.

In the past I’ve used Cobalt Blue for snow but I wanted something a bit more purple and less opaque. Since my sky is painted with a light wash of Phthalo Blue, I thought I’d start with that. I added the tiniest drop of Quinacridone Rose to my blue wash, but felt it needed a warmer blue as well, so into that I mixed some Cerulean Blue. I always keep a test sheet next to me for trying out colours, and this seemed to dry at just the right intensity. It’s always a balancing act, getting the colour right and then mixing enough of it to paint all the shadows in one go without running out of wash. But this was an easy mix to make and fairly easy to duplicate, so I’ll be trying it again on the next winter scenes I do. And if you are curious about the really dark trees — that’s mostly Indanthrene Blue, a bit of Indigo and some Alizarin as well. Arches CP paper, or maybe rough, 15″ x 11″.


Rue St. Joachim

The first big snowfall yesterday coincided with the end of my teaching semester. I’m thrilled to have some time to paint again, post more frequently, answer comments in a more timely manner… and simply have time to breathe.

Right after a big storm like this one, parking on the street is sometimes problematic because of the snowplows, so I painted in studio this morning. My limited palette was mostly Cerulean Blue, Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna — a fairly quiet choice of colours for this scene. Paper: Bockingford cold press, 15″ x 11″. Playlist: some chill jazz on Spotify.StJoachim.jpg

Gouache experiment on toned paper

I’ve been having so much fun using a Stillman & Birn toned sketchbook these past few weeks that I decided to take it one step further by painting in gouache. But gouache is hard to find. The first store I went to had none, and the second place had a few tubes in a sale bin. I guess it’s not very popular, at least in my neck of the woods.

Back at home I placed a few things on my studio table — two of my favourite pieces of pottery (the one on the left recently made by a friend of mine) and a natural sponge that I use for painting (in case you can’t tell what the blob on the right is).

I drew first in pencil and then painted, using a limited palette of White, Lamp Black, Cadmium red, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow. I’ve never painted with gouache before but here are a few things I learned:
1. You need to mix up enough paint if you are going to paint a large area. Notice what happened in the background when I ran out of paint on the right side.
2. Gouache dries fast! You need to paint quickly.
3. It’s hard to duplicate a colour if you need to add more to an area (again, look at that background.
4. You can correct mistakes quite easily by painting over areas.

Here are a few things I like about gouache (and some of these are why I like oil as well):
1. The flatness of the colour
2. The subtleties of the colour
3. Working from dark to light
4. Adding white
5. The fast drying time.

I will certainly be trying this again. Especially since I cleaned out the sale bin at the store.


The mind wanders

Ahhhh… Can you hear my sigh of relief that classes are done for this semester? It seems to me that the exhale is so loud it can be heard from very far away. But with classes over it means that the worst is yet to come — the piles of grading that have to be looked at before final marks are turned in.

I took a day off today to let my mind wander, sit in my studio corner, and think about scenes I want to paint. I’ve now added a few things to the room thanks to great ideas from blog readers — an old lamp, as well as a side table to rest my teacup on. A footstool will come in time. From that comfortable spot I drew Alice after her walk. Nothing too strenuous for Day One of my (almost) holiday.


Studio corner

I’ve spent some time these past few months making my studio a better place to paint — adding lighting, clearing out junk, etc. There’s still a bit more to be done but yesterday I spotted this big old chair on the other side of the room and I had an idea. I dragged and pushed and dragged some more until I got it into the perfect spot in the corner right next to all my favourite art books. When school finishes next week I hope to be spending some time there, catching up on reading. Sketched in a Saunders Waterford FatPad, 140 lb Rough, 28 x 38 cm.


Inside and outside: more experiments on toned paper

I spent a bit of time this week experimenting some more with a tiny Stillman & Birn Nova series toned paper sketchbook. Since I haven’t worked much on this type of paper, it’s been a lot of fun to try different materials on the tan surface.


On my way home from work one day I stopped in Lachine and did a little street scene on 6th Avenue. The light was great that day, and even though the sketch is a bit messy because I drew with charcoal instead of pencil, this will hopefully be the sketch for a larger painting.


The next day I had a few minutes before leaving for school so I did a quick sketch of some bananas on the kitchen counter. This time I tried mixing some white paint into the yellow watercolour to get a more opaque effect, something like gouache.


Today I drew at a café, and added white watercolour, white chalk and a bit of transparent watercolour to my ink drawing. This paper works really well when you can add lots of little darks and lights and use the tan paper as your middle tone. So far this is the technique I like the best.


Cold weather sketching can be challenging when you are dependent on the perfect parking place and a good view from the car window. I often drive around and around, looking for the perfect spot, with no success. I settle for an obstructed view and paint whatever I can see in front of me, just to get in a little drawing practice. These strange angles sometimes make for a more interesting composition, and the bits of signage add colour to the scene during a very grey time of year. Sketched in a Handbook Journal, 9″ x 12″.