Lobster lunch

This is always the first view I sketch in Rockport — the one right from my door. To the right of this scene is Roy Moore Lobster Co, and today, on a sunny Saturday in June, the picnic tables on the back deck are packed. Standing room only for lobster rolls and clam chowder. This family was smart. Instead of waiting for a table they took their lunch out to the wharf and found a spot to eat. I would have done the same thing.

New workshop announcement: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

It’s a real treat for me to be announcing a new workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in January 2020. San Miguel is a stunning colonial-era city in central Mexico, and it’s going to be so much fun to capture the architecture and street life of this colourful Unesco World Heritage site in our sketchbooks.

I’m super excited to be working with Meagan Burns, our organizer from Art Leap Adventures, because she’s been living in San Miguel since 2015, and she’s a sketcher, so she knows all the best spots for us to see and draw. We’ll be sketching in markets, gardens and art studios, not to mention through the city’s historic cobblestoned streets. 

I won’t go on too long about it since all the details are on her site.
If you’re interested, here’s the link: https://www.artleapadventures.com/travelsketchsma.html

Registration is open now and there are only 12 spots available. 

Too beautiful

There have been a lot of celebrations around here lately — birthdays, graduations and retirements. So many parties that there’s little time left to paint. In the middle of it all sits a massive bouquet, so lush and bursting with scent and colour that it has stumped me all week. It’s really too beautiful to paint. What could I do with brush and pigment that could possibly match its richness? But I couldn’t let it fade without attempting it at least once, on a small page in my sketchbook.

Boats with direct watercolour

I haven’t had much time for plein air painting these days so I’m feeling a bit rusty. Today’s outing resulted in two paintings, one that ended up in the recycling bin and this one.

The first try was too literal. I spent time on the drawing but the painting lost its freshness. This often happens when I haven’t painted in a while. I used too many colours, got detailed way too early and lost my way multiple times.

For the second attempt, I stowed away my pencil and aimed to capture the same scene in a more concise and simplified way using direct watercolour. I haven’t had a chance to participate in the #30x30DirectWatercolour2019 challenge that’s going on right now, but I’ve been avidly following the work of organizers Suhita, Uma and Marc on various social media platforms.

So what does direct watercolour mean? It means no preliminary drawing, no pen or pencil, just pick up a brush and go. In some cases people use the brush to draw, but I just painted shapes with a big flat brush.

A sailing lesson was about to start so mixed up some blue paint and started by painting the sky shape around the while sail. I brought that big blue sky right down to the tops of the boats, and then I painted another big blue shape for the water below the boats. After that it was a matter of adding in all the details of the boats and their reflections, and then the vertical masts. I was aiming to capture the essence of a marina on a bright day.

Because I was painting the scene a second time, I was already familiar with the shapes and could take some liberties with them. Of course a pencil drawing might have resulted in a more interesting design. The sailboat that I painted so boldly sailed away just minutes after I painted it, and no doubt the whole design of this might have been more interesting if the white of the sail was reflected in the water, but hey, that’s direct painting.

Morning in the garden

I’ve been thinking a lot about Charles Reid this week. The renowned watercolour painter and teacher died last Saturday, and although I was never fortunate enough to study with him, my library has a whole shelf of his books. I look at them often, and sometimes reading just one page of any of them will fill my head with enough painting ideas for a week.

One of my most dog-eared of his books is Painting What You Want to See. Here’s a little quote from the intro, “At the core of this book is the idea that we’re not painting “things” in terms of objects, rather we’re painting things as patches of color and value”. That simple yet very important concept was top of mind as I sketched in my garden this morning.

Be sneaky

I just got back from such a fun weekend at the Chicago Sketch Seminar. It was a great event — fantastic organizers, gracious volunteers, enthusiastic instructors and talented participants. If you live near Chicago and get a chance to go to this next year, jump on it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As a workshop instructor, I taught two workshops and had a chance to attend a couple of others. I love taking workshops and when I have a choice, I always take workshops that involve drawing people since it’s something that I can never get enough practice in.

The Saturday workshop I attended “Be Sneaky: Sketching People To Liven Your Urban Landscape” was taught by Nishant Jain, a writer and cartoonist who loves to draw people. It was great to hear him describe his fearless approach and he had some useful tips for drawing people in an urban environment. We started with quick gesture drawings of people walking on Wabash Ave, and then did a longer one incorporating some of the surroundings on the corner. I started with the lamppost and added the people in after.

He suggests starting with a contour drawing (look at the whole shape, not the individual parts of the figure) and then filling in the details later. I drew this guy the next day while waiting for breakfast.

One of Nishant’s tips was to start your drawing with what interests you. I loved this guy’s hat, which was on his head when I started the drawing. He took it off and put it on his suitcase so I drew the suitcase under the hat and then drew him on another page.

If you’re drawing someone and they walk away, move on to someone else. Or if they change positions, just start again like I did with the guy on the right. Sometimes you get lucky and you’ll catch someone napping which makes it really easy. The point of it all was just get in there and draw without being afraid. The more you practice drawing people, the better you’ll get.

Limited palette experiments

If you’re up for a challenge and enjoy experimenting with colour, here’s an idea for a rainy day. Try painting the same scene several times with different triads of colour. The experiments below are ones that I prepared for my workshop this weekend at the Chicago Sketch Seminar. My palette is filled with 12 Daniel Smith Colours that I’ll be using for my session titled Bare Bones: Working with Limited Palettes in Watercolour. For these experiments I worked in a Hahnemuhle Zigzag Accordion book, so that I could have all the samples on a single surface.

I was pretty methodical about the process, first painting each triad of colour as swatches first, and you might have seen a preview of this a few days ago. After painting all the swatches I did a pencil sketch of a little scene from Kamouraska, Quebec, from a photo I took a few years ago. I chose the scene because it had sky, water, rocks, trees and a house, which gave me lots of opportunity for colour. When the pencil sketch was done, I painted the scene using only the three colours from the swatches on the left.

Although it started to get tedious by the sixth or seventh combination, it was really interesting to see them all side by side. If you check out my Instagram feed you can also see a video of one side of the book.

The combinations are titled so I can keep track of them, although they were hard to name since some are quite similar, like the Bright one and the Bold one. At the bottom of the swatch page, you can also see the beautiful neutrals and darks that you can create by mixing all three pigments together.

The Traditional palette gave me some unexpected results. I incorporated pure red into the sketch, and loved the way it contrasted with the cool greys in the sky. The name for this one comes from an article about limited palettes by Nita Leland in Watercolor Artist magazine from a few years back.

The Art History palette got its name from a similar palette in the Adobe Illustrator colour library. After years of teaching this software to my college students, these names are hard to forget.

The Opaque palette is one I love to use on cloudy or misty days to create atmosphere. With this combination it’s hard to create deep darks but the greys are luminous.

Sometimes the name doesn’t quite match the sketch. The Muted palette swatches are quite soft looking but the painted sketch is much bolder.

The Warm palette is made up of a warm yellow, a cool red and a green instead of a blue. This is one that I have never tried before but I will certainly be experimenting with it again.

As you can see from comparing all of these, using a limited palette often creates a harmonious combination of colours. Sometimes these colours are not what you might see in the scene in front of you, but they make for a more chromatically unified sketch or painting. I learned a lot from creating these samples and I know I’ll have a good time incorporating some of these combos into my sketches.

I hope this has given you some new ideas for your own sketches, and if you want to tell me about your favourite triad of colours, I’d love to hear.