Sixteen to twenty-one

The hyacinths are blooming. They still have some growing to do, but I have other clumps in the garden so I decided that I would draw this grouping before they were fully upright. It was a bit cool this morning while I was sketching, and they seemed to be huddled inside their leaves, like I was, inside my jacket. To draw them I used a dip pen and water-soluble éclat de saphir ink from Jacques Herbin. Just the perfect colour for these flowers. I also used a brush in some areas to get masses of that deep blue/purple colour.

I also added the hyacinths to my jpeg of the full concertina sketchbook layout. There’s lots of rain in the forecast for the next few days, so it may only be the weekend before I can add to the book again.

Thirsty birds

I’m trying out a new easel that arrived yesterday from Cup Easels. I’ve been eyeing this one for a while and decided to buy it because it’s so perfect for gouache and watercolour. To try it out, I attached it to my Sirui tripod and raised it quite high. It has a perfect little mixing area for gouache or watercolour, and also this little tray for the paints that comes with a cover so that the gouache does not dry out in between outings. There’s a tiny water cup too, but I attached a bigger cup below the palette using the convenient holes and a couple of carabiners. This easel is also quite small so I could definitely use it on my lap or in my car. I love how close the mixing surface is to the sketchbook.

I sketched a view through to my neighbour’s yard where lots of thirsty birds dropped by to have a drink in the bird bath. This spring has been quite dry, so after my sketch was done I put out my bird baths too.

Nine to fifteen

More flowers opened today so I added them to my concertina sketchbook. This time I painted them in gouache, but pale yellow on white paper is difficult, plus this is really not a nice surface for gouache either. I think ink might be the best way to go on this, but I will continue using it until all 200 bulbs bloom.

I’ll also combine all the sections in Photoshop, like this below, so you can see what the whole book looks like. When it’s done I’ll probably be able to paper a room with this 360° spring garden!

From one to eight

This weekend I raked up bags and bags of decomposed leaves and debris in my garden, and sitting outside to draw after that was my reward. Last week I mentioned that I planted 200 bulbs in my garden in the fall, but at the time, nothing was blooming yet. In the last few days though, we’ve had some very warm weather and the bulbs have gone crazy. These daffodils went from being a few inches high to blooming in what seems like a matter of hours. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

I thought that since I invested all that time planting them, it might be interesting to document them in some way in my sketchbook. Hidden in amongst my unopened sketchbooks, I found a concertina book from Seawhite of Brighton. I usually save these books for a thematic sketch project, but this would fit the bill if I draw all 200 bulbs (or what ever comes up) on this one long accordion sheet. I am numbering them to see how many bloom, and dating them too.

I’m not used to using smooth mixed media paper like this. It really only takes light watercolour washes from a brush that is not too wet, which is also why I chose to use ink instead of pencil to create a stronger line. Sketched with a Platinum Carbon Desk pen and a few blues and yellows.

The garden from above

This morning I did a walkthrough in the garden to see what was emerging from the ground in this warm weather. Many of the 200 bulbs I planted in the fall are making an appearance, although nothing is blooming yet. What I did find though, were some flowers that are so tiny that they can only be drawn from above — yellow Coltsfoot that you might mistake for dandelions, bright blue Scilla in giant clumps, and delicate Snowdrops, edging over to my garden from my neighbour’s yard. These tiny discoveries were enough to fill a page in my sketchbook, and hopefully by the time I get out there again there will be hyacinths and daffodils to sketch too.

Arboretum shadows and reflections

I was back at the Morgan Arboretum today, pack on my back and rubber boots on my feet. The last remnants of snow have melted so the view is not as dramatic as when I was there on Saturday, but the subject was still worth painting.

It was really interesting to paint this scene on location after painting it from a photo just yesterday. This was a completely different experience. Whereas yesterday’s watercolour was quite stylized and in some ways almost imaginary, today’s is all about the texture and mess of being on location with the added challenge of dramatically changing light and shadow.

When you’re painting from a photo, the scene is fixed in time. Many details are, for the most part, missing or too dark to see. The best example of this would be the darkened ends of the floating logs. In yesterday’s photo those were completely black but when I was on location I could see colour in the darks, including mossy green and brown bits of rotting wood. Plus there was the sensory aspect of the experience — I could hear birds, squirrels and chipmunks in the brush, and the air was fragrant with fallen pine needles warmed by the sun. You can’t discount what all of that adds to the painting experience. This version may be messier and perhaps not as well composed, but the experience was so much richer in so many ways.

Arboretum melt

On Saturday we took a walk through the Morgan Arboretum. I didn’t have a sketchbook with me, nor was I wearing rubber boots. We managed to find a way through the brush so that we could avoid walking through the wettest part of the trail, but I did take a few photos because the melting snow and greenish water were so beautiful.

Today I was determined to paint the scene on a half sheet of watercolour paper, and it did take several tries before I ended up with something I was happy with. I wanted some of the melting snow to look partially submerged, and I also wanted to create a sense of movement with the brushstrokes.

I think I will go back to the Arboretum this week to paint the same scene, on location, this time with my rubber boots! It will be interesting to compare the results of studio vs plein air, provided I am successful and I don’t get knocked into the water by an overly zealous dog on the trail.

Silo details

I was a tourist in my own city this weekend. After the long winter indoors it felt great to stroll down some of my favourite streets in Montreal, and also to sketch a few of my favourite spots. Grain Silo 5 was as rusty and decayed as ever, and even though the light was not that great, I had so much fun trying to capture its textures. There are so many windows, most of them broken, on the buildings, that it would have taken hours to draw them all. Instead, I simply painted layers of texture on the rusty elevators and added some window details with the brush. Sketched in an Etchr A4 sketchbook, using lots of blues and earth colours.

Today and yesterday

I thought I posted this sketch from yesterday, but apparently not! Here is what I wrote:

There was a long line outside Dragon Flower today. Everyone was buying bouquets, maybe to celebrate Easter or maybe to simply celebrate the joy of being outside on a cold but very sunny April day in Montreal. I sketched from across the street, in my car, and I celebrated too, with a take-out cappuccino in my cup holder and the freshest yellow I could find on my palette.

I was also out this morning, again sketching from the car. The scene wasn’t nearly as colourful, nor was there takeout coffee, but there were trash bins and that’s good enough for me.

First day, last day

It’s the first day of April, but it’s the last day for these tulips that have been sitting on my counter for many days. Today I continued playing with gouache, this time using a limited palette of Primary Magenta, Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow, plus White. My favourite paper for gouache is hot press, and this one is in an Etchr sketchbook. Although I rarely use hot press paper for pure watercolour, I love the creamy texture of gouache on the smooth surface of this book.