I have only painted the big copper dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory from a distance but I was passing by today and it was offset against this really dark blue sky. Such drama! I pulled into an empty parking spot (which are very hard to find after two solid days of snow) and sketched this. It was obscured by trees so I painted those too.
This was painted on my lunch hour in the same place where I have sketched students before. Lately I have been trying to draw more people and I probably could ask one of my students to pose for me and they would gladly sit for a while. But I just realized that there is a certain thrill in drawing someone who doesn’t know that you are drawing them because they could walk away at any time. You have to put down the essential lines really quickly — observe the direction of the light, the position of the legs, the tilt of the head — in case they disappear. The same goes for the paint. The colour is almost inconsequential but if you can get the values right in one pass then your sketch has a chance of retaining some of its freshness. This is what I am working towards.
Painting flowers in watercolour is so difficult. The last thing you want is for them to be stiff and dry-looking and full of picky little details. So I have been trying to treat them as a mass instead of painting each blossom individually. The other thing you want to have is some stems and some leaves to connect them, but in this horizontal format the leaves were a mile away. This is my practice from today.
I used to be so afraid of drawing people. Paralyzed, even. As soon as I made a mark on paper they would move and then I would erase what I had done and start again. But I can say with certainty that daily drawing practice has helped me so much. It’s like practicing scales for a musician. You just keep hitting those notes, or in my case making the marks on paper, and eventually it gets better or easier or both. Drawing is work. But with practice your sense of proportion gets better, your lines more expressive and if the whole expresses the essence of what you see, then the details don’t matter as much. My point is that a year ago I might have spent 10 minutes getting his hood just right but today in that time I had the whole thing drawn and coloured. It may not be a perfect drawing but the essence of the surveyor on a cold sunny day has been captured.
I went out this morning with two ideas: I wanted to work on sky and I was going to tackle it wet-in-wet. The closest place to my house with a good sky view is at McGill’s Macdonald Campus Farm where I have painted many times before. But do you know what it is like to paint wet-in-wet in a really cold car? The paper never dries and everything goes all soft. The composition is a little dull, the subject matter conventional but I was happy with my sky. Now I just hope my toes warm up.
I sketched today with my friend Marc Taro Holmes at an excellent exhibition of Samurai armour and objects at the Musée Pointe-à-Callière in Old Montreal. It’s the private collection of Richard Béliveau and among the objects are 19 complete samurai suits. I confess that I don’t know much about the history of the Samurai (although Marc has done some amazing Samurai drawings) so it was fascinating to see these suits up close and be able to examine the detailing in the helmets, the masks, the metalwork in the armour, the fabrics and the laces that hold them all together. The helmets were the most fun to draw because of their unusual shapes and the decorations that adorn them, like this dragon. The room is quite crowded so we only drew with pencil but I would have loved to add a vibrant red to the flames around the brass ornament.
This just in: Urban Sketchers now has a print shop on Society6 where you can buy fine art prints of many of your favorite correspondents and contributors (me included). The proceeds go to supporting Urban Sketchers and the annual symposium, so all for a good cause. All artwork is printed on 100% cotton rag, archival quality paper, available in different sizes, and you can even order them framed. There are some amazing sketches in the collection and it will be updated often, so please have a look.
I waste a lot of time driving around trying to find the perfect place to sketch. So my new tactic is to have my book with me and sketch if I am in a waiting room, or on my lunch hour or in the case of today, in the grocery store. One thing I can tell you is that the butcher and the fishmonger were a lot more interested in what I was doing than the students in the lunchroom. I had to show everyone my sketches and in the case of Muhammed, the butcher, I had to promise to bring him a photocopy of the sketch (especially since he insisted on posing so nicely for me with his filet mignon.)