The focus in my sketches lately has been on big open spaces but it was a comforting change to zero in on a little section of wall, a window box and a few stones. At the start the light was flat but at just the right time the sun came out, giving me some cast shadows to work with. That pushed the window in even deeper and the plants and awning out.


Nelson in the sun

I went back to Place Jacques Cartier to do some more sketching and preparation for this weekend’s workshop. This time the weather cooperated! I used a smaller sketchbook today — my handbook sketch journal that is 8″ x 5″. It’s a smoother paper than I usually work on, but it’s quite absorbent as well.  If the sun is shining for me on Friday this will be my morning demo. As the central square and heart of Old Montreal (that’s city hall on the right) this place can get quite crowded as noon approaches but I’ve found a shady spot with a great view and hopefully no obstructions.


Nelson in the rain

I knew  I shouldn’t have started this sketch but I couldn’t resist the drama of Nelson’s Column silhouetted against the dark sky. And then I got to talking to a nice family visiting from Mexico… The sky got darker. They wanted to see me paint. And then — the rain! It started so quickly and so heavily that I couldn’t even close my book in time. Shelter was in a food court off Place Jacques Cartier and when the rain stopped I went out again to add a bit more paint to my sketch but dark clouds reappeared, heavy drops landed on my page and I threw in the towel. Dried the last bits at the hand dryer in the women’s washroom in the food court.


Using pans

In my Barcelona goodie bag of sketchbooks and other gifts from symposium sponsors I found a little kit of Van Gogh watercolour pans. The box contains a tiny travel brush and twelve colours (a warm and cool version of each of the primaries, a warm and a cool green, yellow ochre and burnt sienna, plus Payne’s grey and Chinese white.) I am used to squeezing out fresh tube colours into my palette but decided to give these a try on my last day in Tossa de Mar. My criticism of pans is often because I see people using colours that look like they’ve been left out in the desert sun for weeks — dried up, cracked, and needing gallons of water to reconstitute. But these little paints were soft and fresh and the colour was fully saturated with the addition of not too much water. The Van Gogh pigments aren’t exactly what I am used to but I enjoyed the unpredictability of the results.


Beach people

Every year when I go to the beach I remember that this is the best life drawing class ever. The lighting is good, there’s lots of skin, people are of all shapes and sizes and they even hold their poses for a long time.


Location scouting

I spent the morning doing some location scouting with Marc Taro Holmes for our upcoming Urban Sketchers workshop in Old Montreal. We wanted to check out all our painting spots, make sure the light is good, that there is enough shade, access to washrooms, places to eat, etc. Lots to think about! We have 30 participants in the workshop, coming from all over the US and Canada, and as hosts we want to make sure everything is just right. As well, we tried to find some places to gather at the end of the day to relax and compare sketches. We found a great terrace on the roof of the Place d’Armes hotel with a view over the old part of the city, including a few of my personal favourites like Silo No. 5 and the Saint Sulpice Seminary. In the interests of accurate scouting (and so we could sketch the view) we had to eat a bit of lunch as well. Despite the fact that there was a speaker blaring music only inches from my ear, this will definitely be on the list for happy hour. And now all we have to do is keep our fingers crossed for good weather.


Ails du Québec

The summer would not be complete without a trip to my favorite markets to sketch. I was close to Atwater and although it was tempting to put down my sketchbook and have lunch at the Satay Brothers stand, I forged ahead with my sketch. For a change of pace I used some water-soluble pencils.



Capella de Sant Nicolau

I picked this scene because cypresses don’t grow in my part of Canada and I find their verticality and dense foliage very beautiful. I had no idea until I started researching them that there was a link between the building and the surrounding trees. Turns out that this 12th century building is a funerary chapel and the cypresses are a symbol of mourning in many cultures.


The castle

My favorite part of Tossa de Mar is the medieval Old Town which stands like a giant sand castle on the beach. From dawn to dusk people climb the little switchback path to see the stone walls, turrets, towers and lighthouse at the summit. There’s even a little tourist bus for people who don’t want to make the journey on foot. And when you get to the top there’s a hidden beach on the other side. I painted this from my balcony facing the beach.


Vall Sant Daniel

I was fortunate enough to have this panoramic view of the Girona Cathedral and the Sant Daniel valley from the terrace of a loft I was staying in during my time in Girona. I sketched it several times but never was able to capture the drama that took my breath away every time I looked out. During my stay there the light stone of the cathedral and Sant Feliu tower were often set against a dark backdrop of an approaching storm and an indigo sky, and in the distance — the Pyrenees.