It’s not quite the end of summer but I have started seeing hints of leaves turning yellow and then red. I dread the day when it gets too cold to sit outside to paint so I try to take advantage of every moment to sit outside. With that in mind, I returned today to the pond in Baie d’Urfé that I sketched earlier in the summer. I have been promising myself to go back there with a bigger sheet of paper to paint there while I still can. Painted on Saunders Waterford, 140 lb HP, 12″ x 9″.
Eating a sandwich and texting. Reading a book and texting. Talking to friends and texting. It’s hard to find a student to draw on campus who isn’t texting.
At the start of a new school year I always ask my graduating students what skills they would like to strengthen in preparation for moving into the workforce or on to university. (They are in the final year of a three-year program in web/print design and business communications.) The answer I often get is that they would like to be more creative. They are strong on the technical side but have trouble brainstorming for new ideas and concepts.
In my search to find techniques to help them I watched a video recently about 180 degree thinking, which is basically flipping an idea over and using a solution that is in the opposite direction. I used a bit of that in my sketch today. Instead of drawing first and adding colour after, I painted the sky and the foreground shapes in first. There are many of my Urban Sketcher friends who work this way but I don’t often do this. The other thing I did to change things a bit was to leave the darkest darks (the foreground trees) unpainted. I’m not sure if my experiment was successful or not but it’s definitely something worth trying again.
I remember reading last year that after over 150 years in service, Canada Post had closed the post office in Pointe Claire Village. There was much protest and a round of petitions from area residents, as well as nods of approval from others who felt that it was underused and people were better served at the postal counter of the local drug store. But it’s still sad, isn’t it, to see this abandoned building with its clock stopped exactly at noon, its droopy, neglected flag and an “À louer” sign in the window.
I couldn’t have asked for a better subject. A man leaning on his bike, his head in the perfect direction to catch the sunlight. Dark face and high cheekbones under a pale cap. He held his pose for a long time, unaware that he was the model. And just when I thought the drawing might be done, he put his feet on the pedals and cycled off.
I wish I could say I sketched these in Spain but I didn’t. When I was there in July we drove by vast fields of these blooms and I regretted not painting them. I took some photos but it’s just not the same. So when I saw these in the store today I brought home a big bouquet. I thought they would be easy to sketch (a few dabs of yellow with some dark centres!) but for some reason I had difficulty capturing what I wanted. This is probably my fourth try.
I think I may have found the perfect marriage of pencil and paper. Once again inside the swag bag from the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Barcelona, I found a box of 9B Cretacolor Fine Art Graphite pencils. They’re very soft, almost greasy pencils, but they keep a sharp point long after you think they will, they don’t break under pressure, and best of all they give me the real darks that I love. This — combined with the paper in my hand*book sketchbook — a magic combo!
In a couple of weeks I will be participating in the Lakeshore Association of Artists Outdoor Fall Show which takes place on the spectacular grounds of Stewart Hall in Pointe Claire. If you live in the Montreal area, please come out to say hello on September 7th and 8th (from 10 am to 5 pm) and enjoy the work of 50 or so artists in the show (and please keep your fingers crossed for weather as nice as today when I sketched these boats) It’s the first time in ages that I will have this many paintings on display (mostly new work from this summer in Spain, Rockport and Montreal) and it’s a gorgeous way to spend a September afternoon by the lake.
This summer has been filled with lots of sunny days, which means there’s a certain urgency when you paint to quickly capture the shifting shadows. Today’s clouds and rain felt like a bit of a relief. It was time to slow down and really look. And there is a different type of looking when you are drawing in tones instead of colour. A slower pattern of back and forth, of measuring one shape against another, of darks and lights, or horizontals and verticals. And a certain relaxed control that you have with a pencil that seems out of reach in watercolour because you are constantly teetering on the edge of disaster.