Good behavior

I have a love/hate relationship with the paper in the Arches Travel Book. I had tossed the pad aside a few months ago because it seemed to suck up all the pigment in my sketches. The surface is cold pressed but I’m not sure if the paper is 100% cotton. Today I picked it up again to sketch the bottles of solvents and oils in my studio and suddenly it was quite wonderful again, behaving just like a good watercolour sheet should.


Sixth avenue

This is a small study for a painting I am hoping to work on soon. I’m not sure if it will be in watercolour or oil. I never manage to succeed in getting this effect in a larger painting but I am trying to keep the mid-tones quite dark, which causes the whites to stand out more and works very well for winter scenes. 


Corner of Sixth

Urban sketching really connects you to your surroundings in a way that studio painting does not. I haven’t been out in my car to paint for a while (extreme cold weather, lots of snow, holidays, etc.) but drawing this morning reminded of what I like best about being out there, even if it is from the confines of a vehicle. As I painted, it became clear that someone inside the convenience store was watching me. First I could see a silhouette in the window, then the door opened a crack and closed. This happened several times until the man ventured out to the stoop for a smoke. He tried not to stare at me but when I finally lifted up my sketch to show him, a connection was made. He smiled and crossed the street to see it. I guess Montreal is still a fairly safe place because I rolled down my window to talk to him, something that I might have been reluctant to do before I started sketching outdoors. We had a little chat about what I was doing, where else I had sketched, and he had a look through the book. Once his curiosity was satisfied it was pretty much as before — I finished my sketch and he chatted up the customers and smoked a few more cigarettes.


Fresh paint

My palette needed refilling this week. With all those fresh colours waiting to be used, I had to find something colourful to draw today.  I sketched these quickly before the chef grabbed them and turned them into dinner.


Lakeshore house, in values

With a little extra time on my hands these days I can plan my paintings a bit more. I thought I’d post a step-by-step value sketch for a painting I hope to create sometime soon. Doing this schematic really helps me when I get to the painting stage because the composition and values have been worked out, errors can be corrected and potential disasters avoided. That doesn’t mean that every painting works out well, but the chances for success are increased.

The first stage, after the simplified drawing, is to figure out where the whites are and paint the lightest tones around them. I use a big brush, in this case a 1″ flat (on a 6″ x 10″ sheet of paper) so that it’s impossible to get too detailed. I can only paint big shapes with this.


The second step is to paint in the mid-tones, again, in big blocks. I most often use Payne’s grey for these sketches and I try to mix up enough wash on my palette to do this with one pass on the brush. In other words this brush can hold enough wash that I don’t have to dip back into the well at all.


The second to last step is to add the darks. As you can see, my focus in this painting is the top half of the sheet. I don’t want to make this into a checkerboard with little bits of dark and light all over the place. That bottom part of the composition is quieter and leads me into the action.


The final stage is to add the little bits of darkest dark that will sharpen up the value sketch. And hopefully if the final painting is successful I will post it as well.


Happy Holidays!

I just want to take the time to thank everyone who gives me encouragement, feedback and advice throughout the year. You have made my daily sketching a true pleasure. May your holiday season be wonderful and your 2014 be filled with many days of drawing and painting.


Black-eyed Susans

A few months ago I was complaining to my neighbour that I still had to cut down all the perennials in my garden before the snow fell. Her suggestion was great. She said, “Leave ’em. They look great poking out of the snow and then you can sketch them.” This sketch was also inspired by my friend Jean who sent me photos of the snow accumulation on the roof of his house, both before and after he knocked lots of it off. I started noticing the layers of snow, a bit like rings on a tree, that were piling up on the evergreen outside my door. So from the comfort of my house I painted this.



For a long time I was reluctant to draw people. But the more you draw faces, the more you realize that everything else you draw is just not that interesting or challenging. And despite feeling that I might be intruding, I brought a sketch pad to the nursing home today and drew another resident. I had some difficulty capturing the texture of the wrinkles on her cheek but I think the likeness is good, especially the deep-set eyes.


Mr. Poliquin

I’m always reluctant to draw in nursing homes or hospitals — somehow it seems like an invasion of privacy. But Mr. Poliquin was listening to a beautiful Romanian choir and was quite content to let me sketch him. I didn’t have a sketchbook with me but I had my trusty Muji pencil and a piece of letter-size scrap paper (the other side of which comes through in the scan) and that did the job.


Four mops

Today I received my copy of Whitney Sherman’s “Playing with Sketches: 50 Creative Exercises for Designers and Artists”. It’s a great book, full of creative ideas for your sketchbook and filled with examples of work from artists around the world. I am very flattered that USk founder Gabi Campanario chose one of my city sketches in the section on Urban Sketchers. I guess this is the first time that my work is featured in a book. Anyway, one of the 50 ideas in the book is called “One Day, One Theme”, meaning that for that day you just draw coffee cups or shoes or hairstyles. My twist on this is that I will do “One Sketchbook, One Theme” so I intend to fill this sketchbook with still lifes from my house. I haven’t really had time to give the book a good read through yet but I’m sure there are lots of great ideas that I will be trying.