When I’m looking for something to sketch, the cans in the pantry have just as much variety in value, colour and shape as the row of colourful buildings that I painted this summer in Girona, Spain. This was sketched in a Stillman & Birn Beta series, thanks to the generous folks at Avenue des Arts in Montreal. I was in the store yesterday and found out that they will be carrying the Stillman & Birn line in 2014. Great news for fans of these sketchbooks, as they were previously unavailable here.


Westmount winter

It’s impossible to use my car studio on a day like today. It’s just too bitterly cold, even for a winter painter like me. The weatherman  described the morning haze in the air as “ice fog”, a term I had never heard before. The best solution for these types of days is to draw indoors, or find a window seat at a café and stay there until the room fills and the windows steam up, at which point you hope your sketch is done.


After the storm

I was just reading an article about painting snow scenes in a recent watercolour magazine. Each artist whose work was featured used lots of frisket to maintain the white areas in their paintings, but in my quick sketches that seems like a time-consuming proposition. Waiting for the frisket to dry would use up all my precious sketch time. I think that with a bit of careful planning you can paint around the white, the bigger areas at least. And then if need be, come back later with a bit of Chinese white to add a smaller snowflake or two.



Drawing a freehand circle is pretty difficult for me. Drawing two freehand circles is even worse but looking at the negative shapes helps. I suppose my inaccuracies would be less obvious if I hadn’t placed the gears against a white background. I think this is one of those subjects that I will also try in pencil (with an eraser in the other hand), but maybe against a darker background next time!



I know why I bought this big old glass fisherman’s buoy when I saw it in the store  but I am not quite sure why I chose to paint it. Utter madness! Layers of green transparency and reflection. Changing light from my window. A perfect indoor challenge for a really cold December day.



Cabourons are the rounded hills in the Kamouraska region of Quebec. I never had a chance to paint them when I was there this summer but I thought they might make a good subject for my second try at oil painting. This attempt is on a smaller canvas (8″ x 8″) and the subject matter is a little more amorphous, allowing me to get used to the paint without worrying about structure. I am not quite sure why I picked a street scene for my first try with this new medium. Foolish idea! Today I felt a little more in control of the colours and the thickness of the paint. I guess I’ll just keep plodding along with this.


Fading light

To celebrate the last day of classes (!) I found a bit of time to do some car sketching today. I know my students probably find more fun ways to mark the occasion but this was my reward. With yesterday’s fresh snow and only a bit of daylight left, I drove not too far and parked to catch the fading shadows. At just the right time a couple walked by with a baby carriage and a Great Dane. I couldn’t capture them fast enough so I added in the man and a smaller dog because it was beyond me to paint a Great Dane from memory.


Contour of the counter

I was doing a little contour drawing today. When you focus on the contours things don’t necessarily line up (like the pepper mill) but I feel that the drawing can sometimes be more dynamic than if it’s mathematically measured. Charles Reid is the king of contour drawing. Have a look at his energetic lines.



After my first experiment with oil paint yesterday I will probably spend the week making lists of pros and cons of both watercolour and oil in my head. One of the things I like best about watercolour is the little surprises you get when two washes of different hues mix on the paper. Especially when the mix is in a big puddle because you don’t really know the result until the puddle dries. For this sketch I used a triad of sap green, some kind of purple (I know that’s not very scientific!) and azo yellow. Almost a secondary triad except for the yellow.


From water to oil

I am not really sure where to begin with this post. There’s so much to say about trying oil painting for the first time and I’m not sure I have completely processed what I did today. My friend Marc Holmes offered to give me a lesson and share his paints and brushes with me for this first foray into the medium. How could I refuse such generosity?

It goes without saying that painting in oil is so vastly different from what I am used to in watercolour. You can paint from dark to light, add white, correct your mistakes… the list is long and seems so obvious it needs no explanation.

For now I will simply make some observations:
1. We both worked with pretty thick paint, in a very loose style. Working that way seems easy, and in fact it is, in the beginning, as you plot in the big shapes (and I have to mention that both of us worked with no preliminary drawing). But as you get down to the smaller details the paint on the board is already quite thick, so as you apply more, you are in fact picking up what is already there instead of putting down what is on your brush. I’m really not used to that.
2. It’s great not to be worried about the colour of the paint changing as it dries. And great to know that you can take a little break from the work and when you get back it is exactly as you left it. I’m really not used to that.
3. I am a slob and Marc is really neat. At one point I looked down at my hands which were suddenly covered in paint and then over to Marc whose hands were spotless. I had a pile of crumpled up paper towels and his were neatly folded in piles. My palette was covered in a big grey smear and he had neat little areas of colour, each very distinct. This is going to take some getting used to.

One thing I am sure of is that I want to try this again. I have a lot to think about in terms of how to apply the paint and how to mix the colour (hopefully more neatly than today) but I really enjoyed this. Below are both of our paintings. Mine is the street scene and Marc’s is the bikes in snow. Excuse the blurry iPhone photos. The paintings weren’t dry enough to scan or even bring home.