Friday tulips

Yesterday my tulips were half closed but today they are starting to open and I decided to paint them in situ instead of isolating them like I usually do. I haven’t ever found an orange that I really like in watercolour (cadmium orange is so opaque!) so I usually make my own mix. For these I used a mix of New Gamboge and Alizarin Crimson. What I like about these types of mixes is that instead of having a flat orange, you sometimes get a yellowish orange or a reddish-orange if you let some of the blending happen on the sheet. That’s always a lot more dynamic than a flat wash of orange paint straight from the tube.



I’m always afraid of painting flowers that look stiff and dry. I was quite happy with the results of working on a large page of my Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. With a good amount of wash on my brush I was able to obtain all kinds of juicy effects and lots of blooms on the blooms.


Winter corn

“The advantage of painting outside is simply that you are there, ‘living’ the subject. In experiencing this heightened awareness of everything, you are able to paint with far greater sensitivity and conviction. In the studio, however, the experience is second-hand: you have somehow to recapture what it is like to be in a location, responding to a subject.”
David Curtis, from the introduction to his book “Painting on Location, Secrets to Plein Air Painting”

I have only just started the book but that is definitely a secret that rings true for me and the reason I packed up my painting supplies and spent a few hours looking across the cornfield this morning.



I have always been taught that if you mix your own greens (as opposed to using green paint straight from the tube) the result will be more like a colour you find in nature. Viridian is a green that is clearly artificial (although John Singer Sargent used it in a pure form to great success) but Sap Green is much more of a green that you might find in nature. Of course if you are painting a manufactured object — like the cloth that was under my pears today — you might just want a tube colour. A bit of diluted Sap Green mixed with some Azo yellow was perfect for this.


Sketching the spectators

Our Urban Sketchers Montreal Sunday outing at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts had a lot of new sketchers today, no doubt due to the great publicity we got when La Presse did a video on us last month. This was definitely the biggest turnout ever and it included some very talented new people and even a little surprise for me, but I’ll get to that later.

At the museum you are only allowed to use a pencil to draw, so I travelled light. I headed directly for the Peter Doig show and decided to draw the spectators. It’s a shame you can’t use colour because these are huge, very colourful paintings from Doig’s home in Trinidad and I was just itching to add some deep blues and oranges. I will certainly go back to see the show again but it was wonderful to study them while I drew. And we were early enough to be there before the crowds.




At lunch time I had a little surprise reunion with an old friend. Philippe and I studied graphic design together at Concordia University many years ago and we haven’t seen other since graduation. He found me again through the La Presse video. As you can see from the photo, he hasn’t lost any of his drawing skills! And we couldn’t resist taking a reunion photo in classic Urban Sketchers style!!


Alice watches hockey

The great thing about my dog Alice is that she loves to watch sports, especially Olympic events. I sketched her just after Canada scored a goal in the hockey game.


On another note, I was listening to the CBC radio show Tempo on my way home from work today. There’s a segment on the show called Music that rocked your world. It’s a bit of an odd title considering that it’s a classical music show, but never mind that. I love listening to it because people write in about pieces of music they feel connected to. That got me thinking about our emotional reaction to art. Do you have a painting or work of art that you feel strongly about? That makes you want to cry when you look at it? That you could stare at for hours and never tire of it? One painting that does that for me is John Singer Sargent’s Gourds. I had only studied it in reproductions until last year when it was on display at the Brooklyn Museum.  Of course seeing the real watercolour is nothing like looking a print. Almost abstract in nature, it’s a brilliant mix of transparent and opaque bits and the longer you look at it the less you understand about how it was painted. A magical work. If there’s a painting or drawing that you never get tired of looking at, or that brings tears of joy to your eyes, let me know. I’d love to hear.


The chair in the corner

I didn’t feel like going out in my car today, and in fact it was starting to get dark when I finally found a bit of time to sketch. Instead I grabbed my sketchbook, put up my feet and decided to draw whatever was in front of me, which happened to be the chair in the corner.


The other half of the sheet

One of my favorite groups on Flickr is called “Sketches in a vertical format”. I often spend a few minutes looking through the sketches because each one is like a little slice. We don’t see in this format and I think that’s what makes the way these are composed so interesting. Have a look here.


90 lb mystery

I often cut up (actually I tear them to maintain the deckle edge) large sheets of watercolour paper into quarter-size or smaller pieces so that when I run out the door on my way to paint I can grab a small sheet. At the same time I make a small notation in pencil on the corner of the sheet so I know what paper I am painting on. Unfortunately I also have some paper that is unidentified, left over from a previous painting life many years ago. Today I used this strip of something that I really like, but I have no idea what it is. It’s thin, therefore it must be 90 lb weight. It’s not textured but neither is it smooth, it has no watermark and it looks like nothing else in my inventory. I think the only way to solve the mystery is to take the remaining strip to the art supply store and hope that they can match it.


On the same page

I’m trying out a bigger Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook, and with it a new way of working. This 9″ x 12″ paper is larger than I usually work so instead of filling the page (which I didn’t have time to do today) I thought I’d try a series of vignettes, all on the same page. These can be used as little compositional studies for something that might be worked up into a bigger sketch or painting later on (like the green snow fence near the church) or simply be observations about the day (like the fire hydrant in the snow).