Boy in plaid

When I draw students in my school I usually sit in the cafeteria or student lounge. It is inevitable that they are sitting in groups (they rarely study alone) and almost always inevitable that one of them notices that I am drawing someone from amongst the group. Much whispering and pointing follows, usually with the “model” — now self-conscious — turning around to see what I am doing, and if bold enough, coming over to see the drawing. On occasion I can get through a whole drawing without being noticed, like today, and then I feel that I have been given a gift — a few moments where I can draw undisturbed. It makes my day.


Blue boats on the canal

This must be the best week to paint the changing colours of the trees in Montreal. All the trees still have their leaves, everything from sharp yellow to deep red to dark green. On a sunny day it’s a bit like trying to paint flames — a bit too glowing and bright. My method is to take everything down a notch. Soften it and let the colours flow one into another and hope that you capture the feeling of the season without going garish.


The scarlet and the orange

It was a perfect fall day in every way — warm and sunny, no wind, and a great turnout (lots of new faces too) to the Urban Sketchers Sunday outing at the Atwater Market. Lots of us sketched the pumpkins — it was hard not too since they screamed to be painted. I chose this competing display, the Rouge Vif d’Étampes on one side and the big old jack o’ lanterns on the other.


The whites

I was going outside to sketch something completely different — perhaps some yellowing bits of plants in the garden — when the shirts caught my eye. The play of shadows on white are always such a challenge. Treated with a brush that’s too dry, they end up looking wooden, so I tried to keep the shadows and folds loose and wet.


In Kent Park

It’s no wonder this man sat in Kent Park in the midday sun. With near record warm temperatures for the end of September, it feels like midsummer. The heat should continue for at least two more days and that means we’ll have a great day for Sunday sketching with USk Montreal. We’ll be sketching around the Lachine Canal and the Atwater Market. Hope to see you there!


Across the pond

I have spent a lot of time looking at water and trying to figure out how to paint it, and its mysteries have still not been fully revealed to me. But I have sketched the pond in Baie d’Urfé often enough to at least have a plan of attack for how I lay down the washes. I start with the blue (leaving the lily pads white) that is a reflection of the sky and gets deeper and cooler as it comes towards me. There’s lots of cerulean blue up near the rocks and some cobalt added in as it gets darker. When that’s really dry, I add the tree reflections in different layers of dark green. The light colours in the lily pads are next, and then there’s a final layer of really deep and dark greens under the lilies. This usually has some darker blues like Phthalo or Ultramarine and even some Alizarin in it. The rocks, foliage across the pond and foliage closest to me are next. The final step is the calligraphy — the little grasses and brush strokes that are mostly done with a rigger.



The garlic bundle is a study in contrasts — the heads pale, perfect, rounded, symmetrical and the stalks twisted and chaotic, dark and light. I didn’t realize until after my sketch was done that I painted them the same way — the stalks quickly and loosely throwing dark paint into light and the bulbs carefully and slowly with delicate washes and pale lines.


Officially autumn

Autumn is my favourite time to paint trees because of all the colours — ranging from subtle to garish — that I can dip into in my palette.  In Montreal, the trees are starting to turn and this one was outside my window at work. Deep yellow at the top, glowing orange in the middle, moving into green at the bottom. At first I tried painting it by wetting sections of the sketchbook paper but that just diluted the intensity of the colour so my second attempt was to paint large sections of pure colour with a flat brush. This in preparation to paint my favourite tree which will be ablaze in a few weeks. See it in 2013 and 2012.


Hats and puffy jackets

Presumably, the more you draw, the better you get (10,000 hours and all that) and that doesn’t only mean your “drawing from observation” skills get better. This also includes the drawing you do from imagination, because you’ve observed something so frequently that your visual memory improves too. Or so I hope. For example, on first try I messed up the face of the girl with the hat. After erasing it, I was able to draw it again, but without looking at her. For me, that is a small step, a tiny bit of progress, in my determined mission to get better at drawing people.



Hot peppers for a rainy day

Every autumn I make a little trip to Chez Michel at the market for a strand of hot peppers. There’s no other way to paint these than with pure colour — in this case Perylene Maroon, Carmine, Cobalt Blue, Azo Yellow and Azo Green. The highlights on the peppers are quite sharp so I painted around them, but in a few places I went back and lifted highlights with a small, damp brush. The Stillman & Birn Beta paper that I used is surprisingly great for lifting, probably because of its smoothness.