I haven’t gone to a life drawing sessions in eons, but there is no more relaxing way to spend a few hours. When you are drawing the model, all extraneous thoughts disappear from your head and you are totally in the moment. At least for me. Sarah was a great model, holding this pose for four hours (with breaks). In that time I painted her twice, but this one turned out better because of the lighting. Painted on a quarter sheet of BFK Rives, which I think is a printmaking paper. It’s very soft but quite wonderful to work on.
We’ve been waiting a long time to be able to buy Stillman & Birn sketchbooks in Montreal. I was happy to see that my favourite art supply store — Avenue des Arts in Westmount — is finally stocking them. There’s a great supply of books just to the left of the door, including this one I am trying out. It’s from the Alpha Series and it’s a new horizontal format, about 8″ x 5″. I am used to painting on the Beta series which has much thicker paper so this warps a bit more than I am used to, but that’s because I use so much water. If you tend to paint a bit drier than I do or if you work in pen or pencil with a light wash, this would be perfect for you.
Lachine is always one of my favourite places to paint, especially in winter. The older part of town has a particularly bleak look that I love on a snowy day. Unfortunately I got so caught in painting that I left my wipers on too long. My car was dead by the time I was done. I’m still thawing out…
I frequently change the colours around in my palette because I love trying different pigments. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for new paints and I often have to hold myself back from buying too much at the art supply store, but in Costa Rica the one colour that I’m glad I had in my bag was Cobalt Teal. I used lots of it when painting waves, and when I came upon this house hidden in the trees, I used it for that as well. I suppose I could have mixed something similar from colours I already had, but there is a certain beauty in being able to dip the tip of your brush into just the right shade.
I’m taking a break from posting my turquoise Costa Rica sketches today. Instead it was a day of Cerulean and Cobalt Blue and some car sketching in Westmount with my friend Marc Holmes. It was a comic situation really. It’s hard enough for one person to paint in the car in winter, but with both of us balancing our equipment, it was quite funny. We had 1/4 sheets of watercolour paper on boards on our laps, water bottles in the cup holders, palettes balanced precariously, the car heater going periodically and magically we both managed to get things done. That’s urban sketching in Montreal in the winter.
The beach: the best life drawing class in the world. I drew a couple of pages of little figures, with the idea that maybe one day I would use one or two of them in a painting. The watersoluble blue pencil was perfect for these. To begin, I always go back to what I learned from Melanie Reim at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Santo Domingo. “Start with the line of the spine.” If you get that right everything else has a good chance of falling into place.
When you paint or sketch for some time in a place, it’s often what’s going on around you at the moment — rather than what you are looking at — that creates the strongest impression of the day. The sounds and smells, the conversations you overhear, the people who stop to talk and have a look at what you are doing. This painting will always make me think of the packs of racoons that scavenge the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park, looking for lunches or anything else they can grab from tourists. Bold little guys they are, much bolder (and skinnier) than their Canadian cousins. They sneak up on you, oh so quietly, whole families of them, and it takes much yelling and stick waving to discourage them. There was one who ate a full bag of Doritos while a crowd watched nearby and another one who dragged a plastic bag into the bushes while the unsuspecting owners were taking a dip in the water.
The main public beach in Manuel Antonio is quite long and edged with palm and almond trees. Behind the row of trees there’s a whole other world of things to sketch. Surf shacks, snack bars, little hotels and restaurants, and even a grazing spot for the horses that take riders along the surf. In many ways, these scenes are far more interesting, shadier and quieter than the views of the beach. Hotel Arboleda is one of the places that caught my eye because of the green corrugated tin, the complexity of the shapes and of course the signage.
A few weeks ago I wrote about deciding not to pack my travel easel when I left for Costa Rica. That was definitely the right decision because it would have been an encumbrance on the long walk down (and back up again) to the beach where I painted most days. Instead I carried in my backpack a few quarter-sheets of watercolour paper taped to a plexiglass backing board, along with my travel palette, some pencils and brushes and my water container. Often I sat on a towel in the sand with my plexi propped up at an angle on beach debris (rocks, coconuts, logs), my palette and water next to me. The disadvantage of the setup was that I often had dirt in my palette from people walking nearby and kicking up sand. And the worst was when a dog came over to say hello and stepped into the cerulean blue paint. This was sketched on one of the few overcast afternoons on Playa Beisanz. With some dark clouds approaching I painted quickly and carried my painting home upside down, with the plexi protecting the wet sheet from the rain.
Now that I am back in Montreal and have some time to scan my sketches, it’s interesting to compare the first sketch I did on the beach (bottom) with this one I did near the end of my stay. My friend Jane always refers to it as “getting the colour in your eyes” and I know what she means. I had a hard time adjusting to the reds in Utah this past summer and the same is true of Costa Rica. When you go from an environment that is very desaturated (Montreal in winter) to a place where the volume is turned up on all the colours, it takes some time to get the paint right on the brush. Playa Ballena, below, was sketched at the end of the day, just before sunset, when the light was very sharp and the shadows very contrasty on the distant trees.