Although spring is definitely here, the early mornings are a little cool and I’m still sketching in my car. That means that the views I have when I go into Old Montreal are just the tops of buildings. But what buildings they are. Each one an important piece of Montreal history. The green spire is atop one of the oldest churches in the city — Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours. Every port city has a sailor’s church, and this one is ours. It’s not as grand as nearby Notre Dame Basilica with it’s soaring gothic interior. It’s more of a quiet beauty that merits some investigation to discover hidden treasures like the carved replicas of ships that hang from the vault of the chapel or the Marguerite Bourgeoys museum. Move a block away and you see the silver dome of Marché Bonsecours. Now the building is filled with small shops selling “Made in Quebec” fashions but at one time it was an actual public market, an exhibition hall and even our city hall. There are treasures to draw on every street in Old Montreal and I look forward to getting out there with my easel this summer.
I thought it might be worth trying to paint this scene again to work out some of the problems with the previous painting. Last night I found a quarter sheet of Fabriano 300lb paper and I attacked this again, this time with no drawing, straight to paint, trying to get to what I wanted as directly as possible. Instead of having two parallel trees in the background I changed it to one bigger one and placed a smaller one further back. I simplified the shapes of the foliage, made the deep dark areas a better shape, broke up the big white space with some stronger shadows and then left it alone.
I enjoyed reading my friend Gail Wong’s recent post about her experiments in watercolour where she paints a New York street scene six times. With each try she simplifies the scene even more. It got me thinking that I haven’t done much experimentation lately. I’ve been wanting to work with larger formats so today was the day I moved to bigger. This is not quite a full sheet of watercolour paper — it’s about 22″ x 22″ — but close enough. Unlike Gail, I only painted this once. I think her format may be smaller than mine, possibly a half sheet. I overpainted some of the dark areas so if I try this again, that is what I will work on — getting to those darks in a more direct way. Thanks for the inspiration Gail.
I stopped at the art store today to buy some sheets of toned paper because I haven’t been able to obtain the results I want with watercolour in life drawing studio. I’ve been struggling with volume, depth and highlights. I don’t have a lot of practice with pastels but I bought some black and some white compressed conté sticks and this pad of paper that has different colour sheets of pastel paper. We did 30 minutes poses today and in each one I tried to focus on Christian’s face — in particular his deep set eyes which I have struggled with in the past. He is a tremendous model. I’m not sure you can see from my drawing but in the middle pose he is holding his arm up in the air, something he managed to do for the full half hour.
There’s much more to The Aldred Building than what’s in my sketch. In fact some say it was Montreal’s first skyscraper — or at the very least the first Art Deco building — but from my vantage point looking down the hill in Chinatown I could only see the top of it. Plus, the buiding was backlit so I couldn’t make out much of the detailing in the limestone but the buildings in front of it created some interesting overlapping rectangles. I hope to get back into town one of these days to sketch it again.
When I paint on the grounds of Macdonald College, I often pique the curiosity of campus security people who want to know why there’s a car parked where it shouldn’t be. Naturally they come over to inspect the car and it’s usually at that point that I show them my sketch and they move on. Today’s guard stayed a little longer. She looked at my sketch, she looked at my subject and she said, “Not much there…”
It’s true. What I was looking at wasn’t very interesting. A few nondescript buildings, a bit of road, some utility poles, winter grass and some trees. But I think everything you look at is an opportunity to try to compose something interesting. That’s why I did a little pencil sketch first — to see if I could make something from nothing. I never regret spending that little bit of extra time because it helps me eliminate unnecessary elements, simplify the composition and think about values before touching a brush.
I haven’t done any real “urban” sketching in a while but I was in Park Extension picking up framed paintings for a weekend show (see below) and had a bit of time to stop on Ogilvy Avenue before my class. This type of scene is always so difficult for me, but the easiest way I find to start is by drawing the line that the buildings form against the sky. Once the perspective is set up in pencil, I can use an ink pen to draw in most of the details. Watercolour goes on next and that is usually followed by another layer of pen to add in the texture on the buildings. That part of Ogilvy is a mishmash of small shops, apartment blocks and churches which makes the competing textures lots of fun to draw. This coming weekend is filled with events. Starting tomorrow the Lakeshore Association of Artists holds the annual spring show in Baie d’Urfé. It’s always a great event with over 50 artists exhibiting in the beautiful old Fritz Farm building, overlooking the lake. The vernissage is Friday evening and the show goes on from 10 ’til 5 on Saturday and Sunday. Hope to see you there. Also this weekend… Sunday sketching with Urban Sketchers Montreal. This month is our annual Dim Sum “eat and draw at the same time” event. It’s one of our most fun events of the year since we are all together in one place for the whole time. Hope to see you there too… And lastly a special thank you to Trevor T. who sent me — by good old fashioned snail mail — a lovely letter and a big fat stack of amazing David Hockney postcards. Trevor, you made my day.
It was raining quite hard when I left to paint today. I momentarily contemplated staying home and painting in the studio, but the pull of the outdoors, of looking at the clouds, of capturing some of the soft spring colours was too strong. When I looked towards the west, there seemed to be a break in the cloud cover, a slight lightening towards the horizon, so I pointed my car in that direction, hoping to find an open field of some sort, maybe with a structure on it. On a road near Hudson, I found what I was looking for. Painted on Arches 140 lb cold pressed paper, 15″ x 11″.
One of my favourite models at life drawing is Johane because she looks like a model from a Toulouse Lautrec painting. It might be the way she piles her hair on top of her head, or maybe the curve of her nose — I’m not sure — but she’s an excellent model who probably has some dance training, judging by the way she holds herself. I haven’t been to life drawing in four weeks, and that made my painting a little bit rusty. I was happier with my three-minute pencil drawings today.
Next time you go out sketching, try this. Instead of starting with the mindset that you have to come home with a finished piece, think of your outing as a time to experiment. Make some small squares or rectangles (I used the inside of my viewfinder to create the shape) in pencil before you go out. When you get out in the field, use each of the outlines to try something different. You can experiment with colour, value, composition, texture or wetness. There is something very liberating about working in this small size, especially if you use a bigger brush than you think you might need. I used a pencil first but I think that next time I may go straight to brush which I imagine will be even more fun.