Sailing shapes

When I looked at this scene early this morning the first thing I thought was “how do I make sense of this confusion?” I’ve painted it before — last summer, and the summer before — but not in the early morning like this and perhaps with fewer boats in the bay. If you think about it, it’s impossible to draw in all the details on the boats, unless of course you have all day and besides, why draw details that you can just as easily add in with a brush? In a scene like this there are three repeating motifs: the sail covers, the masts and the shapes of the foreground boats. The rest is just filler. Bits of lights and darks between those shapes that convey more rows of boats.

So here’s what I did. I drew the foreground boats, the sail covers, the horizon line and the line of trees. When it came time to paint, I started with the sky and water and left a good chunk of unpainted (white) shapes in the middle. If you look carefully, there are no boats behind that first row. Just masts, sail covers and little dark and light shapes. I painted the reflections fairly early on in the process and it’s a good thing I did since the wind picked up not long after and changed the scene considerably. The last thing I did was the masts, trying to connect them with the sails, and not always succeeding.


Lake water

Here’s a tip for watercolour painters: bring extra water if you go out painting. I should really carry a jug in the car but I don’t, so today when I needed some clean water I took the stairs down to the lake and filled my cup. Now this wasn’t for drinking — the water from Lac St. Louis isn’t clean enough for that. But if you don’t mind little bits of seaweed floating around, it’s fine for painting. The yacht club in Pointe Claire is starting to have that busy summer feeling and that’s what I tried to convey today. The water was dead calm so it was a good day to paint, although probably not a good day for sailing. Painted on Arches paper, 140 lb CP, 15″ x 11″.


Fast and dark

I was sketching some boats in the bay today when the storm came up, fast and dark behind me. I turned the car around to face the lake and caught the view out of my side window since the rain was coming down too quickly to see through the front windshield. Sometimes you just have to adapt. The boats will be for another day.


Win a free 7-part video lesson on “Sketching Landscapes in Pen, Ink and Watercolor”

Just in time for summer sketching season, I’m excited to announce my first online video class in conjunction with the website “Sketching Landscapes in Pen, Ink and Watercolor” will be out in a couple of weeks but in the meantime I’m giving away my new class for FREE to one lucky winner who will be announced when the class launches. Click here to enter:


The class covers so many techniques that I talk about daily on my blog. We start with a look through my sketchbooks, and then we go outdoors to the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado to work on composition and value sketches. Back in studio we look at different ways of painting skies, and then move through all the stages of the sketch — from drawing with pen and ink to painting the big shapes and then adding texture and darks. The final lesson is about making your sketch unique and using a limited palette to evoke mood. I’ve often been asked if I have any instructional videos, so it’s exciting to finally be able to share this.
5120_Still_220_retouchedWhen the class launches I’ll post it here, but in the meantime good luck in the draw!



There’s a group of plein air painters that meets every Tuesday in the summer at different scenic spots around Montreal. They’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I hope to join them as often as I can this summer. Today’s meeting spot was Parc des Ancres at Pointe des Cascades in Vaudreuil— literally a park filled with over 100 old anchors and maritime artifacts from the abandoned Soulanges Canal. I was in the mood to paint water so I found a good viewing spot and tackled the derelict lock and the water seeping through it. I don’t think I’ve ever painted falling water so this was lots of fun. These outings are open to all so if you are interested in dates and locations send me an email and I’ll send you the list. Painted on a quarter sheet of Arches paper.


The dark side of the room

I arrived a little late at life drawing studio today and ended up in a different spot in the room than usual. Most of the time I sit in a place where the model — lit from the spots above — is about half in light and half in shadow. Today I sat on the darker side of the room and although I was a bit discouraged at first, this turned out to be exactly the right place for what I wanted to do. My aim today was to work with really simple shapes, to unify the shadow areas on the figure and to keep the brush really wet and loose. By sitting in that spot, most of Elissa’s body was in shadow with only a little highlight along the edges. This is in fact easier to paint than when it’s more of a 50/50 split between light and dark. Too bad I figured this out on the last session of the year… I’m hoping that come September my teaching schedule at school will allow me to draw again with this great group of artists.


Le Prix du Mont Royal

It was quite fitting that today, on the 139th birthday of Mount Royal, Le Prix du Mont Royal was awarded to an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the life of the mountain. This year the recipient of the prize was Jean Doré, mayor of Montreal from 1986-1994. It was during his term as mayor that the Montreal portion of the mountain was declared a heritage site, plans were set in place for the restoration and conservation of the mountain, and the Chalet lookout was restored. These accomplishments are in part what makes our mountain such a vibrant place. As a proud Montrealer, I was very honoured that my painting “November Panorama” was chosen as the prize. With Mr. Doré (centre) are Peter Howlett (left), president of Les Amis de la Montagne, and our current mayor, Denis Coderre.



East Gate, Chinatown

I spent some time sketching with Marc Holmes and visiting sketchers James and Jeanette Gurney today. (If you don’t know James’s blog, you should check out Gurney Journey. I promise you won’t regret it.) We chose this spot in Chinatown because of the interesting end-of-day shadows moving up the buildings on this narrow part of La Gauchetière. It’s a really busy pedestrian thoroughfare, and as you can see from the photo, four people sketching on the street always creates some interest from passersby, especially since each sketch was so different. You may not see Jeanette’s beautiful work because I don’t think she posts her sketches online, and I think Marc was facing a different view, but hopefully Jim will post his version of this same scene on his blog tomorrow and then you’ll see what I mean.

ChinatownGate Gurneys

The blob

I love using ink pens, especially the Platinum Carbon pen that has a flexible nib that comes as close to a dip pen as I have found. I often use the pen twice during the sketch, once before the wash and once after in places where the darks need a little boost. I was just finishing this sketch when I turned my head for a minute — pen poised above the paper —to look at some kids playing in the grass nearby. When I looked back at my sketch there were three blobs of ink that had dripped out of the pen onto the paper. Yikes. I was pretty certain this sketch would be a write-off but I managed to integrate the blobs into the texture of the grass. Can you see them? They are around the tree on the right side, and luckily not in the sky where they would have been much harder to hide.


Planting weekend

The long weekend in May is traditionally planting weekend for gardeners, I guess because the chance of frost is finally over. I did some of that, but I also took a break to sketch one of the pots on my deck. This was started this in a Moleskine sketchbook (the new one with the bad paper) but I quickly realized that the book needs to be trashed. I keep trying to paint in it but the paper is really too poor. For the second try I used a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.

There was also a bit of time this weekend to finally watch “Mr. Turner”, a movie I missed in theatres when it came out in December and have been waiting for ever since. If you like director Mike Leigh, or enjoy watching movies about artists, don’t miss the great, grunting, snorting Timothy Spall playing the painter J. M. W. Turner in the last 25 years of his life.