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.
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.
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.
What makes today unique? That’s the question I ask myself when I look for sketching subjects. Walking the dog in the morning often affords me the time to think of what might make a good subject because while I wander around the neighbourhood, I have a chance to assess the weather, the light, the clouds and even the trash that people put out on the street (see some examples here, here and here.) I suppose you can see where this is leading. This week the fruit trees in my neighboorhood are a joyous burst of colour, and I know it won’t last long. I did this series in a Moleskine A4 book, treating the mass of flowers on each tree as a simple shape rather than individual blossoms.
This was a difficult scene to sketch and you can probably guess why. The middle ground in between the two foreground boats and the elevated boatyard further back was very confusing. In that section there’s bits of boats, some water, a rock wall and a sloping section of grass. I’m not sure how I should have clarified this in the sketch, but it doesn’t help that the main sail cover is black, creating a hole in the middle of the sketch. I will definitely have to go back there and give this one another try to see if I can make it read better. I ran out of space on the page but probably having the front of the sailboat in there would help define the space as well. Isn’t this what makes sketching fun?
Years ago I took Phthalo Blue out of my regular palette because I have difficulty with it. It’s a personal thing. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad colour to use — it just means I’m not good with it. I guess I’m more comfortable using the cooler blues like Ultramarine and Cobalt. But sometimes it’s good to switch things around, use a different range of colours and see how things go. I haven’t been entirely happy with my mixed greens either lately so today for my tulip experiments, I used mostly Winsor Yellow and Phthalo Blue (and red of course) but no Sap Green. I was much happier with the results. I always find tulip foliage hard to match. The stems are pale yellowish/green but the rest of the foliage can veer towards the blue. You can see from the little test strip that I did that these greens will be perfect for the spring landscape too.
There’s some Cerulean Blue as well in this one…
A friend asked me recently why I was travelling all over the city to sketch. The reason is that these past few weeks I’ve been visiting my students who are doing internships in companies, mostly in the Plateau Mont Royal. It’s always a pleasure to see them at work, using some of the skills they’ve learned over the past three years of college. Of course I’ve tried to pack my sketch stuff with me and build in a little time to stop in different neighbourhoods. Today I parked next to Parc Petite Italie and looked across the park at the brick buildings, hoping to catch some of the dappled shade in the park. But what a day I picked. If you live in downtown Montreal you know what I mean. There were a series of violent rain squalls that passed over the city this afternoon, often alternating with periods of bright sunshine. I’m just glad I was in my car instead of sitting on one of those benches.