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.
I missed launch day at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club by one day. It was actually yesterday but that’s ok — there’s still a reason to celebrate today because the boats are in the water for the summer. As I was sketching today I thought a bit about why I love painting boats. Yes, the shapes are complex and a challenge to draw so that is one of the reasons. But the other thing I love is that it’s a scene that’s in constant flux. The boats are always moving slightly in the water, bobbing and turning with the waves. And as the wind shifts, the reflections change too. It’s a scene that is never the same when you pick up your head. The way I paint boats is to work from big to small. First all the larger shapes — hulls, sky, water, sail covers. Then lots of smaller shapes like windows, masts and reflections. And the final step is the complex network of tiny dark shapes that give the complexity to the scene — ropes, flags, lines, dots and tiny spots.
I finally had a chance today to sketch this church on Blvd. St. Laurent at the entrance to Little Italy. As I often do when I arrive home, I went straight to Google to find out the name of it because it didn’t seem to be posted out front. It took a little digging until I realized it’s a church no more. In fact Église St-Jean-de-la-Croix was converted to condos sometime in the 2000s. If I had been sitting right across from it I probably would have seen the telltale signs — lots of windows, balconies, maybe even lawn chairs and planters — but I was parked a little ways down the street and didn’t see the lower part of the building at all.
Yikes, there’s a heat wave in Montreal and everything is opening and blooming all on the same day, including the ferns in front of my house that are growing about an inch every hour. Last week there seemed to be no buds on the trees and this week some of them are almost fully leafed out. I stoppped to sketch on my way to school today, on a street not too far away from my house, to record some of the action as it unfolds and unfurls. There’s only a short window of opportunity when the trees are this pale green — when they darken I find that they are far less interesting. Today I used a limited palette of Azo Yellow, Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue, with a little Manganese Blue in the sky added in at the end.
It’s a near perfect day for sketching outside and the light in my neighbour’s yard was just right for painting some spring greens. I sketched on Canson Moulin du Roy today. It’s quite an absorbent paper — not my favourite to be honest — but I have lots of little sheets leftover from a recent project so I’m trying to use them up. It seems that no matter how much water I have on the brush it dries more quickly than I expect. I bought it originally for ink and wash sketches because it’s smooth enough for the pen line, but every time I use it with pencil and watercolour I’m left a little bit frustrated with the way it performs.
There are some great places to paint along the Lachine Canal — especially the industrial buildings like the abandoned Canada Malting Silos. Today was the first day out with my easel and since I’m often asked what my outdoor setup is I took a quick phone photo to post. I use the Eric Michael’s En Plein Air Pro which is basically a flat panel attached to a standard tripod, along with a shelf that holds my palette. It has a hole for a water cup and also some holes for brushes. It’s a great kit, it’s light, it fits into a knapsack and I carry it for most of the summer. For the purposes of the photo, I moved the easel out into the sun but I painted under the shade of a pine tree. I can never see anything on my paper unless I’m in the shade!
This was a very complex structure to paint. As you can see from the photo the silos go on and on… Next time I may try getting more of the building in there. The silos I left out were the newer concrete ones, but the ones in my painting are covered in clay tiles. I suspect the whole thing will be torn down one of these days — you can see the building is covered in graffiti — so it’s important to paint it before it goes.
Last week in life drawing I used conté to draw Christian, but this week that was too rough for Marie’s features so (after a few failed attempts) I switched to pencil and that worked much better. These sessions are ending in a few weeks and I’ll be sorry to stop for the summer. There’s no doubt that the time spent in life drawing is the most relaxing three hours of the week. Everything outside the room melts away and the only focus is trying to get the lines and shapes of the model’s face and body right.