An old friend

For years I sketched exclusively with a good old Pilot Fineliner pen. In fact the first sketch I did on this blog was with that pen. I stopped using it when I started adding colour to my sketches because the ink is water-soluble and it dirtied up the colour, but recently I bought a few of them and today I found myself downtown without my palette so decided to use it. I remember why I liked it so much. It’s got a very pointy nib which makes it great for drawing (unlike my usual Micron pens which have a flatter nib) and when you lightly wet it, it’s just like having some Payne’s grey on your brush. It seemed just right for the grey stone of the Strathcona Music Building at McGill University.


Colour shift

Autumn has shown up late this year. Normally by the end of September the trees are bright yellow, but with the warmer than usual temperatures this month, we are only just now seeing the slightest softening and shifting of the colours. I sometimes use my blog archives to look back at weather in previous years and indeed, the trees had definitely changed by this time last year.

This morning Urban Sketchers Montreal met at the Atwater Market. A big group of us sat across the canal to look back at the city and enjoy the perfect day. I spent the morning drawing and talking. Apparently too much talking because I didn’t notice that I had painted shadows coming from both directions in my sketch. But that’s ok. We had so many new people coming out to join the group that it might have been one of our biggest groups ever. Quite amazing to see. As always, the group is open to everyone and there are often visiting sketchers. Today we had a visitor joining us from Yorkshire, England.

And in case you are interested, I just noticed that there’s a weekend sale on all online classes at If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the new class from Marc Taro Holmes called “Travel Sketching in Mixed Media“. I’ve been watching it and it’s full of wonderful techniques for pen drawing, ink brush sketching and watercolour washes. Well worth the money, even at full price!


Pilgrim Stories

It’s around this time every year when I hunt around my studio for art supplies I haven’t used in a while or have never tried. It probably has something to do with change of seasons. I dug up this sketchbook —given to me as a gift last year and never used — made by Ex Libris Anonymous in Portland, Oregon. It’s kind of a cool idea for a book. The company slices and dices old novels (cover and selected pages) and spiral binds them with sketchbook paper. The end result is part novel/part sketchbook, although you wouldn’t want to read a novel with this many pages missing. The acid-free sketch paper is great for pencil drawing but it would probably buckle if you added a wash to it. And as you might have guessed from the title of my post, my novel is Pilgrim Stories, adapted from Margaret Pumphrey’s Pilgrim Stories. If you want to have a look at the books, here’s a link. And the pencil? It’s a water-soluble Cretacolor pencil from the Urban Sketchers goodie bag at the Symposium in Singapore, although I didn’t add any water to the drawing.


With the right light

With the right light something really mundane can become extraordinary. I pass by this cell tower all the time. It’s flanked by nondescript brick buildings, and on most days it’s an eyesore in the neighbourhood. Today, with the late day light, it was magical — full of interesting shapes, strong patterns and dazzling contrasts. But this type of light changes fast. I spent less time on the drawing than usual and then rushed to paint it before the sun dropped below the buildings behind me. In fact, you can see the proof at the bottom of the sketch where my hand smudged the wet foreground shadow.



It was fitting that Alice was having a sunbath, on the last day of summer. As always, she was a great model, until a squirrel appeared on the other side of the patio door and our drawing session was over.

She will have to be my life drawing model for this semester. I teach all day Monday which means I can’t attend life drawing sessions. That makes me sad because it’s such valuable drawing practice, but I’m hoping that if my schedule frees up on Mondays in the winter semester I’ll be able to go back.


Good news and bad painting

Let’s start with the good news. My painting “Breakwater” was selected for 90th Annual Open Juried Exhibition of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour at the Halifax Public Archives Exhibition Room, Halifax, Nova Scotia.  (Exhibition date:  Nov 4, – Nov. 28, 2015). This was painted on location in Gloucester in June and if you want to read a little bit about the process you can here.

Blaukopf,Shari,1,Breakwater,11x15 inches,watercolour,2015

And now for the bad painting. Yesterday I received this comment on my blog from Francisco about my post from Saturday, “would love to see a batch of the “disasters”, might qualm the feelings of inadequacy that arise when viewing your work.” He was responding to a comment that I had made about painting without pencil lines,”When I paint this kind of sketch with no pencil lines, it always starts out easy. You make one nice brush stroke (in this case, the geranium bud at the top) and then you move downward. At a certain point you realize that it is getting more complex and there is no plan for where to go next. It is a bit like a flow chart. One arrow points to success and one leads to disaster. More often than not the outcome is the latter, but occasionally it turns out ok.

I’m up to Francisco’s challenge. I can’t seem to find any disasters (in the disaster pile) that occurred because of lack of pencil lines but I do have this little dud that I painted on the same trip to Rockport as my lighthouse above. I would probably qualify this one under the heading “lack of planning”. I can’t blame this on bad paper because this is done on Arches, nor on the weather, because it was a perfectly beautiful day. It was painted while on an outing with family (can’t blame them either) but in my haste to get this done and not keep them waiting, I didn’t take the few minutes necessary at the beginning to sketch out a value plan. The result is a weird optical illusion — the rear wall of rock seems to float above the foreground rocks. Probably a little work in Photoshop would help me figure this out, but I think what I did wrong was to bring the dark reflections of the rocks on the left too far down. And because I knew something was wrong, instead of leaving it alone and analysing it later, I did what I often do, which is to keep on adding paint. There are other design errors too. The shapes at the top seem to echo those at the bottom, almost like two paintings. And the foliage in the shadow of the rock wall is too light. Could this dud have been avoided with good planning? Probably. Will I make the same mistake again? Sadly, yes. But it’s a good exercise to spend time analysing what went wrong and trying to avoid it next time. Thanks Francisco.


Fuchsia on Aquarius

I remember some years ago that when I tried using Strathmore Aquarius paper, the experience was unpleasant. The paper had fiberglass in it, and if you made the mistake of rubbing your hand on the surface, you ended up with small, irritating fibres in your skin. How could I forget that? But the paper has changed, and when someone suggested recently that I should give it another try, I bought a sheet at the art supply store. Strathmore Aquarius II is quite a thin sheet and seems be manufactured only in this 80 lb weight, but because of the synthetic and cotton composition, it doesn’t buckle when you paint on it.

I took it out to sketch a few pots in the garden, with the dual purpose of trying the paper and using up a blob of Vermilion paint that had leaked in my palette. I really don’t know how this paper would be if I used it for a more complex (and layered) painting but for simple brush shapes like this, it worked pretty well. And I think this would be a great paper for taking out in the field. It’s smooth enough for a pen line and the colours remain pretty bright. And as advertised, the paper doesn’t buckle at all so no taping required. Would it replace Arches or Fabriano for larger paintings? No way. There’s no tooth to the paper, so forget granulation. But I have been writing for weeks about trying to find a paper that is both smooth enough for a fine pen line and textured enough for a wash. This is definitely a contender (along with Fluid 100 CP) for that.


Purple door

There are three much-photographed Victorian houses on Carré St. Louis. You’ll even see them in the Wikipedia entry for the square. One has red trim (here is the door I sketched a few years ago), one has teal blue trim and then there’s my favourite —the purple house. Since we’re having some kind of September heat wave in Montreal, I took a little time to sketch that house today. It’s especially nice in the morning when the sun travels across the door.


Me and my Sharpie

Me and my Sharpie went out today to draw some people. It’s been a long time since we’ve done this, and the exercise was painful. We haven’t been keeping in shape and it shows. We parked ourselves across from the weekly market where people come to collect their vegetables, hoping that the slowly moving line of figures would help to work out the kinks between us. After about thirty minutes things started getting better. The hand loosened up, the lines were more fluid, and the ink started flowing. We agreed that this would be a daily encounter for the next little while.

MarketFiguresA MarketFiguresB MarketFiguresC

Newly shorn

Argh. It started off as a perfect view of a yellow building in sun and the rest of the street in shadow, and I had one hour of sketching time before heading off to school. I finished my drawing just as an SUV pulled up and blocked my view. Yikes, I should have known that would happen. I spent a moment debating the situation. Draw the car or ignore it? I looked for the driver to see where he was going and spotted him ducking into a barbershop. That meant at least 20 minutes of painting time for the car. Fortunately for me my estimate of the barber was quite accurate and I had plenty of time to paint the car before the newly-shorn man drove off. LakeshoreMorn