Pre-season at the boat club is almost more exciting than when the boats go in the water. The overlapping shapes and colours in the boatyard— light and dark, bright and muted — make for a great subject.

I have my copy of Edgar Whitney’s The Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting sitting next to me as I write (sometimes I even use it as a weight on my scanner!). I often leaf through it and read a tidbit here or there about composition or design. Coincidentally today, after I scanned my version of a boatyard, I opened it to Ed’s painting of the same subject, titled High and Dry. Here’s what he says about his own work: “The first question to ask in any painting project is, “What am I trying to say?” Make this answer, or “telegram to yourself” succinct. The telegram here was boatyard. The second question should be “what is the best way to say it?” The answer to the second question is found by observing and expressing the characteristics found only in that locale.”

What does that mean? For me, it means trying to convey the forms of the boatyard with an economy of strokes. The focus in this little sketch is the boat shapes — both front and side views — and the masts. Once those are in place, the rest is filler. And if I can manage to cram most of the lights and darks and all the bits of pure colour into that area of focus, then it’s a good day of sketching.


First colour

It’s a joy to see people working in their yards this weekend. Cleaning up the remnants of last year’s gardens, making space for the green shoots poking up out of the ground, talking to neighbours over fences. I should probably be doing that too, but instead I sketched the first tiny bit of colour in my garden — my crocuses. It always seems like a miracle to me when something this delicate pops out of soil that was covered in snow less than a week ago. Sketched in a Pentalic sketchbook, 8″ x 5″.


First plein-air sketching of 2016

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. The first day this year that it was possible to sit outside with an easel and paints! I met my friend Marc Taro Holmes in Île Bizard for a few hours of catching up and sketching together. We sketched the presbytery of Saint-Raphael-Archange, and I was so excited to paint that I forgot to do a value sketch for this. If I had done a little more prep, I might have realized that the big rectangle in the middle of the page didn’t make for the most interesting composition. I have a feeling it might have been better as a vertical with the big tree taking up more space in the top left. But plein-air season is just beginning, and there will be many chances for good planning in the coming months.


Last chance snow

My favourite time of the day to paint is the morning — the light is often better and there are more parking spots on the street — but I don’t get to choose my teaching schedule and this semester I was in class early every day. That means I missed all the fresh snow, because if you live in Montreal you are well aware that almost every morning snowfall melted away with the rain that followed it. It snowed again last night, maybe for the last time this April (or maybe not!), and for once I had no class AND there was a parking spot facing my favourite strip of old buildings on Lakeshore Road. A reason to celebrate for sure.

If you are looking for something to do this coming weekend (April 15-17), the Lakeshore Association of Artists  is holding the annual spring show at Fritz Farm in Baie d’Urfé (20477 Lakeshore Road). It’s a wonderful outing on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, there’s lots of great art on display (more than 40 artists — including me — will be exhibiting) and it’s for a good cause (a portion of the proceeds from all the art sold goes to Nova West Island). More details about the show here. If you are thinking of dropping by to say hello, the vernissage is Friday evening, and I’ll also be around on Saturday afternoon as well. Hope to see you there!


Fallen fence

It makes it so much easier to find a scene to sketch when the lights and darks are clearly defined. Today this fallen fence seemed interesting because of the sunlit wooden slats against the dark tree and wheelbarrow. With the fence down, the wheelbarrow — situated in a dark corner of the yard — gets much more light on it. And with the ground still too cold to work on, it really has no other job to do besides look good. For now, I’m still enjoying the light created by the fence opening, but in a few weeks when gardening season starts, I will probably start to wonder why the neighbour still hasn’t gotten around to repairing it.




Scanning a double-page sketch

I received an email today from someone asking me about how I scan my work, and instead of answering her by email, she suggested I do a post about it. Great idea, since I am often asked how I scan my daily sketches.

I have an Epson Perfection V600 Photo flatbed scanner (there’s probably a newer model on the market now) which sits on my desk, right next to my computer. I use it to scan almost everything including 1/4 sheet watercolours (11″ x 15″) but if something is larger than that, I will photograph it. If it’s a double-page sketch like this one I did as a workshop demo in Palmetto Bluff last month, I have to scan it in two parts. I always scan in high resolution (300 ppi) tiff format in case I need the better resolution for printing sometime in the future.

The sketchbook in this example is 8.25″ square, so a double page like this is over 16″ wide. It can’t be scanned in one pass. I start by scanning both halves of the sketch separately. The images you see below are what I see when I open the initial scans in Photoshop. Now here’s my disclaimer: I am by no means a Photoshop expert! I do my best to get my scans to look like what’s in the sketchbook and I’m happy if I can match that.



The next thing I do is use the Photomerge option in Photoshop. It’s under the File >Automate menu in Photoshop CC. You can see from the scans above that the images are crooked, but Photoshop is smart enough to put together the two halves and align all pixels that are the same, so you don’t have to straighten anything first.


The next step is when I straighten and crop, and then I flatten the two layers of the image. Sometimes the rounded corners of the sketchbook show up so I either crop a little tighter, or use the clone tool to get rid of that. What I am left with is an image that is close to finished but it looks a little FLAT. The contrast is low and the whites may not be bright enough.


The final step is to add a Levels Adjustment Layer. This opens a histogram that allows me to brighten up the whites a little and darken the darks (see the final image below). Start to finish, the whole process, including a few minutes of scanning time, takes no more than 10 minutes. I save my final high resolution tiff image in my archives, and then save a 72 ppi image for web. If I need the better quality image for printing, I will zoom in on the image and clean it up, but for my quick sketches, this is all the time I have and it seems to work perfectly well.



Past its prime

I think this bouquet started out too beautiful to paint. I tried it when it was fresh but because it was a perfect arrangement of tulips, irises, daffodils, freesia and hyacinths — each one a different colour — I couldn’t make it work. I waited a few days until the blooms were past their prime, sagging and shrivelled at the ends, and then tried it again. At this point the colours have softened and faded, making it a somewhat easier target to capture.