New York City workshop

It’s the beginning of workshop season for me. The first in a series of events this summer was in New York City, which of course was a big thrill for me. I love New York (sorry for the slogan) and I was delighted to have the chance to sketch there, as well as meet some of the NYC Urban Sketchers. We had two great days planned in my favourite spots — Bryant Park and Central Park. I spent a little time in Bryant Park before the workshop, sketching the library and those amazing plane trees that form a canopy over the perimeter of the park. It was cloudy when I was there, and also a weekend, so the park wasn’t that crowded.


One of the things I try to demonstrate in workshops is how to deal with any situation when you are sketching. For example, on a sunny weekday, at lunchtime, Bryant Park has many more people walking through it than on a cloudy weekend day, and that was what we dealt with on Day One! Thousands of people walking through the park, sitting on the grassy green, eating lunches, strolling with babies… It was almost impossible to find a spot for a demo. Nothing like what I had experienced a few days early when the park was almost empty.


But that is what urban sketching is about. You deal with what is in front of you, and even if it rains, like on our second day, there are plenty of things to sketch. On Day Two our Central Park location was switched indoors to the Winter Garden Atrium where we had a view of the Hudson River through the giant windows of the Brookfield Place complex. A big thanks goes to Mark Leibowitz who organized our outings and fended off the security guards who tried to oust us from the mall. I guess any large gathering of people with bags looks suspicious, especially in such close proximity to the new Freedom Tower.


Fortunately after lunch the rain stopped and we were able to sketch outside. It was a wonderful group of interesting, talented sketchers and we had a really fun time in our few days together.


East Block

I spent a little time in Ottawa today, sketching East Block, one of the three main buildings on Parliament Hill. As I came to discover, it’s a challenging building to paint. The exterior is Nepean Sandstone, and although there are lots of intricate details on the copper roof that were fun to draw, the stone itself is quite heavy and dark. I tried to suggest it with a combo of line and wash, but it required several layers of paint to convey the solidity of the structure. Many moons ago, on a school trip to the nation’s capital, I visited the Parliament buildings, but I don’t remember much about their history. It took a little searching on Wikipedia to discover that East Block has remained relatively intact since its original construction in 1866. It’s open for tours in July  and August, if you are interested.


New York rooftop view

Wow, it’s been a whirlwind week of activity and not much time to post. I held a workshop in New York City and upon my return, spent a full day drawing at C2 Montreal. A full report of the workshop is coming soon, as well as a post with the C2 drawings, but in the meantime, here’s a sketch I did from the rooftop of my hotel in New York. I try to draw this every time I go to New York. Here’s another drawing of the same view from a few years ago.


Maple tree: step-by-step

In the comments from yesterday’s sketch of a maple tree, Fred asked, “Could you tell us the sequence you used to paint this? What part and color came first, what did you reserve for last.”

Coincidentally, I was planning to do a step-by-step post today, so Fred, here you go…

(These photos were taken outdoors, on my easel, with my iPhone, so please excuse the trees shadows and the wonkiness of the images)

I sketched in a Handbook watercolour journal, 8″ x 8″. The first step is the pencil lines. You’ll notice that the most important shape is the big tree and placement of the smaller trees in the distance. I’ve also indicated a few places where I wanted some leaves to overlap the tree so I drew those in as a reminder to myself to leave white shapes while painting the trunk. At this stage it would be a waste of time to draw a lot of details that would end up also being painted (things like small branches and leaves, or details on the trunk).


The next step was an overall light wash behind the tree. You’ll notice that sky flows into foliage. I do this when the trees are not well defined against the sky and I don’t want to create a hard edge. I used lots of Green Gold pigment for the bright spring trees and I warmed up the colour with some red as I moved downward with my brush. British painter David Curtis calls this the “ghost” wash, and he uses it to indicates general shapes and colours.


Next step was to paint the lightest wash of the tree. In contrast to the warm background, I wanted the wash for the tree to be cooler. I mixed up quite a bit of paint so I could move all the way down the tree without the brush going dry. Also, even though some of the tree was in both sun and shade, I wanted to have a light colour on the brightest part of the trunk.


Once the first wash on the tree was dry, I was able to go back in and define some of the darker branches with a finer brush, as well as add some definition to the foliage and shapes in the background. You’ll notice that all the detail and most of the contrast remains in the centre of interest, which is the tree.


The last step is to define the light and shadow, as well as the detail on the tree trunk and branches. I used a bit of red foliage as a contrast to the overall green that dominates the sketch. The darkest darks are created from Phthalo Green, Alizarin Crimson and Indanthrene Blue, painted quite thickly and without much water to dilute the mix.


Painting in the garden

It’s going to be a busy summer but one of the absolute highlights for me will be to join  James Gurney, artist-in-residence, as well as over 20 plein air painters on June 19 at the New York Botanical Gardens for a Plein Air Invitational. The event is part of a summer-long exhibition  Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas which will take place in many areas of the gardens from May 14 – September 11.  In the art gallery you’ll find paintings and sculptures by American artists such as John Singer Sargent, Frederick Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase. A walk through the gardens and conservatory will lead you to horticultural displays that have been inspired by the art. And throughout the day on June 19, you’ll find painters in different parts of the garden, capturing those magnificent displays. It’s a thrill and an honour to be part of this. If you happen to be in the New York vicinity on June 19th, drop by and say hi. The event runs from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

In preparation for painting the gardens, I set up my easel at the pond in Baie d’Urfé this morning. My favourite maple is just starting to leaf out, and even though it was overcast when I got there, the sun came out just in time to paint the tree.



Come back later

Fermé. Revenez plus tard. (Closed. Come back later.)

Spring is most definitely on hold today. I was on my way to sketch some boats when I spotted this sign and had to stop. The farmers at this market are usually very hardy — selling flowers and vegetables on the most blustery of days. But today, when the snow was falling (in mid-May!) they threw in the towel. Dragged a rope around the flowers and put up the sign. Can you blame them?


Too cold

It’s too cold to garden today, and definitely too cold to sketch outside, but I did both. I’m moving some perennials around and before they get planted in their new places in the beds, they had to be dug up and potted temporarily. I didn’t have enough pots to put them in, so a friend suggested garbage bags (which worked really well!). At the end of all the gardening, I dug out my sketchbook and tried to paint the plant chaos, but on a day like today (it’s about 10°C, but so windy that it feels much colder) the paint doesn’t dry. I had to come indoors halfway through to warm up and let the first wash dry, and by the time I was done my fingers had turned blue from the cold.


Painting Crystal

My reward for finishing classes was a day spent in downtown Montreal, and of course it started with a bit of sketching. I found a café with a window seat and a view of Crystal Massotherapie. There are plenty of things to sketch in St. Henri but I couldn’t resist the shadow on the letters and the wonky windows on this building. There’s nothing with this much character in my usual neighbourhood sketching spots. Sketched on Canson Montval paper, 5.5 x 8.5.


Magnolia season

Magnolia season is too short. The flamboyant blooms open and are gone before you know it. Since most of the trees are on people’s lawns in my neighbourhood, I had to drive around a bit to find one close enough to the road to paint — I couldn’t very well set up in someone’s front yard with my sketching supplies. Since the blossoms are very light at the top and intensify in colour closer to the stem, the best way to tackle them is to wet each flower with clear water and then go in with pure colour near the stem (I used a combo of Permanent Rose and Permanent Alizarin Crimson). The lighter pink is created as some of that pure pigment mingles with the clear water and travels up the flower.  Sketched in a Field Watercolor Journal, 8″ x 8″.



There’s an embarrassment of riches out there. We went from grey nothingness to colour in such a short time. Flowers markets are open, trees have the tiniest bits of green on them, magnolias are blooming — but when the boat go in the water, that takes precedence over everything else. I knew today was Big Crane Launch Day, when the boats move from land to lake, so I went out with the intention of sketching that. But there was so much movement around the cranes, and the boats stay in the air for such a short time, that I moved back to my usual spot and sketched Prescription instead.