Rockport morning

I wait all year to get this view. It’s magical at any time of day but especially beautiful in the early morning when the light hits the facades and the harbour is still. I’ll be travelling for the next little while so please excuse the image quality of the sketches. Phone photos are good but they can’t match the sharpness of a good scan.



Alice in pencil

Watching the opening segment of James Gurney’s new video “Portraits in the Wild” made me want to grab a water-soluble pencil and draw someone. Unfortunately the only being at the house at the time besides me was Alice.

James Gurney makes location sketching look so easy. Last year we sketched together in Montreal’s Chinatown during late afternoon, and when I looked at his sketchbook he had turned what we were both looking at into a night scene! He creates the same magic with portraits. In his small sketchbook, with a few strokes of the pencil or some quick dabs of the brush, the most amazing faces and figures appear. In the video he paints four full demos that include great closeups of his skillful paint mixing and adept brushwork. If you’d like to read more about it, here’s an excellent review by Marc Taro Holmes.


Lifting and scrubbing

Repairing watercolour mistakes can be difficult. I’ve never been very successful at scrubbing out huge areas of a painting. Frankly, I’d rather start the painting again on a clean sheet of paper. Tiny repairs, however, can be useful depending on the pigment you use. Take this sketch of my neighbour’s peonies as an example. I painted this yesterday, outside, in weather so cold I should have had gloves on. When I took it inside to dry (and to thaw out my frozen fingers) I realized that the shadows between the bricks were too dark (they advanced instead of receded). In an attempt to fix this, I took a old, dry brush (not a good sable one), dipped it in a bit of clean water and gently lifted those darks and blotted them dry with a tissue. Luckily the pigments I used weren’t staining, plus the Fluid paper I painted on is very good for lifting, so I was able to lighten those small areas significantly and visually push the brick wall backward. If you’ve never tried this, experiment on an old (an unsuccessful) painting. You’ll see different results depending on the paper and the pigments you’ve used. Liftable pigments like Cobalt Blue (which I used) will be easier to remove than staining ones like Phthalo Blue or Permanent Alizarin Crimson.



Brick house

It was a busy week with not much time for sketching, plus the blustery weather was more like late November than early June. Summer is back today so I set out to sketch the trees in their full leafed-out glory. I like to mix natural elements with architecture (helps with both scale and composition), which is why this house on Lakeshore Road caught my eye. Surrounded by trees and situated across the street from a parking lot made it the perfect subject. Sketched in a Fluid Field Watercolour Journal, 8″ x 8″.


On the vine

In a few weeks I’ll be painting at the New York Botanical Gardens, which is why I’ve been spending lots of time focusing on flowers and trees. This clematis has been blooming in my garden for a week or so, but it’s barely hanging on to a twig trellis that is falling apart and may not last much longer. One strong wind and it may be down. Pretty soon I’ll buy a new trellis that will be more durable, but won’t be half as interesting to paint. Sketched in a Fluid Field Watercolour Journal, 8″ x 8″.



I went to the Jardin Botanique in Montreal with the intention of painting flowers, but on my way through the Leslie Hancock Garden, I noticed this Crataegus crus-galli — a cockspur hawthorn. With its spreading horizontal branches, it was quite dramatic set against the azalea beds some distance away.

I always spend a little time thinking the painting process through before I start, instead of diving right in. I try to figure out what washes will go on first, how dark will they be and what colour harmonies I will choose. The big question with a central tree like this is whether to paint around it, or to paint the sky and background right through it and then paint the tree on top of those washes. The solution was quite clear in this case. Because the tree is so dark, I first painted sky, distant foliage and then foreground, and when that was bone dry I painted the tree. A classic light to dark and far to near painting order. To note: it was worth the bites to have a view of this beautiful specimen, but if you go to this area of the gardens, remember to pack your bug spray.


Brush shapes

If you have a brush with a decent point on it, try painting shapes with no pencil lines. It takes some careful observation and a wet brush. If you start light and keep the shapes wet, you can go back into them and add darks or bits of other colours. Look at how shapes combine and overlap and try to get the values right in the first pass. It’s a good exercise for practicing your brush work.