An unlikely sight

I can’t believe school has started already. It doesn’t seem fair to be back when summer is still casting a warm glow over Montreal. My only consolation is that I can sneak away on breaks and sketch on campus. I haven’t held a paintbrush in my hand for weeks so the complex architecture on campus was a little too much for me. When I spotted this girl sitting quietly on a bench, the simplicity of the scene seemed just right. Unlike most of her schoolmates checking out their phones around her, she was reading. That is so unusual that I watched her for a while to make sure. And sure enough she seemed to be enjoying a book, oblivious to the lunchtime commotion around her. It was a treat to watch and to sketch.


The town

Just getting round to scanning some of my summer paintings as I prepare for “Art by the Lake”, the outdoor show of the Lakeshore Association of Artists that will take place on September 10 & 11. I painted this in June in Rockport, MA, but with travelling, workshops and family stuff, I haven’t had much time to sit at my scanner.

I love this view of Rockport from Old Harbor Road. You can sit out on a pier and look back at the town that, from that angle, almost seems to be stacked on top of rocks and ladders. Painted on Saunders Waterford CP paper, 15″ x 11″.


Waiting areas

There’s been a LOT of waiting around these past few weeks  — trains, planes and hospitals mostly — but I’ve kept a Leuchtturm sketchbook in my bag with me. It’s one of the many sponsor items that we received in our goodie bag from the USk symposium in Manchester, and I love to try this stuff out when I get home. The paper in this book is thick, bright white and smooth, so perfect for water-soluble brush pen and light washes.


Alice watches the 100m

Alice gets really excited watching the Olympics. She’s rooting for Andre De Grasse. Water-soluble brush pen in a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.


Francis Bacon’s studio

I am thankful that my friend Rich steered me to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, not only for the excellent collection of contemporary art but also for a wonderfully voyeuristic view into Francis Bacon’s studio. Some years ago the whole studio (including walls, floor and ceiling) was dismantled and moved from London to Dublin where it has been catalogued and reassembled in all its chaotic disorder, including the steep staircase and rope railing that Bacon climbed every day to reach it. To capture it fully I would have had to draw in a much wider sketchbook, but I did manage to sketch a small pile of objects in a corner of the dimly-lit space. You can’t enter the room but you can walk around it and peer in through several plexiglass windows. My sketch in no way describes the amount of art materials, books, magazines, canvases, easels, boxes, furniture and dust in the room. It must be seen to experience it fully. If you are in Dublin, don’t miss this treasure.

To note: I haven’t been posting as frequently as usual due to health issues with a close family member. When all of that gets resolved I will resume at my regular and more frequent rate.


A workshop with LK Bing

At the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester I had the chance to be a student for a few hours with the very talented Indonesian artist LK Bing. The rainy day was ideal for his workshop “Capturing Atmosphere Using Dramatic Lighting and Fast Spontaneity” and we watched him demonstrate his work as we huddled under a colonnade, trying to stay dry.

The workshop began with a demo of value sketches. Bing spread out all his materials (opaque and transparent watercolours, water-soluble markers, pastels and gouache) on the ground around him, and on small pieces of mat board the size of coasters he quickly sketched a few views of the street in front of him.



Using a toned board, either grey or tan, he often draws in water-soluble marker and then adds both darks and lights in watercolour and pastel or gouache.


We had a chance to try this out as well so I did three quick ones. By this time the rain was falling pretty heavily and we kept moving deeper into the colonnade. The small cards are a perfect size for the exercise because you really can’t get too much detail onto a surface that’s this small.


Our final sketch was a bigger one which I decided to do in my sketchbook. As you can see, the wind added a little extra atmosphere to my page by blowing a fine spray over everything, but this was about atmosphere, right? For some reason the black pen turned pinkish when I went over it with water but I don’t mind the result. Unfortunately I had to rush off before the three hours were over because I had my own workshop to prepare for, but I will be definitely be trying some of LK Bing’s techniques again. He’s such a generous teacher and a really superb painter.


The best gift

There can be no better gift for me (other than chocolates, of course) than when someone places something in my hands and says, “For sketching…”. These tomatoes are from my sister’s garden — the very first fruits of the vine, no less — lovingly picked, carefully transported and generously gifted. Sketched in a Handbook Travelogue Watercolour Journal, 8″ x 5″, painted mostly with Mineral Violet, Quinacridone Gold and Sap Green. A little blue in the shadows.



Some of my favourite moments in Ireland were spent sketching in places where I could overhear conversations while I drew. This one is from a café in Waterville where two local women chattered on about children, husbands, neighbours and friends. They were seated a few tables away from me, but talked loudly enough for their words to form a background narrative while I drew. Sketched in a Handbook Journal, 8″ x 8″, while drinking tea and eating a scone.



Manchester panorama

This begins at the end. The last sketch completed in Manchester before I start my journey back to Montreal. It was my intention to blog more along the way, all through Ireland and Manchester, but time constraints and wifi problems made it harder than expected. All I managed were a few quick photos of sketches here and there. The upside of this is that by scanning them upon my return, the image quality will be better.

The beauty of the city of Manchester took me by surprise. I’m usually a prepared traveller, researching neighbourhoods, history and culture in advance, but for this visit I’m embarrassed to say that the only reading I did was to choose locations for my workshops at the Urban Sketchers symposium, and the only expectation I had was to see an “industrial” city, whatever that means.

Upon arrival a week ago the first real view I had of Manchester, not counting the grimy exit of Oxford Road Station, was from my 10th floor hotel room. It took me all week but finally, on my very last morning, with the (rare) sun shining through the window, I found some time to sketch the view before hopping into a cab for the airport. Manchester is a city of ornate brick buildings contrasted with modern glass towers and, judging by the dozens of cranes, more modern to come. The view from my room showcased a bit of everything, including the iconic clock tower of The Palace Hotel.

With complex views like this one, I always waffle between portraying the scene in line (starting with fine pen line and drawing the contour as well as details of the buildings) or painting it with watercolour shapes. These contrasting techniques require different ways of looking at a scene and are also dependent on the time I have to complete the sketch. With an imminent plane departure in mind, I chose the faster option: big shapes in watercolour.

Building up the panorama with brush shapes is fairly simple. I usually start by drawing the line between city and sky in pencil, and then adding in the contours of the key buildings in the foreground. Next, with my biggest brush I paint the sky, and when that is dry, I work on the buildings. I begin with the largest ones (the apartment blocks, the Palace Hotel clock tower, the lower buildings in the foreground) and move towards the smaller shapes (chimneys, rows of windows, dark spaces between buildings). It’s not necessary to paint every window as long as you get a variety of large and small shapes, alternating light and dark ones as you go. In this I also used a pattern of warm reds (old, brick, industrial) with cool blues (modern, glass, steel) to create contrast. Details were added on my plane ride home. Manchester was a delight to sketch, the symposium was a crazy, chaotic, exhausting, joyful few days and I’ll be posting more sketches soon.

News travels fast in sketching circles, but if you haven’t heard yet the 2017 Urban Sketchers Symposium will take place in another stunning architectural city: Chicago! Great news for so many North American sketchers who have been waiting to attend a symposium that’s a little closer to home.