The best-laid plans

When I give an outdoor workshop demo, I love to have the luxury of a little time beforehand to sketch in my location. Since I like to paint in the shade, it helps to give me a sense of the light at different times of the day. As well, I can see if there’s pedestrian traffic, wind, noise, or other factors that might affect how I teach. Plus, it helps me work out problems in the composition and think about colour too. But the best-laid plans don’t always work out.

At the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester this past July, my workshop “Bare Bones: working with limited palettes in watercolour” took place at the restored Castlefield Urban Heritage Park and Rochdale Canal district. I chose the location because the canals, the longboats, the restored brick buildings and the train viaducts offered endless sketching opportunities.

The day before the start of the workshop I did a series of sketches in the area, using different combinations of limited palettes, mostly primary triads. For the first one I chose Phthalo Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Gold for my sketch of the longboats on the canal.


The second sketch was done sitting beside the historic Rochdale Canal, and for this I used a combo of Hansa Yellow Medium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue to capture the traditional Manchester brick.


For my third planning sketch, I combined the unlikely trio of Cobalt Teal, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Gold to paint another section of the canal (and more brick!) where the River Medlock flows into the canal.


But despite all my good planning, for each of my three workshops, the skies opened up, the rain poured down, and we had to take shelter under the arches of the train viaduct. So for all that good planning and research, well, we didn’t get to sketch any of it. The view from our location was of, yes, more viaducts. And if you look closely at the sketch below you’ll see that even under our shelter, the wind managed to drive fine droplets of rain onto our sketches.


I was still able to do series of demos (the one above uses Cerulean Blue, Organic Vermilion and Yellow Ochre) and as a reward to all the shivering participants who toughed out the wind tunnel and the rain, we finished our sketches under the welcome warmth of the outdoor heaters at the restaurant next to the canal.


20 Comments on “The best-laid plans”

  1. Barbara Beynon says:

    Oh, I remember that day! I was in your afternoon workshop and we, too, huddled under a tunnel. The rain did break for a little and I sat on a bench nearby; just as I was making some good progress, the wind gusted and a seeming bucket of water streamed down on my page–I could only laugh at the abstract blur of brick-color that resulted. I’m so glad to see the planning sketches you made the day before. It truly was a beautiful location and you captured it so well.


    • Thanks so much Barbara. I laughed many times at what the wind and rain did to us during those three days. I guess that was better than crying. But despite all that we did have a great time, didn’t we? Even in the rain that location is spectacular and we had such talent in all the group that it made it a pleasure to teach. Glad you were there too.


  2. Thanks for this post Shari. I’m working on landscapes (oh…so frustrating when you’re used to small detailed subjects) and I want to try some limited palettes. I struggled yesterday with color harmony and I think trying some simple combinations will help (that, and a lot of other skills!) Love your paintings.


  3. Dml says:

    Love your blog- i find it very inspiring. I love working with watercolor and your blog has me wanting to just wander and paint. How long do you spend on a sketch before adding the color?


    • HI Dml,
      Glad you found me. I am a slow sketcher. I sometimes spend at least 30 minutes on the drawing before I add any colour. At least for these, the drawing time was quite long because of the complexity of the scenes. If it’s a simple still life it may be much less but generally about half the time is spent drawing.



  4. M. L. Kappa says:

    I find the idea of limited palettes very intriguing. I should practice more. I really hope I can join one of your workshops one day!


  5. I love how your got such a variety of colors with each set of triads. I always forget about using triads and then when I see paintings that use them I’m always so impressed. Thanks for showing us your prep work for the workshop. I know that even with the rain dampening (pun intended) the spirit of some of the locations, your students enjoyed every moment of the class.


    • Joan, we all had a good time despite the poor weather. When you are teaching you always want participants to have a good time, to feel successful and to go away happy. I often worry that bad weather will change the experience for them but now that I look at the photo, they seem pretty happy anyway.


  6. Monique says:

    Each one as great as the inspiring always.


  7. Hello Shari ! If ever you give a course or a Workshop in Montréal. I would be thrilled to attend.


  8. lynnbowes says:

    Nobody looks at all unhappy with the greyed skies, wind, and mist! I’m going to try the ‘limited palette’ approach today. It seems to give cohesion to the drawings without muddying and my painting can muddy quickly if I don’t plan ahead – inspired.


    • Lynn, limited palettes are a great way to achieve unity or cohesion. You’ll never have a colour that sticks out or looks wrong when you work this way. Even though I have 23 colours on my current palette, I never use more than 4 or 5 for any sketch or painting.


  9. rosjenke says:

    Sublime – of great excellence and beauty, all of them. How I envy your workshop participants.


  10. Denise Robotham says:

    Very interested in the use of triads to make sketching gear lighter and, with practice, easier??? Have only recently found your blog and am loving it. I also loved the one about your car studio too. I am moderately disabled and find standing, or sitting on the three legged stools urban sketchers seem to love, really painful. With winter approaching here in the UK I am really looking forward to using my car as a studio AND feeling okay about it.

    If I knew how to private message you I would have done so. You made me chuckle when you talked about longboats in the canals. I knew we were invaded by the Vikings in their longboats, but didn’t know they were still coming. The traditional boats on the canals of the UK are narrowboats. They are only just under seven feet wide to allow for boats to pass on the narrow canals built in the industrial revolution most of which are often less the fifteen feet wide. Sooo sorry! Can’t help being a geek!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s