Too cold to sketch

It was probably a little too chilly for sketching from the car studio today: -10°C with an even colder wind chill meant that I had to turn on the car heater quite often to warm myself up and dry the washes on my paper. But… the light was wonderful on Lakeshore Road and since we haven’t had that many sunny days of late, I sketched away, even if it meant having frozen feet. The yellow wall on the side of the Canadiana-style building had a wonderful shadow on it and that made me forget the discomfort for a bit.


Musical chairs

I was back at school today, drawing in the cafeteria during a break. If you sit there for a while you notice two things — and this is not a new observation because I have mentioned this before— students leave their winters coats on indoors and they are always on their phones. I drew the girl with the fur collar first and when she got up, she was replaced by an almost identical figure in a fur-collared jacket, also on his phone.

I used a V-Sign Pen from Pilot for these drawings. It’s got a fatter nib than pens I usually use, but it’s great for quick drawings because the ink flows quickly, especially if you use smooth stock like this Stillman & Birn Zeta paper. It’s also really black! And a bonus for quick studies like this: it uses water-soluble ink so a quick once-over with a water brush will give you some good grey tones.

I haven’t had time to answer comments from my last post yet, but I wanted to thank everyone who sent me a note. I was completely bowled over by all of the truly wonderful wishes you sent my way.


Same bouquet, different day

Last Wednesday I painted this same bouquet, but a lot has happened since. I don’t usually include personal stuff on this blog but today is special. It wouldn’t feel right if I wrote about technique or materials or colour today. Instead, I am dedicating this post to my mom who passed away last Friday, just four short months after my dad.

My mom was an amazing woman — a trailblazer in education and a mentor to many (including me). She broke the glass ceiling many times in her career and in doing so, taught me that there was nothing I couldn’t reach for. A true believer in lifelong learning, she took up art later in life and when she gave up painting because of illness, I inherited her brushes, paints, paper and books. I still use a lot of those materials today. She was always the first person to encourage me to paint, to exhibit my work and to enter shows. In her own strong, humorous, gentle, loving, intelligent way, she set the bar very high and the world will just not be the same place without her.


Flat brush floral

I don’t know about you but sometimes it takes me several starts to get the result that I want. With florals my aim is to keep the watercolour loose and fresh, not overworked or nitpicky. Today’s first try — painted with a small round brush — looked like that, so I decided to give it another go. I grabbed a fresh sheet of paper and for my second attempt I picked up a big, flat 1 1/2″ brush. There’s no mistaking what the shapes will be with a brush that wide. You can’t work on details. And since flowers of the same colour seem to look better when you paint them all as one big mass, the big brush helped me get a better start. Thinking carefully about edges, I painted a big yellow shape and then did the same with the red, and from there it was easier to work in the details like the leaves and the stems (the flat brush is ideal for painting stems, btw!). Painted on Arches CP paper, 10″ x 10″.


Frozen lake

I was driving around in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, looking for a good view to sketch with a little bit of distance in it, and remembered this spot where I can see frozen lake, barns and the highway in the distance. As the days warm up this week, I’ve noticed that the winter colours have softened. It’s funny how colours end up on the page when you are painting. I had no colour scheme in mind, and I didn’t set out to paint in pastels but that is just what the day is like and somehow that softness made its way to my paper. Painted on Arches Rough paper, 14″ x 10″.


Lovric’s boatyard

A few years ago I did a preparatory sketch for a bigger painting of a scene at Lovric’s boatyard in Anacortes, Washington. Reading my post about that sketch again today, I saw that I hoped to do a bigger painting soon. Well, it’s almost two years later, but nobody’s counting, right?  Here’s the original sketch I did in watercolour, and what intrigued me then about the scene (the end of day light) was still what I was trying to capture this week.


For this larger painting (16″ x 20″) I decided to try it in oils. It was a real learning experience for me, once again, with this new medium. Since this is only my third full oil painting, there are still many things that I am experimenting with for the first time. For example, the rigging and thinner lines are more difficult in oil. You have to wait for the layers underneath to dry before you add more lines on top. That is never something that I worry about in watercolour. Also, there were areas that I wasn’t happy with in the painting, so I scraped them out with a knife (first time for that too) and repainted them until I was satisfied with the colour. And then there’s the process of photographing the work! I tried a studio shot using the lights and technique I usually use for watercolours, but the shiny oil paint creates a lot of glare. After a few tries, I ended up going outside with the painting, putting it on my cold stone walkway and taking a photo of it in natural light. The colour is not quite right but at least the glare is gone.

Next week: back to school which means more quick sketches and few paintings. Sigh.



Here’s a painting I experimented with a bit, both in format and with paper stock. Last week I was driving towards Hudson on the road that runs along the lake. It was such a brutally cold day — made worse by the frigid squalls blowing across the field — that I couldn’t have painted in my car. In fact, it was almost too cold to step outside to take a reference photo, but I did it anyway.

When I got back to my studio I thawed out my hands, and then I painted the scene on the remaining half sheet (15″ x 22″) of Schut Noblesse paper that I had. This is a paper that I find a bit too smooth (you can read out it here) but thought it might work for the snow shadows in this scene. When the painting was done, I found it a bit flat and decided to try it again.


For the second try I used a full sheet (22″ x 30″) of Arches rough paper, which is not something I use very often, but I was hoping to get more texture and granulation than on the previous version. When the painting was done I stood back to have a look and realized just how much blue I had used, which I guess conveys well how cold I felt standing out on that road with the wind whipping around me as I looked at the scene.




The right place at the wrong time

My sketch story today has a moral to it: don’t paint on beer delivery day in Pointe Claire.

I chose this parking lot scene because there was some great light on the snow-covered cars in a lot facing the back entrance of a popular bar in Pointe Claire Village. A spotlight, really, on the cars, in front of a jumble of nondescript buildings. Just the kind of thing I love to paint.

img_2443About ten minutes into my drawing, a giant beer delivery truck pulled up and blocked the scene. It blocked it so perfectly it was comical. I thought I could wait it out, so I started drawing the car on the right (at the wrong size, I think, because the beer truck blocked the other cars that I was measuring against). And then I waited some more while the guys opened the truck, took out the lift to carry the kegs, loaded up the lift, went inside the bar, came out of the bar, had a smoke, and chatted.


When I thought they might be leaving, they further blocked by view by placing palettes of kegs in front of the only thing I could see, which was the car that I had already drawn (at the wrong size). And when I thought they couldn’t delay any longer because they had already brought in the full kegs and bottles, they started the process of removing the empties. I guess I had no idea how long this whole thing would take.


Here’s the sketch that I finished up quickly when the truck finally left. By the time I got around to painting it, the sharp light had changed completely and I was pretty frozen.


That’s the bad news about my sketching adventure today.

But the good news for today is that my painting “The Town” has been accepted in the American Watercolour Society’s 150th International Exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in New York City. Even if I have to cancel classes, I hope to be able to make it to New York to see the show, which is on from April 3-22, 2017.



What’s on the menu?

These days in Montreal you don’t know what you’ll wake up to. Rain, ice, snow? Could be any one of these or all three in the same day. Last night I turned out the lights to the sound of rain but woke up to a perfectly white, spray-painted snow city. The beauty of it made me gasp.

I haven’t painted the Chocolatier Marlain building yet this year, so I headed out to see how it looked this morning. As I took out my pad of paper, a big snow plow parked right in front of the shop. I think the driver lives upstairs because he left the engine running for a good long time while he went in for coffee refill. I started the painting from the left side because that was all I could see, and then completed the door and the stairs later when he returned to his cab and drove off.

Lettering on buildings or signage is always an interesting challenge when I’m out sketching. Marlain has a signboard with a menu of frozen dishes that I wanted to put in, but if you paint the words perfectly they become a distraction. They way I treat them is to paint them partially so they look like letters, but not so perfectly that you can read every word. Occasionally I go back to darken bits of the letters, but not all of them.  And if you are interested in lettering and signs, have a look at Suhita Shirodkar’s wonderful sketches of vintage signs in and around San José where she lives.




24th and St. Joseph

With a little time on my hands before my new semester starts, I am painting in a larger format and trying out some new (for me) paper stock. A few months ago I bought a sheet of Schut-Noblesse watercolour paper from Holland and thought I’d give it a try today. This  scene in Lachine is one I sketched quickly in pencil on site this morning, took some reference shots and then painted a larger format (half sheet 15″ x 22″) in my studio in the afternoon. What a luxury it is to have a full day to paint!

I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried this paper. The 140lb cold-pressed surface is quite nice to the touch, but is different than what I’m used to when you paint on it —it reacts almost like a hot-press paper. Even with a fully loaded brush, the washes get absorbed and dry quite quickly, so it’s almost impossible to go back into the puddle with more pigment, or even extend a wash into a new area because there’s almost always a dry edge somewhere. Technical but important details! I probably should have tried out a small sample of the paper before launching into a large painting, right? But once I realized what the paper was like I decided to stick with it and see what happened. I’m not unhappy with the result but I probably won’t buy another sheet, just because I know and love how my usual papers (Arches or Fabriano) react. But if you’ve tried this paper, send me a note and let me know what you think.