If you live in Montreal and haven’t visited the new wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, get yourself down there. No only will you see lots of new galleries including some of contemporary art, but there’s also a multi-level open space with views along Bishop St. and plenty of places to sit and draw. We had our monthly Urban Sketchers Montreal outing there today, and probably our biggest turnout ever. Besides the sketchers, it seemed like half of Montreal was visiting the museum and the blockbuster Chagall show that is on as well. Walking through the new wing I noticed crowds of young people looking at the art —which might be in part because there was free admission today — but nevertheless it made me really happy to see what a vibrant place our museum has become.
I sketched two views looking down Bishop St., one detailed pen and wash view and one looser one with no preliminary drawing where I just had fun drawing shapes with the brush.
It’s a grey day in Montreal, and that means it’s a perfect time to draw ellipses, which for some reason require frequent practice. I know all the rules but it takes several tries with the pencil before they start to look something close to correct. Luckily there are plenty of circles in my studio to use as models. This sketch is mostly done with three colours: Cerulean Blue, Winsor Red and Yellow Ochre, but it’s hard to mix a real dark with these so near the end I mixed up some Alizarin and Phthalo Green for the darkest bits.
At this point in the winter I am itching to find outdoor subjects of interest but most of what I find is grey. The lake is still frozen but in the distance the shrouded boats provide some notes of colour and the complex shapes, both large and small, and light and dark, create an appealing pattern. In amongst the tarps and hulls I see movement. No doubt some eager sailors working on their boats and looking forward to spring as much as I am.
The most challenging subject to paint in my neighbourhood today is the road. The thermometer is up in the positives, and after all the snow we had earlier in the week, there are some good reflections to be found. Besides the puddles, I spotted some other early signs of spring: lots of birds, people without hats on, and a father and son on their bikes. Winter is not over yet but as a dog walker, it makes me happier to navigate a wet road than an icy one.
If I can learn something new every time I paint, I’m happy. Today I discovered the perfect colour for painting trash bags. But let’s back up the story a little first. Why did I choose to paint the trash? The answer is simple. Until the snow from this week’s storm in Montreal gets plowed, it’s hard to find a cleared parking spot with a good view of anything. I didn’t want to pick a scene that was too complex because when those plows do come along, they honk and honk to get you out of their way and good luck finishing the sketch. So I picked a simple scene to paint, and in the process discovered that the leftover Indigo paint I had on my palette was perfect for painting the trash bags.
The weatherman said “This time it will fall as snow” in reference to the fact that most of this winter every snowstorm headed towards Montreal has turned to freezing rain or rain when it hit the city. But this time the weatherman got it right and fall as snow it did, 30 centimetres of it in all. I spent some of my Monday morning sketching time shovelling out my car, as most of the city did, so only had a bit of time to sketch before my classes started. Most of the streets weren’t plowed either, so I couldn’t park anywhere except in a mall parking lot. I found a gorgeous big truck to draw but no sooner had I started pencilling in my shapes than the driver showed up with his mall-purchased lunch in a takeout bag. I had a minute or two to scribble in a few more lines before he drove off. The last minutes I had were spent drawing a few more snowy cars in the parking lot. More snow coming later this week!
Tomorrow, February 11, is early bird registration for the 8th Annual Urban Sketchers Symposium which is taking place in Chicago from July 26-29, 2017. If you haven’t attended one of these events, I encourage you to consider it. It’s the biggest group of sketchers you will ever see in one place and although it’s stimulating, exhausting and completely overwhelming, it is always the highlight of my year. I have a feeling this year’s event will sell out quickly, so if you are contemplating going , make sure you are prepared before registration opens. There are 36 workshops, 30 demos and 5 lectures to choose from when you register, which can get really confusing. To help you navigate the process, my friend Suhita has written a great post about how to make your choices. Have a look at the full list of workshops here, and take a look at the schedule too.
I’m thrilled to be teaching at an Urban Sketchers annual symposium for the fourth time. My workshop is called “Trees in the City” and I’ll also be doing a short demo on using a limited palettes in watercolour. In celebration of (or to practice for) this I went out today to sketch some trees. That was clearly not a good idea on this really cold day, because even in my car, my paint turned to slush. I had to resort to turning on the seat heater on the passenger side for a few minutes to keep the palette warm so I could finish the sketch. Clearly not an eco-friendly way to paint. I have a feeling it will be warmer in Chicago this summer and I hope to see you there.
Ok, I think this one is out of my system now. A few days ago I painted a sunrise view of my neighbourhood, then I painted the same scene later in the morning, and I’ve been waiting to have a bit of time to paint a larger view of it. I’m not that keen on half-sheet format — 15″ x 22″ is a little to wide for most of what I want to do and full sheets are sometimes just too big — so I’m trying out a 16″ x 20″ format of Arches CP paper today.
I painted this one wet-in-wet, meaning that I saturated both side of the paper and then rolled it with a towel to remove the surface water. This gives me a sheet that remains damp for a long time and allows me to go back into the washes to add layers of colour. My palette choices were quite limited for this — lots of Verditer Blue, Cerulean Chromium, Indigo and of course some yellow and red for the sky. Ok, now on to other things.
It’s hard to give up my trusty pencil, but when I do, it’s a liberating exercise to paint without drawing first. I am in awe of painters who are skilled at this — Marc Taro Holmes is the first one who comes to mind — but I am often reluctant to just go for it. I have attempted the technique on several occasions, to disastrous results. Maybe it’s my own impatience.
It’s a different kind of painting experience because you have to be more thoughtful about where the brushstrokes go, especially when you use a big flat brush to start, like I do. But when you are not painting between the pencil lines, stuff can happen.
I tend to think the painting process through before I wet my brush — what goes on the paper first, what areas will be treated with glazes, where the darks will be, etc. If you can relinquish control and plunge right in with your brush, you may find that the happy mix of water and paint on the paper will surprise you by combining in unexpected ways. And you will definitely love the experience of brushing pigment across a perfectly white sheet of paper. Go ahead and give it a try. You might be surprised too.
The best thing about our itinerary for travel sketching in Provence is the sheer breadth of subjects to choose from — that, and the near-magical light and colour of this unique part of the world. As well as painting in our central location of St. Remy de Provence, we’ll be taking day trips to Roussillon, Gordes, Isle sur la Sorgue and more.
In our week together I’ll teach you techniques for capturing the close-up and colourful in villages and towns, as well as the distant and scenic in French landscapes. We’ll sketch iconic market scenes, fields of lavender in bloom, hillside towns and panoramas. In true travel sketching tradition, we’ll pack light — carrying a small bag for art materials and a folding stool. We’ll focus on having fun while we sketch, recording as much as we can as we move from café to hilltop. The aim is to have you return home with a fat book filled with fresh and colourful sketches.
If you want to know more, send me an email here.
Photos courtesy of FrenchEscapade.com.