Call for entries: Monument Montreal

As part of the city’s 375th anniversary, Urban Sketchers Montréal, in collaboration with Heritage Montréal, is organizing Monument Montreal, an exhibition that will take place at the Hall of Honour of the City of Montreal from August 23 to September 6, 2017. Over 50 sketches and about 12 sketchbooks will be on display. The objective of the show is to display the panorama of Montreal in all its diversity: public monuments, historic buildings, vernacular architecture, as well as parks and natural spaces. According to Urban Sketchers tradition, all creative work must be done on location, and the use of reference photographs is not permitted.

All the info about submission dates and specifications are on the USk Montreal web site:

We are hoping to have a big pile of sketches and sketchbooks to choose from, so if you are a sketcher from Montreal, or a visiting sketcher who has sketched the city, please consider entering  your work in the show. All levels are welcome and encouraged, as long as they follow the guidelines outlined on the site.

With that show in mind, I did a little sketching on St. Viateur in Montreal’s Mile End district. I don’t do much vehicle drawing but this old van parked at a garage on the corner of St. Urbain caught my eye. It’s an interesting process to attempt to render the graffiti, both with positive and negative painting and a little Titanium White.


Reflections of Alison Paige

I had a great time painting reflections in Gloucester last week, and one of these days I will do a step-by-step post about it. In the meantime, I will describe my process.

I start by painting the lightest colour of the water, with is usually similar to the sky but just a touch darker. This can sometimes be done in one pass, sky straight down to water, darkening as you go. When that is completely dry, I take a good look at the objects that are reflected in the water and try to simplify the shapes of the reflections. If you can do most of the darker reflections in one pass they will look fresher. This means that you have to mix up a lot of wash (double what you think you will need) so that the wet brush does not go dry. And make sure the brush has a good point on it so you can get those sharp shapes to indicate the ripples in the water.

Don’t paint every ripple. A few will do the job. For darker boat hulls — like the one on Alison Paige — I paint the boat and the reflection at the same time. Take a closer look at the boat if you can. You’ll see what I mean. While the wash was still damp, I added in the darker line that indicates the water line where hull meets water. Also look at the edges of the reflected objects. For example, I noticed that the reflected building had a dark edge so I added in a few darker strokes near the bottom of the sheet.

Also make sure that reflections of masts line up with the masts themselves. And don’t fuss over reflections. Put them down simply and leave them alone.

Painted on Arches 140 lb CP, 22″ x 15″.


Rockport repetition

Part of what I love about my stay in Rockport is that right from my door I have subjects to sketch. I watch the tide come in and out of the harbour, I have a great view of the whole town and of course there’s a pile of lobster traps just waiting to be painted.

When I see opportunities for repeating objects in a sketch, I leap at the chance to include them. The three layers of wall, traps and town illustrate perfectly what I mean. For this sketch, I did no preliminary pencil drawing. The shapes are simple enough to go straight to brush. I started with the yellow traps, varying the shapes and colours as I went along by adding a little green and a bit of red as I painted from left to right. That colourful mass is sandwiched between two more neutral grey shapes — the silhouette of the town and the slightly darker stone wall in the foreground. When the first big shapes are dry I add the details with a finer brush — the lines that define the stones, the holes in the traps and a few details on the houses. Sketched on Fluid 100 CP paper.




Mary Marjorie, from both sides

The views around the Rockport harbour are endlessly fascinating for me. What makes the scene so unique is that the harbour is walled in on all four sides, except for a small passage at one end where the boats go in and out. That means that it can be painted from all sides as well. I had hoped to paint all four views this week but ran out of time. I’ve already posted my first painting of the harbour, with the fishing boats and the parking lot in the distance, but added the scanned version here because it features the lobster boat Mary Marjorie in the back, on the left. Much to my frustration, this boat went out to sea before I had a chance to paint it, although my drawing of it was fairly detailed. Colour was added from memory, which is not that hard to do with a white boat and bright orange buoys.


I had a second opportunity to paint the Mary Marjorie a few days later from the other side of the harbour. This time it stayed in the same spot while I painted, allowing me to add in all the details on the dock and on the boat itself. It’s always difficult to know when to stop without overworking a painting. I couldn’t step back to evaluate the painting from a distance because my easel was wedged between the edge of the dock and a parked truck, but near the end of my painting time another painter walked by (there are so many painters in Cape Ann!) and we chatted for a while. She took a look and told me I was done — she was pretty sure that if I continued to paint, I would overwork the painting. That was good advice. When I got home I realized that it was pretty much finished, except for a few strokes here and there to tie things together. Much appreciated, Nellie! Both versions of the harbour are 22″ x 15″.




Warm and cool at Halibut Point

After a week of painting in Rockport, Mass., I’m starting to scan the paintings I did when I was there. This holiday I decided to work large — mostly half sheets of watercolour paper (15″ x 22″) — so scanning them all is a tedious process. Each painting takes eight scans before I can stitch the image together with the magic of Photoshop.

Halibut Point State Park is a place I visit almost every year. Apart from the gulls sunning themselves on the rocks, a pesky fly that tortured me for hours, and a few hikers strolling by, it is a totally serene place to spend a bit of time.  I’ve painted the granite walls of the abandoned quarry many times, but this time I focussed on simplification of shapes and contrast of warm and cool tones in the rocks. If you squint your eyes when you look at the rocks from a distance, only the biggest masses stand out. That is what I try to capture. Think of each rock as a volume is space with sides that face the light and sides that are in shadow. The ones facing the light are often warmer looking and the ones in shadow are cooler. That is the pattern I try to set up. At the end I add some details in the closer rocks — finer lines and a bit of texture. Painted on Fabriano CP 200 lb paper, 15″ x 22″.


Town of Rockport

Painting the busy Rockport harbour is hard enough on a still day but today I was fighting the wind. My right hand held the brush and my left was on the painting, but that’s what makes plein air painting so thrilling. You never know when the whole easel will topple or the painting will fly into the water. There’s lots more painting to come this week but wanted to post the first one along with a link to the terrific website The Other Cape. I am honoured to have been interviewed by Patrick Mitchell about why I love to paint in Cape Ann. Very timely article Patrick! Thanks so much. 

Susanne’s garden

Painting reds is difficult for me. Last week I painted some poppies, but I started too dark (too much pure red on the brush) and then had nowhere too go. Literally painted myself into a corner. Today I had a chance to try again in Susanne’s garden where the poppies are still in bloom. This time I started with lighter washes and built up to the darkest reds, using a combination of Transparent Pyrrol Orange, Cadmium Red and Alizarin Crimson. The centres of the flowers work best when you paint them while the red is still wet, so I mixed some fresh Ultramarine Blue into the red and added it on quite thickly so it wouldn’t spread too much. Painted on Saunders Waterford CP, 22″ x 15″.



New York (State and City) sketches

This past weekend I travelled down to New York City with my friends Laurel and Marc Holmes. Marc and I painted on Sunday at the plein air event at the New York Botanical Gardens, but we figured that since we were going all that way we should do a little sightseeing first.


Our first sketching stop was on Friday’s drive down. I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about  Storm King except what I had seen on Season 2 of Aziz Ansar’s Master of None, but those few shots made me want to go there to sketch. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the short detour off Interstate 87 to spend some time wandering the grounds among the huge sculptures. It was hard to convey a sense of the place in my sketchbook — rolling grassy hills and wooded areas interspersed with this and this and this. Definitely a place I will go back to many times, hopefully in different seasons.


On Saturday we did a walking tour of New York City, stopping at some of my favourite sketching spots, including Bryant Park. Turns out James Gurney was also there, but later in the day. Have a look at what he did.


Our second stop was in a small square next to Madison Square Park, facing the Flatiron Building. It’s a structure I have always wanted to sketch, and have always dreaded sketching at the same time. Such a difficult shape and so isolated in the skyline. Yikes. I did my best to convey the overall shape and the light and shadow pattern without too many details.


The last sketch of the day (after lots of wandering through the galleries in Chelsea) was a stop on Bowery Street for some refreshments at a cafe table that we strategically chose because of the good views across the street. The rapidly changing Lower East Side is another place I’ve always wanted to sketch, and judging by how quickly the neighbourhood is being gentrified, it was probably a good thing do it now. It may look completely different next time we visit.

A (very old) crabapple in Le Vieux Séminaire

I feel very fortunate to have spent a few hours sketching in the tranquil garden of Le Vieux Séminaire in Old Montreal. The last time this historical building was open to visitors was in 1967, but because of Montreal’s 375th anniversary this summer, the Sulpician priests have decided to open it to the public again. You can book a guided tour which includes a historical exhibit and a visit to the garden out back where I found this crabapple that seemed almost as ancient as the building itself. At the end of the tour I settled myself on a shady bench to practice some tree drawing in preparation for my workshop Trees in the City at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in July.


Thank you Mr. Reid

When you can’t paint outside, bring the outside in. It’s been raining pretty steadily in Montreal so I grabbed these white azaleas (a generous gift from friends this past weekend), plunked them on the counter and painted indoors today. One thing I often do before painting flowers is to glance through my dog-eared and tattered copy of Charles Reid’s “Flower Painting in Watercolor“. Published in 1979, it shouldn’t be confused with the later “Painting Flowers in Watercolor” which came out in 2001 (I don’t own that one and can’t confirm if there’s any overlap in the content).

Almost every watercolour painter I know has heard of Mr. Reid and some have even been fortunate enough to attend workshops with him. I guess we all love his work for different reasons. For me it is the looseness of his brushstrokes, the watery quality of his washes and the way he loses edges between objects. Looking at how abstractly he starts a painting helps me loosen up in my work. His paintings are about capturing the essence of flowers with the fewest strokes. If you haven’t seen his books on flower painting yet, I encourage you to have a look, even if it means finding them at your local library. It’s well worth spending a rainy afternoon going through them. Painted on Arches 140 lb cold press paper, 15″ x 18″.