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″.


Turbulent sky

This is the perfect week for sketching clouds. It’s an activity that’s a good distraction from being depressed about why the warm weather hasn’t arrived in Montreal yet. The best place to see this turbulent sky is near Lac St. Louis, if you can find a spot where the high water line has gone down a little. When I paint these big skies I always add a little warmth near the horizon line, usually with a diluted wash of Raw Sienna, and my starter mix for the clouds is Cerulean Blue with the tiniest dab of Alizarin Crimson. Sketched from my car, in the rain, in a Handbook Travelogue Watercolour journal, 16″ x 8″.