The Bean

Last time I visited Chicago I missed my chance to draw Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, so this time I decided that it would be the first thing I sketched.
Of course it's a daunting subject – a highly polished stainless steel surface reflecting the sky, the city and the crowds of people below. Yikes.
Surprisingly, though, once you start to draw you realize that's it's not as difficult as it looks if you simplify the shapes. I painted it in sections: clouds first, then trees, foreground and lastly the dots of people.
Even though the Urban Sketchers Symposium does not officially begin until tomorrow, there are already lots of sketchers here from around the world, and many have drawn "the Bean". Have a look on Facebook or Instagram to see the incredible sketches that have already been posted! And watch starting Wednesday July 26 for a live feed on the Urban Sketchers You Tube channel:

The last few West Coast sketches

As wonderful as it is to get home after a long holiday, I have to admit I miss the West Coast mountain vistas. I managed to get in a few final sketches before flying home. The first one was painted while waiting in Nanaimo for the ferry back to Vancouver. It was a great day for painting clouds so during the long wait on the dock I found a spot with a spectacular view out into the Strait of Georgia. From that distance the snow-capped coastal mountain peaks on the mainland are visible but very subtle in value. They’re a bit darker and warmer than the clouds, but not much.


On the last full day in Vancouver I got out early to paint the palm trees along English Bay.  The first time I visited the city years ago I couldn’t believe we had palms in Canada, but I’ve never sketched them and thought they would be a good addition to my handout for “Trees in the City”, the workshop I will be giving at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago next week.


In true Vancouver fashion, it started to rain just as I completed my palm drawing, so I found a dry spot under a big tree and sketched the deep-sea freighters out on English Bay, finishing my tree sketch when the sun came out again.


And a quick note to everyone who commented on posts when I was travelling: I tried my best to respond to all of them from my iPad but it seems that many of my responses did not come through. I blame it on spotty wifi in remote locations, and I will answer them all  very soon.


Middle Beach

The best beaches are the ones where there are flat logs for sketchers to sit on. Don’t you agree? If you find the perfect one you can rest all your gear on it and the sand doesn’t get on your palette. I’ve only just arrived in Tofino, after a long and at times very twisty ride across Vancouver Island, but I had to get down to Middle Beach to do a quick sketch, feel the ocean breeze, and look up at the tall, tall trees. I’ve been waiting a long time to say I’ve seen both coasts of Canada!

Texture and value

I went out today with only a small sketch kit, not intending to paint anything large because of the haze, but when I saw this scene near the lake I couldn’t resist using some good paper. I had no large palette or brushes with me but I managed to eke out a quarter sheet with what I had, which was a travel palette and some good travel brushes. 

The scene was a study in values and texture. The far side of Okanagan Lake has disappeared into the haze, and even the near side is hardly visible, so I painted in layers, getting lighter and less detailed as objects moved away from me. Painted on Arches 140lb rough paper on a picnic table near Cedar Creek Park. 

Through the haze

If you’ve seen any footage of the wildfires in BC, you’ll know that it’s smoky and hazy in the Okanagan Valley where I am this week. In fact there’s so much smoke that it has travelled across Alberta and even into Manitoba. I was planning to paint some large format watercolours this week — views across the lake and over the vineyards — but that is impossible. The air quality is poor and the views are nonexistent. The only thing I did today was a small sketch from Quail’s Gate winery. In a few days I hope to be on Vancouver Island where the air is clearer. In the meantime I am hoping for rain in the interior of BC, and for the people who have been affected by the fires to be able to return home. 

North Cascades Highway

After my workshop in Anacortes we decided to take the scenic road to Kelowna, BC, by meandering along the North Cascades Highway in Northern Washington State. It probably doubled our driving time but it was worth it for the views along the way. I had hoped to do at least four sketches on the road, and was especially looking forward to sketching the yellow hills of the Methow Valley but as the car thermometer moved past 100 degrees I gave up on the last few. In the cool mountains I sketched from the overlook above Diablo Lake, taking about 15 minutes to do this one and adding a bit of ink later. 

A bit later in the morning the jagged peaks of Early Winter Spires could be seen from Washington Pass Overlook. I sketched this entirely on site, trying to capture the drama of sharp rock against sky. 

Workshop demo at Christianson’s Nursery

I’m in Anacortes, Washington, giving a four-day workshop to a great group of local artists. I taught here three years ago and was thrilled to be invited back to paint this part of the world. The Pacific Northwest is breathtakingly beautiful, and the Skagit Valley is filled with delights for a painter’s eye. Yellow agricultural fields with a backdrop of mountains, historic towns, a proliferation of harbours, the San Juan islands in the distance, towering trees and on and on. Can you tell that I love it here?

Over the course of the four days we’ll be working on many things but I wanted a fun start to Day One so we sketched at Christianson’s Nursery in Mt. Vernon. The roses are in their prime and there’s something to sketch in every corner of the property. My demo was of the little schoolhouse framed by climbing roses and hydrangeas. Tomorrow we’ll get to the hard stuff like values, composition and perspective!