Little bay

There was a rare calm near the lake today, which made it especially nice for sketching. Sailboats motoring in and out of the still water, a young boy fishing from the shore, families strolling by with ice cream cones, grandparents on lawn chairs in the park. The school year has not yet begun for most young people, which is what gave the day a lazy summer feeling. It was as if all parents took the day off work to be with their kids. I sketched looking out at the lake, but I listened to the happy sounds behind me of families enjoying the last days of summer. Sketched on Winsor & Newton paper, 9″ x 12″.


Garlic, seven ways: a recipe for student motivation

Garlic, seven ways. Sounds like a recipe, right? If you think of it in terms of drawing, I guess it is. This is my Sunday preparation for my classes tomorrow when I teach my first year students, many of whom don’t draw at all, how to keep a sketchbook. It’s not an easy task. This is a generation of kids who do everything on phones and computers. Using a pencil and paper is a little bit foreign to them. But I am a big believer in sketching out ideas, even for these graphic design students who are learning Adobe Illustrator for the first time. Because when you think about it, how can you illustrate something if you haven’t observed it, looked at its contours or thought about lights and darks?

The challenge for me is to find out how to keep them motivated enough to keep drawing all semester. I want them to draw at least twice a week so I’ve given them a list of ideas (draw your shoes, draw your lunch, draw a lamp, etc) but I also need to show them some techniques of drawing that we will practice in class tomorrow. I sat down last evening to draw three heads of garlic on my counter, and did a few more today. Garlic in contour, garlic with pencil shading and water-soluble graphite, garlic with brush pen (both permanent and water-soluble), garlic in monochrome (watercolour stick) and finally garlic in colour. I’ll load up my bad with art supplies for them to try, and keep my fingers crossed that this will be enough to get them started. Maybe I’ll even find one student who will take on the challenge of drawing three heads of garlic all semester…



A Winsor & Newton paper for daily sketches

This summer I had the privilege of having my Chicago Urban Sketchers symposium sponsored by Winsor & Newton. I often see people using really dry pan paint, so what a treat to be able to hand each participant a new palette and five tubes of fresh, artist quality paint to work with!

In the weeks before the symposium the sponsors sent me the same supplies to work with and included in the package was a spiral pad of paper I had never tried before. I used it for a few weeks and liked it so much that I painted all of my workshop prep on it, including this page of Winsor & Newton colour swatches from the palette that I used for all of my tree paintings (palms in Vancouver, the view from Nanaimo and the beach in Tofino).



It’s a great pad to use as a teaching tool because of the spiral binding, but I also appreciate that the pages are perforated so I can tear them out if need be. This is not their 100% cotton Professional Grade paper which probably is a bit more costly, but it’s great stock for my daily sketch outings because the paper can take repeated washes, the colours remain bright, and colours lift well if you need to lighten an area.

Now that the symposium is done I’m continuing to use this paper for daily sketching, including this one I did yesterday on my way to school.


Page one

This is back to school week for me (classes start in the middle of August at my school!) so it’s time to switch gears. To go from having long days to paint and sketch to trying to squeeze in some sketching minutes between classes or on my commute to and from school. Coincidentally today also marked the start of a new sketchbook. A fresh page. A clean slate. My journey into town this morning to pick up some frames led me through Park Extension, and with a bit of time to spare before class, I cracked open the sketchbook and painted a typical entranceway that you might see on any one of a number of streets in the neighbourhood. A fitting way to start the school year and the book, I guess.


Aquarius test, part two

This morning I was a spectator at the half-marathon in Lachine, so I brought along my sketch bag and passed a few hours painting until the race was over. As promised, I included a few small sheets of Strathmore Aquarius, as a follow-up to yesterday’s tests on this same paper. It was a good morning for sketching and I was able to get two quick ones in — one facing the Lachine Canal and the other one facing the finish line.

This time, I penciled in my drawing first and then moved on to paint. Aquarius is still a strange paper to me. It takes a long time to dry — longer than I am used to on a sunny day with a bit of wind — and it does absorb the pigment and lighten the values as it dries. I don’t dislike the experience of working on it, but it takes some getting used to. I can see why people make sketchbooks out of this. Thin paper that remains flat after wetting is a big advantage. Would I use it again? Probably. It has a softness that I like (great for atmospheric effects too, I bet), it’s reasonably priced, and seems to be just fine for quick sketches.


Aquarius test

Years ago if you used Strathmore Aquarius paper, it had a nasty side effect of leaving fibreglass fibres in your hand as you painted. Very itchy and to be avoided all costs, for those of you who remember that old stock. But the Aquarius II paper seems to be reformulated without the offending shards, so I tried some today. It’s quite light (80 lb) and even though it’s labeled as cold press paper it seemed more like hot press to me. I like the sharp edges you get with direct painting (no pencil or pen on this) and the way the colours remain bright. The advantage of this paper is that even though it is very thin, the combination of natural and synthetic fibres keep it from buckling (this was just clipped to a board without taping the edges). As the paint dried it created some interesting edges and effects which worked quite well for the echinacea in my garden, but I’m not sure I’d use this for anything more than a quick sketch. When I wet the paper and washed over it with a diluted pale green in the background, the edges dried quickly, making it hard to go back into a damp area with more pigment (a characteristic I dislike about hot press paper). Tomorrow I’ll take it on the road and sketch an urban scene to see how it handles in the field.AquariusTest

Chicago: Sketching with friends

One of the great pleasures at this year’s Urban Sketchers symposium in Chicago was time spent sketching with friends both in the days before and after the event itself. It is both intimidating and exhilarating to sketch with this group, so I thought I’d share my work — not always successful or even finished — as well as links to what other people accomplished on these outings.

The first group event was a trip to sketch both the interior and the exterior of Robie House — Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark Prairie School building on the University of Chicago campus. A few of chose a simple view of the pathway and classic Wright partially hidden main entrance, but when I turned I saw that most of the group was seated under a tree across the street, drawing the full building. Have a look at Lapin’s sketches from Chicago, including a great one of the Robie House.


A great symposium tradition is to get up early and sketch before the day’s events start. One morning a bunch of us sketched under the El train. I didn’t have much time so I drew it with a brush pen. Have a look at Marc Holmes’s sketches from Chicago as well as my favourite photo of this outing (by Laurel Holmes) of this group looking very perplexed by the complex train scene. So many columns to draw! And have a look at Suhita’s take on the El and her seven blog posts about what she sketched in Chicago.TheEl

After the symposium was over (and I was almost too exhausted to walk) I spent a few days moving at a slower pace, visiting The Art Institute and sketching along Michigan Avenue, including a view of the Du Sable bridge.


One evening Uma Kelkar and I went up to the top of the Hancock Building to sketch and watch the sunset. With all of Chicago below us we tried to capture the disappearing panorama. Have a look at what Uma did on her iPad.


In the early morning, while waiting for the big doors of The Art Institute to open, my friend Alison Hall and I sketched The Lurie Garden in all of its wildness. From a shady spot under some trees you have a background of the skyline of Chicago and a foreground of wildflowers, bees, birds and pond-lined walkways.


Thanks to some sketchers who had rooms at the residences of Roosevelt University, a few of us were invited to sketch the view from the 21st floor. This is a bit of a messed up sketch but have a look at Susan Cornelis’s blog to see us all sketching that sight.


My last morning was spent sketching with one of my drawing heroes — Don Colley —who is a resident of Chicago and was one of the volunteers at the symposium. I did a final sketch of Grant Park and then spent a bit of time watching Don make magic with Pitt pens. A great way to end the week. Thanks to all my sketching friends who let me look over their shoulders (I couldn’t find links for all the work I wanted to show!). What I learned from you in a week keeps me going all year.GrantPark.jpg


Trees and the City: an Ottawa workshop

I had a wonderful experience teaching at the Urban Sketchers symposium in Chicago, so it makes me happy to announce that I will be repeating my workshop at a location not too far from home — in Ottawa, Ontario, on September 30, 2017. I don’t usually hold workshops during my college teaching semester, but I said yes to this request from the Ottawa Urban Sketchers since this is a half-day event in a city close to Montreal.


The format of the workshop will be the same as all the symposium workshops — three hours of instruction and sketching together. We’ll focus on capturing trees in an urban environment. If you are interested in joining me, details about the workshop format, supplies and registration are on the Urban Sketchers Workshop page.

I’m usually too busy during my workshops to take photos but I did manage to capture a few pics of participants and their sketches from the symposium in Chicago.



Birches by the lake

I tried out some Strathmore Gemini watercolour paper on the weekend, just to see what it’s like to paint on something other than Arches or Fabriano. When I do paper tests like this, I try to pick a subject that’s not too complex (no street scenes, no architecture) so that I can focus instead on how the paint reacts on the paper. I really enjoyed the experience of working on the Gemini. It’s creamy white, nicely textured for Cold Press paper (140 lb), and softer than Arches. The most important thing for me is colour vibrancy — are the colours just as bright when dry as when wet? Of course all watercolours dry a little bit lighter but if the paper soaks up the chroma and the painting looks faded, then the paper fails the test for me. After this quick test, I can say that Gemini was really easy to work on, both with a light pencil drawing and then with a brush. Definitely a paper I will be trying again.


Patient Alice

Alice is very patient while I experiment with art materials from the gift bags that participants and instructors received at the USk symposium in Chicago. I never try these things out at the event — no time for experimentation on site. But when I get home, it’s so much fun to play.

Today, while Alice waited, I found a tiny sample pad of Hahnemühle Bamboo mixed media paper along with a big fat 9B water-soluble graphite stick from Lyra. A wonderful duo, as it turns out. The paper is creamy, slightly textured and perfect for quick drawings. It takes a light wash well too. And with the sharpened Lyra graphite stick you can make thin marks to obtain soft grey washes, or very thick lines that release into the deep black washes. Definitely a combo I will use again.