Inside and outside: more experiments on toned paper

I spent a bit of time this week experimenting some more with a tiny Stillman & Birn Nova series toned paper sketchbook. Since I haven’t worked much on this type of paper, it’s been a lot of fun to try different materials on the tan surface.


On my way home from work one day I stopped in Lachine and did a little street scene on 6th Avenue. The light was great that day, and even though the sketch is a bit messy because I drew with charcoal instead of pencil, this will hopefully be the sketch for a larger painting.


The next day I had a few minutes before leaving for school so I did a quick sketch of some bananas on the kitchen counter. This time I tried mixing some white paint into the yellow watercolour to get a more opaque effect, something like gouache.


Today I drew at a café, and added white watercolour, white chalk and a bit of transparent watercolour to my ink drawing. This paper works really well when you can add lots of little darks and lights and use the tan paper as your middle tone. So far this is the technique I like the best.


Cold weather sketching can be challenging when you are dependent on the perfect parking place and a good view from the car window. I often drive around and around, looking for the perfect spot, with no success. I settle for an obstructed view and paint whatever I can see in front of me, just to get in a little drawing practice. These strange angles sometimes make for a more interesting composition, and the bits of signage add colour to the scene during a very grey time of year. Sketched in a Handbook Journal, 9″ x 12″.


First snow and other experiments on toned paper

I should be grading a big stack of projects but I’m procrastinating. I bought this little book of Stillman & Birn Nova series toned paper (3.5″ x 5.5″) and I can’t stop sketching in it. My first experiment yesterday was a sketch of Alice, drawn with Cretacolor pencils — Nero oil-based charcoal in medium grade, and white chalk. The great thing about this charcoal is that it doesn’t flake or smudge like regular charcoal and you can get really dark blacks.


This morning before breakfast I tried a Cretacolor water-soluble pencil, again mixed with white chalk. This toned paper is thick enough to take a light wash without warping too much.


When I finished my sketch I looked out the window and saw big fat flakes of snow falling, so I rushed to the window to sketch the view, using a Cretacolor sanguine pencil, more graphite and white chalk. The chalk works best when you draw with it on virgin paper. If you try to draw over graphite lines it goes grey.


As the snow started to accumulate I moved to a back window that faces the wheelbarrow and sketched with all the pencils I had already used, plus some Titanium White watercolour. This one got a bit overworked.


My last experiment was in my studio, using white gouache and Payne’s Grey watercolour (with some final touches of Winsor Red watercolour). The gouache is even more effective than the chalk on this paper. The toned stock is wonderful (it’s also available in grey or black) and I’d love to keep experimenting all day but sadly, that grading won’t get done on its own.


Wind by the lake

I’m always on the lookout for good watercolour sketchbooks, and this week I’m trying out a new one from Khadi Papers in India. I sketched by a windy Lac St. Louis yesterday, choosing a simple subject so I could test out the paper.

The panoramic format I ordered allows me to work vertically or horizontally. The paper itself is a creamy, off-white 100% cotton rag stock. It took the paint beautifully without warping, stayed wet long enough to add colour to fresh washes, and maintained brightness of pigments. This was just my first impression of the paper, but if you want a fuller review, read Parka’s more detailed pros and cons here. He tested it for six months before posting!

The book itself is a handsome object, mostly because of the thickness of the hardback cover and the handmade quality of the deckle-edged paper. In some ways, that makes me a little more careful as I sketch because I don’t want to mess up any pages. You wouldn’t want to have too many duds in a book this beautiful.



Ingredient list

With not much to sketch outdoors (grey sky, grey light, grey trees), I came home from the grocery store with a small bouquet of colour to cook up. A simple recipe for my dinner: mostly Quinacridone Rose for the flowers (with a little Cobalt in the darkest parts and a touch of yellow too); Hansa Yellow and Phthalo Blue for the leaves (with a bit of Ultramarine to dull it down); and a blueish grey made from Cerulean for the background. Put it all together and shake it up. Sketched in a Handbook Journal, 9″ x 12″.Bouquet

Late to the party

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Urban Sketchers, and all over the world sketchers from regional chapters participated in a 24hr sketchwalk. Have a look on Instagram to see the vast range of sketches: #uskglobal24hrsketchwalk2017

Sadly, yesterday I had grading to do and couldn’t get out at all. But this morning I wanted to mark the occasion with a sketch, even if I was alone in my cold car and not in the company of fellow sketchers. I am so grateful to have found my Urban Sketchers family — friends from all around the world who love to sketch on location, and who share their art and knowledge generously. This has enriched my life in more ways than I can express. Thank you Gabi Campanario and happy birthday Urban Sketchers!


Another bus guy

A few weeks ago I took advantage of an offer that the Société de transport de Montréal dropped in my mailbox: email them a request and they would send you a transit pass good for ten free train or bus rides. Great initiative to get more people to ride public transit! It’s come in handy these past few weeks and I’ve enjoyed riding the bus to school. In the twenty minutes or so that I have (if I manage to snag a seat) I can get a quick drawing done. Today I caught this guy who slept the whole way to the subway station. The problem with sleeping people is that their heads tend to droop more and more as the motion of the bus lulls them into a deeper sleep. But at one point the bus hit a bump in the road, the slump became less pronounced, and I was able to complete his face.


After school I headed downtown to see a not-to-be-missed exhibition at the Klinkhoff Gallery in Montreal. John Little is arguably one of Montreal’s finest living painters, and it’s rare to see this many of his paintings all in one place. I am a huge fan of his work, especially his colour mixes (there’s no end to the number of greys on his canvases), so I spent a good hour getting lost in these street scenes. The show is on for another week or so, and then moves on to Toronto from November 23 to December 9. Well worth a visit.


A step-by-step street scene

A few weeks back someone asked me how much of a scene I draw in pencil before I add paint to my sketches. I haven’t had much time this semester for any instructional posts, but today I took some quick phone shots of the process so I could illustrate the steps.

Lately I’ve been finding places to sketch right near my school so I can paint as long as possible and then scoot over to class. This is the type of scene I often sketch on the way to work. Time spent sketching in the car for this one: about an hour. Time spent adding details at home: about 15 minutes.


The first step is to add some quick pencil lines. I chose this scene because I like the way all the utility poles on this street are leaning to the right. I don’t draw in a lot of details that I can add later with a brush such as writing on the street signs or details on the buildings. Just a general placement of things on the page.


The first wash I put down is the sky and the road — both grey this week. I didn’t have time to draw in a full double-page spread but I did go over the middle of the book a little bit.


The next step is to add in the middle values, using a limited palette of Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Green and Quinacridone Gold (for that late autumn warmth).


After that I frame the little white building in the distance with some good darks, and I try to vary them as I go — gold to green to red to brown. I use a bit of blue for the trash cans and house shadow, and I start to add in some of the finer details but realize that my rigger brush is at home, and my class is about to start.


After school, I add in the details with a finer brush: the wires, the signage, and a few details on the buildings. Sketched in a Handbook Journal, 8 x 8″.