That sinking feeling

Do you know the sinking feeling of arriving at a sketching spot, reaching into your bag and realizing you are missing a key component of your kit? That happened to me today at Fort Myers beach. I had a sketchbook, paints and water but no pen or pencil. Luckily I had a small kit of brushes that were fine enough to draw with. So here’s what I did.

I started by drawing the scene with a small round brush. I used a warm colour (Quinacridone Gold) that would work with everything in the scene. When this line structure dries, it’s pale enough to paint over with other colours, so don’t worry if something in the scene has no yellow in it.

When that was mostly dry I added in the big shapes with a larger flat brush. No detail at this stage.

And finally, with the smaller round brush I added darks and details. By that time my family was back from their walk along the beach and it was time to pack up. There are probably a few things that would be different if I had done some pencil lines first (smaller trees moving into the distance, lower horizon line) but this was enough to capture the essence of the beach on December 31, 2017. Happy New Year!

End of day marina

I apologize in advance to my friends in Montreal (and in much of the Northeast!) for this post. I know you are going through a deep freeze right now. If you don’t want to look at the palm trees or hear about the dolphin swimming not three feet away from me as I sketched, I will understand. Trash this email and forget I ever sent it.

On the other hand, if you want a tip for quick sketching while the sun is going down, use a brush pen. This sketch was done with a Pitt brush pen. It’s waterproof and very responsive to pressure, allowing you to create fine or thick lines, as well as cover a lot of ground on the page. Colour was added quickly as the sun was going down and light was changing fast.

All you need, sort of

This week my sketching kit is quite minimal and in yesterday’s post I promised a photo of my beach setup.

Today I remembered to snap an image before I sketched because I wanted a clean palette, instead of the muddy one I end up with at the end of the day.

In my knapsack you’ll find:
* two little water containers (one is a small Nalgene bottle, the other is an emptied pill bottle from the drugstore)
* a mini spray bottle for wetting my pigments
* a good quality travel brush (if it has a good point and holds lots of wash then one is all you need). This one is made by Da Vinci
* a black pen, waterproof, in this cases a Pitt pen
* a mechanical pencil (this one is from Muji)
* a travel palette (this one is made by Fome and I’ve adapted it to hold 23 colours) When closed it is about the size of my iPhone.
* a good quality sketchbook of your choice (this is a Handbook Watercolour Journal, 9″ x 12″)

There are two essential items I forgot to include in the photo but they were in my bag: a bulldog clip (or two) to hold the pages in case of wind, and a few paper towels to clean the palette or wipe up spills.

With all of the above, I can sketch anywhere, as long as I can find a place to sit.
Today we went to Captiva Island where I had the luxury of a chair to sit on and some great models on the beach.

To the lighthouse

Today my bike took me to the Sanibel Island Lighthouse (c. 1884) where I sat on the sand and looked up, way up, at the ribbons and wreaths that decorate the top of the iron structure. This is not an easy thing to draw, I’ll admit. The perspective of the supporting structure is tricky, and sitting on the sand without a chair doesn’t help, but on this trip I’m experimenting with carrying as little as possible in my sketch bag.

I often have a tendency to bring every brush I own with me, as well as several sketch books, a folding stool, a sun umbrella… the list goes on and on. But I love the freedom of travelling around by bike to sketch, so my kit this week is whatever fits in my ultralight backpack. Tomorrow I’ll take a photo of my supplies.

Greetings and happy holidays from Sanibel

My beach sketching skills are a bit rusty but nonetheless I’m happy to be on Sanibel Island in Florida for a bit of family time and relaxation. Starting with this first page of a new sketchbook, and with a bicycle as my vehicle of choice to find places to draw, I hope to fill this book up over the next few weeks.

Thanks to everyone who sent me notes over the past few months during a busy semester when finding time to get some drawing in was near impossible. Your comments and kind words sustained me in more ways than I can describe. I hope you all have the most wonderful holiday season with lots of time to draw and paint! All the best from this beautiful shell-covered island.

Riggers, daggers and stripers: six calligraphic brushes

In yesterday’s post I wrote about a new brush I was trying out, and promised to write more about it today. When I sat down to sketch the brush I decided to expand the post by comparing all the brushes I use for calligraphic strokes and marks. Turns out I have four more that I use frequently. Of course I had to start by sketching them all, and then painted with each of them to demonstrate the types of strokes you can obtain by using them.


1 & 2: Richeson Squirrel Dagger Stripers
The first two are the short-handled brushes I used for my background trees yesterday. My friend Russell Black had this to say about the origin of the brushes, “the dagger striper was used to pin-stripe lines on the bodywork of cars. Used with thicker “lead” based paint, it wasn’t originally that floppy. Used with thinner mediums, the long squirrel hair can be a bit unpredictable.” So true. And that is what I liked about it when I painted yesterday’s trees. That floppy unpredictability, the randomness of the stroke is what makes it so much fun to use for organic shapes like trees branches. Brush 1 was a bit thicker than Brush 2, and you can see how fine the wispiest lines are in #2. Note: For all the samples below I loaded the brushes with a watery mix of Cerulean Blue, a bit of Burnt Sienna and then added Indigo into the wet areas. 



3. Scroggy’s Loose Goose from Cheap Joe’s
This brush is also made from squirrel hair. The marks are quite similar to the brushes above (maybe a bit more delicate), but the brush has a longer handle which makes it easier for some people to use. It also doesn’t hold quite as much paint, but it still has that floppy random quality that I love.


4. Rosemary Brush Co. 1/2″ Sable Blend Series 772 Dagger
This dagger from Rosemary is the one that Liz Steel introduced me to. She uses it for just about everything. I love this brush for painting trees (both branches and foliage) because it creates both a wide stroke and fine lines, so you can drag from the big areas of leaves right into the finer branch lines. It’s a wonderful brush for leaf shapes.


5. Richeson Grey Matters Rigger Series 9834 #3
This synthetic rigger brush is useful for so many things. I love it for painting power lines in an urban landscape, but it’s also great for painting grasses and branches. As you can see, because it’s long and even, the strokes are more uniform. I love to paint with it because as the brush runs out of wash the strokes get finer and finer. Because the head of the brush is very long it holds a lot of wash, allowing you to paint for quite a long time without reaching for more wash on your palette.


6. Richeson Sable/Squirrel Reservoir Liner #6 
This magic brush dances across the pages, creating the finest web of tiny lines. Because it has two diameters — one for holding all the paint (hence “reservoir” in its name) and a much finer one for painting with — it is perfect for the thinnest branches, wires, grasses or other details in your sketches. You need to dip into a very wet puddle to get it flowing, but the marks it makes are unique in their delicacy.




Tree, house and squirrel

Have you ever tried a dagger striper brush? I think they were originally used by sign painters and lettering artists. The one I’m trying out is made from squirrel and I used it this morning for the first time when painting the view from my front window.

The brush has a short wooden handle and very soft, long squirrel hair. It’s an unusual experience to paint with it because the brush is very floppy but for painting certain things — like the trees in the background or the texture on bark — it is the perfect tool. It has a life of its own when you paint with it (and I hold it quite loosely) so the brush strokes end up being almost random as the brush flops around the paper. It holds a lot of wash and the strokes stay wet for a long time, making it easy to go back into them with more pigment as I did on the snow shadows. Tomorrow I’ll take a photo of the brush and demonstrate the type of marks it makes.


Gouache with gouache

Here’s the difficulty of painting tubes of gouache with gouache. If you squeeze out pigment before you do your drawing, you run the risk of having the gouache dry into hard mounds by the time you’re ready to paint. If you decide to wait and instead squeeze the pigment out after the drawing is done, it’s hard to place the tubes back in exactly the same position unless you move them one by one, very carefully. Not an insurmountable feat. Simply a minor inconvenience. Sketched on Stillman & Birn Nova series, 3.5 x 5″.


A recipe for snow shadows

On very cold and sunny days in the winter (if you factor in the wind today it’s -29°C in Montreal!) the shadows on the snow are brilliant and sharp. I can’t think of one tube of blue paint that would approximate the colour perfectly. Today in my studio I did a few experiments to see what mix would work best for the scene that I saw while walking the dog this morning.

In the past I’ve used Cobalt Blue for snow but I wanted something a bit more purple and less opaque. Since my sky is painted with a light wash of Phthalo Blue, I thought I’d start with that. I added the tiniest drop of Quinacridone Rose to my blue wash, but felt it needed a warmer blue as well, so into that I mixed some Cerulean Blue. I always keep a test sheet next to me for trying out colours, and this seemed to dry at just the right intensity. It’s always a balancing act, getting the colour right and then mixing enough of it to paint all the shadows in one go without running out of wash. But this was an easy mix to make and fairly easy to duplicate, so I’ll be trying it again on the next winter scenes I do. And if you are curious about the really dark trees — that’s mostly Indanthrene Blue, a bit of Indigo and some Alizarin as well. Arches CP paper, or maybe rough, 15″ x 11″.


Rue St. Joachim

The first big snowfall yesterday coincided with the end of my teaching semester. I’m thrilled to have some time to paint again, post more frequently, answer comments in a more timely manner… and simply have time to breathe.

Right after a big storm like this one, parking on the street is sometimes problematic because of the snowplows, so I painted in studio this morning. My limited palette was mostly Cerulean Blue, Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna — a fairly quiet choice of colours for this scene. Paper: Bockingford cold press, 15″ x 11″. Playlist: some chill jazz on Spotify.StJoachim.jpg