Last week I bought a grocery store bouquet from the 50% off bin. I like the flowers that are a little bit faded to start. As the bouquet droops I can pick off flowers one by one and paint them as they curl up and die. The roses were the first to go.
Someone asked me a question in the context of my online sketching class today. “Do you often do the drawing one day and add colour another day?” My answer was an unequivocal “no!”. I always add colour on location. In fact, I make sure that when I am sketching outdoors (or in my car) I leave enough time to add colour because I want my subject in front of me when I put the paint on my sketch.
But there is one place where you can’t add colour on location, and that is in a museum where only pencil drawing is allowed. Today Urban Sketchers Montreal met at the Museum of Fine Arts, where the security guards take their responsibilities quite seriously, popping up behind you while you are drawing to make sure you are not using pens or other forbidden drawing materials.
Marc Holmes and I sketched together in the galleries, first drawing some Mexican terracotta figurines and then a series of Roman marble heads and torsos. I really had no intention of adding colour later the way Marc often does, but when I got home I thought “why not?” I had included enough info in my drawings to feel confident adding a light wash on top of the pencil shading. And of course it got me thinking about trying this again. I am often a slave to the scene in front of me but I quite enjoyed the freedom (and the freshness) of adding colour in the comfort of my own studio. So the new answer to the student who asked the question about adding colour later, “Perhaps more often in the future!”
In early winter, the thought of sitting in my car to sketch on a -10°C day is daunting. But after an extended period of brutally cold temperatures that hover between -16°C and -20°C, a day when the thermometer reading is -10°C seems positively balmy. It’s all relative, isn’t it? In celebration of this warming trend, I took advantage of the day to sit in my car and sketch, something I haven’t done in a long time. It didn’t matter that I was facing into the sun with glare on the windshield. It didn’t matter that my feet were frozen. It was a celebration of a little something positive at the end of a cold and icy week, and it had to be marked with a sketch.
What was supposed to be my first day of school today turned out to be a snow day — or rather an ice storm day. Every student’s dream, and teachers too — getting that notification in the morning that school is closed for the day. I used some of the free time to paint the snowy view I saw as I walked through the park with Alice last night at dusk. Today it looks very different, with a thick coating of ice covering the branches — not nearly as misty or atmospheric.
I use a rough Two Rivers paper for this, along with brushes from my arsenal of riggers and stripers to build up layers of branches. A big blob each of Verditer Blue and Burnt Umber on my palette help me get the greys I want, and some white gouache mixed in at the end allows me to add some opaque streaks of blowing snow.
Alice was very patient while I suffered through a terrible flu. She stuck by my side for many days while I lay prone on the sofa, too sick to even read a book. They say there are some bad viruses going around this year and the one that hit me sure was. I’m just starting to feel back to normal today but my drawing skills are soooo rusty. I struggled with the foreshortening on her body (look at all the corrections in the pencil lines) but of course it feels good to pick up a pencil again. Tomorrow: back to school!!
Palmetto Bluff is nestled along the May River in the Lowcountry of South Carolina between Hilton Head Island and Savannah. Set within a 22,000 acre development, the resort encompasses an extensive nature preserve, walking trails, a vibrant village, marina and restaurants.
The property boasts a rich history. Europeans first settled on Palmetto Bluff in the 1700s dividing the property into 21 separate plantations. In the Antebellum era, the property changed hands to the millionaire RT Wilson who built a grand 72 room mansion. Just outside our classroom one can see the ruins of the once imposing structure. The legacy lives on in the surrounding Lowcountry vernacular architecture that celebrates what once was.
Between the light filtering through the live oaks of an ancient maritime forest and the views of the surrounding marshscape —Palmetto Bluff has to be one of the most beautiful places for nature painting and sketching.
I was in Lachine for a meeting today and wanted to paint right after, but there was a “snow clearing operation underway”, as they like to say on the radio. That usually means that street parking is impossible and dozens of dump trucks are on the road, making sketching challenging for someone in their car. I took a quick phone photo and came back home to paint.
Back in the studio I made a value study in pencil (and then accidentally dropped paint on it!) so that I could simplify the almost monochromatic scene. No detail in this, just the main shapes along with the lights and darks. You can tell I keep it close by to refer to because it has the same pigment on it as my painting.
I painted using a limited palette today. This triad of primary colours is one I choose when I want to paint using a muted colour scheme: Cerulean Blue, Yellow Ochre and Organic Vermilion. The blue and the ochre are opaque pigments and can be used quite thickly, which contrasts well with the more transparent areas of the painting. I added a bit of Cobalt Blue for the snow, and some Neutral Tint when I needed to darken the colours. Painted on a quarter sheet of Arches 140 lb Cold press paper.
This little patch of trees — surrounded by a park on the south, a schoolyard on the north and suburban houses on the east and west — is where I take my dog to run most every day. She’s probably not supposed to be off leash there because I guess this is technically part of the park, but there’s usually no one around. And despite being only a small patch of woods in the middle of the suburbs, the landscapes there can be surprisingly beautiful in winter, especially after a snowfall. Painted on TwoRivers 200 lb paper, 16″ x 20″.
So much snow has fallen in Montreal that I can’t get out of my driveway. Actually I did get out but since the streets haven’t been plowed yet, the car got stuck several times and I turned around and came home. I’d rather paint than wait for a tow truck on a day like today. Good day to sketch views from my window.
There’s lots going on in a corner of the garden. A smokebush — damaged in a thunderstorm some years back — is held up by a bamboo ladder. The yew in the corner is half its regular height, weighted down under all the snow. And the oak tree in the opposite corner of the yard is still dropping leaves even in the dead of winter, much to the annoyance of my neighbours. The snow is piled up quite thickly on all of this, so I painted the bits of things that were visible, and tried to contrast the texture of these with the whiteness of the untouched snow. Sketched on a pad of Saunders Waterford Rough paper.
I’m still working through some West Coast scenes that I’ve been wanting to paint, and taking advantage of days in my studio before the next school semester starts.
Last July, on a full-day drive between Anacortes, WA, and Kelowna, BC, we descended into the Methow Valley from a road that snakes through Washington State’s North Cascades Mountain Range. There was snow on the peaks as we drove through a series of spectacular mountain passes. I sketched Diablo Lake and the Washington Pass Overlook along the way. But as the road dropped down into the valley the temperature on the car thermometer went up, and up and up. By the time we reached the town of Twisp the temperature peaked at 107°F. I wanted to sketch the ochre shades of the rolling hills but it was just too hot. So today, on a rainy and grey January day in Montreal, when it’s far too drippy to paint in my car, that scene came back to me.
On that scorching July day, the arid landscape of rolling hills continued as we drove north and crossed the border into the Okanagan Valley. After that drive, it came as no surprise that the next day forest fires began in the Okanagan. I hope to get back to the Methow Valley someday to paint, when the temperature is lower and the weather a bit more amenable to plein air painting.