Stella with her eyes open

This is only one of many drawings I did of Stella last night, but this captures her the best. Her face is not an easy one to draw (come to think of it no face is ever easy to draw) but it’s one that’s full of character and beauty. The amazing thing about most of the models we have in life drawing studio is their capacity to stay awake during a single pose three-hour evening session. I know I would be nodding off. No doubt this is a testament to their experience. Sketched in black Conté on Strathmore Pastel paper.


Storm over Bluffton

Last week during a workshop demo, we were gathered on a wide screened porch, watching the swirling clouds over Bluffton. It was the opportune moment to paint skies. But as I painted, the storm got closer and closer. I continued to paint — a bit too absorbed in painting the palms to realize that it was getting darker and darker — until I could barely see my paper or the colours on my palette. I have a good chuckle when I look at this now, remembering the clever student who discreetly slipped away and came back moments later with a tiny flashlight that she held over my head so I could finish the demo. I am very grateful for her resourcefulness.


Corner to corner

From my seat at The Corner Perk coffee shop in Bluffton, I had a great view of the opposite corner of the street. The small building in front of me was once a carpentry shop but is now for sale (found this out from someone on Instagram). This was my warm-up sketch upon arrival in South Carolina last week.

It always takes some time when I go from a winter to a summer location to get the colour going in my head, and on my palette. Painting winter scenes is all about subtleties — soft cobalt shadows on snow,  pale winter branches, lots of greys and browns — so painting all this green is a bit of a shock to the brain. In a good way. The pen drawing is pretty loose and scribbly, which, upon reflection, is a telltale sign of being in a rush to get the colour on the paper. It’s a bit like a shout of joy, but with a Pitt Pen. Sketched in a Handbook Travelogue Journal, 8″ x 8″, using all the colours on my palette!


What I learned while teaching

I’m just back from my spring break week in South Carolina and Georgia, where I spent a few days teaching a workshop in Palmetto Bluff, and then a few days wandering around Savannah before heading back to Montreal.

I still haven’t scanned the sketches I did during the week, so I’ll save those for another post. In this one, I thought I’d focus on the workshop itself, the students’ work, and the things I learned while teaching.

When you teach outdoors, you have to adapt to changing weather conditions (we had our share of those this week) and be prepared with lots of “Plan B” exercises in case of rain. Urban sketchers are traditionally a hardy bunch: we’re ready to take whatever comes, meteorologically speaking, prepared to travel light, move quickly and, judging by my Palmetto Bluff students, willing to work hard. I’ve realized that every time I teach a workshop, it’s as much a learning experience for me as it for the participants. The main lessons I hoped to tackle in our three days together were composition, value studies, simplification, painting with lively washes, and using a limited colour palette. Over three days, we managed to cover all of that, and more.


On the first morning we picked a spot on the property and used a view of the salt marsh as a way to study values. The dark curving branches of Southern live oaks, in the foreground, provided a perfect dark contrast to the light sky and headlands in the distance. In the afternoon we used the values studies as reference for larger colour sketches. The marsh setting was a great subject for value studies since the lights (sky), darks (trees) and mid-tones (marsh and headlands) are very easy to identify.

So what did I learn on the first day? It took some thinking (which I did on the airplane ride home), but I realized that Day One is when I get to know each workshop participant and try to figure out what they’re trying to achieve in their sketches. As you can see, this group’s skill level was very high.


On the morning of Day Two, I asked students to put away their pens and pencils and instead use brushes to draw the framework for their sketches. Many had never tried going straight to paint before, but the sketches of houses and plantation ruins around Palmetto Bluff were fresh and lively.


After lunch an impending rainstorm moved us indoors to a wide wraparound screened porch with great views of a dramatic sky. At one point it became so dark when the rain finally arrived that a student pulled out a flashlight from her bag so we could all see the demo I was working on.


The Day Two takeaway, for me: no matter how well you pick your locations, it’s crucial to have some shelter close by in case of rain. (And a flashlight!)

The forecast for Day Three included lots of sun, but with the addition of cold temperatures and gusting winds, we found shelter on a quiet street of Old Town Bluffton. After my demo, students settled down to sketch. Often on the third day of a workshop I find that the concepts I’m teaching start to gel. I noticed that everyone was more relaxed (or possibly exhausted or frozen!) and also taking more time to draw, so instead of moving to another location for the afternoon we stayed in the same spot for the entire day. What did I learn on Day Three? I learned to give students more time to finish their drawings and integrate the concepts they’ve learned. This resulted in some amazing work!


We ended each day with a critique, which included looking everyone’s sketches and identifying how they could be improved or completed. I don’t know about you, but when I’m a participant in a workshop, I’m so focussed on my own sketch that I don’t see what other people are working on, so this gathering is really important.


And in classic Urban Sketchers style, there has to be a group photo with sketches in hand.


If you think a workshop is something you might be interested in, have a look at my workshop page for upcoming events in 2018 and 2019. Or drop me a line if you have a local group and are interested in inviting me to your city.


The Village: an exhibition of my Pointe-Claire watercolours

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may know that I’ve been painting scenes of Pointe-Claire Village for years. I often stop there on my way to school for a quick sketch, or set up my easel in the shade of a willow in the park with a view of the boats in the yacht club. I frequently paint the same corners in many seasons and often go back to draw the iconic windmill on lazy August days.

Now it’s my pleasure to have a show and sale of those paintings at Studio 77, a cafe and exhibition space in the town where they were painted. The show opens on Saturday, March 31. If you’re in Montreal, join me at the vernissage from 6-8 pm, or stop by Studio 77 for a latte any day until April 29. It’s located at 271 Bord-du-Lac in Pointe Claire.


Last night at life drawing

My favourite sketch of last night’s life drawing session was when I got bored drawing the model and started drawing the other artists in the room. Aino was so focused on completing her oil portrait that she didn’t see me drawing her at all. It’s really fascinating to watch someone paint — something we almost never do since we are usually so focussed on the model ourselves. Aino leans in to see the details in the model’s face, then she makes a stroke or two. She changes the colour on her brush and leans in again to measure, to check, to compare. Two or three strokes go down and then the cycle repeats itself. The brushes in her hand are in constant motion. I found the process of drawing her much more interesting than drawing the model, perhaps because of the intensity of her focus compared with the passive pose of the model. Something to think about for next session.


Here are some of the drawings I did of our model Paul, before drawing Aino.




Positive negative

It just keeps on snowing in Montreal. The positive is that I keep on painting snow scenes. The negative is that I have to keep shovelling and cleaning it off my car.

Painting this scene was a positive/negative scenario too. I don’t use masking fluid so I had to paint around the snow on the foreground branches, leaving those bits of white paper which required some careful painting, stopping the background trees at strategic spots and then starting them again. Even though I don’t use frisket, I do sometimes add dabs of Titanium White watercolour at the end, which you might be able to spot. By the afternoon much of the snow on the road had melted so I’m glad I did this early in the morning. Hopefully I’ll be able to get another snow scene in tomorrow. Painted on Saunders Waterford, 15″x 11″.


Dog walk

I was out early this morning, sketching a snowy scene in Pointe Claire. I suspect that winter is not entirely over, but as it warms up the snow gradually gets dirtier and the sludge heaps that are left are not very pretty to paint. In the morning I share the street with the dog walkers who look at me suspiciously, parked in my car with a sketchbook resting on the steering wheel. What could I be recording at that hour of the morning, they wonder. Little do they know that it is them.


One Week 100 People: the final dozen

My total output of people drawings never even approached 50 this week. It’s midterm and there was just too much to do at school. But I was determined that today I would churn out a few sketches so I carried my sketchbook with me to the hair salon and followed that with a visit to McDonald’s.


My people sketches always tend to be a bit flat, like cartoon characters — the heads too small, not enough distance between eyes and ears — so my goal today was to capture volume.


The tools I am using are not very precise — a brush pen and a water brush which often releases too much water — but I like that. You can’t get too finicky with the brush which means you have to move on to the next sketch.


Today was the first day I felt like the drawing was loosening up, perhaps because it’s the end of the week and I’m more relaxed.


Most of the people at McDonald’s sit for a long time so I was able to draw a little bit slower than on other days. I kept on drawing even if I had a false start, like the sketch of the older gentleman with the baseball cap.


My favourites from the week are the last two because I feel I captured a bit of character as well as volume — the lady who was having lunch and listening intently to her daughter tell her that a woman seated behind was drawing her, and the older man who spent a good long time staring into space, just contemplating life.


I really believe in the process of constant practice with drawing, and like last year during this challenge, things do start to happen after a few dozen sketches. Have a look online (do a search using #oneweek100people2018) and see what other people have been sketching. You’ll see what I mean!

Interview in this issue of “The Art of Watercolour”

I’ve been buying the beautifully produced “The Art of Watercolour” magazine for many years on the newsstands, so when they contacted me a while back for an interview, it was quite a thrill. As always, this issue is packed with great articles. The print edition will be around until May, and it’s also available as a digital download. Many thanks to Caroline Duchesnes for this!Cover and page.jpg