Stood in the woods

I took some liberties with colour today. The woods are still quite monochrome, with just the tiniest bits of moss starting to emerge (as well as a pepperoni pizza that was under the snow) but it’s impossible not to see colour if you stand and observe for a bit. I painted standing up, with my sketchbook in my hand, my palette clipped to the book, and a water container in a bag over my shoulder. A pileated woodpecker knocked on a tree above my head, and in a schoolyard nearby a basketball was dribbled on the ground again and again. I am not the only one who is happy to be outdoors.


Spring Cleaning

It’s a rainy day in Montreal, so a good time to do studio stuff, like cleaning out my palette.  The 18 colours in my Heritage travel palette change often but in spring it’s great to scrub it out, get rid of the winter mud in the corners, and fill it up again.

Fresh paint is like candy. When the palette is newly stocked with colour, you don’t know what to pick. Each colour is equally delicious.

The pigments are mostly the same as what I had in here before, with a few small changes:

  • Quinacridone Gold has been replaced by New Gamboge. Both are warm yellows, but New Gamboge will be easier to obtain in the near future as the stocks of Quin. Gold pigment run out.
  • Organic Vermilion has been replaced by Cadmium Red because I wanted a true red, and Vermilion is more orangey.
  • Prussian Blue replaces Phthalo Blue. I like the greens it makes much more — a little duller and a little more like the greens you find in nature.
  • Sepia replaces Burnt Umber. I’ve been looking at John Yardley’s work lately and love what he does with Sepia, so thought I’d give it a go. If I don’t use it, out it will go in the next round.
  • Raw Sienna and Yellow Ochre both have a permanent spot on the palette, and even though they look the same, they perform different functions in a painting. I love the transparent warm glow I can give to a sky with a light wash of Raw Sienna. And Yellow Ochre is invaluable when you need an opaque warm tone.

So there you have it. A clean closet and a new spring wardrobe.



Today is green gold

While out for my morning walk with the dog I noticed the very first dots of pale green on some shrubs near the foundation of a neighbour’s house. Barely discernible really, unless you stopped and stared, but definitely there. I took this sighting as some sort of sign to rush home, pull out a tube of Daniel Smith Green Gold and plod on with my project of painting the little-used colours in my paint drawer .

I have to say that this was not an easy one. With some overripe pears and a few limes in front of me, I attempted to paint a little countertop still life. But unlike previous experiments with Carmine and Hooker’s Green, you can’t get dark values with this yellowish green. At least nothing that approximates the dark tone of a lime. I knew that before starting, of course, which begs the question: why did I choose limes to paint? But I’m still happy I tried, because the point of this exercise is more about getting to know your pigments as they come out of the tube (both diluted and a full strength), and less about creating accurate colour. And I look forward to using some Green Gold in the coming weeks as the trees buds start to burst.



Where do I begin?

Today I had a false start with my sketch. My first attempt was a street scene, slightly to the left of the scene I eventually drew (below), but it turned out to be a boring composition without focus. That happens sometimes when I’m rushed for time, and maybe it does for you too. You’re excited to start and you leap in with little planning, only to find out that your scene has no interest.

So I turned the page and started again.

This time I spent a bit of time thinking about what I was doing, and realized that the most beautiful thing about the scene was the bright sunlight on the propane tanks, so that was where I started my drawing. By shifting the composition away from the street and making the tanks, the concrete block and the yellow wall my focus, suddenly the composition was full of interesting details both for drawing and for painting — the texture of the yellow wall, the calligraphy of the fire escape and most of all the pattern of strong shadows.

Sketched in a limited palette of Hansa Yellow, Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Rose, in about an hour (not including the false start), on my way to school.


It doesn’t take much

It doesn’t take much to make this sketcher happy after five months of winter.
a. Flowers pushing their way through the matted leaves in the garden.
b. A fly landing on my sketchbook.
c. Sun drying the puddles of paint on the paper.


LAA Spring Exhibition this weekend

It’s a pleasure once again to exhibit in the Lakeshore Association of Artists Spring Show this weekend. For over 30 years this talented and generous artist group that I’ve recently joined has been partnering with community health organization NOVA West Island for this event. That’s something to be proud of. It’s a show I’m happy to be a part of, especially because my family benefited from NOVA’s services when my mother needed care in the last years of her life.

Situated in a beautiful historical house facing Lac St. Louis, the setting for the exhibit is quite special. If you’re in the mood for a drive along the lake on what promises to be a sunny weekend, please stop by. The show takes place at Fritz Farm, 20477 Lakeshore Road, Baie d’Urfé. Vernissage is Friday, April 20, from 7 – 9:30 pm. The exhibit continues on Saturday and Sunday from 10 until 5 pm, and one third of all the proceeds from art sales (from over 45 artists!) goes to NOVA. Hope to see you there!


Two Hookers

My timing for testing paint colours couldn’t have been better because there’s still no sign of spring in Montreal. Instead of looking for bits of green outdoors, I rummaged through my paint drawer to find a tube of green paint — this time Hooker’s Green, by M.Graham. It’s a dull but beautiful green, made from a combination of Prussian Blue and Gamboge, two colours I already have on my palette.

Many thanks to everyone who wrote to me about similar problems they were having with the Pentalic Aqua Journals. I did receive a response and an apology from Pentalic Customer Service, and I’ll be receiving a replacement book soon. Apparently there were some problems in manufacturing, but since they are sending me a different size book, I have a feeling the main problem is that the small square books are simply glued and not stitched at the spine. For those of you who have had the same problem it is worth writing to them to ask for a replacement as well. Today I sketched in another Pentalic book that I purchased at the same time (10″ x 7″) and I will be continuing the project in this book (which is stitched!). As for where the name of the colour comes from, it may not be what you think. Here is the info I found on this.


Savannah riverfront

Last month, seated on a bench in the sun on Savannah’s historic riverfront, I had a chance to sketch some of the shapes and colours of the working docks. It was a fascinating place to spend a few hours. Behind where I was seated, in a series of former warehouses that line the river, tourists are buying candy, stocking up on souvenirs, eating shrimp and grits, lining up for an ice cream or having a beer. But when a container ship leaves port on the Savannah River, everyone stops in their tracks and watches it go by. It’s as if a full city is passing in front of your eyes — a wall of cargo containers of every colour stacked on top of a massive vessel that seems far too huge to be passing through this narrow channel in front of us. It’s rare to be this close to a ship that big, at least for me, and as tempting as it was to sketch it as it moved along, its fast clip made it near impossible. I sketched the stationary dock instead.



Sometimes colours (or names of colours) conjure up vivid images or memories. Whenever I see a tube of Carmine paint, I can’t help but think about The Sopranos, not only because of the characters Carmine and his son “Little” Carmine, but also for the fair amount of blood that was shed over the six seasons.

This little project of testing out the colours I have in my paint drawer has become something I look forward to every day. I was hoping to fill up a complete book or two with a variety of single-colour experiments, but after only three sketches, the newly purchased 5″ x 5″ Pentalic Aqua Journal is falling apart. Each time I paint a double-page spread, the pages detach from the glued spine. Has anyone else had this problem with the book? I know that James Gurney uses the landscape format of this and never seems to have any problems, so I am wondering if it is a defect with this small square version of the book. As someone who cherishes a completed sketchbook, especially if it contains a single theme or project, this is a huge disappointment. I’d love to hear from you if you have the same issue as me.


All in a row

This morning, straight from the paint drawer, a tube of Perylene Green. I’m pretty certain I’ve used it on my palette before because the tube is squished down to almost empty, but again, using it on its own makes me realize that I don’t know much about it. It’s a blackish green, almost grey when diluted. Probably wonderful for dark green foliage although I tend to mix most of my own greens when painting outdoors. I’ve only just started this little project, but I intend to work each spread in my sketchbook the same way: one tube of paint, no preliminary drawing with pencil or ink (hence the wonky bottles), a simple subject and hopefully a little discovery of colour each day.