After weeks of frustrating attempts at rendering the figure in watercolour, I tried out something new at life drawing studio last night: water-soluble coloured pencils. I don’t quite have the hang of it yet — it will take some time to figure out what pencil to use where — but I like the way I can build up the skin tones more gradually. I’m using a set of 12 Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils which are quite vibrant and can be used in a variety of ways. For light areas, I drew with the pencil first and then wet the lines with a brush and water. For darker areas, I dipped the tip of the pencil in water and drew with it directly to get a creamier, more solid area of colour. Sketched in a Bee watercolour sketchbook.
Where do your ideas for sketching come from? How do you choose subjects? I don’t often leave home knowing what will end up on my paper, but I sometimes find inspiration along the way. Today’s idea for a sketch comes from the driver who clearly saw me stepping off the curb and chose to accelerate over the painted yellow lines instead of stopping. I had been thinking I might paint a water scene but instead turned around and painted the crosswalk.
For years people have been telling me to make my own sketchbooks with good watercolour paper, but I always thought it was a time-consuming process involving a lot of stitching, glueing and binding. With school pretty much done for the semester I finally got around to doing a bit of research, and the process I found turned out to be a lot less complicated than I anticipated, although I am not entirely satisfied with the results just yet.
I used Brenda Swenson’s detailed instructions for a spiral bound book. That eliminated the glueing and stitching. She combines cut sheets of watercolour paper, as well as tinted pastel sheets and drawing paper into a 11″ x 10″ spiral bound book with a cover and backing board. I did much the same except I used only Fabriano cold pressed and rough watercolour paper. I also cut a front and back cover from mat board, and off I went with the whole pile to our local big box office supply place. The only problem is that they can’t spiral bind the thicker board, so I ended up with a paper cover that is thinner than the watercolour paper itself. No very convenient, nor very durable for summer travel. But after a bit of calling around I found a downtown printer than can spiral bind the thicker cover board. I’ll let you know how it goes.
This is my first test book because I hope to make a few other sizes to take with me to Provence and Porto this summer. I went out to MacDonald Farm to give it a whirl. So far so good. Easy to work with, a good format and of course the paper is top notch. I will be making more.
I sketch in my own suburban surroundings so often that a journey into downtown Montreal seems like an exotic vacation to another city. There’s no doubt that the current traffic issues are a deterrent. It seems like a colossal waste of time to spend over two hours in traffic for a one hour sketching break. And yet, when I must go into town for another reason, I will find every excuse to get there early and fit a sketch in.
I never know what sights will attract me when I arrive in town but yesterday a free parking spot on the perimeter of Parc Lafontaine determined my location and an empty park bench with a view of the greystones had my name on it. I’d forgotten how beautiful this park is, and for a moment or two I felt like I was in New York City. All the signs of spring surrounded me — trees leafing out, two lovers embracing on the next bench, tulips in full bloom, a gaggle of teens shrieking atop the Dollard statue — and it was a reminder to find a reason to get into town more often.
In celebration of the last day of classes, I went out to sketch on the way to school. As I approached the lake, I could see the masts of the boats swaying in the wind, which could only mean one thing: the boats are in the water! So the last day of school happily coincided with the first day of boat sketching season. I painted in my car because I forgot my chair, facing the red sailboat that’s in that same spot from year to year. And as I painted I remembered all the reasons why boats are both a satisfying and challenging subject to paint: the difficult shapes of the hulls; the messy tangle of masts, ropes, lines and buoys; the full range of values from light to dark, all closely jumbled together; and finally, the movement in the water that causes everything to be slightly different each time you look up. What more could you want in a subject?
The boats at Pointe Claire Yacht Club will soon be in the water, judging from the amount of activity in the boatyard. Since I am not a sailor, nor a member of the club, I contemplated looking at the club’s website to see when launch day will be. But I stopped myself. I prefer to show up one day and be surprised to find them moored to the docks, all gleaming and polished and waiting to be painted (or sailed).
After a long winter, any opportunity to observe a bit of light and shadow outdoors, even on laundry day, is welcome. The two blue shirts were great fun to sketch, because of the movement, the stripes and the shadow shapes. It almost made me want to do more laundry, just so I could hang it up and watch it dry. Sketched in a Handbook Travelogue Watercolour Journal.