The hidden ones

In my garden there are masses of tiny flowers that are hidden under bigger, showier things. I picked a bunch of them and stuck them in a glass, and painted them just as they started to wilt. These delicate creatures don’t last long.

I don’t have a window sill with a wide shelf, and my unfortunately my shiny black kitchen countertop is not a great foil for this, so I set up a small folding table in front of the patio door. That seemed to work just fine. Sketched on Saunders Waterford rough paper, 15″ x 11″.



While working in the garden this week I noticed the interesting patterns the reflections of trees make on my glass tabletop. With rain falling this morning, I decided it would be a good subject for a value study, using Sepia paint that I bought a few weeks ago. This is a colour I added to my palette a few weeks ago because I love it in John Yardley’s work, but sadly this is not quite the same version of the pigment. Thanks to blog readers sending me some info, it turns out that Winsor & Newton has discontinued the Warm Sepia in Mr. Yardley’s beautiful interiors. If I want to replicate that, apparently adding a bit of Burnt Sienna will do the trick. In the meantime this is Sepia straight from the tube which I think is ideal for a value study on a muggy, overcast day.



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.


A new sketchbook

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.


Spring fever

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.


Last day, first day

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?


Boat club

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).


Laundry day

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.


St. Joseph in the sun

I love working with triads of primary colour because of the harmonious mixes you can get. Here’s a new triad of colours I’ve been testing out for painting brick — something we have a lot of in Montreal. Start with Quinacridone Rose and Azo Yellow for the reddish colour of the brick. The yellow adds a nice glow to the areas in sun. If the mix is too rosy looking, add a spot of Cobalt Blue. As you move into the shadow areas you want that warm reddish colour to move towards a cool colour, so add some more Cobalt Blue into the mix. It worked really well for my favourite row of buildings along Boulevard St. Joseph in Lachine.