What the rain did, part two

Before I left for a family trip to Calgary this past weekend, I loaded my palette with paint, making sure to fill a well with some ancient Cobalt Green paint from the paint drawer of infrequently used colours. It’s a colour I’ve never tried before, but one that I knew might come in handy when painting the turquoise waters of Lake Louise in Banff National Park. I also packed some sheets of watercolour paper, with the intention of attempting a half-sheet painting on site. But as we approached the park entrance big drops started to fall and by the time we unpacked the car, it was a downpour, so I left the paper in the car and set off with only a sketchbook in my painting bag.

Lake Louise is one of Canada’s treasures, there’s no doubt about that. The lake gets its intense colour from the glacier silt in the water, and there’s a reason busloads of tourists flock there daily to gawk and take selfies in front of it. It’s magnificent, even in the rain.

I was pretty determined to sketch, so when the rain slowed down to a drizzle I set up my easel at the edge of the trail about halfway around the lake. The only way I could get some sketching done was to tilt the tray upright, but as I said, after a four hour flight and a two hour drive, I wasn’t planning on going home with an empty sketchbook.



The sketches I managed to get done are pretty loose and wet. What other results can you get in the rain? I tried to use a dryish brush and lots of thick paint, hoping it would somehow adhere to the paper despite the drops.


The first two views are from the same spot, one looking across the lake and one of the hotel. As I turned to do the second sketch of Chateau Lake Louise, the rain was slowing down and I was able to tilt my easel back to the proper angle for painting.


The last sketch was done in front of the hotel, where the view of Victoria Glacier is the best (hence all the selfies). The top of the mountains were shrouded in cloud but even on an overcast day, there’s no shortage of drama in that view.


I still intend to paint a larger watercolour of this scene, based on my sketches and the reference photos I took. That means the Cobalt Green won’t be disappearing from my palette anytime soon.

37 Comments on “What the rain did, part two”

  1. Chris Rusk says:

    What a day! You are a very lucky person.

    I once went to Lake Louise on a Thanksgiving weekend in the late eighties. It was magic to just sit on a bench in front of the Chateau and gaze out at the lake and the glacier.

    I remember the air was very nippy, but the Lake keeps you so much in its spell that you don’t notice.

    Your paintings today brought me back to that afternoon so many years ago – many thanks!


    • HI Chris. I love how you describe your experience at Lake Louise. “The lake keeping you in its spell” is a very good description of this. I was actually planning on hiking first and painting second, but I just had to paint and never ended up going up the mountain. Maybe it was the spell that you describe.
      Glad I brought you back there.


  2. Susan Biddle says:

    ahhhh…. beautiful Lake Louise. I was there in the 70s and fell in love with the place. I need to go back. Thank you for the memories of a magical location.


  3. Nancy Dwight says:

    Lovely and your doggedness is admirable!


  4. Kirk says:

    Beautiful sketches. Really like the one of the hotel and the last one of the lake.


  5. Lee Kline says:

    A good lesson in using infrequently-used colors. Dramatic work, as always.6


    • It’s great to hear from you Lee. Besides the Cobalt Green, I also used lots of Hooker’s Green, which was from that same drawer. Many thanks for writing and hope you’re well!


  6. Donna says:

    You get good results no matter what!!! Never been there but hope to go this August.


  7. Tylara says:

    As someone who hikes here regularly and sees this place in all kinds of weather, a beautiful capture. It is a splendid location regardless of the weather conditions. Such beautiful work and thank you for giving me a vision of how to bring this style of painting to my local environment.


    • Hi Tylara. I didn’t realize that you live near Lake Louise. How lucky you are! We were visiting our son who lives in Calgary now, and on the drive we marvelling at how lucky he is to be so close to such magnificence. I appreciated every minute of my short day in the park, even with the rain. I was hoping to hike as well but just ended up sketching while the kids did the hike to the teahouse. Next time for me, I guess!


  8. TonyU says:

    Lovely sketches and what perseverance and dedication … or maybe just cussedness? Lucky enough to have been there twice, both times when the lake was covered in snow and ice. As Tylara says, beautiful any time of the year. A new palette?


    • Thanks Tony. I have never seen the Lake in the winter but it must be very beautiful as well. As for my determination to sketch the scene, Chris Rusk has summed it well in the blog comments. She says the lake cast its spell over her and I think it did the same to me.

      Good spotting on the new palette. Yes, it is a Holbein 500 steel palette with 24 slants for paint and 5 wells for painting. I almost feel like I have purchased a new car. It is so solid, and so lovely to work on. I actually bought it because I wanted a palette with a thumb hole, and it rests so easily on the forearm while you paint. It is a beauty and that was the first time I was breaking it in, although it needs no breaking in to work well.


      • Judy Sopher says:

        Question about a palette with slants on top and bottom. How do you close it without top paint running into the slant below? Sounds silly but I get frustrated with them and I have a few. Thanks.


      • It’s actually a good question and I thought about that for a long time before purchasing it. My solution was to fill the wells about five days before leaving, and let the paint dry. It worked perfectly. I actually cut a piece of waxed paper to leave between the two sides in case anything ran, but there was no problem.


      • Judy Sopher says:

        Thanks. Wax paper is a good idea. I only use mine to try out a new color. That side being wet, I close it on top. For the most part, I don’t use them.


  9. Judy Sopher says:

    You are amazing–and persistent. The last one is exceptional. By this time, you must know that I like an abstract design within a recognizable image. The colors are wonderful and there is so much movement in it. Looking forward to your paintings of it done at home.


  10. Kathy Noble says:

    Wow, Shari, there is a wonderful sense of three dimensions in all of these,
    something I aspire to be able to do. The Cobalt Green is a super color for that glacier water. It would probably works as well for Caribbean waters, and has a softer look than either Pthalo Turquoise or Ultramarine Turquoise.


    • Thanks Kathy! Yes, that Cobalt Green was just perfect for that water and I think I will keep it around for the summer and see how I like it. It would also be great for making little dabs of colour in my urban scenes. I think it’s quite opaque so not sure about how it mixes but I think I will have to do some experimentation.


  11. Outstanding! My very first watercolors, 1985, were done in Tahoe, on a freezing day. The cold froze the paint on the paper and I found interesting crackling occurring!




    • Sally, I sure can relate to that. As an all-season painter I have had that happen more than once. But luckily there was no snow at Lake Louise on the weekend, except high up on the glacier! Thanks for writing.


  12. Kristine says:

    Shari, we lived in that area for years and the view never ceases to amaze. I am curious, what is the easel you are using? I am thinking I would like to get an easel, but the ones I see are either too light and flimsy, or too heavy to carry.


    • HI Christine,

      The easel I am using is the Eric Michaels En Plein Air Pro. I’ve been using it for years. It’s the perfect travel easel because it’s very light and set up takes about 30 seconds. Perfect for teaching too. When I first bought it, it came with a useless bag but now it comes with a knapsack that I tried out for the first time on the weekend. The easel fits in perfectly and there’s plenty of room for other stuff and lots of pockets. I highly recommend it.


      And if you don’t need the whole set, you can buy the parts separately, which I appreciate.



  13. Gorgeous watercolors. What a wonderful way to chronicle your family vacation.


  14. joantav says:

    Beautiful sketches and I think the effects of the rain just added to the charm of them!


  15. So beautiful. Thank you for sharing.


  16. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for this post! You captured the magesty and the magic of Lake Louise. I’m there in spirit, by the fantasy-like waters. Merci encore pour ton partage Shari!


  17. bonniejohnson says:

    Really interesting experience in plein air. I always worry about the elements so that’s why I haven’t tried it yet. Interesting idea just letting them be a part of the work as well. Do you thinks you’d ever try doing watercolors in the rain on purpose?


    • HI Bonnie. Thanks! I like your question. I don’t think I would ever go out and paint in the rain if I could avoid it but I had no choice. One day in Lake Louise and then a drive back to Calgary, so I had to take advantage of the opportunity. Had I been there for a few days, I would have waited for a dry day. But of course now I have a better story to tell and a memorable experience to remember.


  18. Carolyn Jones says:

    Love it! Love your work!!


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