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.
We’ve had a few turbulent days of rain — roiling clouds and dark horizons across the lake — but the forecast for today said nothing about precipitation. I set out with no destination in mind, but a dramatic sky caught my eye and I parked near the lake to sketch. As I painted, all caught up in blues and masts, I didn’t notice the weather darkening until drops of water plopped onto my palette and my paper. Fortunately I like what the rain did on the paper (and this doesn’t always happen) as it speckled the wet washes on the trees, giving them a little texture that I didn’t have to create with a brush. Sketched in a Handbook Travelogue Journal on a cold day in June.
There’s much going on in the boatyard these days, including lots of boat repair. Painting this scene of the Shipwright Service shed was a lesson in painting quickly, and also recording a lot of details both by drawing and also in my head when I set up. Why? Because when I was halfway through my painting a car parked in front of that garage door. And right after that another car, this one towing a boat. My whole scene was pretty much obscured, but luckily I had enough details in there to finish it up. And a phone photo just in case.
Every summer a hops plant takes over an arch in my garden, sending out shoots so rapidly in spring that you can almost see it growing. This week I painted it twice. On my first try I definitely wasn’t in the “zone”. My brush was too dry and the darks ended up dead and muddy. Plus, what I wanted to convey — the twisty tendrils and acid green leaves taking over the arch — did not come across well. I set it aside and the next day tried again.
On my second try I thought through the process a little more, and this time started with an underpainting of pale Azo Yellow over most of everything. When that was dry I mixed up some Prussian Blue and Burnt Sienna for the darks, but this time made sure my brush was really wet before I painted around the lights. With a rigger brush dipped into a tube of Holbein Leaf Green, I swirled in those crazy tendrils. By the time I was done the hops had grown another foot or so in all directions.