Lisbon (and other) panoramas

Lisbon is a strikingly bright city — at least that’s the first impression I had when I walked off the train from Porto — with a deep blue sky, limestone buildings that are so white they’re almost blinding, and orange tiled roofs. I loved painting the panoramas, and there are many to choose from. It’s a city of hills. Walk upwards on any street and chances are you will end up at a miradoura, one of the panoramic spots where you get a vantage point over the city, and if you are lucky, a table at a café too. The owner of our AirBnB pointed a few of these out on a map when we arrived, and we managed to get to three of them on our first night there, although I only stopped to sketch once.


I sketched a lot of panoramic views this summer — in Lyon, Roussillon, Porto and Lisbon. I always used the same technique. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the complexity of the scene, I started with a silhouette of the large mass of buildings. It’s also helpful to look at the negative shape of the sky. Once that’s done, I identify the largest shapes within the big silhouette and draw those. That might include domes, big roof areas, the largest walls, etc. From there I love to get lost in the details like windows, chimneys and antennas, and of course add colour.


Here are a few more panoramas from the trip: a view of Gaia from across the Douro in Porto, sketched late in the day…


…and the Provençal town of Roussillon, the village built on red cliffs and surrounded by ochre quarries.




On a break between classes today I went out to sketch in the Vanier College Collective Gardens, which are on the campus grounds right near my office. There’s a bench in the middle of the beds, no doubt placed there for garden contemplation, or in my case, sketching.

Besides being a beautiful place to sketch, there are a few reasons why I feel a connection to these gardens. I got to know about them through my teaching job at the college. I love to assign real projects to my students, so last year when they were looking for a new logo for the gardens, I turned it into a class project in my Promotional Documents class. As well, when the Pedagogical Support office was looking for designs for a new academic publication, my students and I took it on in our Publication Design class. If you are interested in seeing the results, here’s the current issue  of the magazine, along with a great article about the gardens, including their new logo on page 2. Can you tell I’m proud?


Thrilled to announce my first book!

What an exciting day! I can finally talk about the project that’s been keeping me occupied for many months. I’m thrilled to announce the pre-order of my first published book for Quarry Books — The Urban Sketching Handbook: Working with Color.

It’s the fifth book in a wonderful series, with others by Gabi Campanario, Veronica Lawlor and Stephanie Bower. Great company indeed.

I’ll be posting more soon about the contents of the book, but in brief, it’s about using colour creatively and expressively in your urban sketches. I go into lots of detail about materials and techniques, colour mixing, using limited palettes, neutral colour and colour relationships. And along with my own work, I’m honoured to feature many contributors from the Urban Sketchers community.

It’s been a dream of mine to write a book, and the timing was just right for this one since it coincided with my summer break from school. Of course that means I didn’t get much painting done these past few months, but I’ll be catching up on that soon. The book will be coming out in April 2019, and you can pre-order from the links below.

In the US: | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

In the UK: | Waterstones | BookDepositoryBooks etc

In Canada: |

In Australia:



It was drizzling the day I visited Lake Louise this past June. I sketched Victoria Glacier in the rain because it was too wet to paint, but I left disappointed at not having accomplished anything bigger than that. Yesterday I finally had some time in studio, so I turned my sketches into a bigger painting.  It’s going to my son who lives out west and has been waiting patiently for a painting of the Rockies. In fact, he even showed me the frame that this is going to fit into. No pressure.

I used a wet-in-wet technique to paint the glacier. After drawing in the shapes with pencil, I soaked the whole sheet on both sides and then rolled over it with a clean, dry towel to take off the surface moisture. With this method, there’s no taping necessary, just four bulldog clips to hold the paper to the plexiglass as it dries.

I love this technique because the paper stays damp for a long time and it’s easy to blend washes, like I did on the left where the mountain goes from blue to green. I also sprayed the surface of the paper with clear water to get the cloud effect on the right. Painted on Arches 140 LB rough paper, 15″ x 22″.


Back to school

It’s back-to-school week for me. I always think it will be a difficult transition after a summer of travel, but once I get back to class and see how enthusiastic my students are for the start of the school year, it gets a little easier. There’s not much homework in the first week except for a little shopping — in the case of my first year group they have to buy sketchbooks over the weekend. Next week I’ll introduce them to the concept of daily sketching by taking them around the campus to draw. They may not be ready for people sketching in the first week, but I was happy to see that many of them were really enthusiastic about drawing.

In preparation for next week,  I have been re-reading Mike Daikubara‘s excellent book “Sketch Now Think Later“. His method is the perfect one to motivate them to get going. As always, I hope to post some results next week.



You might already know how to make gladioli last a long time, but I learned something new this week. This is info straight from the vendor at the market who sells these flowers and nothing else: if you want gladioli to last a long time the trick is to use ice cubes. Change the water twice a day and each time, add some ice cubes. Cut the base of the stems once a day. Keep out of full sun. The flowers will open slowly and last all week. I bought these on Saturday and they were completely closed but this method seems to work as predicted.


Towards Mountain View

I’d love to spend a month or two painting reflections. You know, really take the time to study them, to understand how to simplify them, to see the abstract patterns in them. Of course I know I could take a series of photos of the lake and paint from that, but that defeats the purpose for me. What I love about painting reflections on location is that every time you look up from your painting, the water is a little different. Changes of light, effects of wind and currents, birds and boats — all of these affect the water’s appearance. So the challenge in this study would be to understand the water movement and how to simplify it in colour and value. A goal for next summer, perhaps…