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…


4-H Camp Overlook

It was a delight to get away last weekend to visit friends in the Adirondacks because I’ve been busy with a rather time-consuming project these days, and sadly, haven’t had much time to paint. Feels like summer is slipping away and school is starting next week, if you can believe that…

On Saturday morning I set up my easel at one of my favourite spots — on their dock which sits on a narrow channel between two lakes. The opposite shore is quite close and dotted with assorted boat houses, included the one from the 4-H camp.

This is one of the most peaceful places I know, especially very early in the morning when the water in the channel is mirror still. It’s usually quiet at that hour too, but I had to stop painting for a few minutes to watch some noisy drama between a family of ducks and a threatening bald eagle swooping down from the sky.

For this painting I was aiming for colour unity so I started with an overall wash of light yellowish green, leaving a few whites on the house and the canoes. As a warm contrast to that, I added patches of orangey brown. I used lots of negative painting for the trees but kept the darks in the same green or brown range. Painted on Saunders Waterford Rough, 15″ x 11″.


The source at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

There are some sketching experiences that are so special you know you will never forget them. This one happened to me back at the end of June in Provence where I taught a couple of week-long workshops. It was after a long day spent painting in the lavender fields and sketching around Roussillon. After returning to our home base in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a few students joined me for an end-of-day sketching expedition up to the source of the Sorgue River. The town is famous for having this gouffre, a spring that is the largest in France and the fifth largest in the world, according to Wikipedia.

What is astounding about the town —and I may have mentioned this in a previous post — is that the water from this spring rushes all around it. In fact you can’t walk anywhere in the town without having some stream from the river gushing by you. It babbled by as we ate in various restaurants, it gurgled past as we picnicked in a park, and we even awoke to the sound of it every morning as a tributary ran right under our hotel (a former mill).

Our short expedition up to the source led us past much loud and quickly running water, which led me to believe that when we finally arrived at the much-anticipated gouffre, it would be some sort of torrent of water surging from a giant hole at the foot of a high cliff. But in fact it was nothing of the sort. The source at the end of the path is, surprisingly, a deep and very still pool, at least in summer. Nothing at all like what I was expecting.

This quiet pool can only be viewed from a distance — no doubt because of the many hazards of the deep water and the slippery rocks around it — but a low metal fence is no deterrent to most. We crossed it easily, as did most other tourists, and sat close by for a good sketching view.

For me there was something very eerie about that still water. I think all of us felt that way as we sketched, half expecting Gollum to emerge from its depths. We sketched in near silence for about an hour, stopping occasionally to compare techniques for capturing the green of the water or the opaqueness of the rocks. When our sketches were done and we got up to leave, I think we all felt we had shared something special.

If you are interested in going for a virtual dive to explore the depths of the source, here’s a link to a really cool site I just discovered. From there you’ll be able to see what I couldn’t while I was drawing. And if you don’t understand French, just click on “Lancer la visite” to start your tour.


Monochrome at the market

On a steamy and overcast Saturday morning, with about an hour to kill before meeting my family, I sketched a couple of quick ones at the Atwater Market. The place was just starting to get busy with weekend shoppers and produce is starting to look really good — big baskets of ripe peaches, the first corn on the cob — but all I had with me were a few drawing tools, including a sanguine Pitt Pen. I love drawing with this colour because it gives a warmth to the sketch that you don’t get with a black pen.


For my second sketch I moved my folding stool next to the canal and drew the rail bridge with a water-soluble blue pencil. It was an ideal tool for capturing the heavy sky and the still water on this colourless day.