Late September boats

There were several false starts during my sketch outing today. My rusty drawing skills played a part in that. School has been busy these past few weeks and if I don’t get out often to sketch it takes some time to warm up my drawing hand. Or my drawing brain. Or both. As well, I started my first sketch with a subject that seemed quite perfect — a white boat and its pristine reflection — but about halfway into the drawing a sailor showed up and off he sailed, with my perfect subject. Luckily there were more boats to take its place.


Messing around with gouache, step-by-step

After I posted my pegboard gouache sketch the other day Donna asked a few questions in the comments sections and I thought it might be better to create a new post to answer her in case this is useful info for anyone else. Disclaimer: I am not gouache expert. This is just my own muddling around on toned paper so feel free to use the info or discard as you see fit.

Here are Donna’s comments:

“I just took a class about gouache and would be interested in details about your materials. Do you use tube gouache or mix white with watercolor? My goal was to use gouache in my sketchbook but I still feel very lacking in knowledge. This instructor mixed gouache with watercolor which is complicated to do in the field. Gouache squeezed from the tube hardens so fast. What to do?”

I thought the best way to answer the question about how I use gouache would be to take a photo. I have some tubes of Winsor & Newton gouache that I found in a sale bin at my local art store, maybe about ten basic colours in all (including white and black). I don’t mix them with watercolour. I like the flat look that gouache has, and I find it fun to play with the water ratio to get different transparent and opaque washes. I squeeze out only a bit of paint on a Jasper butcher tray — as much as I need for one sketch — so I am not really worried about the paint getting hard. There are techniques sketchers use who paint with gouache on location, such as leaving a damp sponge in the palette, but so far I haven’t used any of those methods. This is mostly a studio activity for me, for now.


I work in a Stillman & Birn Nova Series softbound sketchbook with beige paper, size 8.5″ x 5.5″. There’s also a grey paper you can use but I like the warm undertone of this one.

My first step is to draw with a brush pen filled with permanent ink. I am not too worried about the accuracy of the drawing since gouache allows for lots of corrections. You can see where I messed up the handle of the wire cutters but I just drew it again, knowing I would be able to paint over the lines.


For this sketch I used a limited palette of gouache colours: Raw Umber, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine Blue plus Black and White. My first step is work on the general big shapes for the tools. The butcher tray is perfect for mixing small puddles of gouache. I use old brushes for this — gouache can ruin good brushes if left to dry, so I use old Escoda Perlas that have lost their points. Stiffer brushes are better for this than floppy ones like squirrel mops.


My next step is to paint in the shadows. Don’t really know why I do that instead of painting the pegboard first, but somehow I want the shadows to be on the clean paper, not painted on top of another layer of paint. And also, since I don’t really know what I am doing with this paint, I am going by gut feeling more than anything.


The last step is to paint the white pegboard, the dark holes and the edges of things. Some of the shadows are too dark so I go over them with a lighter wash. Each stroke is a bit of surprise since gouache gets darker as it dries. The last details are the most fun: the little white and black highlights. The challenge for me with gouache is the reversal  of my usual thinking process about values, because in watercolour I work from lightest to darkest most of the time. With this I start somewhere in the middle and work towards darks first and then add in the lights. It’s also in some ways a more painterly process since the paint can be applied more thickly and the brushstrokes are often more apparent.


Anyway, that’s enough rambling for now. Give it a try if you have some gouache hanging around. And if you want to see someone who uses gouache in a much more expressive way, have a look at Maru Godas’s work. I took a fantastic workshop with her in Porto this summer, and I will be posting my sketches from that soon.

Brushes with gouache

Studio clean-up on a rainy Friday led me to the pegboard in the workshop and all the great shapes arranged there. I grabbed some gouache, a brush pen and a toned paper sketchbook. I have a feeling I will be exploring the possibilities of gouache much more this year. The warm tone of this Stillman & Birn sketchbook paper is a perfect surface for adding whites, blacks and bright colours. The thought process for this is a bit like working in oils (adding darks first and working towards the lighter areas) but it is much more immediate and perfect for quick sketches like this.



I haven’t had this much fun drawing in a long time. At the far end of the parking lot of our local Ikea, I found a Hydro Quebec substation with all kinds of colourful shapes. With more time on my hands I think I could have done a better job of drawing all the overhead lines and cables but that would have meant arriving late to my afternoon class and I didn’t think finishing my drawing was a good enough excuse for that. I’ll just have to go back when I have more time.


Alice in walnut ink

It’s been a while since I added a page to my single colour Pentalic Aqua Journal sketchbook, the one where I try out colours that I use infrequently like Carmine and Hooker’s Green.  Today I picked up the book but deviated slightly from the path by sketching with Tom Norton Walnut Drawing Ink instead of paint. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a water-soluble ink that creates gorgeous rich browns. To add to the novelty of the experience, I also used the Walnut Drawing stick  —  a double-ended drawing stick with a bamboo nib on one side and a felt-tip brush on the other — an unusual enough combination in my hand to make the whole experience both fun and challenging.

So what made this ink such a pleasure to draw with? Well, to begin with, it has a really unique property for ink in that it lifts really easily if you want to lighten areas or soften edges. And while you can certainly achieve deep darks by using it at full strength, you can also lift washes or even remove them entirely. If you read the promotional info on the website you’ll see that what Tom Norton had in mind when he created it was something  in between ink and watercolour. It’s also a really beautiful brown, and even though it’s not in fact made from real walnuts, it’s a warmer colour than Sepia watercolour, which is much greyer. I can see that this is going to be a real favourite of mine for doing value studies.


Front view, back view

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting friends who live in a rural area and enjoy splendid views in every direction. Seated on their front porch I sketched a complex scene of barn and parking area. On the drive there we noticed that the trees are already showing the first signs of fall colour which seems odd since it’s been such a warm September in Montreal and it still feels like mid-August.

When drawing a scene like this across a double page in my sketchbook I try to first determine what I want to fit into the sketch. In this case I wanted to get in some of the barn, a tree on either side and a bit of the foreground path leading up to the parking area. If you draw those key elements in lightly with a pencil before getting into more detailed drawing, you are sure you’ll fit in the important shapes. After that you can add the details like rocks, planters, flags, etc.


Just before dusk I painted a second one from the back deck where the view is all open sky and newly ploughed hay fields. After commuting in traffic all week and rushing to get all my schoolwork done, it was a joy to have a few moments where all I had to do was let my eyes wander over the fields and across to the distant trees.BackView

Two gifts

When my friend Alison handed me a wooden crate of tomatoes from her garden, my first thought was not what olive oil I would dress them with — it was what colours I would use to sketch them. I drove directly home to paint them and realized it was also the perfect opportunity to give another gift a try, a Hahnemuhle Watercolour sketchbook (A4 size) from my Urban Sketchers Symposium goodie bag.

I can’t rate the tomatoes yet because, predictably, I sketched them instead of eating them, but the paper in the sketchbook is promising. The colours remain vibrant, it can take lots of wash and it’s beautifully textured. The landscape A4 format is ideal for most of my daily sketching, and the double page spread is perfect for panoramas. No doubt the tomatoes will be just as delightful as the paper.


Art by the Lake

This coming weekend (Sept. 8 & 9) I’ll be participating in Art by the Lake, the annual outdoor show of the Lakeshore Association of Artists. It’s always a highlight of my September to exhibit along with 40 other artists on the scenic lakeside grounds of Stewart Hall in Pointe Claire. Every year we hope for sunny weather so we can exhibit outdoors, and it’s looking pretty good for this weekend. Hours of the show are 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll be there both days, so drop by to say hello if you are in the Montreal area. Besides getting the chance to see lots of great art, one third of all sales from the originals we sell goes to support On Rock Community Services.

In keeping with a lakeside theme, I was out sketching near the boat club today but my sketching expedition was cut short by one of the hazards of September outings in Montreal: wasps. They were buzzing about as I sketched near the lake but I wasn’t paying much attention to them until I reached into my bag to get a brush and a big fat one that was hiding in there stung my painting hand. Wow, does that hurt!


Two pines

Lac Ashton was mirror still when I sketched these two pines from a picture window at a friend’s house. With a grey sky and a light mist falling, the scene was almost monochrome, but for the slightest yellowing of the trees across the lake. The first signs of autumn, no doubt.

I was intending to paint the scene with just two colours — Prussian Blue and Burnt Sienna  — because I love using a limited palette on misty days like this, but after I painted the first tree I decided that it might be interesting to use a different mix for the second tree. I switched over to Alizarin Crimson and Phthalo Green, which combine to make a more neutral grey, or even black if you use them at full strength. I haven’t shared any of the content of my upcoming book yet, but I can say that a good chunk of it is devoted to interesting mixes for greys and neutral colour, something that I use quite often, especially in winter.