First frost

Last night when I looked out my window, big wet flakes of snow were falling. Nothing stayed on the ground but this first frost killed all the hostas in my garden. I took a break from school prep today to sketch them from my kitchen window. Painted on a block of Arches Cold Press paper, 10″ x 14″.


Orange, yellow and blue

What do you do when the thing you like drawing least (in my case it’s cars) is front and centre in your scene? There are two choices available to you: move where you are or stay and deal with it the best you can.

Today on my way to school, I had this very situation. I parked on a street near my house with a beautiful row of maples, but blocking their trunks were two cars. With only an hour to sketch, moving was not option. That would have used up all my precious sketching time. Instead I decided to try to find a way to unobtrusively integrate the cars into my sketch. I wasn’t quite sure how to best combine both the gentle shapes and flowing lines of the trees with the shiny, reflective, angular cars, and in the end decided that judicious use of colour would be my best option.

Instead of dipping into the full range of colours on my palette including dark blues and greys for the cars, I chose a limited range of pigments: Naples Yellow, Translucent Orange, Cerulean Blue and Cobalt Blue. I’m always surprised by how harmonious the mixes will be when you only use a few pigments. And I think that because it’s very hard to get deep darks with any of these colours, I avoided making the cars overly obvious. Also please note something new in the suburban landscape this week: the vertical driveway markers put up by the snow clearing companies. A sure sign of changing weather.


Montreal to Toronto train sketching

Testing, testing. I’ve never posted a video before but this is the only way to show my weekend sketch so thought I’d give it a try. Fingers crossed that you can see it too.

On a train ride to Toronto on Saturday I sketched in an accordion sketchbook, adding a new sketch every time the landscape changed. The paper in the book was quite poor for watercolours but it was so much fun to do that I thought I’d post it anyway. The full size is 7 inches by 5.5 feet. I loved the experience so much (the motion of the train, the sound of the whistle as we approached level crossings, the wide open Canadian landscape) that it made we want to cross the country by rail with a ream of better paper and some good paints in my bag.

Baseball diamond

During the week I don’t get much of a chance to paint outside because I arrive home too late in the day. But I do take the dog to the park for her daily run and this week, as I have mentioned in other posts, the light is spectacular, so I have been taking phone photos that are great reference material for watercolour experimentation.

A few years ago when I took a workshop with Tom Hoffmann on Lopez Island, he had us work out problematic areas in a painting by practicing small sections first. I think that’s a great strategy because if you’ve already worked out where you might run into a mess (and dealt with it in advance), then you have a much better chance of success when you finally get around to painting. With that in mind, I came home from the park and, using my reference image, made a small (and quite simplified) sketch of what I think might be difficult to tackle in a larger painting: the trees half in light and half in shadow. I think playing around with the colours and values of this will come in handy if ever I decide to take this to the next step by turning it into a larger watercolour.


Roy Street

I cracked open a new sketchbook today and stopped to sketch on my way to school. I have to say that it’s been difficult to focus on work this week because the light outdoors, especially between 4 and 6 pm, has been spectacular. All I want to do is paint, and an observant student might occasionally catch me looking longingly out the window when I am supposed to be teaching. The foliage is at its most vivid as well, and as the sun sets it turns the trees electric. We’ve had some windy days (and nights) which make for wonderful cloud formations but by next week some of those fiery trees will be bare, and then all I have to look forward to is painting snow.


Yesterday’s boats

The other day when I was out painting the colours of the autumn trees along Lac St. Louis, I went down to the edge of the water to take some photos of the dramatic late day lighting on the boats. When I turned around I saw four men at easels, painting the same scene in oil. Of course I had to go over to see what they were doing, especially since I know most of the local artists.

As I approached, I realized both that I didn’t know them, and that they were serious painters, dressed for the blustery weather with heavy hooded parkas, fingerless gloves and boots. I tried asking a few questions but they seemed more intent on capturing the scene in the quickly fading light than on talking. I probably would have been too. There was also a language barrier since they were from Taiwan and didn’t speak much English.

It seemed amazing to me that there were painters from the other side of the world, painting in my local spot near the lake. I’d love to know who they were. If you know anything about them, please share it with me. I could see from their canvases that they were not beginners, and I would love to see what the finished paintings look like. I didn’t brave the cold and wind like they did. My rendition of those boats on a blustery day was done in studio. Painted on Two Rivers Papers, Rough, 140 lb. 16″ x 20″, watercolour and white gouache.



The late afternoon light was really special today — sharp and bright and clear — and perfect for painting the yellow trees and purple sky near the lake. The weather at this time of year always brings to mind those first weeks when I returned to sketching after a long break and soon after started this blog  — seven years ago this week! I had to mark the occasion with a quick watercolour, painted from my car. If you’ve been following along on this amazing journey, thanks for writing and commenting and sending me kind words. It still brings me joy to paint and write about whatever the day brings my way.


Trash day

As much as I appreciate discovering the unique possibilities of ink, October is the most vivid month in Montreal, so letting it go by without sketching some of autumn’s warm colours would be a mistake. On my way to school today I made a quick detour through Pointe Claire to sketch a little strip of Lakeshore Road, on my 8″ square Fluid CP block. Luckily I was there early enough to avoid having my view blocked by the city trash truck.



Inktober Day 6: Apache Sunset

I was in the Boston area over the long weekend visiting family. As we approached their town, I spotted a field of sunflowers at Spring Dell farm and had to return the next day to sketch it. It was the perfect time to try out my new bottle of Noodler’s Apache Sunset ink.

I first discovered the power of this unusual orange ink when I gave a workshop in Fredericksburg, Virginia last May and saw some sketches done by Carol Phifer, one of the artists at the LibertyTown Arts Workshop. At first I thought she had used both a yellow and an orange ink, but the unique thing about this colour is that it’s a deep orange/red at full strength and turns yellow when you dilute it. For the sunflower drawing, I drew first with a brush pen while standing in the field, and then added colour back in the car where I could safely balance the full bottle of ink in my cup holder.


Inktober Day 4

Alice could probably fit into many of the prompts for Inktober, but not today’s which is “Spell”. I drew her anyway, and she will certainly reappear when I get to October 6 which is “drooling” and October 26 which is “stretch”.

Today I used India Ink on watercolour paper — more specifically a little pad of The Langton from Daler Rowney which I purchased a few years ago in Manchester. It’s great paper for watercolour sketches and nice to use with ink as well. I drew with the brush today, no pencil, just straight into the India Ink. Of course this means that there are no corrections possible to the drawing, so when I messed up her hindquarters by making them too small, there was no turning back. Them’s the breaks with ink.