Hey Jude

I don’t usually get to sketch on the first day of vacation but after an early morning flight and all travel plans running smoothly, I actually managed to get a sketch in before the light faded on Sanibel Island. It was a most enjoyable hour spent looking at the quickly changing light on the boats, and as I packed up my sketch stuff, right on schedule, a dolphin jumped through the water just a few feet from where I was sitting. A good start to this week, for sure.

Happy, happy, and all that

Sketched this at the salon when I was getting my hair cut today. Seems like a perfect image to go with my holiday wishes — for whatever you celebrate, wherever you are — hope to sketch with you somewhere beautiful in 2019!

Mixing greens: a preview

When I first learned watercolour painting many moons ago, there was no green paint on my palette. I mixed every green from some combination of blue and yellow. I now use some green pigments when I paint, but I feel a pang of guilt when I use them, as if it’s cheating somehow. Silly stuff, really.

I still love mixing many greens in a single sketch, and it was fun to choose this sketch of Vancouver’s Stanley Park for a spread in my book “The Urban Sketching Handbook: Working with Color”. As I replicated the various greens in the sketch, I realized just how many variations on a theme I had used, and I could probably create even more with what I have on my palette these days.

For me the thought process always starts with a blue. If I want to make a light or a soft green, I often start with Cerulean Blue and add a bit of yellow to that. If I’m painting evergreens or really dark foliage and I want a rich, deep green, I might opt instead for Prussian Blue and mix that with a deep yellow like New Gamboge or Quinacridone Gold. And if I want an olive green I often start with Phthalo Green and add some Burnt Sienna to that. If you’re new to this mixing greens business, don’t go out and buy new paint. Start with what you have on your palette today and use a scrap of paper to see how many greens you can mix from what you have on hand. I bet you also have tons of combinations.

The book is due to come out at the beginning of April and is available for preorder at online retailers.

One way street

Although winter weather started quite early in Montreal, after a few warm days and a bit of rain, the snow has all but disappeared. There are some icy patches here and there but for the most part the city is grey. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the dreariness of it when you are hoping for snow to paint.

In my city scene today, I injected a bit of colour into the greyness by using a limited palette of Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue, with a touch of Burnt Umber in the darkest darks. I think the ochre sky helps to add a warm glow to the watercolour. Painted on Two Rivers Rough Paper, 16″ x 20″.

From the window

Here’s something I’m trying for the first time: A time-lapse video of a digital sketch from my iPad. I hope this works! Again, I’m just getting to know the tools. This is done with just two ink brushes (studio pen and dry ink) and my version of a limited palette in Procreate.

I’m learning which are the best sketching tools for my drawing style, trying to replicate what feels good to draw with and what works quickly for drawing on location. The idea for me is to get to know the tools so well that selecting one of them will be like reaching for one of my favourite pens or pencils in my sketch bag.

Today’s tiny sketches

Ah, the school semester is over, the grading is almost done, and I am itching to get back to regular sketching. We had our last department meeting of the semester today, and I couldn’t hold myself back — I had to start sketching in the middle of it. Luckily we were having a nice lunch at someone’s house instead of meeting at school, so there were plenty of things to draw.

I started by doing a quick one of Cocktail the dachshund, sitting on a colleague’s lap. Dogs should always be at meetings, don’t you think?

Of course we celebrated the end of a long semester with some wine, so I drew that too.

Not sure if the sketches got better or worse after the wine, but I continued by drawing all the things on the shelves in the kitchen.

After the meeting, I took the bus home and drew a few people as they nodded off in their seats in the stop and go traffic. Sure felt good to pick up a sketchbook, even if the drawing is a bit rusty. 

Discovering digital

Recently I purchased a new iPad. Of course I rationalize it by saying that it’s because I need a bigger screen and a keyboard to write with, but the real reason is that I want to draw with Procreate and the new Apple Pencil.

If you’ve never tried Procreate the first thing you’ll notice is how many types of brushes there are. Last time I tried drawing on an iPad I was using the old Brushes app and a fat stylus to draw, so this a completely different experience. The new pencil also has a double-tap feature which makes it really easy to switch from brush to eraser and back again.

In my usual methodical way, I feel I have to get to know each tool individually, so I’ve been trying out the brushes one by one.

My first experiment was to see how close it could look to a drawing on paper, so I used the 6b pencil. This iPad is pressure sensitive so the harder you press the darker your line will be. And you can use the side of the pencil too, which is really cool.

My second experiment, still in monochrome, was using some of the ink brushes to draw Alice. From there I moved on to my version of toned paper by adding a grey background layer and drawing with both black and white pencil and then adding a bit of ink texture.

And finally colour. The painting tools are harder to get to know since my tendency is to want to blend, but I guess I’ll learn eventually. So far what I like best after all this is drawing with a good old fashioned soft pencil, albeit a digital one.

You might be wondering if this will replace traditional painting for me. It won’t. I love watercolour too much. But it’s nice to have the digital option for my daily sketches, for value planning for larger paintings, and of course for travel.