Mine and theirs

I like my new neighbours and I haven’t even met them yet. I can see that we share an affinity for lazy wheelbarrows. Wheelbarrows that lean upright in the garden, half buried in snow. It remains to be seen if their wheelbarrow will get more use than mine, come spring. I somehow feel that it will, since they are new to the neighbourhood and will likely want to impress the rest of us by digging and planting and hauling rocks.

Rude behaviour

I am a bad guest. We were visiting friends in the Eastern Townships on the weekend, and during lunch I could see this scene out window. Cool blue shadows, crisp white snow, side-lit pine trunks against a backdrop of even darker pines. A value sketch formed in my head as I ate. And then, instead of sitting politely while everyone chatted and finished their meal, I set up my paints on the kitchen counter and painted the scene. Rude behaviour indeed. Painted on a pad of Arches Rough 140 lb, 10″ x 14″.


It’s been an intense week of grading student projects — for hours and hours and hours on end. It’s the type of work that fries my brain, and all I can think about when I am doing it is that my reward will be an hour in my studio when I’m done. Nothing too ambitious for my tired eyes, just a bit of time enjoying the feel of a sharpened pencil as it travels over the hills and valleys of some soft white Fabriano, followed by the pleasure of dipping into pure colour and watching what it does on the paper.

A little surprise in the mail

Look what arrived in the mail today! It’s the first copy of my book “The Urban Sketching Handbook: Working with Color“. I was so thrilled to see it in print that I had to get my husband to flip through it for me while I did this video. It’s scheduled to be in the hands of retailers at the end of March, and that’s when pre-orders should arrive too. I am grateful to the many contributors who generously sent me their sketches to be included here.

It’s a relief after all the work to see that the colour reproduction is good (especially for a book about colour) and that everything is where it should be.

Snow day

Who doesn’t love a snow day? Especially when you’ve set a 6 a.m. wakeup call for an early class but find out that you can roll over and stay in bed a little longer because all the school are closed.

I’ve got plenty of school work to do, but instead started the day with a few sketches using Artgraf watersoluble graphite, the one in the shape of a tailor’s chalk. It was perfect for sketching the monochrome landscape outside my front window.

Alice came outside with us while we shovelled our way out of 40 centimetres of snow, but then she was pretty tired and took a nap while I sketched.

After looking out the front window, I sketched a view of the backyard too. The solid graphite is wonderful for painting values. Since I was going directly to watercolour with no pencil or pen drawing first, I was able to lightly paint the shapes in pale grey and then gradually build up to deep black, with lots of layers of mid-tone greys in between.

Corner of William and Ottawa

In my studio I have a big collection of books on watercolour — some new and some quite old. When I go into a used bookstore I head straight to the section on art instruction, and I often discover out-of-print treasures. There’s always something to be learned from reading about how other watercolour painters work. In particular I like reading about their colour palettes. I guess we all do. As if finding out what pigments people use will unlock the key to creating better paintings.

This week I’m reading Michael Reardon’sWatercolor Techniques: Painting Light and Color in Landscapes and Cityscapes”. A few years ago I saw his award-winning painting “The Domes of San Marco” at the AWS show in New York and I’ve been following his work ever since.

The book is excellent. Full of step-by-step paintings, concisely written explanations, and detailed examples to illustrate his process. Well worth the read. He uses some pigments that I have but don’t use too often, like Cadmium Orange and Carmine, and others that I’ve never tried, like Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet and Burnt Orange. When you are used to reaching for the same colours again and again, it’s fun to be surprised by some new combos, so I gave them a try when I painted this Griffintown scene. I particularly loved the purples that I mixed from Cobalt Blue and Burnt Scarlet, which is a rich red-brown colour. Great for wet Montreal streets in winter.

Red bouquet in gouache

After painting these red blooms in watercolour and with digital tools in Procreate on the iPad, I gave it a try today in gouache, on some Fabriano hot press paper. It was really hard to get the bright colours — especially the magentas — because gouache is so flat. But painting the three versions was a great exercise in looking, in mixing colours, in thinking about values, and in working from light to dark and then dark to light. Glad to have these grey days in Montreal which leave me no choice but to paint indoors.

Unfinished bouquet

I guess it was worth it to have spent a little more on the red bouquet because it’s been hanging around for weeks and still looks good. I love to draw flowers in different states of decay, using different materials. In this case, first was watercolour, second was in Procreate, and hopefully the third one will be in gouache, if I can get to it before it’s completely gone.

Watercolour refresher

When I need a little refresher about painting I always open my favourite art book — Hawthorne on Painting — and read a few Charles Hawthorne quotes. Today it was this nugget, which was perfect for my forest scene:
“These should not be houses to you and not trees — to the painter they are a pattern, an arabesque. See things as spots against the sky, watch for sensitive silhouettes.”

Besides perusing the Hawthorne book, these are the things I think about when I need a refresher about how I want to paint:
• Start with a value sketch
• Use a big brush, bigger than I think I need
• Stick to a limited palette
• Think about every stroke, every mark on the paper
• Lose control
• Mix up more wash than I think I need
• If the brush seems wet enough, add more wash to it

Grey Monday

If you live in Montreal you probably woke up this morning to the sound of car windshields being scraped. Freezing drizzle, not to be confused with freezing rain, has been falling all day. Walking is treacherous but the white stuff that settles on the trees is quite unique. Neither snow nor ice, it is more of lacy coating that covers trunks and branches, and is actually quite beautiful if you don’t have to spend time scraping it off your car. From my window at school I had a view of the cemetery nearby, and it seemed like the perfect weather to draw in greyscale. Sketched on my iPad during a short break between classes today.