Montreal workshop photos

Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to so many exotic places to teach, I’ve always been reluctant to give workshops in my own city. When people ask why, my answer is always that the weather in Montreal, even in summer, can be unpredictable and I don’t want to be caught out on the street with fifteen students and no place to take shelter. That’s one of the drawbacks of teaching on-location sketching. It’s fine if you are sketching on your own — you can always duck into a café and finish your sketch in there. But if people have committed a workshop for a whole day or two, a sudden downpour can ruin the experience for everyone.

This year I decided to take the leap (and keep my fingers crossed for good weather) by giving a couple of two-day workshops. I’m an optimist, after all. One of the groups met me last week for one day in Carré St. Louis and another one in Vieux Montréal. We were lucky. The rain held off on both days, although in the evenings there were huge downpours.

We crammed a lot in during the two days. We worked on values, colour, composition, limited palettes and vignettes. Basically the same stuff I teach in a longer session, but crammed into two days. My demo on the first afternoon was of the kiosk in Carré St. Louis. One of my favourite spots in the city.

Montreal is so beautiful in the summer, and it was a real pleasure to take advantage of the city’s historic locations.

We painted in Vieux Montréal as well, facing City Hall (which is now being renovated). I thought that would be a great backdrop for a group photo of this talented bunch.

Although no one ventured in there, we were right next to the historic garden in back of Chateau Ramezay. There’s a shaded bench in the corner of that garden that’s one of my favourite spots for sketching.

And although we didn’t sketch it, I had to take a photo of the fountain in Carré St. Louis, because on a sunny day, it’s a stunning sight.

Alice in the afternoon

Alice takes a nap in my office in the afternoon. She’s always partially under my drafting table which creates great shadow patterns across her body. And like all good models she switches sleeping positions often, so I do several drawings with a new (and wonderful) drawing tool: a Caran d’Ache Grafcube RGB. This was in the goody bag from the Chicago Sketch Seminar a few weeks back. It’s like a graphite stick but better — water-soluble, rich and dark, and instead of being pale grey it’s got a blueish tone to it like a tube of Payne’s Grey watercolour. Just gorgeous to work with as it releases pigment easily, and lets you draw right into wet areas. Sketched on a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook.

Rockport harbour

It was an unusual Rockport trip in more ways than bad weather. This time I did hardly any sketching because I took a three-day oil painting workshop. I’ll save that for another post…

I did manage to get in one sketch of the famous Rockport harbour. Now that I look at the sketch, it seems that I tried to cram everything into one sketch, knowing that I wouldn’t be doing many more. So I put in Motif No. 1, winches, lobster traps, rowboats, fishing boats and buoys. The only thing missing is a fish jumping out of the water and a diving osprey.

New: Urban Sketching Workshop on Madeline Island

I’m so excited to announce a new five-day workshop for July 2020. I’ll be teaching alongside Paul Heaston, Uma Kelkar and James Richards at the beautiful island campus of Madeline Island School of the Arts in La Pointe, Wisconsin, right on Lake Superior. During this week, you’ll get to spend a full day with each instructor and on the fifth day we’ll all be sketching together and sharing our work in a final display at the campus gallery.

If you don’t know the school, have a look at their website. There’s no shortage of sketching locations on the island, and this will be a unique opportunity to really experience a fully immersive sketching week in a beautiful setting. With accommodations right on site, along with group dinners, it seems to me a lot like summer camp for sketchers!

Dates are July 13-17, 2020. Here’s the link for details and registration.

Rockport grey

I’ve been coming to Rockport for several years, but this is the first time the weather’s been mostly cloudy and rainy. That gives me the opportunity to use limited colour and practice my grey mixes.

There’s a view across the channel that I love because instead of looking out at boats on open water, there’s a backdrop of rocks and houses and trees. When I got out there early yesterday, on a windless morning, the reflections were amazing. But as with all rapidly changing views like this, it’s best to record them in pencil before they change. Soon the wind picked up, other boats entered the channel, and the reflections were gone. Having the pencil lines in there helps, as does having a good visual memory.

I painted a second watercolour in the afternoon, of the lunch crowd at Roy Moore Lobster Co. Luckily this scene is right outside my door, because as soon as I had penciled in the shapes, the rain started to fall and I had to move my easel indoors to paint them.

Lobster lunch

This is always the first view I sketch in Rockport — the one right from my door. To the right of this scene is Roy Moore Lobster Co, and today, on a sunny Saturday in June, the picnic tables on the back deck are packed. Standing room only for lobster rolls and clam chowder. This family was smart. Instead of waiting for a table they took their lunch out to the wharf and found a spot to eat. I would have done the same thing.

New workshop announcement: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

It’s a real treat for me to be announcing a new workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in January 2020. San Miguel is a stunning colonial-era city in central Mexico, and it’s going to be so much fun to capture the architecture and street life of this colourful Unesco World Heritage site in our sketchbooks.

I’m super excited to be working with Meagan Burns, our organizer from Art Leap Adventures, because she’s been living in San Miguel since 2015, and she’s a sketcher, so she knows all the best spots for us to see and draw. We’ll be sketching in markets, gardens and art studios, not to mention through the city’s historic cobblestoned streets. 

I won’t go on too long about it since all the details are on her site.
If you’re interested, here’s the link:

Registration is open now and there are only 12 spots available. 

Too beautiful

There have been a lot of celebrations around here lately — birthdays, graduations and retirements. So many parties that there’s little time left to paint. In the middle of it all sits a massive bouquet, so lush and bursting with scent and colour that it has stumped me all week. It’s really too beautiful to paint. What could I do with brush and pigment that could possibly match its richness? But I couldn’t let it fade without attempting it at least once, on a small page in my sketchbook.

Boats with direct watercolour

I haven’t had much time for plein air painting these days so I’m feeling a bit rusty. Today’s outing resulted in two paintings, one that ended up in the recycling bin and this one.

The first try was too literal. I spent time on the drawing but the painting lost its freshness. This often happens when I haven’t painted in a while. I used too many colours, got detailed way too early and lost my way multiple times.

For the second attempt, I stowed away my pencil and aimed to capture the same scene in a more concise and simplified way using direct watercolour. I haven’t had a chance to participate in the #30x30DirectWatercolour2019 challenge that’s going on right now, but I’ve been avidly following the work of organizers Suhita, Uma and Marc on various social media platforms.

So what does direct watercolour mean? It means no preliminary drawing, no pen or pencil, just pick up a brush and go. In some cases people use the brush to draw, but I just painted shapes with a big flat brush.

A sailing lesson was about to start so mixed up some blue paint and started by painting the sky shape around the while sail. I brought that big blue sky right down to the tops of the boats, and then I painted another big blue shape for the water below the boats. After that it was a matter of adding in all the details of the boats and their reflections, and then the vertical masts. I was aiming to capture the essence of a marina on a bright day.

Because I was painting the scene a second time, I was already familiar with the shapes and could take some liberties with them. Of course a pencil drawing might have resulted in a more interesting design. The sailboat that I painted so boldly sailed away just minutes after I painted it, and no doubt the whole design of this might have been more interesting if the white of the sail was reflected in the water, but hey, that’s direct painting.

Morning in the garden

I’ve been thinking a lot about Charles Reid this week. The renowned watercolour painter and teacher died last Saturday, and although I was never fortunate enough to study with him, my library has a whole shelf of his books. I look at them often, and sometimes reading just one page of any of them will fill my head with enough painting ideas for a week.

One of my most dog-eared of his books is Painting What You Want to See. Here’s a little quote from the intro, “At the core of this book is the idea that we’re not painting “things” in terms of objects, rather we’re painting things as patches of color and value”. That simple yet very important concept was top of mind as I sketched in my garden this morning.