Quick Amsterdam sketches

In a few days I’ll be writing a longer post about the Urban Sketchers Symposium that ended last night. As it has been every year since I’ve been an instructor, it was an exhausting and chaotic three days, with so much collective creativity surrounding me that it will take days to process. In the meantime, while I collect my thoughts (which will probably end up being written down on my plane ride home) here are a few sketches from the past few days: one from an early morning walk on the way to our symposium venue and two from the quay at my workshop location.

Amsterdam sketching

The best thing about the days in Amsterdam is that they are long! In fact you lose your sense of time here because the sun sets so late in the day. That means lots of time to draw. I’ve been sketching with friends for the past few days, and preparing for my workshops and demos for the Urban Sketchers Symposium, which begins this evening.

On my first day here it rained so we sketched from the steps of the Maritime Museum.

With this crowd, sketchbooks come out during meals, so this one of the canal houses was done during dinner.

The flower market is a pretty crowded spot but we set up our stools against the wall and found a view of the stalls. It’s not tulip season, of course, but there’s still plenty of colour to be found.

My workshop location is in Amsterdam’s historic harbour, so I started by doing some small brush pen sketches in a little sketchbook.

More workshop prep, this time in full colour…

My workshop is titled “Barges, Schooners and Trawlers: Sketching Amsterdam’s Historic Harbour”. It’s about drawing and painting all the details on the boats and also capturing their reflections. I loved all the rusty details in this scene!

I sketched this last one from Rembrandtplein, looking up the street towards the Muntorren tower.

That’s about all the quiet sketching time I’ll get in before the symposium starts. I’ve heard there will be 500 registered for the event and at least that many more who have come to sketch in the city. And with the temperature going up to 35C this week, it going to be steamy sketching madness. More soon!

Amersfoort workshop photos

This teaching trip in the Netherlands has been so busy, especially since the Urban Sketchers Symposium is about to start, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t post a few photos from my workshop in Amersfoort before moving on to Symposium sketches.

It was an amazing three days in a very beautiful place with a very skilled group of urban sketchers. That makes it such a pleasure to teach. When the level is that high, I can cover so many topics in a short time. And although I don’t have time to write a long post, I selected some photos that illustrate pretty much everything we did, including a lesson in limited colour palettes, a morning of simplifying a complex scene at the flower market, and a line and wash demo at the city gates. Special thanks to my wonderful organizer Tylara for this special invitation to teach in Amersfoort. And to Govert Van Ginkel for being our workshop photographer.

Thumb’s up for Amersfoort

Hello from Amersfoort! I landed in the Netherlands yesterday and after catching up on some sleep I spent the day scouting out workshop locations with my wonderful organizer here.

The weather is perfect for sketching. Not too hot and no rain so far. This morning I had the quintessential European sketching experience: I sat in a café for hours, nursing a cappuccino and sketching a view of the square. Amersfoort is really a sketcher’s paradise (I know, I say that about many places) but it’s a small city with canals, a historic walled area with great old buildings, and it’s not at all crowded. It was hard to choose the best places because there were so many.

My three-day workshop starts tomorrow so I will be posting a few photos from that soon. And a warning about images — I have no scanner on this trip so expect my thumb in many photos.

One thing at a time

I’m packing my bags for workshops in Amersfoort and Amsterdam next week, but before I add in my art supplies, I get out my palette for one last time to paint the berries in the fridge. I’ll admit, I bought too many boxes this week — it’s a good year for strawberries — and these will go bad if I don’t take immediate action. Fortunately I have enough time to paint, pack AND make jam before taking off tomorrow.

Leaves, stems and flowers: tips for garden sketchers

I spent the afternoon sketching in my garden today. All kinds of things are blooming out there in the heat, and instead of painting a full page, I filled a spread with small sketches. Here are a few tips that might help if you are thinking of trying this:

  • Remember to incorporate leaves and stems along with the flowers
  • Look at the shape of each leaf, and how it comes off the stem of the plant. Every plant is different.
  • Mass small flowers into one shape.
  • Let some parts of the sketch escape from each frame.
  • Use different size frames on the page, keeping some horizontal, some vertical and some square.
  • Draw the blooms from different angles like the white daisies, below. Look at the flowers from above as well as below. Look at the unopened buds and add some of those in.
  • Use complementary colours
  • Vary your greens by using different blues in your foliage mixes. In the white hosta flower above, I used Cerulean Blue instead of Ultramarine or Prussian.
  • Use contrast: big and small frames, big and small blooms, light and dark washes.
  • Don’t treat this like a botanical study (unless of course you want to). Just have fun, keep the washes fresh and capture the essence of each flower.

Sailing lesson

In my workshop last week, we spent a long time talking about how to decide what to sketch when you are looking at a complex scene. My suggestion was to begin with the thing that interested you most, and work outward from there.

This morning I spent some time contemplating the scene at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club. I walked along the shore looking at the boats, then I moved further back and took in a wider angle which included the clubhouse, but it was only when the sailing class came out that I knew what I was going to paint. The instructor stood for a long time with his arms akimbo — blue shirt framed by the white sail — waiting for his group of kids to get ready for the lesson. When I saw his pose I knew that would be my starting point. In a fairly monochromatic setting, the touches of colour and movement from the group as well as the white sails set against the dark building formed the start of my drawing.

Yellow Loosestrife

This is a good year in my garden. Things that I planted three years ago are finally starting to mature. The tall spikes of Lysimachia vulgaris (Yellow Loosestrife) stand out in a shady part of the bed, and since it was too hot to go anywhere to paint yesterday, I set my easel up in my backyard and worked from there. Painted on a Winsor & Newton Watercolour pad, 10″ x 14″, with no preliminary pencil drawing.


Sometimes you just know when it’s time to give up your day job and move on to other things. My trusty wheelbarrow is a perfect example. A few weeks ago, the axle broke, rendering it useless as a garden machine. Despite what you naysayers might think, this old friend was often put to good use — to haul bags of mulch and to move logs around in the garden — but now it’s been replaced by a new, more industrial model.

Sadly, the newer model is quite unsightly, at least to me. All shiny metal and bulbous red handles, and of course no rust. But happily for the old wheelbarrow, it’s still my first choice as a model, both in summer and especially in winter.

People on Canada Day

Happy Canada Day! The weather is perfect for plein air painting and since I had an errand to run in the same neighbourhood, I was back in Carré St. Louis today, painting the famous kiosk.

I’ve been trying to incorporate more people in my work, and the hardest thing, I find, is to not overwork them. I try to make them look like they fit into the scene. When I might previously have avoided this, I also included the guy sleeping on the bench. He’s part of the scene, after all, and part of what makes the park interesting. Although the Victorian houses surrounding the park are very beautiful and very expensive, there are a fair number of homeless people who sleep on the benches and on the grass, and on hot days cool off in the fountain too.

My aim when adding people is to draw the shapes to scale, to paint them simply without going over the details again and again, and then to avoid touching them again. When they’re not successful it’s because I went back into them too often with a small brush. When they work, it’s because I haven’t added more paint than in any other part of the painting.