Still water

I’m catching up on scanning some stuff from my trip out west last week. This one is a demo from the last morning of a three-day workshop at the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens in Gimlet, Idaho. The high-desert garden is quite unique and beautiful, with a stream that runs around the perimeter of the site. There are small waterfalls and tranquil pools, like this one, each one shaded and perfect for sketching.

Although reflections are challenging, this demo was about simplifying the shapes in the water. I always imagine that if you can express both vertical and horizontal directions in the water, then you may be able to convey the illusion of reflections. For me, most things reflected in still water are vertical shapes, like grasses, trees, etc., and to that you add horizontal shapes on the surface of the water (lily pads, algae or ripples). If you can express those two directions with an economy of brushstrokes, perhaps they will successfully create that illusion. Not sure how other painters deal with this, but that’s my way of looking at it.

Hailey to Boise car sketching

I did a little car sketching on the road from Hailey to Boise, Idaho. The vistas are wide and the road is flat, which makes it easy to see a single panorama for long enough to paint it.

When I’m sketching in the car, I use the easiest kit I have. This time my Sennelier 8 colour palette was perfect. I love their Cinereous Blue for skies, and the lack of mixing surface on the cover forces me to mix colours right on my paper. Although I’m not a huge fan of water brushes, when I’m travelling light they get the job done.

High and dry

When I was invited to give a workshop in Sun Valley, Idaho, I gladly accepted, knowing that the high desert landscape was beautiful. I looked at plenty of photos online, but like all mountainous regions, you never really get a sense of it until you get there.

What I found most striking was the rounded, yellow hills on either side of the Wood River Valley that runs through Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. The colour of the hills changes every time you look at them. In the morning they are dark and greenish. At high noon, they are the colour of bleached wheat. At dusk the sunlit parts are bright yellow and the shadow areas are deep blue. It’s quite magical.

One evening we drove to Silver Creek Reserve. If you don’t know it, imagine Ernest Hemingway standing knee deep in a trout stream with a fly fishing rod in his hand. That’s the place.

I did a couple of quick sketches from the visitor’s centre, standing in the blowing wind, looking out over the valley towards those yellow hills. It was a real challenge to figure out what colours to use to paint them, since the colours were changing quickly in the late afternoon light. You can see ochres, siennas, reds, blues and greens, but how to combine them all to convey those luminous lights and shadows is still a mystery to me. Good thing I’ll be back next year to try again.

Oyster beds and mudflats

If you’re heading south on Chuckanut Drive and you spot a sign that says Taylor Shellfish Company Next Right, follow it. I promise you won’t be disappointed. After a steep drive down a narrow road, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view across mudflats and oyster beds towards Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. The colour of the mud is rich in greens and browns and blues, the sky is huge, and the rocks are glossy black in the hazy sun. A sketcher’s paradise.

Pacific Northwest blues

Next week I’ll be teaching a workshop in Anacortes, Washington. In preparation for my trip, I spent a few hours painting a scene from a reference photo I took the last time I was there. There’s something about the colours of the Pacific Northwest that speak to me. Perhaps it’s the tall backdrop of dark green mountains or the indigo of the sky and water. There’s a drama in the landscape that just takes my breath away, and I’m giddy with anticipation about painting it again. Painted wet-in-wet on Arches paper, using lots of Indigo paint.

Alice before dinner

Alice has two beds. One for her body and sometimes one for her head. Sketched on my iPad using an Apple Pencil and Procreate.

The Fur Trade Museum with USk Montreal

I put my Sennelier Sap Green into practice today when I joined Urban Sketchers Montreal on the Lachine Canal today. It was a near perfect summer day for sketching, and since the stone house (which is now The Fur Trade Museum) is surrounded by trees, I added the green paint to my regular palette to test drive it in the field. It made beautiful light greens with the addition of yellow, and rich dark ones when I added blue, so I may have to get a tube of this when I finish the half pan.

As for the USk Montreal group, it’s great to see how active it is. Marc Holmes and I planned our first outing almost seven years ago with seven people in attendance, including us, and it’s really gratifying to see it going strong. There are regularly 30 or 40 people every month, and more new sketchers every time. The group is planning an exhibit titled “The Lachine Canal and its Neighbourhoods” in October. If you are interested in participating or coming to see the show, here’s more info.


I’m nearing the end of experimenting with my little palette of Sennelier pan watercolours. Today’s quick sketch used mostly Sap Green, which is a colour I had removed from my palette recently. I had been using the Winsor & Newton version, which I found a little too bright and quite flat, but I have to admit that I connected more with this Sennelier version. It veers a little more towards olive, and is quite beautiful when mixed with the French Ultramarine Blue that’s also included in the set. As for the violet, that’s mostly pure Cobalt Violet Light (Shinhan PWC), straight from the tube.

Amsterdam in monochrome

There were an exceptional amount of art supplies donated from generous sponsors in our Urban Sketchers goodie bags this year that I had to buy an extra carry-on pack to get them all home. The products are too numerous to name in one post. What I prefer to do is try each one individually when I return home, and then write about them. But I couldn’t resist cracking open a small watercolour kit from Sennelier while I was still there. It was a good opportunity to try some of the colours individually, as well as use a new travel rigger I picked up from Rosemary Brushes.

The Sennelier colours are vivid and very creamy. I was warned that because they contain honey, they do attract bees when you use them outdoors, and I have had that problem in the past with M. Graham paints, but sitting by the canal in Edam sketching the houses across the way, there were no bees in sight. I used French Vermilion for my first sketch.

Also in Edam, before catching the bus back to Amsterdam, I tried out the French Ultramarine Blue, again using the rigger brush, both for drawing and then for painting.

Back in Amsterdam I sketched the parked bikes using Burnt Umber. This is the colour I love best so far, evidenced by the pan which is now almost empty.

One evening a few of us ended up at the symposium Drink and Draw location, and I sketched this canal scene in Payne’s Grey, which is definitely less blue than I’m used to, but beautiful nonetheless.

On the last morning, before going to the airport, I sketched with Suhita and Liz. We found shelter from the rain on a café terrace and enjoyed a great hour of sketching and chatting.

I guess what I love about working in monochrome is that you really get to know your colours. And what I enjoyed most about these Sennelier paints is how they disperse in water, leaving behind beautiful and unexpected backruns, and also how my brush lines remained partially intact and partially dissolved as I painted over them with subsequent washes.

There are still a few colours left to try. In the set there’s also a Primary Yellow, Cinereous Blue, Phthalo Green Light and Sap Green. I doubt I’ll try the yellow as a monochrome sketch but there were lots of greens in this week’s vegetable sketch.

What’s in the basket?

Every summer I participate in a CSA basket program from a local farmer. This week the basket was so plentiful I had to sketch it. Doesn’t seem like that much on the sketchbook page, but there were so many tomatoes, cucumbers and squash that I couldn’t draw them all.

This was a quick sketch because I was hungry and wanted to turn some of this into a salad. I worked directly in watercolour (no pen or pencil) with a small Sennelier set I have been experimenting with lately. It’s a tiny box of eight pans that showed up in my goodie bag at the Urban Sketchers symposium in Amsterdam.

I’ve never really used Sennelier paints but I am really loving these vivid pigments. From a quick read on their website, I can see that they contain honey, which makes the half-pans very creamy. Tomorrow I’ll post some of the other direct watercolours that I painted with these pigments.