Looking up

From my parking spot near the REM project this morning I had a view of cars. After all, I was in a parking lot, sitting in a car. But what makes sketching this sketching project so much fun is that the action is all at the top of the page. How often does that happen? Usually when I sketch from my car, most of my subject is at the bottom half of the page, and the rest is sky. But I love this site for the variety of compositional choices I have.

I’ve been trying to include figures in each sketch, mostly for scale. At any given moment, when I look up, there are orange-suited workers on almost every piece of equipment, no matter how high or whether the machinery is moving or still. In fact the very last brushstrokes I made today were to add in the tiny figure at the top of column, tucked in under the end of the concrete segment. Can you see him? He looks like he might be about to take a Tarzan-like swing into the Canadian Tire sign.


I went in search of Marie this morning but couldn’t find her and instead ended up sketching what I think might be the start of the platform for the Blvd. des Sources REM station.

Marie is the sister launching gantry to Anne, and she’s also named after a station where the elevated line will end — Avenue Marie-Curie. I’ve seen Marie from the highway, but she seems to be hidden behind some industrial buildings. I drove in a big circle to try to find her, without any luck. But there’s evidence of the REM construction everywhere in the West Island, and after my futile search I ended up on Blvd. Sources where I found this scene. The blue crane, orange tarps and yellow cement truck stopped me in my tracks (no pun intended), and that was my scene.

REM at dusk

I look at this REM challenge not only as a way to document a significant construction project in Montreal, but also as a way to strengthen my urban sketching skills. Yesterday I went to the site at 3:30 pm, which is just before the late November sun sets in this part of the world. I had to draw quickly at that hour, and paint fast too. The light was bright and clear, the shadows were sharp, but I knew it wouldn’t last.

In my cold car, drying time is slow, and I didn’t want to wait precious minutes turning on the car heater, so a lot of this was done wet-in-wet, especially when I painted Anne (the yellow gantry) as well as the long elevated rail line. I debated about leaving out the Canadian Tire sign, but having it there helped me place the shapes around it. Note to self: even when time is of the essence, spend a little more time drawing the signage and making sure it’s centred on the panel.

Column and pier cap

After I posted this morning’s sketch of the ongoing REM construction on Facebook and Instagram, my friend Suhita said “You’re having a blast with this.” She’s right. I am enjoying returning to the REM site every day, to sketch the construction of the light rail line.

Of course, it is important for me to document the process. But as someone who has been sketching in my neighbourhood for the past eight years, it’s exciting to have something new to draw. Plus it’s really easy to get to the site, and it changes daily. In fact, it changes hourly. When I started my sketch this morning, the v-shaped prefabricated segment was on the ground. By the time I finished my sketch, it was in place above the column and there were two more segments in place next to it. That’s how fast it’s moving.

On a damp, grey November morning, it also provides me with a lot of colour possibilities than I might otherwise not find in the late autumn landscape. And a lot of compositional challenges too. So yes, Suhita, for all those reasons, I am having a blast with this.

The REM line today

I am having so much fun drawing the construction of the REM line. Today I sat in my car in the Canadian Tire parking lot to get a really close up view. Things move like lightning at the site. Every time I glance up from my drawing, several things have shifted and I either have to wait for them to move back to where they were, or change my drawing. Making changes is a little harder when I’m painting, but it’s also what makes this so exciting as a subject. It’s always in flux.

It did occur to me that if I waited until lunch time, there would be a break in the action. But that would also mean that all the construction workers would disappear and then the scene wouldn’t be half as lively. And I would really miss adding all the details, including the orange vests and hardhats.

Impatient Alice

It was a mistake to try to con Alice into modelling for me just before dinner. I could tell from her half-opened eyes that she was not interested in a nap. Keep in mind that she considers “just before dinner” to be anytime between 4 pm and 6 pm when she finally gets food in front of her. She kept her position long enough for me to do a quick drawing in gouache, but as soon as there was the slightest sound from the kitchen, she trotted off. Luckily I had snapped a quick photo, so I was able to add colour from that.

Oaxaca people sketches

I’ve just finished scanning the rest of my Oaxaca sketches, and I saved my favourites for last. These are the ones I made the most effort on because they involve sketching people. I’ve said this many times as I write my blog, but this has always been the biggest challenge for me.

It’s not just because drawing people in motion is difficult, but it’s also because you have to be a little bit fearless when you are drawing someone who sees what you are doing. This can be complicated further when you can’t really start a conversation because you don’t share a common language. Take this sketch of the lady cooking tacos in the market as an example. She and the other cooks behind the counter could see me drawing, but every time I tried to draw their faces they would turn their backs. They were so shy, and yet I sensed they were flattered too. They wanted to see my drawing, but they weren’t sure they wanted to be in it. In this case, smiling and showing them the completed drawing was the best icebreaker.

The lady selling candy on the street was easier. First of all, she snoozed the whole time I was drawing. Plus she was a bit further away, so I doubt she saw what I was doing.

The hat seller was easy too. He was hiding in the shade behind his hats. At some point he got up to get coffee, and I drew the hats. When he came back I put him in.

The couple across the square were deep in a lunchtime conversation when I drew them. It was interesting to watch their body language and I loved trying to imagine what the conversation was about. He had his arm around her, and she was hanging on to that yellow bag the whole time.

I’ve already posted these last few, I know, but thought I’d add them in at the end because they remind me so much of the excitement I felt when I caught my first glimpse of Oaxaca. All the colour and movement of Day of the Dead, as well as the warmth of the Mexican people.

At the top of my list of fun experiences was sketching the brass band on our first day. Juggling my drawing tools was not easy in the middle of a crowd — I used a brush pen and water-soluble coloured pencils for this one — but it was such a thrill to capture them all with their spiky hair, skinny red jeans and shiny black shoes. When the show was over, someone who’d been looking over my shoulder motioned to them to have a look at what I’d been doing, and there were several rounds of selfies with me and my sketch. No need for a common language here. Music + art = happiness.