Last sketch of the decade

It’s almost New Year’s Eve here, so I can safely say this is my last sketch of the year, and also of the decade!

2019 was a good year for sketching, and I think there will be even more of it in 2020. Do you have sketching resolutions for 2020? Things you’d like to get better at? I don’t usually make resolutions, but I am going to keep working at adding people in my sketches, and trying to get them to be less flat. What are your resolutions and goals for your sketches and paintings? I’d love to hear.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2020, good health, happiness and plenty of time to sketch!

Back to the beach

I turn my beach chair around today. Instead of facing the water and the people, I decide to draw the palms and a small nondescript condo building. On a cloudy day, the building wouldn’t have been much fun to draw, but shadows add so much to a scene. Naples Yellow and Cobalt Violet Light combine to create the colour of the building in sun, but for the shadow on that same surface, I add some Cobalt
Blue and Quin Rose to the mix to get a warm glowing colour under the eaves. And just as I am finishing my sketch a murder of crows crosses the sky and I add them in.

The Oil House

The other day I tried to get to the shrimp boat dock to paint, but now that the holiday crowds are here, getting around by car is difficult. I wasted an hour in traffic and a $6 bridge toll trying to get there, only to turn around in frustration and make a pledge to myself to sketch only at places I could ride my bike to for my remaining days here.

The lighthouse at the end of Sanibel Island is a beautiful spot with lots of shade. I’ve sketched the lighthouse before but today I painted a view of The Oil House. When the lighthouse was first lit in 1884, it was kerosene that fueled it. This little white building, restored in 1976, sits next to the keeper’s house.

Backlit beach people

The beach is crowded with families on holiday, so it’s a perfect day to sketch from my chair under an umbrella. Since I’m facing into the sun, most of the figures are backlit silhouettes. I draw in pencil and add colour masses, keeping it to mostly warm or cool tones. It’s hard to see colour when objects (or people) are backlit. Most of the beaches on Sanibel are dog friendly, so there are even dogs to draw. Instead of a photo, a video seemed to capture the scene a little better.

Sea urchins and crab carcasses

The beach at Sanibel is known for its shells. In the past few weeks I’ve seen people wading in the shallow water, holding net bags and digging around in the sand with wire strainers. They must be pulling up some prize shells because many of them spend hours in the water, emerging only to reapply sunscreen or take a swig of beer.

I’ve drawn some of those pretty shells in the past, but on this visit I’ve been spending more time observing the dead creatures on the beach, probably because half of them end up in Alice’s mouth on our walks, and must be extracted before she swallows them. Of course we know why she’s attracted to these tangled piles of detritus — no doubt they smell so rotten and so good.

Today, I brought my sketchbook down to the beach with the intent of drawing some of them. This year there’s an abundance of sea urchins, as well as crab parts of all shapes and sizes. There’s something very satisfying about observing the minute details of these carcasses. Each one shares its beauty (and sometimes a strong smell too) as I hold it in one hand and draw it with the other.

Happy, happy holidays

During the holiday season the beach here fills up with families, and I could draw there all day. It’s great to practice people drawing skills because configurations of chairs and bodies are constantly changing, so you end up relying on memory to fill in a lot of the blanks for colour, shadow and body parts. It’s a great exercise.

I hope that wherever you are during this holiday season, you are having a wonderful time with family and friends. Thanks so much for following along on the blog this year, and sending comments and notes. It’s still a great joy for me to draw, post, and write about my daily sketches. Hope to sketch with you somewhere fun in 2020!

Loading dock

Behind the scenes at the shrimp docks, there’s just as much to paint as on the water — trucks, dumpsters, coils of rope, and lots of machinery I can’t name. I look for shapes and colours first when selecting a scene, so you can probably understand why this yellow building with turquoise trim caught my eye.

It took two tries to be satisfied with my painting today. Some days that’s just the way it goes. There are times when I restart on site, but today I came home and did another one outside on the deck, with my first painting as a reference. The main problem with my first try was the foreground shadows were too dark. And since the foreground of this is a full 50% of the sheet, I had to use a lighter touch.

If you’re ever in this area, here’s something you might want to do. Walk to the back of the loading dock at Erickson & Jenson, look for the arrows and a sign that says “Buy Shrimp Here”, find the lady with a red t-shirt, and buy yourself a big bag of chemical-free shrimp to take home. Boiled or grilled or sautéed, it’s pretty amazing stuff.


On the weekend it’s quiet on the shrimp docks, so I was able to set up my easel with a great view of the boats, which are, as it turns out, docked in greater numbers than usual as their crews take a break for the holiday season. Lucky me.

I really wanted to paint the nets today, and fortunately I had some rough Arches paper on hand. Dragging a dryish brush over the paper allowed me to get some of the texture and transparency of the nets without painting all the crisscrossing of the mesh. And even though it there wasn’t much movement on the docks, there were two guys who stopped for a few moments to have a conversation as I was drawing. I’m happy I was able to quickly add them in because it really helps to get a sense of scale in the scene.

Puzzle pieces on the beach

It was pretty windy on the beach today but I wanted to do some people sketching. I had to work fast because the wind made it impossible to sit for too long or to put up an umbrella, and that meant that my models wouldn’t be sticking around for long either. But challenges like that are good, aren’t they? State the essentials and if you have time for more, it’s a bonus.

So how do you figure out scale in a scene this? That was the first thought that popped into my head. I wanted to capture the two couples sitting on the beach, and hoped to convey that one was close and one was far. The drawing aid I used to help me figure this out was the horizon line.

Here was my thinking. Couple on the left: both heads are under the horizon line. Couple on the right: the top of his chair and head are over the horizon line but her chair and head are under it. As for the guy in the mauve shirt — he walked by and his head was touching the horizon line. Once I had those elements in place, it was easy to fit in the remaining puzzle pieces of arms, legs and chairs.


It’s unusually cold in Florida but this is not a complaint. I’ve been hearing about the bitter temperatures in Montreal, and I’m grateful to be able to stand outside even with several layers on.

Today I painted a few of the shrimp boats that I could see from the dock. For these grey days I’ve been using lots of opaque paint to make my soft greys: Lavender, Naples Yellow and Cerulean Blue combine in the nicest ways on days when the cloud cover is low and there is not much contrast in the scene.

I’m learning a lot about the life of a shrimper, too. Many of them come over to chat while I paint, which can be distracting, but also fascinating. Today I talked with a guy who described in detail how he beheads the shrimp — five at a time in each hand — and then showed me the scars on his fingers to prove it. These guys who work the boats are paid by the pound, so the faster you knock the heads off, the more money you make. But being successful on the boat takes more than beheading skills. You need to be a good cook as well as have sewing skills to repair the nets. If you’re interested in learning more about the shrimp industry in this part of Florida, have a look at a PBS documentary titled “Pink Gold Rush”.