In between goodbye and hello

My first group of students from my San Miguel de Allende workhop is headed home today, and another group is arriving this evening. In the middle of the goodbyes and the hellos, I spent a few quiet hours sketching on my own at locations I had seen during the week but never stopped at.

The Mercado de Artesanias has an interesting entrance because it’s on a downhill slope with little stores on either side. I found a great seat on some stairs where I could see all the colours and activity as the crowds arrived for Sunday shopping.

I’ve also been itching to sketch the view of Parroquia de San Miguel de Arcangel from Calle Aldama — a street we walk on every day to get to our locations. I haven’t been able to do a demo there because there’s nowhere to stand on the narrow sidewalks, but when I’m on my own I can sit on the curb without disturbing too much of the pedestrian traffic. More about the workshop soon, when I can scan my work and post some photos from a fantastic week.

Allende is for the birds

I’m back in Mexico, getting ready for a couple of workshops in San Miguel de Allende. I arrived just in time for the 251st anniversary of the birth of revolutionary leader Ignacio Allende, which was celebrated in grand style with a holiday and a military parade. In honour of the man, I sketched his statue in the Plaza Civica. It was there that learned that he is not only a favourite of the people. He is also well liked by birds.

I also sketched the iconic pink confection of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. In this hilly town you can get a view of the spiky church from both above and below, but the best spot was from a cafe with an outdoor table and a good latte.

Why this?

I am always on the lookout for scenes to paint, especially if they are close to home. The past few days, we’ve had some incredibly cold temperatures in Montreal, and it would have been hard to paint on location, even in my pre-heated car. So I looked for subjects on my walks with Alice, snapped some photos, and came home to paint them from my warm studio.

Through the fence in the park, I saw this woodpile in someone’s backyard. I first took a photo of it on an overcast day, but it was kind of flat and uninteresting. The next day, the sun was coming up and the subtle shadows on the snow gave it depth and interest. I loved the two areas of repetition in the composition — the verticals at the top and the repeating circles of the logs. The little bit of snow in the foreground was a chance for a quieter passage of paint. That is why I picked this.

Catch up

I’m playing catch up today. I had a little flood in my basement office on the weekend. Nothing very serious and no damage, but it scared me because all my paintings and sketches are stored in the basement where I have both my office and my studio. In winter in Montreal, if we have a rainy day when there’s a good layer of frozen snow on the ground, the water has nowhere to go but down the foundation wall of a house and into a basement. And that’s what happened to me. But as I said, no damage — just a big cleanup with lots of towels on the floor.

After that scare, I made a few resolutions. 1. Move my framed paintings off the floor. 2. Scan all the sketches and paintings that are hanging around. So that’s what I have been doing for the past few days. I’d much rather be out painting, but I do feel better knowing that if my sketchbooks ever succumb to water damage, at least I will have the digital images in my archives.

I also did lots of other office stuff that I am always procrastinating about, like backing up my hard drive and trashing old files. It was tedious but I put on some good music to keep me company and did what had to be done.

One of the books I scanned was my recent one from Sanibel. Some of these have been posted before, but the photos were poor and the colours were off, so thought I’d repost with clearer colour. All done in an Etchr sketchbook, A4 size.

A garage with no name

If you know Pointe Claire Village you might recognize this garage on Rue Ste. Anne. It rarely seems to be open but there are always vehicles parked there, and I’ve sketched some of them over the years. The location is of little interest in the summer. It’s mostly dark and looks abandoned, but in the winter it holds all kinds of intrigue when everything has a coating of snow on it. I particularly love the vintage Land Rover with the frame at the top for cargo, and an old yellow Jaguar that’s sometimes parked out front.

Sunday second start

It’s a weekend to stay indoors in Montreal. Even the hardiest of painters can’t paint from the car with freezing rain falling. So I did the next best thing. I bought my traditional grocery store bouquet (meaning the cheapest one I could find) and I set up in my studio.

It always takes two starts to get going when I haven’t painted flowers for a while. The first try is usually painted too dryly, or badly composed, or overworked. Take your pick. Today, for my second start, I gave up on the pencil drawing and drew first with a rigger brush. The painted outline generally helps to loosen up my brush strokes and get me going.

Rainy day brushes

I haven’t worked in Procreate for a long time. When I opened the app this week, I was happily surprised to see some new additions to the brush menu, including a whole new tab of textured drawing brushes.

The best way for me to see what the brushes are really like is to do one monochrome drawing with each brush so I can test how the brush reacts at different sizes and with varied pressure on the Apple Pencil. I also recorded the name of each brush so I could use this as a reference if I want to duplicate any of these effects. On this rainy day, Alice the dog was happy to accommodate my experiments by pretending to close her eyes and sleep so I could draw her.

The first brush I tried was called “Blackburn”. This one has an interesting texture when you draw — a bit like brass rubbing. You can never really predict where the texture will appear, and that makes for an exciting and unexpected line, but not much control or precision when you want shading in a specific area.

I loved using the “Copperhead” brush for drawing the dog. Using it is almost like working with a really dried out Japanese brush pen, or drawing with many pencils at once. Each stroke is actually about 10 lines at once, which makes it perfect for drawing animals, or hairy humans. And when I switched the brush colour to white instead of black, I was able to get great texture for Alice’s light fur, especially on her tail.

“Oberon” was an interesting soft brush too. The less you press on the pencil, the more transparent the colour is, so if you want to achieve grey instead of black, you just need to use a lighter touch with the pencil instead of switching to grey on the colour picker.

This big tree

This big tree is what I see when I look out from a small window in my front entrance. Like my wheelbarrow, which I can see from another window, it always looks best with a little snow on it. And with a fresh coat of snow on the ground this morning, I decided it might be a challenge to try to paint it using gouache instead of watercolour.

Today’s challenge was about combining the familiar with the unfamiliar. I’ve painted this view countless times, but never in gouache. My big dilemma was how to deal with the snow. Should I leave the white of the paper like I do in watercolour, or use white paint? My solution in the end combined a bit of both of these techniques. For the large snow area in the foreground, I left the white of the paper, just like I do in watercolour. But for the flecks of snow on the tree and the accumulation of white stuff on the neighbour’s car and stairs, I used white pigment. And since this scene is fairly colourless (at least compared to what I was painting around Sanibel Island) I used a limited gouache palette of white, black, ochre, burnt sienna and cobalt blue.

Red line beach people

It’s back to winter for me, but before I start painting snow scenes again, there are still a few Sanibel sketches to complete, and a whole pile of paintings and sketches to scan. Even though I probably posted almost everything I did when I was in Florida, everything was photographed from my phone, so the colour is not at all accurate. And since I like to keep a complete archive of paintings and sketches on my website, I have a few long days at the scanner ahead of me.

The last beach sketch that I did on Sanibel Island was on a very windy day. I sketched this group of three, looking out to sea, watching the wild waves and the diving pelicans. Maybe they were contemplating having to go back to a winter climate, like I was.

My technique for people drawing is a bit different these days. I’ve been using a rigger brush dipped in watercolour to draw with, instead of starting with pencil or black ink. I’m always more comfortable with a brush in my hand, and this technique seems to work particularly well for people sketching, since the brush line is gentle and the red pigment I’ve been using works well with flesh tones.

At rest

I had fantasies of sketching my dog Alice on the beach on Sanibel. We’d be sitting on a towel, under a big umbrella, people watching and relaxing. At some point, with Alice napping comfortably, I would take out my sketchbook and draw her asleep in the shade. But that fantasy never materialized. The beach is far too exciting, and with a constant stream of people and dogs walking by, why would a young dog feel the need to nap? Instead I had to be content to sketch the big old boxer relaxing under a canopy near where we sit. He’s 15 years old, and he hardly moves, except to have a little water from his bowl.

As for Alice, I did a gouache sketch of her today, sleeping in the sun, AFTER her walk on the beach. And even though she stayed in that position for most of the sketch, she did get up and move to another spot, just before I added in the shadow so that part is invented, and not quite accurate.