Slush coloured

This yellow wall in Pointe Claire Village always looks great on a sunny winter morning. I’ve painted it many times before in watercolour, but never in gouache (or in a mix of gouache and watercolour like I did here). Working with gouache is a bit of a learning curve for me, but I am starting to figure out a method for this. Instead of working from light to dark, I have figured out that the best direction to take is to move from clean to dirty. I start with the light, bright colours like sky, yellow wall, snow (while the white paint is still white), and then I move to snow shadows and wall shadows. By the time I get to the colours on the road I have all kinds of gooey neutral colours on the palette which are perfect for the slush on the road.

Corner of Atwater and Ste. Catherine

I arrived downtown a little early today before my talk at the Atwater Library, and as luck would have it I found a window seat at the McDonalds with a view of the condo construction at the site of the former Montreal Children’s Hospital. The rapidly falling snow muted all the colours in this downtown scene, so I sketched in Payne’s Grey in my Etchr sketchbook. It was the perfect way to relax and collect my thoughts before the talk.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

In December we took a walk through the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary which is located in Southwest Florida. It’s not an easy place to find and the GPS took us on a few wrong turns including one that led straight up someone’s driveway, but we found it eventually. By the time we got there, it was near closing time so we had to walk rather quickly on the loops of boardwalk trail that lead you through several different habitats of trees and past many species of birds and varieties of wetland plants.

There was no time to sketch but in the fading December light I took some reference images. On a grey day in Montreal it was nice to look back at them and paint one of the scenes in gouache and watercolour. If ever you find yourself in that part of Florida, I highly recommend a visit. Just arrive a little earlier than I did.

Chat Noir

I found some ink bottles in a drawer in my studio. Some of them have been there a very long time, possibly from my university days. I’m not sure if the ink is still good, but the shapes are great for drawing.

I drew them first with a very soft 6B Cretacolor pencil on Strathmore 400 toned tan paper. I didn’t erase mistakes in the drawing because I know the paint will mostly cover them.

For gouache painting, I use a Stay-Wet palette which has a sponge inside and keeps the gouache damp for many days. I squeezed out some Ultramarine, Alizarin and Cadmium Yellow, along with white and black.

My first layer was the background. The wash was quite thin because I like to let some of the tan paper show through. I painted right over the transparent bottles because you want that background colour to show through, and it can be hard to match later. It’s much easier to paint it first and cover it up after, if need be.

The next layer was the main colours of glass as well as labels. With a limited palette I can get all the colours I need for this.

I forgot to take a picture after I added the shadows because I was also taking some time lapse video of the process, but here’s the final scanned sketch.

Here’s a little video clip of the last part of the process. I haven’t figured out the perfect camera angle yet, but that will come in time, hopefully.

White on black

I’ve been staring at a screen for too long today. Do you know that feeling? Burning eyes and spinning head? I had to change my focus, get up and walk around, make a cup of tea, and DRAW SOMETHING! I grabbed a Moleskine black page notebook and a Molotow ONE4ALL white acrylic marker, and just started drawing. It didn’t take much. In five minutes, I felt better.

And the project that I’ve been working on for so many hours?? I’m preparing a talk and visual presentation about my work on Thursday for the Lunchtime Series at the Atwater Library. If you’re around, drop in to say hi. I’ll have lots of my sketchbooks with me, and admission is free. The Atwater Library is at 1200 Atwater Avenue in Westmount, and the event is from 12:30 — 1:30.

Alice in blue

Today I sketched Alice with a Phthalo Blue water-soluble pencil from Caran d’Ache. It’s one from a set I received some time ago, part of their Technalo RGB line. From what I can see from the Caran d’Ache website, these pencils are actually graphite gently tinted with colour, so although you might expect a blue pencil to release blue pigment when wet, it’s actually a blue/grey mix, and quite nice for drawing the subtleties of Alice’s light fur. Along with three standard water-soluble pencils of different hardnesses, the set also includes Dark Phthalo Green and Carmine Lake pencils, although don’t expect to be surprised by any more colour than on this one.

On the road to León

On the 90-minute van ride from San Miguel de Allende to the airport in León, you pass through some beautiful landscapes. Big skies, distant blue mountains and wide plateaux covered in cacti and yellowed scrub vegetation, for the most part. Occasionally the van slows down and you realize you are passing through a town. From the van window you catch a glimpse of typical Mexican street life. There’s no chance to stop for photos in this van full of anxious travellers, but I snap iPhone pics from the window. Most of them are trash, but a few are good enough to merit a second look and perhaps end up as reference for a painting.

This big tree — likely an Acacia, from my research — was a lucky capture with the phone. So much life in the shade of that tree, including a shoe kiosk and a family settling down for lunch. And almost as if they knew I would be passing — a yellow wheelbarrow. Painted on a half sheet of Arches 140 lb rough paper.

The woods in oil

A few years back I bought a sheet of Arches paper that’s made especially for oil painting. It looks like a full sheet of watercolour paper but it has a semi-absorbent surface and requires no preparation before painting. The sheet sat on my shelf for several years, protected in its plastic bag, but I finally cut it in half and decided to give it a try.

I guess I jumped right in with this, without reading much about how to proceed. I set up my tray with a limited palette of red, yellow, and blue and a blob of white paint. And then instead of painting it like I would an oil (and I’ve only ever done a few of those), I worked it like I would a watercolour. In other words, instead of toning the paper like I have toned canvas in the past, I left the paper white. And then I painted from light/mid tone to dark, in an order that was something like this: sky, foreground trees, background trees, snow shadows and then details. The white you see (for the most part) is the white of the paper, just like in watercolour. The consistency of the paint was very thin for some of this because I mixed lots of mineral spirits into the paint.

This process was much easier for me than painting with thick paint. I mixed the colours more intuitively, like I do with watercolour or gouache. I’m not sure if there’s a right or a wrong way to do this but this felt right for the way I paint. And I will certainly try it again, because I still have the other half of the sheet in its original bag.

Comex facade

A few weeks ago I did this demo in my San Miguel de Allende workshop. It was an overcast day so there were no shadows to rely on, but the storefronts near the Plaza Civica were interesting enough on their own. And for my lesson on composition, there were certainly enough shapes to make it a fun subject to paint. I took a few liberties with the pots on the balcony — the plants were mostly dead and the containers were monochrome — but as for the rest, it was a perfect example of the deep reds and yellows that make up most of the wall colours in San Miguel. In fact, I used so much red and yellow on that trip that I had to refill the warm side of my palette several times, while the blues and greens on the other side were practically untouched.

The following week, we were at the same location, but this time the sun was out (as were the pigeons) so we tackled shadows and texture. Again, I took a few liberties with the flower pots, but what fun is painting if you can’t pull out your artistic license now and again?


Hyacinths are a sign of spring for me. And although it’s nowhere near spring in Montreal today, the ones on my kitchen counter make me happy. It’s not just the sweet fragrance that lingers in the air. It’s something that I realized only as I was painting them. It’s that each petal on each flower on each stalk curves into a little smile. That’s good enough for me. Painted in my Etchr sketchbook using lots of Cobalt Violet paint.