Happy dog

No complaints from Alice today. The sun finally came out, and it’s actually warm enough outside for a sunbath. There are even a few bugs to eat. Plus our two adult sons have moved back in for this stay-at-home period, which makes for a full and noisy house, more people to get treats from, and occasionally an extra walk or two. Alice was drawn in my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook with Lexington Grey ink. Stay well out there!

Grey for grey

The pantry is the best place to find colour (and pickles) on another grey day in Montreal. And to go with this kind of day, I filled my Indigraph pen with Noodler’s Lexington grey ink. I’ve had an untouched bottle of it sitting on my desk for years, but it was quite a revelation when I started drawing with it today. I have other sketcher friends who have used it for years, but it was only when I did the drawing for this sketch that I rediscovered its beauty and subtlety. It has the gentleness of a pencil line, but it’s permanent. That means that when you add watercolour to it, it whispers softly in the background without shouting like black ink lines tend to do.

The brightest colours

Today I’m catching up on house cleaning and cooking. And also enjoying the fact that we were able to get out to buy some groceries yesterday, since our two weeks of self-isolation are over. I’m really appreciating the fresh vegetables, and you can probably guess what tonight’s dinner will be. And since it’s been raining and dark all day today, I thought I’d use the brightest colours I could find for my sketch. My ink lines are tinted with pigments from Viviva Colorsheets. I’ve used these before, and although I sometimes find them too saturated for urban scenes, these days they seem just right.


Here’s one I painted live on Instagram today. I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, so I threw some paint tubes on my table and pointed the phone at my paper. My son helped with the setup because millennials know how to do these things, and voilà, I started painting. Lots of artists are doing live demos during these weeks of isolation, and it’s a great way to connect. I wasn’t sure anyone would watch but sure enough, people kept popping in and saying hello, from all over the place. Alice even made an appearance. Some people asked that I post about live sessions beforehand so they can tune in, but there was something very nice about the spontaneity of the thing. I think setting a schedule could be stress-inducing, and who needs more stress these days. But it was a nice way to keep my hands busy for an hour, and remember that an hour spent painting is an hour you are not trying to remember not to touch your face. Stay well!

Pool house demo

Apologies for the dark post yesterday. The lack of sun and being confined in the house were not a good combo. Thanks to everyone who sent encouraging comments.

Back to colour today. I just found this little gouache demo from my workshop in South Carolina two weeks ago. This was a very quick one, on the last afternoon of the workshop. I gave everyone a blob of white gouache and showed them how to mix it with watercolour to create more opaque effects on toned paper. Looking forward to more sunny days when I can practice this again in my garden. If you are interested in learning this technique from a pro, have a look at the work of Nathan Fowkes. And look at his book as well. He’s the master.

Black boots

In early spring in Montreal, there’s not much colour outside. One sign of hope was some snowdrops I spotted in my neighbour’s backyard this morning. In my house I suppose I could find colourful things to draw, but black seems to fit the general mood these days, so I used India ink to draw these boots in my front entrance (just noticed that one is too short!). Perhaps it’s my version of austerity measures for sketchers. A friend in France told me that on her weekly excursion to the grocery store (permission form in hand) she filled her basket with black quinoa, black lentils and black chickpeas (which I had never heard of). It was only when she got home that she realized that her shopping had a colour theme.

We all have our own way of dealing with this period. I read that Jim Carrey is growing a beard during his quarantine. Some sketchers are keeping Covid 19 diaries. I’m not saying that I will only draw in ink until we can get out again, it’s just that for the moment, splashes of bright colour seem less appropriate than India ink.

Early spring

Being indoors is making me stir-crazy, and sitting in my car to draw seems too passive these days. So for today’s scribble, I took my pad and my fountain pen to the woods where I walk the dog. There’s never anyone there, so it’s as good as being in isolation at home. Except there are bits of snow and trees to draw. Thirty minutes was about as much as I could stand without gloves, plus it was too cold to paint on site, so I added a bit of wash when I got home.

Everything and the kitchen sink

These days the kitchen is getting more use than normal. With three of us working at home — eating, cooking, working at the counter — it’s become a hub, and often a mess. We try to keep up, but it’s hard. Today I was about to wash some of this stuff, or load it into the dishwasher, but I stopped to draw it first. And that leads me to what I really wanted to say, which is that I am trying to draw every day during all of this isolation and quarantine. Painting too, of course, but these days that’s often from photos, and that is not the same. For me, the skill that has to stay sharp is the looking skill. Drawing from life, whether it’s out the window or in my dirty sink, is what keeps me from getting rusty. (And these days, keeps me from obsessively reading the news.) This is directly with pen, and even though some of the angles and curves could probably be better, I’m happy I did it. Of course the dishes are still in the sink as I type, but it’s only us, right?

Helping hands

I’ve seen lots of sketches of rolls of toilet paper online, but these are the unsung heroes in my house — the various hand creams and rescue ointments that help repair the wreckage from incessant hand washing and disinfecting of various surfaces. What’s your secret remedy for sandpaper skin?

What do you want to learn?

I’ve been planning on creating new online lessons for some time and, with that in mind, we brought along some portable video equipment with us to South Carolina last week. Little did I know how timely my filming would be. With more people staying at home and workshops being cancelled (as many of mine were), now seems like a great time to finally share some of the things I’ve been wanting to teach.

My first go at this is an on-location video of me sketching the ruins on Spring Island. There’s so much to learn about filming on location. The sound, the lighting, the colour, and of course the unexpected — like a lawn mower going by. We are still figuring it out! But I’m happy we got the ball rolling, because now my first video is ready.

In a few weeks time I will start to roll out more lessons. They will likely be studio-based because it’s still too cold in Montreal to shoot outdoors, and because I can now say with some certainty that I will not be travelling anywhere warm in the near future. Look for a variety of lessons, both free and reasonably-priced (artists have to find new ways to pay the bills these days!), on topics that students have been asking about for years.

So my question to you is: what would you like to learn? I’ve had so many requests to create new classes as a follow-up to the lessons currently on Bluprint.com. Do let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And as a start, go on over to YouTube to catch my first on-location video. Future content will be more structured and comprehensive, but for your first glimpse, have a look at this one.