Rooftop salad

Before some of this went into a salad for dinner, I sketched the contents of my first basket from Lufa Farms. Most Montrealers have probably heard of this company because they’re a well-known success story here. They’ve converted rooftops of industrial buildings in the city into greenhouses, and they have a weekly delivery or drop off basket service. Since we are still in self-isolation at home, this was the perfect week to try a delivery basket: Mustard greens, cherry tomatoes, Boston lettuce, Genovese basil, Beefsteak tomatoes, Spartan apples and arugula. Delicious to eat and to paint.

Spring Island Spring

It seems like more than just a week ago that I was teaching in South Carolina. So much has changed in my city, my province, my country and the world since then. But it made me smile to open my sketchbook today and remember standing in the sun and showing my group how to create vignettes of the spring garden that surrounded us. And although it’s many weeks away, I’m looking forward to seeing some blooms in my own backyard this spring too.

On another note, if you are looking for a good way to fill up some of those long hours at home, here’s an link that a friend sent to me yesterday. The 38th edition of Montreal’s FIFA — International Festival of Films on Art — had to cancel their indoor event but they’ve made many of the films available on the web. For a $30 CDN online ticket, you can watch dozens of films on their online platform. I know my starter film will be this one. Films are available until midnight on March 29th.

Wheelbarrow in ink

While many urban sketchers are drawing views through their windows for the first time, I’m an old hand at this. Most of my recent versions of the wheelbarrow have been in watercolour, so I thought I’d try a version in ink. I have nothing but time these days, and there’s something quite calming about the repetitive movement of making a thousand ink lines on paper. I don’t usually use fountain pens but this was done with an Indigraph pen which allows you to use India ink because of the special reservoir of water that humidifies the nib to keep it from clogging. I haven’t used it long enough to review it, nor am I a fountain pen expert, but Parka has a lengthy review on his site.

Sketching in a time of isolation

Since returning from the US on Saturday, my husband and I are taking the recommendation to self-isolate seriously, and will be at home for 14 days. Our son, who was also travelling for work and returned home at around the same time, is also here.

It’s hard to drag myself away from watching the tv or reading the news all day long. But that can make you crazy, and very depressed. Sketching certainly takes MY mind off things. I’ve also been getting out often to walk Alice and wave at neighbours from a distance. And we’ve been cooking, catching up on household stuff, playing games, reading and watching Netflix. These are strange times indeed.

There are plenty of inspiring ideas online about sketching and staying connected during this time. There’s a new Urban Sketchers hashtag #uskathome that you can use when posting drawings you do from your window or from the inside of your house. There are also other ways to gather online — virtual sketchmeets, daily prompts, etc. — that will connect you with our very supportive worldwide group of urban sketchers.

We don’t really know how long this will last, but in the meantime I hope all of you are staying healthy. May we sketch together, in person, very soon.

A glimpse of spring

I had a little taste of spring last week when I was teaching in South Carolina. Unlike Montreal where it’s still evenly grey outside, there are flowers blooming and green buds popping out on trees.

For our lesson in sketching flowers, one of my participants cut some azaleas from her garden. It’s too cold to grow these where I live, but in the south they are everywhere. I sketched these outrageous beauties in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook, which has thinner paper than the Beta book I’ve used in the past. I like the way it takes the paint, almost like a thin hot press paper.

I also couldn’t resist painting a tiny thimbleful of violets on the table in front of me. Like Bleeding Hearts and Lilies of the Valley, they say spring to me like no other flowers.

While I was there, I also had a chance to exhibit some of my recent watercolours at an evening reception. I brought along a selection of half and quarter sheets, painted on location in Florida, Montreal, France and Cape Ann, as well as a few paintings inspired by recent travels to Mexico and Sun Valley. I was happy to have a chance to talk to people about my work, and honoured that quite a few of these will be gracing the walls of local residents.

The milky way

These days at home are the perfect time to try out new materials. Coincidentally I just received a set of casein paints for the Jack Richeson Casein 2020 online challenge.

I don’t know much about casein except that it’s milk-based, so I figured I would just jump in and try it. Using only primary colours and white, I painted a small still life on the back of a failed painting that was on Fabriano paper.

I tried painting both transparently and opaquely, since casein is somewhat like gouache. I also tried some strokes of dry brush which worked well on the textured paper. After my first attempt, I will say that this is going to take some getting used to. The paint is flat and chalky, but that could be my own ignorance for choosing the wrong surface or the wrong colours. I’ll have to do lots more playing before deciding if I like it or not. I found gouache hard to use in the beginning too, but that’s getting easier so maybe this will too.

Coming home

I love drawing people at airports, but I must say that drawing in Washington Dulles airport yesterday was very strange indeed. There was an odd calm to the place as most everyone made their way home from somewhere. I was returning home early too, after a workshop in South Carolina, and a cancelled four day trip to DC that was supposed to begin yesterday.

These are crazy days indeed, with news changing hourly, but drawing is always a great way to remain calm. I will be working from home for the next weeks, following the Canadian government recommendation of self-imposed quarantine after returning from a trip. It’s a good time to be experimenting and trying new materials, especially if you can’t go far from home. And if you’re inclined to share what you’ve been working on, have a look at the group that Heather Ihn Martin created on Facebook. It’s called The Art Refuge and in Heather’s words “is created as a positive space for people to share work, meet fellow artists, learn new things, get feedback (when requested), and give your brain a break from any anxiety.” For the first week, the challenge is to choose a NEW or rarely-used medium to depict some sort of fruit or food. I don’t know about you, but I’m in. I definitely need a distraction this week.

Sun and snow

In March the snow melts fast. Most people would be happy about that but not me. I prefer my wheelbarrow with snow on it, and I’ve been waiting for some to fall so I could sketch it again before spring. This morning it was mostly covered in white from an overnight sprinkling, but by the time I got around to painting it, it was half melted. Then the sun came out and it was fully gone by the time my sketch was done. Let’s hope I can get one more of these in before the daffodils come up.

Sketched in a Field Watercolour Journal with a Winsor & Newton watercolour set and some snowflakes of white gouache.

The black of the paper

There’s a fair amount of procrastination of my part when I need to clean up my studio. Let’s face it, it’s much more pleasant to sketch the mess than to clean it up. So before I put away my gouache supplies, I sketched a few tubes of the stuff. For the first time, I sketched on black paper, which I liked a lot. This is an 8″ x 5″ Moleskine sketchbook that takes the paint really well. And it’s kind of fun to reverse the painting process by leaving the black of the paper for the darkest parts of the sketch.

My studio setup for gouache is a Sta-Wet palette and a little set of Jack Richeson brushes. My good sable brushes are not the ones I reach for when I’m using gouache. They’re too soft and hold too much water. My preference when working in gouache is to use small flats, and the reason I like the Richeson set best is that they’re short handled and have slim profiles, so they’re fantastic for making edges and cutting around shapes. Just remember to rinse them immediately after using so the paint doesn’t dry on the brush.

Green and purple shells

Sponsors at the Urban Sketchers symposia are always very generous. This past summer in Amsterdam our goodie bags were particularly full — so much so that I had to get an extra bag to bring everything home.

When I get back to my studio after this event, all of those samples (paper, paints and pens mostly) get filed on shelves or stored in drawers, and when the grey days of winter roll around I like to take them out and try them one by one. It’s like receiving a little gift each time I open something.

The shells today are painted with pans of Aquarius watercolours — high quality pigments made by Roman Szmal. I only have three pans of colour (one will be for another day) so today I tried Aquarius Green and Shadow Violet. I worked on a postcard-sized piece of hot press paper from Etchr Labs, but even on this smooth paper, the pigments create wonderful surprises. That’s likely because each one of these is in fact made from three pigments. The Shadow Violet is a mixture of Cobalt Green, Ultramarine Blue and Quin Violet. The Aquarius Green is mixed from Nickel Azo Yellow, Benzimidazolone Brown and Ultramarine Blue.

The consistency of the paint in the pans is creamy and pigment gets released quickly, without the need for too much water. I usually create my own colour for shadows but if I had some of the Shadow Violet with me on an outing, I would certainly consider using it. As for the green, it’s a convenience green that I could probably mix from colours I already have on my palette (Azo Yellow, Ultramarine and Burnt Umber) but it’s pretty rich and dark and in its diluted state, might just be the right pigment for painting the Live Oak trees in South Carolina where I will be teaching soon.