Counter life 4

For today’s sketch of the kitchen counter, I was hoping for something more loose than yesterday’s monochrome. For inspiration I had a look at the work of Scottish artist Glen Scouller, one of my favourite contemporary painters. I bought his book “Colour and Line in Watercolour” a few years back, and I go through it every once in a while because it just makes me happy to see his work. He’s got a beautiful line and a fresh way of using watercolours that I greatly admire. And from a bit of back and forth on Instagram with him, he also seems like a genuinely nice guy.

From what I can see, he paints first (no preliminary drawing) and then draws into the damp washes with the pencils. It gives so much energy to his sketches. I love the way he mixes oil pastel, watercolour and water-soluble pencils, so that’s what I did today. White oil pastels provided the resist on the tulips and reflective highlights, and the rest is a mix of watercolours and Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils.

Counter life 3

This morning my son asked, “Why do you keep drawing the same thing?”, to which I had no immediate answer. But then I thought about it for awhile. Besides trying to work in a series, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, and trying to learn something new every day, which I also mentioned, I realized that the best answer to his question is that having a drawing routine definitely helps to add structure to these days at home.

The idea for today’s version of my countertop still life came to me when I saw that the white tulips were just starting to open. I wanted to created a focus on the blooms so I did a monochrome experiment with ink. First I tried diluted India Ink but the old bottle I have is full of sediment, so I switched to black acrylic ink. Using that was a first for me, and I have no idea what you can do with it, but I poured out a few drops on a plate and mixed in some water. The first wash I put down was a pale grey tone over everything except the tulips. From there I built up the layers of ink and did a lot of negative painting. I guess my experiment with casein will be for tomorrow.

Counter life 2

I don’t know about you but I sometimes wander around my house aimlessly, trying to figure out what to sketch during this social distancing period. Eventually when I’m able to get outside, my garden will provide some good subject matter, but in the meantime, I think I’ll stick with the countertop series. I’m giving myself the challenge of using a different treatment every day (yesterday was watercolour, today is gouache) as well as trying to learn something new each time. I’m working on Fabriano paper in a very special handmade sketchbook given to me by a friend in Australia.

Of course each time I play with gouache, I learn something new about colour mixing, but today I was also trying to look at a highly reflective black surface (my kitchen counter) and see how I could evoke that in my sketch. It’s a lot easier to do this in gouache than in watercolour, because I can add light on top of dark. As for tomorrow’s sketch, casein, possibly??

Counter life

We’ve been having a cold and grey spring in Montreal, and it seems that all the spring flowers in my garden are in hiding. But I’m longing for some spring colour, so when someone from the house ventured out for groceries, I put in a special request for flowers — anything blooming and bright. I briefly considered setting up a still life with daffodils, but somehow it didn’t seem right to create an artificial setup. I painted them exactly where they had been plunked — in front of the toaster, to the right of the Windex, and next to my son’s water bottle which mysteriously disappeared while I was painting.

Flats and rounds

Except for runs, walks with the dog, and a brief ride around the block to draw, today was my first time getting away from the house with the purpose of doing some real urban sketching. It felt strange to drive around Pointe Claire Village and see all the shuttered stores in the middle of the afternoon. There were plenty of people walking, biking and driving but you get the sense that everyone is quickly passing through. Moving with purpose. No one stops to window shop, have a coffee or sit on a bench. It makes me wonder what Montreal will be like when it finally starts to warm up here. It’s going to be a strange summer.

From my car, I did a quick watercolour of a corner on Lakeshore Road that I’ve sketched in all seasons. It felt great to be outside on a sunny day, watch the changing shadows, and draw a familiar scene. There are the tiniest of buds on the trees but no green yet. I’m looking forward to that changing in a week or so.

I also wanted to tell you about a new FREE video “My Five Favourite Watercolour Brushes” that I just posted on my teaching website. The subject is one that I’ve talked about a lot on my blog over the years, but it’s great to be able to finally SHOW how I use each of these brushes.

It’s not a follow-along class like “Sketching Structure in the Garden,” but rather my personal take on brushes, with a short demo of each and a short discussion at the end of how I used all five in my most recent watercolour painting. Have a look here. I hope it gives you a little inspiration for some sketching on the weekend.


I’m continuing to follow along in James Gurney’s new online class. In the second exercise, we add a few colours (I chose red, yellow and blue) to the limited palette of black and white gouache. In addition, the suggestion is to add an underpainting of Raw Sienna casein. I didn’t have the colour, so I used Naples Yellow which turned green because I hadn’t cleaned my brush properly from yesterday. Tomorrow I hope to take this show on the road. I need to get out of my basement and do some car sketching!!

Under the desk

I heard howling winds outside my window all night, and woke up to a fine coating of snow on the ground. The snow eventually stopped, but the winds continued all day. Alice doesn’t like wind at all, so she spent the day trying to find places to hide in the house. A good spot for her is on her bed under my desk in my basement office. No wind down here and no rattling windows either. I sketched her using a beautifully soft 3B Technalo water-soluble pencil. I was intending to add some water to this but if I move, my model moves, so that never happened.

Well, it’s a great time to learn

If you’re stuck in the house, and have the luxury of time, now is a great time to learn. There are so many online courses, and many of them have been discounted for this quarantine period.

I just started watching James Gurney’s new course, and this is the first exercise from Colour in Practice. The lesson is about using black and white gouache, but working with the pigments both transparently and opaquely. I can’t tell you what the exercises are in the rest of the video because I got so excited about the first one that I jumped in immediately to try it. In my basement office, I have lots of little bottles on a window shelf, and outside the window is a window well. Not very romantic, this window well view, but well, it’s all I have these days.

Also on my list to watch: a new video by Mike Hernandez on YouTube, a new course with James Richards on Skillshare, and a masterclass in watercolour by the amazing British artist Keith Hornblower. Go for it! You might regret not learning some new stuff when this is all over.

And if you have a little time at 5 pm PST, have a look @Etchr_lab on Instagram tonight. They will be sharing a few of my video tips for painting during quarantine.

Red, white and black

Anna Catherine warned us advance that in her Zoom modelling session this week, she would be wearing lots of red, white and black. With that in mind, I added a squirt of black gouache to my watercolour palette.

Doing life drawing from a computer screen image is not ideal. Even with side lighting, a light skinned model against a black curtain becomes a silhouette. In this week’s session, the shorter poses were perfect for drawing these silhouettes with simple lines, but it was only when Anna moved away from the black curtain over to the red sofa that the poses became more interesting for me. With the sofa in back of her and the white sheet in front, I was finally able to feel the volume and weight of her limbs and torso.

Somewhere in Mexico

I went to a colourful place today. Way back to the last day in January when I was leaving San Miguel de Allende. From my window seat in the van on the long ride to the airport, I snapped lots of photos. I like the randomness of some of these compositions, and I go back to these occasionally to see if any of them merit a sketch or possibly a larger painting.

I guess I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, because the planning was done some time ago. In fact it was on a flight to Savannah in March when I remembered that I had the photo on my iPad and a sketchbook in my bag, and lots of time to think about composition and colour. I even made a note about values and glad I did because it came in handy when I was painting today. Painted on Fabriano CP 140 lb, 15″ x 11″.