Lock #3

My big outing today was to Parc des Ancres on the Soulanges Canal. I’ve painted at this location years ago, and it was thrilling to return to sketch the water falling from the old Lock #3. It’s a dramatic sight, accompanied by a deafening soundtrack of falling water. Everything is massive in the scene. The huge beams at the top of the lock, the plates of rusty metal that form a vertical wall behind the falls, and of course the flow of water. I painted quickly, I think inspired by the movement of the falls. I also took lots of photos, with a thought to perhaps a larger watercolour of this scene.

The neighbour’s yard

My neighbour has a beautiful garden but the only time I can see it from my house is in early spring. After that the border between us fills in, and although I am grateful that there’s no fence between us, later in the summer a wall is created by the vegetation.

I tried to paint this in layers to give some distance to the scene. Lately I’ve been using lots of Lemon Yellow for grass in sun. Even though when it’s on the palette it seems TOO yellow, when I contrast it to the shadier areas of grass or leaves in shade, it seems to work. Painted from my backyard on Arches paper.

Parc des Rapides

I didn’t realize how much I needed to get out of the house until… I got out of the house. Taking a little drive to a local Montreal park was almost as exciting as taking a road trip out of town. We found this beautiful oasis at Parc des Rapides in Lasalle, with red winged blackbirds, ducks and families of geese and goslings. Nothing out of the ordinary really, but it was a different view and I was happy to spend a few hours looking out at the water. I was really hoping it sketch the rapids but that area was blocked off, probably because the paths are too narrow to safely keep pedestrians six feet apart. I guess that will be the norm for this summer. Sketched in an Etchr sketchbook under the shade of a willow tree.

Tulip bones

Today’s painting inspiration comes from the Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. If you’ve walked the High Line in New York or toured the Lurie Garden in Chicago, then you’ve seen his work. He had a part in both of those projects. Yesterday I watched a virtual screening of the documentary “Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf“. As Oudolf walked through his own autumn gardens in the Netherlands, pointing at seed pods and skeletons of perennials, it made me look at my own garden a little differently today. I know there’s not much decay in spring, but what was left over when the petals of the tulips fell was as interesting as the tulips themselves.

Tiny flowers

This grouping of flowers — picked from my garden this morning — is my favourite of the season. Tiny blossoms of Forget-me-not, just-budding Lilies of the Valley, acid yellow Euphorbia, and a few others whose names escape me. And of course the gently arching Bleeding Hearts. Even their names seem to be most descriptive of the year. Once these fade, the big showy stuff blooms and, at least in my garden, they just never have the beauty and delicacy of these. Sketched in watercolour and white gouache on Strathmore toned paper.

Alice eats bugs

Alice appreciates being outside these days as much as I do. But drawing a dog outdoors is a lot more challenging than the usual “sleeping dog after a walk” sketch session. Positions shift constantly, people (and other dogs) go by on the street, and bugs must be eaten. But, like people in motion, dogs in motion generally come back to the same pose eventually, and with some stop and start, the drawing ends up getting completed.


It felt pretty great to finally have enough flowers in the garden to create a bouquet, but they flopped over almost immediately. The bleeding hearts were mere shoots a few days ago, and now they’re almost past their prime. Same with the tulips. That’s what happens when you have a cold spring and summer descends quickly and with no warning. I’m not complaining though. It was pretty great to plunk these in a vase and paint them from a chair in the backyard, watching them shift gently in the wind. After that long period of confinement it was worth waiting for, and made the painting process all that much more sweet.

Garden plans

One thing I am looking forward to about my summer at home is taking care of my somewhat neglected garden. For the last few years, it’s been hard to grow annuals or have containers because I was away for long periods of time teaching in different places. So this summer, besides doing lots of maintenance around the house, I will actually be able to plant flowers that serve two purposes. I will enjoy looking at them every day, and when I take a break from weeding and mulching and feeding them, I’ll get to sketch them too.

Announcing “Light, Colour, Shadow” — a new online course!

Hopefully wherever you are in the world, things are opening up and you’ll be able to do some social distance outdoor sketching very soon. In preparation for sunny days, I’ve just launched my newest online course — Light, Colour, Shadow: The Essential Triad for Watercolour Sketching. It’s a class you can do at your own pace, from the comfort of home, and hopefully it will make you feel confident going out on a sunny day to sketch your own sunlit scene. At a safe distance, of course.

Like the previous Sketching Structure in the Garden, I’ve packed this new course with tips and techniques for making your sketches come alive.
You’ll learn how to: 

  • Paint lights and darks more effectively
  • Use shadows to give form and volume to subjects
  • Mix the best colours for subjects in sun and in shade
  • Mix your own glowing shadow colours (rather than using diluted blacks or pre-mixed grey)

The course includes:

  • Seven full-length video demonstrations that illustrate key concepts
  • Downloadable reference images
  • A full list of materials

For a preview of “Light, Colour, Shadow,” check out the trailer.

Garden page

It’s finally warm enough to sit outside to sketch in my garden, but there’s not much to sketch yet. Some Allium reaching up to the sun. A lonely white daffodil, looking longingly for its companion — a purple tulip which was recently decapitated by a squirrel. With the absence of natural elements, I resorted to the old standbys — a trash can with garden waste and a broken brick on the deck. It’s just the start of garden sketching season, and with no plans for travel this summer, be warned, there will be a lot of it.