I’ve been waiting for these big daisies to open so I could paint them. I picked a few yesterday and put them in a vase with some other blooms, but after repeated tries I couldn’t make an interesting painting from them. I struggled with them as much as I struggle with painting sunflowers. Just big circles that I can never make into a decent composition. In the end I went out to the garden, where I should have sketched them to begin with.

North and East

My friend Lee was pretty sure I would find a new vantage point from which to sketch the REM light rail construction, and he was right. I just couldn’t resist the giant segments hanging in the sky. I drove under them yesterday, and was sure this section would get finished overnight, but I guess there’s no work happening on a Sunday. To draw this, I parked facing north at a Walmart lot and set up on a little piece of grass between an exit ramp and on-ramp to the highway. You do what you gotta do to get the sketch, I guess. It started to rain just as I was about to add colour, so that part was done from the car.

When I was done the REM sketch, I turned the car around and couldn’t resist sketching the view facing east. Dramatic sky, orange cones, power lines and an industrial lot, all in one place. I’ve driven by this entrance to a construction company hundreds of times over the years, but had never seen it from this angle. The light sky between the buildings made for a dramatic sight.

Up and over

I think that after this weekend it’ll be difficult for me to find a place to sketch the REM construction as it moves west. I’ve been lucky these past few months because all of the activity is centred around an area where there are big box stores and plenty of parking. For the next little while the line travels west along Highway 40, but parking is prohibited on the service road and at most office buildings. So as the line goes up and over St. Charles Blvd, I say goodbye until we meet again at the Kirkland Coliseum where I’ll find the next big box stores, ample parking, and even a Tim Horton’s with takeout coffee to have while sketching. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

Far and near

Two days of sketching combined into one post:

First, the far view. I’ve been waiting to document the REM light rail line as it crosses over St. Charles Blvd. in Kirkland. For this to happen, the elevated line had to be elevated even more, so I’ve been watching the supports go up for months. But it’s quite dramatic to see the whole gantry on top of a major thoroughfare. I have to say that this was not easy to draw, but I’m committed to documenting this process from beginning to end, and this was a major step in the construction of the line. I sat in a deserted Walmart parking lot (it was a holiday here yesterday) so I could see the whole thing instead of placing myself directly below it, like I often do. And of course, because of the holiday, there was no actual movement on the line, no workers, and no lifting of the massive concrete sections, so that helped a bit.

Next, the closeup view. This year I planted some yellow Coreopsis in front of a purple smokebush. The juxtaposition of the bright yellow-orange flowers and the dark reddish-purple leaves is almost as dramatic as the movement of the rail line. I discovered a new combination for the reddish darks: Alizarin Crimson combined with Hooker’s Green. And where I needed brighter vegetation, I just added some pale yellow to the same green.

Calm before a storm

If you look at reflections on their own, they are wonderfully abstract, especially on a windless day like today when there’s no movement in the water to disturb them. I got lost in the patterns of these for a long time before drawing them, and then decided that I would try to treat them as a single painted shape. Squinting helps to see that shape.

I used an unusual brush to paint the shape. One that holds a lot of water but is very thin and floppy. It’s a Tintoretto brush that I bought in Italy. And because it holds so much water, and makes a very wet shape, it allows me to constantly change the colour of my wash, as I move from left to right, without have dry edges. If you want to see this unusual brush, have a look here.

Announcing “Still, Rushing, Falling Water” — a new online sketching course

I’ve been painting lots of water scenes lately, with the idea of creating a new online course that so many people have been asking for. “Still, Rushing, Falling Water” launches today!

Like my previous two courses — “Sketching Structures in the Garden” and “Light, Colour and Shadow,” I’ve packed this one with tips and techniques for painting the wettest looking water scenes in ink and watercolour. 

You’ll watch three full-length demos, during which I’ll teach you to sketch Still Water and reflections near Montreal; Rushing Water in a beautiful Vermont river; and Falling Water at an abandoned canal lock in Quebec.

You’ll learn about:

  • Edges: How to use the right brush at the right time to get the best edge on falling water
  • Wetness: It’s all about knowing when to have a dripping wet brush for waves or a dry one for texture
  • Reflections: These are simpler than you think — especially once you see how I paint them wet-in-wet
  • Colour Saturation: The freshest results come from getting the right amount of pigment on your brush the first time. Put it down and leave it alone! 
  • Simplification: Once you understand how water and reflections can be simplified in watercolour, the techniques can be applied to any scene, from puddles in the street to waves on the ocean

This course includes:

  • Three full-length video demonstrations plus a brush technique exercise
  • Downloadable reference images
  • A full list of materials

For a preview of “Still, Rushing, Falling Water,” check out the trailer.

I hope to inspire you to watch my course, and then to get outdoors and sketch near the edge of a lake, pond or stream, maybe on a beach or next to waterfalls. Summer is short and the water awaits you!

Indoor chair

My favourite outdoor chair is not an outdoor chair at all. In fact, I was warned that it was not an outdoor chair by the owner when I spotted a pair of these at a garage sale while on a walk with Alice. I knew I had to have them, but my pockets were empty, so I extracted a promise from the owner that they would still be there when I got back with money, and my car. He kept his promise, and I have loved sitting outside on this ever since. But since this is not an outdoor chair, when the sky fills with dark clouds, I put it in a sheltered place just to make sure it doesn’t fall apart in the rain.

Scratch, scratch

I spent a glorious half hour sitting outside after breakfast, reading David Gentleman’s book My Town and admiring the wonderful variety of his sketches, the wit in his writing and the glimpses of London that he captures in so many fascinating ways. I limit myself to only a few pages at a time so that I can properly read the captions and absorb the details of each sketch. Some are quickly drawn with a minimum of strokes, others are more elaborate — created as private commissions or for commercial use — but all are worth studying, for their composition, use of limited colour, and most of all — for the way he uses line. When my daily dose was complete, I was inspired to pick up a dip pen and make some marks of my own in a small sketchbook. I used an ink that I now realize was not permanent, so the thing is a bit of a mess, but what I enjoyed the most was deep black of the ink and the scratch of the nib on the dry paper.

Good advice

There’s a beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) in front of my house that I probably planted over 20 years ago. In fact, first it was somewhere else and I moved it to the new spot, hoping it would survive. Not only did it survive, it thrived, and every years it gives us the gift of masses of tiny pinkish flowers on arching sprays. I think a neighbour is somewhat annoyed by its unruly habit, and he occasionally offers to come over with shears to trim it down. But years ago, an arborist told me that it should be shaped like a vase, and I should let the branches arch, so that is the advice I follow.

Red sail, blue sail

I’ve finally found some boats in the water at the Beaconsfield Yacht Club, and lots of action on a sunny Sunday morning. This isn’t my usual boat club, but I will definitely be there more often this summer. It’s got lots more to paint, I can get closer to the boats, and there are views both from above, and also from water level.

Painting at water level has its challenges though. For this painting, I wanted to get in lots of the reflections, especially the red sail cover, which meant that I had to place the horizon line very high in the picture. I considered leaving out the docks that jut into the water, because the perspective was tricky, but I guess that’s the time you need to spend a little extra time with the drawing to figure out where they go, instead of giving up, like I was tempted to do. Painted on a block of Winsor & Newton 140 lb rough paper.