A day of contrasts

This weirdly warm weather we are experiencing in Montreal brings with it some strange contrasts. The light is sharp and yet soft at the same time. The air is warm but if you step into the shade it’s freezing. It’s very odd and it doesn’t feel at all like Montreal in November.

I took advantage of this by returning to the boat yard to paint the boats in dry dock in the rapidly fading light. Backlit scenes are not my specialty, but I tried to look at the scene and evaluate each piece of the puzzle by thinking about the values. Within those lights and darks, there were no sharp colours that were apparent from where I was standing, but I tried to contrast warm and cool. I guess that was fitting considering the temperatures of the day.

Dry dock

We started the week off with snow and ended with a heat wave. It’s a bit disconcerting to hit 20C in November, but wonderful at the same time. You can’t let that kind of weather pass you by, so I took advantage by doing a bit of plein air painting. I went out to the boat club where the boats are already in dry dock, and set my easel up near the water. I was expecting to find the place deserted, but the boat owners were also enjoying the warmth of day and getting in some end-of-season repairs. This weather is expected to continue for another few days and I hope to take advantage of it with a few more outings.

Mushroom trio

Lucky me. My son arrived here with fresh mushrooms — chanterelles, shiitakes and one truffle. These will become part of dinner very soon, likely a risotto, so I had to sketch them quickly. The colours in the chanterelles are so beautiful — going from a pale orange in shadow to almost white where the afternoon sun hits them — that I decided to sketch them in watercolour and water-soluble pencil. The pencil lines melt a little when you touch them with a wet brush, and that seemed just right for the soft edges of the mushrooms. I’ll let you know if they are as tasty as they look.

Stop and start people

I arrived early for an appointment in town, so I had a bit of time to draw. From my car I had a good view of the intersection of two busy streets. At 9 a.m. people were on their way to work, stopping at the traffic lights for ten seconds or so, and then crossing.

From where I was sitting, it would have been much easier to choose a static scene of some buildings that I could see in the distance. But I can draw buildings any time. I chose to draw the stop and start people at the corner, even though I only had a few seconds to draw each one before they moved on. What I miss the most during this pandemic is drawing scenes of city life. Any city. What about you? What would you draw if you could more around a little more freely?

First snow

Snow fell overnight. I rushed out this morning to sketch it before it melted, as first snowfalls tend to do. It’s always a bit strange when there are still leaves on the trees, but it was a dynamic contrast for the tractor.

I’m looking forward to winter painting, as I do every year. The car studio is all set up, and even though my feet tend to freeze by the end of the session, I’m always much happier to a paint from life than from a photo.

If you’re interested in seeing how other people sketch from their cars, have a look at this article from the very talented Dutch sketcher Anne Rose Oosterbaan. It features examples of work by some of my favourite sketchers including Bob Callahan, Jens Hubner, Virginia Hein and A. Rmyth.

Hot sauce

If you like hot sauce, you already know this. One bottle is good but having five or six is even better. Habanero for one dish, harissa for another, sriracha for Asian recipes, and then a good all-purpose one for everything else. And have a jalapeño on hand just in case you need more heat.

I painted the excess of hot sauce bottles using gouache, on a block of watercolour paper. It seems that many artists who paint in gouache use boards or blocks to paint on because of the harder surface. The process I use is similar to painting in watercolour — starting with big shapes and working towards smaller ones. And with transparent objects, it’s so much fun to add the shiny highlights using white straight from the tube.

Wet-in-wet leaves

After watching a CSPWC online demo by watercolour painter Linda Kemp the other evening, I was inspired to try her technique of painting wet-in-wet. I’ve painted on saturated paper many times, but her technique is slightly different from how I do it, in that she doesn’t remove the surface water, and she uses fresh paint almost straight from the tube. She doesn’t do a pencil drawing either, and instead takes direction from the shapes in her reference image.

I collected some leaves the other day while on a walk, and spread them out on my studio table. I’ve also been experimenting with some Baohong watercolour paper, so I wet both sides of a quarter sheet and tried to follow Linda’s method, using a limited palette or Hansa Yellow Deep, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue. Having no pencil lines on the page is quite liberating. I encourage you to watch the demo here and give it a try. One of the unexpected benefits of this pandemic is that there are so many online opportunities to learn from other painters — people from all over the world who you might never have the chance to meet at a workshop. I’m trying to take advantage of as many of these as possible.

Starting today you can also have a look at the CSPWC first ever online Open Water 2020 exhibition. I’m very honoured that my painting William Ottawa (below) was selected for the show.