Winter Woods & Stream: a streamable demo

I’m really excited to share that my watercolour demo of a scene in Angell Woods will soon be available to stream as part of the CSPWC Education program for 2022. The one-hour demo was based on a painting I did earlier this month, and inspired by a walk I took with Alice on an overcast day. You’ll be able to play the video as often as you like from February 1 until March 15, and I’ll share the reference photo and supplies I use in case you want to paint along. Tickets are $12 for CSPWC members and $15 for non-members. Here’s the link to find out more.


In the woods near my house, someone has been constructing these makeshift lean-to shelters. They appear and disappear from month to month, and I wonder who the architect is. They’re quite beautiful, especially in winter. I painted this quite large (Arches CP 16″ x 20″) because I wanted to include all the details that make the overlapping branches so interesting. It’s a little more detailed than my usual way of working, but the subject seemed to require that.

From three to four

From three to four p.m. today I looked out my window and painted a view of my neighbour’s house. You can probably see from the drips and blobs that this was done quickly. I wanted to catch that fleeting winter light so I used a big flat brush. Just as I started to paint the neighbours came out of the house and drove off in the two cars, so whatever details are there were painted from memory. As for the orange cones in the middle of the street, don’t ask! I have no idea why they have been there for weeks and weeks.


My winter walk at Angell Woods always includes a detour off the path to have a look at the river in winter. On a sunny day the tree shadows make interesting patterns on the snow, but this week it was overcast. I took a photo anyway, thinking I would probably discard it, but I took another look at it today and thought it might be interesting to paint the range of greys and subtle hues of a winter landscape on a cloudy day. There’s still quite a bit of contrast in the scene, but the challenge was to make the greys interesting.

I have a tube of Davy’s Grey so that was my starter pigment. If you’ve never tried it, it’s quite a weak grey, which makes it perfect for this type of scene. I warmed it by adding some Lemon Yellow, and for the darks I used a mix of Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. Painted on a quarter sheet of Arches Rough, 140 lb.

My woods in January

For years I’ve been using the same colour mixture for shadows on snow: Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, and a bit of Alizarin. But for this week’s version of the woods close to my house, I tried something that I’ve used once or twice before: Indanthrene Blue. It’s a very deep blue but when you dilute it, the pale version is really nice for skies as well as shadows, and not as granulating as Cerulean (sometimes the granulation can be distracting!) For this painting, I contrasted the cool blue with Burnt Sienna for the distant buildings, and added a little bit of Indigo for the darkest darks.

From there to here, with a stop in the middle

January sketching started with our last day on the beach in Sanibel. I wanted to get in one more session of people sketching, and this couple caught my eye with the strange contraptions on their heads. Some sort of shade device, I assumed, and post-sketch I found this on Google. Turns out they are personal canopies you can attach to your chair. I might have to get one next time I go, since this would shield my head but keep my sketch in the sun to dry.

Our three-day drive back to Montreal yielded some unexpected sketching time from a dumpy motel with a great view of a storage facility and a U-Haul truck. The reason for our stay: we drove straight into the snowstorm in Virginia that stranded drivers overnight on I-95 in Virginia. Luckily we exited the interstate at the first sign of trouble (cars in the ditch, tow trucks on the shoulder) and found a dog-friendly hotel (with a great view) nearby. I don’t think Alice would have enjoyed spending the night in a cold car in a snowstorm. Sketching the view from the room helped to calm me down after the drive.

My first sketch of the snow in Montreal was from my kitchen window this morning. Sketching this scene is like pressing a reset button for me. After this I can move on to more complex winter scenes, but this happy marriage of oak tree and broken wheelbarrow is a must at least once or twice each winter.

Two palms

It’s taken me a bit of time to come around to the idea that Buff Titanium is a useful colour. I was first introduced to it by Jane Blundell at an Urban Sketchers symposium in Singapore. I bought a tube of it sometime later and it sat in a drawer for many years. I guess I don’t have much use for it in Montreal although I can see why Jane likes it. Here’s what she says: A wonderful granulating cream pigment. Granulates in a wash. Fabulous for sandy beaches, shells and pastel florals. This is an unusual choice for watercolour, but as I paint a lot of landscapes, especially featuring Australian sandstone, this is one of my top pigments.

Here in SW Florida, the luscious pastiness of Buff Titanium has finally come in handy. I love it for painting the dead fronds on palm trees, especially the parts in sun. And it truly is the perfect colour for the sand here, which is composed mainly of quartz and broken shells. I have been trying to match that light sand colour with my usual palette of colours, with no success, but it finally felt right when I ran a wash of Buff Titanium across the page of my sketchbook.

Happy holidays!

The past year has been difficult for so many people, but it’s still given me unexpected joy as I’ve connected (and often sketched) with many of you virtually, through online courses, Zoom chats, email and blog comments. I am grateful for the gift of art, which has brought us closer together, even when we can’t paint side by side. I hope that the holiday season and the new year bring you love, health and lots of time to create.

Julia Victoria and Miss Amy

This morning I had company for my sketch outing. My friend Suhita is visiting Sanibel with her family, so I’ve been taking her to a few of my favourite sketching spots in the area. Of course we had to go to San Carlos Island where the shrimp boats are docked for the holiday break.

Suhita loves to sketch people, so it was exciting to find a spot where three guys were welding some boat parts. Check out upcoming posts on her blog to see what she did! It was tempting to sketch the welders but I chose the boats instead. We’ve been having some turbulent weather — dark clouds, lots of wind, and even a tornado close by yesterday — so the sky was still dark when we got there just after sunrise, and the light boats were so inviting against that dramatic sky. This was a quick one, done in just over an hour, with the biggest flat brush I had. Painted on a pad of Arches CP paper, 14″ x 10″.

Out back of Tipsy Turtle

I’ll admit, I don’t really like doing painting commissions because usually the subject is chosen in advance and it isn’t always something I might choose to paint on my own. But I DO love commissions when I can choose the subject. The instructions were “just paint something from Sanibel”. I had no idea what that would be when I set out on my bike with my sketch kit in the panier, but as soon as I saw the turquoise trim and the orange umbrellas of the Tipsy Turtle Restaurant & Bar, I had a feeling that might be the place. I’m not carrying a folding stool on this trip so I sat on the curb in the parking lot. Unfortunately I was there between lunchtime and happy hour so there were no patrons at the tables to model for me, but I did have a Wood Stork nearby to keep me company.