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I love to sketch a place that has a good story. This one certainly does. It was the house that Paul and Linda McCartney bought in Tanque Verde, Arizona in 1979. It was pointed out by our guide on a golf cart tour through the desert yesterday — mentioned as casually as the tennis courts and the fishin’ hole.

What?? Paul McCartney’s house?? I googled it and sure enough the low buildings and turquoise trim matched the description of what we had seen. I headed back there today to sketch it. If you want to know more about the history of the property, here’s a bit of info.

Horses are curious

I don’t know much about horses, and I certainly have no experience drawing them. But even before I arrived at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, I knew I would want to sketch them, and that was the first thing I did today.

Luckily they were in a temporary paddock because the regular one was getting cleaned so I had a better view than is normally possible. At first when I arrived, they were almost all standing still. Some were even sleeping on the ground in the early morning. (Excuse my ignorance if I say anything stupid about horses because as I said, I know nothing about them.) The fact that they were all so still made them easier to draw. Occasionally one would get frisky, annoy a few others, and the whole group would shift positions. But once they stopped moving around, I was able to draw again, and since one horse mostly looks like another except for the colour and the markings, it was easy to continue the drawing.

Many of them were quite curious about me and my sketchbook. A lot of them came over to say hello and try to block my view. I had to move my sketching stuff because a few wanted to see what was in the bag.

Once you study their anatomy for awhile, they get easier to draw. The curves of their necks, the knobby knees, the way the eyes are situated on the head are all important details. I’ll be teaching a workshop here with Madeline Island School of the Arts this week, so there will definitely be more horse sketching with my students in the next few days!


This is the view from almost every window in my house this week — giant icicles hanging from the eaves. They probably should be knocked down but they are so beautiful I leave them and watch them change shape. I also keep taking photos for friends and family members who are in tropical places, just to show them what they are missing. But after I sent the last photo I thought that perhaps I should try to draw them. They are surprisingly hard to depict. They’re light in value but transparent in places and opaque in others. I guess the key is to convey what you can see through them. Luckily I have a tree in the backyard. Sketched in pencil in my Hahnemuhle A4 sketchbook.

Saturday melt

This is a curve in the road that I’ve painted so many times I could almost paint the shapes from memory, but every time I sit in this parking spot the light and mood are a little different. Sometimes it’s bright, like this. Sometimes I paint it in summer like this. Sometimes it’s even colder than today. And sometimes I focus in on details. After yesterday’s snowfall and this morning’s warm temperatures, it was pretty wet on the streets so I tried to create an atmosphere of melting snow. The smooth paper I chose for this outing (Strathmore Gemini 140 lb) was luckily the right one for these types of wet brush marks. On a more textured paper (like Arches Rough) it would have been more difficult to do this. I also tried to keep the colour range quite soft, using mostly Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue and a bit of Lemon Yellow for that distinctive wall.

It’s always a thrill to open an email that has a subject heading “Congratulations! Your Work Has Been Accepted”. It’s even more exciting when it’s followed by this:

We are pleased to inform you that your work has been accepted into the 156th Annual International Exhibition of the American Watercolor Society. The exhibition will be held at the Salmagundi Club in New York City April 3-28, 2023. Congratulations on your acceptance into this prestigious exhibition!  We’ll be in touch soon with the next steps.

What exciting news that my painting “Wetlands” was selected for the show. If you’re in New York in April, it’s definitely worth stopping in to see the exhibition, not only for the high quality of the watercolours that come from all around the world, but also to get a chance to wander through The Salmagundi Club — the beautiful historic venue where the show takes place. I hope to get there for the opening reception on April 11!

Saint-Joachim de Pointe Claire

In the hours between a snow fall and a snow clearing, it can be difficult to park in Pointe Claire Village. The streets are narrow and there’s no place for an eager sketcher to find a spot to paint. But luckily after Friday’s storm, the area around Saint-Joachim de Pointe Claire church was cleared first, so I found a place to sketch with an unobstructed view of a scene I love.

It doesn’t seem like this would make an interesting subject. It’s the back entrance to the presbytery, with the side of the church behind it. But I love it because of the overlapping shapes in the scene. The back entrance of the presbytery overlapping the side of the church, the utility pole in front of the door, the snow markers breaking up the foreground shapes as well as providing some diagonal movement, and of course a few trash bins, a road sign and that red door for much-needed colour in a mostly monochrome scene. Painted from my car on a quarter sheet of Arches CP 140 lb paper. Painting time: about 1.25 hours or until I couldn’t feel my toes anymore.

A new path

Alice the stick-chewing dog leads me to all kinds of places on our walk. This week she pulled me into some recently cleared woods behind a soccer field and next to the neighbourhood pool. Because the city has recently cleaned out the area and put down some mulch on the paths, you can now walk through this tiny square of “wilderness” in the suburbs. You might wonder what there is to paint in these woods on a grey day in January, but when there’s a bit of water I always find it compositionally intriguing. There’s direction, contrast, movement and, most importantly, a path for the eye to follow through the landscape. Painted in the warmth of my studio on a quarter sheet of Winsor & Newton 140 lb Rough paper, using lots of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna.

Ink drawings and a new demo

It’s not a day for sketching outside (freezing rain and icy roads!) so I set up a few things to draw on my drafting table. First some clementines — I was about to eat them and then noticed how beautiful they were — and then my grandmother’s assorted silverware. I’m not sure why this combo of things seemed to go together, but I guess the curves of the fruit and the rigidity of the flatware made a nice contrast on my sketchbook spread.

In Montreal, the snow has all but disappeared, but I will get back to painting snow scenes soon. I see snowflakes on my weather app and I can’t wait for it to be white again here. In the meantime, there are a few new options on my website if you want to paint snow. “Winter Woods & Stream” is my newest one-hour demo that’s on sale this week (you may have seen it when it was streaming on the CSPWC website last year) and if you are really ambitious, have a look at “Bundle Up for Winter“, three winter courses bundled together at 20% off.

Shades of grey

There’s been no sun in Montreal for many days. We had rain and a big thaw on the weekend, and what’s left of the snow is mostly piles of greyish ice. Not very pretty to draw, but I really wanted to do some car sketching so I went out anyway.

On days like this I circle around in my car, waiting for something to catch my eye. Sometimes I stop at three or four places until I find the right spot. It’s not easy to get excited by the monochrome landscape. There’s hardly any colour and no shadows. The only thing I can hope for is some contrast, which I finally found down by the lake. The breakwater at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club is a subject I’ve painted often in the summer, and sometimes in the fall. I love the pile of rocks, the scraggly trees, and the view of Mount Royal and the Oratory in the distance.

Today this scene had two things that made it interesting as a subject: contrast and reflections. Those remnants of ice at the edge of the water, set against the dark rocks, gave me the bits of light that I always love to include in a focal point. And it’s not often that I get to paint reflections and moving water in winter, but on this warm day it was a treat trying to capture this scene with ink pen and diluted ink washes.

Last year’s Alice

Here’s a few sketches I forgot to post during the holiday rush: some drawings of Alice wrapping gifts and running through the snow. It’s hard to draw her when she’s in motion like this but I’ve drawn her so often that I can almost do it from memory. Drawn with a ballpoint pen in my Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook, A4 portrait size.

New brushes for a new year

I think I started using a Rosemary & Co. travel brush for the first time in 2016. I bought an R3 pointed round Kolinsky sable, which is equivalent to a #10 size at the Chicago Urban Sketchers symposium. After three years, the brush lost its point, and I replaced it with the same one. It’s the best all-around travel brush I’ve ever used, and if I could only carry one brush it would be this one. It holds tons of water and also makes very fine lines because of the long tapered point on it. Despite my abuse of the brush (not always cleaning it properly after use, digging into the small paint wells of my travel palette with it) it is has lasted for years. It’s the one at the bottom of the photo below. As you can see, the fine point is starting to go on this brush as well. I can’t tell you what I paid for the brush because it’s now discontinued. I know it wasn’t cheap because it’s pure Kolinsky (maybe around $50 or $60), but it’s a quality brush and it lasts through years of my abuse.

As you can imagine, I was really sad to see that they don’t make the brush any more. I find that the R3 size is just perfect for all my urban sketching needs, except for when I need a rigger brush, and for that I use their R5 rigger, which happily they still sell.

I ordered three new brushes for 2023, and I will be trying these out for the next few weeks. The brushes I ordered are:
Top: R9 Squirrel Hair Size 9 ($24.93 CDN)
Middle: The new R3 Pocket Red Dot Collection Large Mop Synthetic Fibre ($50.27 CDN)
Bottom: R2 Pocket Pure Kolinsky Sable Size 8 ($39.74 CDN)

Since it’s raining and grey outside, I did a quick sketch in studio just to do a preliminary comparison. My favourite is still the R2 pure Kolinsky sable because it has a great point, holds lots of wash and has tons of spring. I used it for a lot of the details in this sketch. The spring in the brush is what gives it the ability to make the finer marks like the branches in the windows. It does not split when you drag it across the page and you don’t need to twirl it to get that good point. Even though it’s a little smaller than what it’s replacing, it’s still a winner for me.

The new R3 brush is from the Rosemary Red Dot Collection of synthetic fibre brushes, and this is what they recommend to replace the old sable R3. It’s a beautiful brush as well, holds a lot of wash and also has a great point, but it’s not as accurate for the details. It was what I used to do the big grey wash on the stone wall.

I realize that Rosemary doesn’t ship sable brushes to the US, so the third brush I tried, the R9 squirrel hair brush would be a great replacement for the R2. It’s a little floppier than sable but still has a good point, a wide belly, and holds a lot of wash. It was what I used to get all the snow texture at the bottom of the sketch. If you’ve never used a squirrel mop brush, here is what Rosemary says about squirrel hair: Pure Squirrel hair points as well as Kolinsky and Red sable, but has very little ‘snap’ because the hair isn’t very resilient. We use a mix of Canadian and Russian Squirrel hair.

As always, these are just my opinions based on doing lots of experimentation in my urban sketches over the past ten years. This is what works for me, and if it’s helpful info for you too, that makes me happy. Happy New Year and much creativity for 2023!!