Alice wants a walk and I want to draw. It’s a battle of wills. For me, taking a bit of time to draw is a celebration of sorts —classes are done for this semester, which means that once grading is done I’ll have more time to paint. I sit down with my sketchbook, knowing that my model could get up at any time. Alice watches me with one eye, waiting for a sign. If I draw quietly without moving around too much, she stays put. But as soon as my chair makes a creaking sound, as soon as I close my sketchbook, that’s her signal that it’s walking time.
While I was painting car bumpers from my office window, there was a bumper car incident on Beaver Hall Hill in downtown Montreal. Glad I was painting instead of driving at the time.
When I have the opportunity to do some drawing, pencil and very smooth paper are my tools of choice. And if I am at school, students always make the best models. At this time of year, as we near the end of the semester, they don’t move that quickly — they are either studying or napping in the cafeteria, and almost always have their hats and coats on. I’m not quite sure why that is. I have students that will go through a full two hour class in a heated room with a parka on. Do you get that?
Contour drawing is the best method for me to capture gesture quickly. I think Charles Reid says it best: “Ideally you’ll concentrate on shapes, connections and the angles and distances your pen will travel to create a new shape.” He also gives three tips for his kind of modified blind contour drawing: Keep your eye on the subject, keep your pen on the paper and use a single line. I took some liberties with this wise man’s advice, but I still enjoyed the gliding motion of my pencil on smooth paper as it followed the contour of the subject. Sketched in a Stillman & Birn Zeta softcover book.
I thought it might be a nice idea to offer prints of my watercolours for the holiday season. So if you are thinking of buying yourself or someone else a gift in the next few weeks, have a look at the print shop I just opened on my website. I’ve chosen some of my favourite watercolours and made them available as large, signed prints. These are printed on archival quality paper with light-fast ink on 13” x 19” acid-free 260 g/m2 100% cotton fibre paper, and shipped to you in time for the holidays. You’ll find 20 of my favourite paintings in the shop, but I can also accommodate custom orders so if there’s something you like and don’t see in the shop, just let me know.
The wheelbarrow in a dark corner of my garden always comes alive in winter. I raced home from work today to sketch it, hoping the sun wouldn’t melt the little bit of snow that was still on it. I was in luck. While I sketched, I had a great conversation with Rob, who is painting a few rooms in my house. We compared painting notes, both on walls and on paper, and I told Rob that I had been painting this wheelbarrow for years. And then I started thinking about how many times I had painted it, which led me to counting the sketches in my files. I found 17 wheelbarrows in all, and there may be even more if I look at little harder.
Here are a few I have done over the years. As you can see, I do more sketching than gardening because I could only find one sketch of the wheelbarrow in use.
I used to hate winter until I started sketching it. Now I find myself looking forward to it. So much so that when it snowed overnight I briefly contemplated calling in sick today. I even imagined the perfect day I might have — my sketch supplies piled into the car, a mug of coffee in the cup holder, a series of stops at my favourite sketching spots. Perhaps a break for lunch in a café, with a view of more snow. But then I came to my senses, remembered that my students had projects to finish, and reluctantly de-iced my car before the long drive to school. Sketched in a Handbook watercolour journal, from a window at school during a break.
A few weeks ago I posted an oil study (below) that I’d done in class of a scene in West Yorkshire near Haworth. I’ve been working on a larger version of the scene for the past two classes, and thought it would be interesting to post the larger painting too.
The sketch is 7″ x 9″ but for the larger painting I chose a 12″ x 12″ wooden panel, and this time I expanded the scene to include some foreground. I’m not sure I’ve completely finished, but I took a phone shot of the painting before I left the class last night. Of course I can’t carry these paintings home because they’re still wet, but looking at the photo during the week is a good idea because it helps me find things I might want to work on during next week’s class.
Back in July, when I was looking at this scene and taking a photo for what would eventually be the reference for the painting, what I found really magical was the light on the distant hills. When I expanded the composition to include a larger foreground area, I chose to keep the lower part of the painting fairly soft so as not to compete with the upper part where I think all the interest is. We’ll see where this goes next week, but besides adding a few dabs here and there, I may leave it as is and move on to something else.