Impatient Alice

It was a mistake to try to con Alice into modelling for me just before dinner. I could tell from her half-opened eyes that she was not interested in a nap. Keep in mind that she considers “just before dinner” to be anytime between 4 pm and 6 pm when she finally gets food in front of her. She kept her position long enough for me to do a quick drawing in gouache, but as soon as there was the slightest sound from the kitchen, she trotted off. Luckily I had snapped a quick photo, so I was able to add colour from that.

Oaxaca people sketches

I’ve just finished scanning the rest of my Oaxaca sketches, and I saved my favourites for last. These are the ones I made the most effort on because they involve sketching people. I’ve said this many times as I write my blog, but this has always been the biggest challenge for me.

It’s not just because drawing people in motion is difficult, but it’s also because you have to be a little bit fearless when you are drawing someone who sees what you are doing. This can be complicated further when you can’t really start a conversation because you don’t share a common language. Take this sketch of the lady cooking tacos in the market as an example. She and the other cooks behind the counter could see me drawing, but every time I tried to draw their faces they would turn their backs. They were so shy, and yet I sensed they were flattered too. They wanted to see my drawing, but they weren’t sure they wanted to be in it. In this case, smiling and showing them the completed drawing was the best icebreaker.

The lady selling candy on the street was easier. First of all, she snoozed the whole time I was drawing. Plus she was a bit further away, so I doubt she saw what I was doing.

The hat seller was easy too. He was hiding in the shade behind his hats. At some point he got up to get coffee, and I drew the hats. When he came back I put him in.

The couple across the square were deep in a lunchtime conversation when I drew them. It was interesting to watch their body language and I loved trying to imagine what the conversation was about. He had his arm around her, and she was hanging on to that yellow bag the whole time.

I’ve already posted these last few, I know, but thought I’d add them in at the end because they remind me so much of the excitement I felt when I caught my first glimpse of Oaxaca. All the colour and movement of Day of the Dead, as well as the warmth of the Mexican people.

At the top of my list of fun experiences was sketching the brass band on our first day. Juggling my drawing tools was not easy in the middle of a crowd — I used a brush pen and water-soluble coloured pencils for this one — but it was such a thrill to capture them all with their spiky hair, skinny red jeans and shiny black shoes. When the show was over, someone who’d been looking over my shoulder motioned to them to have a look at what I’d been doing, and there were several rounds of selfies with me and my sketch. No need for a common language here. Music + art = happiness.


I’ve been waiting to sketch Anne for a long time. She’s heavier and more rigid than most of the models I sketch, but her bright yellow colour more than makes up for it.

Anne is the name of the launching gantry for the light rail commuter system that’s being constructed in Montreal. She’s used to hold the precast segments that will form the rail line, and she’s been coming my way for a long time. Because the rail line runs parallel to Highway 40, I couldn’t find a good place to sketch Anne (not many parking spots along the highway!), until a friend had a brilliant idea. He suggested I sketch from a nearby grocery store that has a second floor with picture windows facing the section of the line where Anne is now. And a nice seating area. Bingo!

You might want to know why she has that name. She’s named after the station where this part of the line will end: Ste. Anne de Bellevue.

It’s been fascinating to watch Anne move along the highway, as the elevated rain line getting longer and longer. The REM website explains the construction better than I can:  More than 4,000  segments (prefabricated parts manufactured in Québec) are transported by truck and then assembled using the launching beams. The beam is placed between two  pillars and lifts the segments in the air to assemble them one after the other, thus forming part of the deck on which the REM will travel. When a segment is completed, the beam is moved between the next two  pillars to continue its work, and so on.

My favourite part of watching the construction was to see the workers moving along the line, all attached to Anne by safety cables. It’s a surprisingly fast process, as each segment gets put into place. I think construction of the line will stop soon and resume in spring, which means I may even get to sketch Anne in the snow.

Oaxaca sleeping dogs

As a resident of a suburban neighbourhood where all canines are leashed, I was fascinated with the behaviour of the stray dogs in Oaxaca City, and probably could have spent my full five days drawing them. The first one that caught my eye was the one who was napping in the middle of a pedestrian street near a noisy market. Seemingly in a sound sleep as cars, delivery trucks and crowds of people circulated around him, he simultaneously jumped up and went into a full snarl as soon as another stray entered his territory. Needless to say, the other dog skulked away.

Another morning on our way for breakfast, we watched a very muscular sleeping dog on a street corner suddenly leap up and begin stalking his prey. The prey in question? A pigeon that was walking along the sidewalk. The dog slealthily followed the bird for quite some time, hoping to catch it for breakfast, no doubt. When the bird flew away, he was undeterred. He made a quick u-turn and tried to chase down a passing Toyota, narrowly escaping having his legs run over.

The dog that I finally ended up drawing was one of a group of dogs who dig themselves into the cool sand to take a siesta on the main square. They all seem very well fed and as much a part of the scenery as the balloon sellers and the tamale vendors.

A note about the materials for this sketch: I used my Etchr sketchbook for the whole Oaxaca trip. While I haven’t been working much in ink and wash these days, I find that the thick Etchr watercolour paper takes an ink line really well. Even though you can’t correct your lines (like the one across the dog’s face), I enjoyed reconnecting with my Pitt pens on this trip.

Before lunch

I took Alice out for a run in the woods this morning. It seems awfully early for an onslaught of snow this deep, but I’ll take it. I snapped a quick photo of my favourite winter view and had the painting done before lunch. A productive morning.

Oaxaca Day trip

The pre-Columbian archeological site of Monte Alban is just a quick twenty minute bus ride from Oaxaca City, but it seems a million miles away. The bus from the city transports you away from the crowds and noise, chugging up and up towards the clouds, and eventually lets you off at the base of a vast plateau. From there you climb a little more on foot, past the vendors selling bracelets and hats and pottery, past the ticket window, to what was, thousands of years ago, the centre of Zapotec civilization.

The site is vast, and requires several hours to see all of the monuments, carved stones and other structures. The best views of the plaza and surrounding hills of the Oaxaca Valley are found at the tops of the North and South Platforms. I climbed what seemed like a million high and narrow steps to sketch these two views, but it was worth it. From atop these platforms, besides getting to practice your one-point perspective, you get an incredible sense of how much construction went into levelling the mountain to create this site. And you meet tons of other tourists who are quite content to sit and watch someone sketch while they also catch their breath at the top.

Oaxaca dusk

Last week in Oaxaca, I filled my sketchbook pages will all kinds of things. Sketches big and small, as well as museum tickets and other memorabilia. I’ve really been enjoying having the space to spread out my sketches in this new Etchr A4 size sketchbook, but painting across the page doesn’t make for very good screen reproductions since the book is so big.

This spread includes a large panorama I did on the rooftop of my hotel at dusk one evening. When I look at it now, the word “fever” comes to mind, for several reasons. First of all because I was knocked out by some sort of virus that day, which was the reason I sketched not too far from home. I also painted feverishly, frantically really, because it was the end of the day and the light was changing quickly. By the time I finished this, I needed a flashlight to see my sketchbook, and I had to stop myself from piling on the paint in the fading light.

I also included a little sketch of a Beetle that was tucked into a covered parking spot. I spotted this while waiting for a bus, and sketched it in the ten minutes before the bus ride to Monte Alban. More about that trip tomorrow.