It’s so rare these days that I go into downtown Montreal, but I had an appointment in town this morning so I built in extra time for sketching. As exciting as it was to be downtown to sketch, I couldn’t help but feel saddened as I strolled down lower Blvd. St. Laurent. This is normally a bustling area full of shops, bars and restaurants, but today it was a patchwork of boarded-up stores and restaurants gone bust due to the pandemic. I’ve been sheltered from it during these past nine months because I live in the suburbs, but today I got a glimpse into what I’m sure is happening in many cities. This is not the December we are used to. No twinkling lights, no glittery window displays, and definitely no strolling shoppers weighted down with gift bags. It was a shockingly sad sight.
I painted these white orchids for my aunt Marilyn who died yesterday in New York of Covid-19. We can’t get across the border to be with her family during this time because of the current restrictions, but I’m thinking about her today. She was a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, and she taught me how to bake the best chocolate chip cookies. She will be missed.
I’m so appreciative when friends tell me about a location where they think I might find subjects to paint. Last Saturday, before our snowfall, we took Alice on a scouting mission to find Technoparc Oiseaux.
This wetland and forest area is wedged between the airport and an industrial park. It’s divided into different sections, each one with its own maps and trails (only one allows dog walking), and is apparently the #1 birding site on the island of Montreal. The trails are a bit hard to find since this is an area maintained by volunteers and not part of an municipal or provincial parkland, but once you find the place, the views are worth the search. We only explored one section — mostly because I had a hard time keeping the Labrador Retriever out of the water — but I can tell I will find lots to paint in all seasons in these wetlands, so thank you my friends, for pointing me in the right direction.
I’m a little disappointed. I thought today would be the day that I had a dog, a cat, AND a prancing reindeer all in my sketch. How often does that happen? But the cat walked off before I could sketch it. If you look closely you can see an pencil mark where I started to draw its ear in the bottom right of the sketch. After lots of practice, I can manage to draw a dog without much reference, but the silhouettes of moving cats are still a mystery to me. As for the prancing reindeer, it’s on my neighbour’s front steps, just behind the dog walker.
In Montreal we had our first significant snowfall last night, but by this morning it had turned to rain and slush. And so it begins. Winter in my city.
As much as I love painting winter scenes, I also love travel sketching. And while we wait out this pandemic, it’s fun to be able to revisit some of our favourite places through our sketchbooks, from the comfort of home. In my newest online sketching class, launching today, I go back to Mexico, a place I fell in love with when I visited last year. The colours, the food, the life on the street — I miss it all and hope to get back there to sketch (and hopefully teach) again soon. In the meantime, have a look at “Mexican Street Scene: Sketching Urban Life and Texture”. In the course, I travel back to Mexico to share my favourite watercolour techniques for painting skies, architecture, people and even cars!
For a preview of Mexican Street Scene: Sketching Urban Life and Texture, have a look at the trailer.
I had the great pleasure of being an invited guest at two end-of-session virtual block parties for Sketching PlayLab. If you haven’t heard of these sessions, they’re interactive sketching events led by my good friends Paul Wang and Suhita Shirodkar. Every week they experiment with different techniques, materials and ideas for making art, and they are so much fun. Suhita and Paul will definitely be running more of these in 2021, so if you are in need of ways to keep those creative juices flowing, make sure you get on their mailing list for upcoming sessions!
I did a couple of little gouache demos during the block party. Since the theme of the party was thankfulness, and we were asked to sketch objects that were meaningful to us, I sketched this clay skeleton that I brought home from the Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca. I’ve been looking for a name for this guy, and I’m not sure why Paul referred to him at some point as Edward, but the name stuck. Eduardo he shall be from now on.
I also sketched another favourite subject of mine: the ink bottles in my studio. Their shapes and colours always make me happy, and doing a little gouache demo fit well into the idea of play and experimentation since I’ve been playing quite often with gouache these days.
Grey. That’s what these mid-November days are like when the trees are bare. The signs of winter surround us — driveway markers are up, leaves have been raked, outdoor furniture is stored — but winter is not fully here for me until the snow falls. My greys were painted today with a limited palette in gouache: Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Yellow and White. And of course a few dots of red for contrast.
Why is it so difficult to draw the faces we know the best? I’m not talking about self-portraits here. We’ll leave that for another day. I’m talking about members of our family or really good friends. People we have been around for years whose eyes and ears and mouths we know so well that they become difficult to step back from and look at objectively.
I am asking this question because for the past few days on my walks and runs I have been listening to my friend Suhita being interviewed on Nishant Jain’s The Sneaky Art Podcast. Suhita has been drawing her family for years. In fact, her way back into drawing over ten years ago was by drawing her two children, who were toddlers at the time. If you have been following her blog, you have seen her children grow up on the pages of her sketchbook.
With that in mind, and continuing my thoughts from the other day about developing a daily routine of drawing, I thought I’d share some of the drawings that I don’t usually post. These are the ones I do on my iPad at night, after dinner, before watching an episode of The Crown. I don’t usually share these because I find drawing members of my family too personal, and I don’t want to offend them if the results are not flattering. Hence my sketches of Alice the dog who would never complain if an ear or eye was out of place. But listening to Suhita has emboldened me, so here goes.
These days the only victim of my iPad scribbles is my husband. Good thing he spends a good amount of time reading. The kids were here for a time during the first lockdown, but now they are back in their respective apartments and I only have one human model.
As you can see from these, sometimes I am experimenting with iPad brushes or colours, and the subject is secondary. It’s the process that makes the activity worthwhile, not getting a good likeness.
There is no attempt at correction in these either. If a line is in the wrong place, I just draw another line. I try not to erase. I try to make the experience most like using a pen and ink on paper. With a little bit of grey marker added at the end. And my husband usually does not realize I am drawing him until later, so he moves his hands and I continue drawing. Unsuspecting models are the best.
Suhita’s podcast interview is really interesting and Nishant is a great interviewer. Together they dive deep into what motivates us to draw. If you are a novice urban sketcher or need some motivation about where to start, you’ll find it fascinating. And maybe it will give you the courage to draw (and share) the faces you know best.
Being at home more this year has given me the gift of time. More time to paint, more time to create videos, more time to work in my neglected garden, and the gift I appreciate the most — more time to read. And that means not just catching up on novels, but also having time to crack open new art books, as well as reread old ones. Today I’ll share of a few of my recent favourites, and coming soon, a post about the ones I go back to again and again.
The Urban Sketching Handbook: Techniques for Beginners by Suhita Shirodkar Don’t be deceived by the title of this book — Suhita’s book is not just for beginners. Sketchers of all levels will find ideas in here, and who doesn’t need inspiration these days?? Suhita’s blog was one of the first sites I discovered when I was new to urban sketching. In fact it was her market sketches — so filled with life and colour — that gave me the courage to go out and sketch in public. In this book you’ll find a wealth of ideas about where to begin when sketching objects, places and people (with great examples from sketchers all over the world), but most of all you’ll find Suhita’s endless enthusiasm for exploring the world around you (or right inside your own home!) with a pen and your sketchbook.
Other recent releases in this series which I am proud to be a part of:
The Urban Sketching Handbook: Drawing with a Tablet: Easy Techniques for Mastering Digital Drawing on Location by Uma Kelkar
The Urban Sketching Handbook: 101 Sketching Tips: Tricks, Techniques, and Handy Hacks for Sketching on the Go by Stephanie Bower
The Complete Urban Sketching Companion: Essential Concepts and Techniques from The Urban Sketching Handbooks–Architecture and Cityscapes, People and Motion, Working with Color by Shari Blaukopf, Stephanie Bower and Gabi Campanario
Finding Sanctuary: An Artist Explores the Nature of Mass Audubon by Barry Van Dusen I discovered Barry Van Dusen‘s work when he commented on my blog a while back, and as soon as I found his website I had to get in touch and order his book immediately so I could study his technique close-up. This is a hardcover you will want to keep around on your coffee table and enjoy slowly. At least that’s how I’ve been reading it. Barry spent four and half years as artist-in-residence at Mass Audubon’s 61 wildlife sanctuaries and nature centers, recording his observations through sketches, watercolours and blog posts. But this book is much more than a chronicle of what he observed on his many visits to the Audubon sites. You’ll find preparatory sketches for paintings, tips on observing flora and fauna, and plenty of insights into his painting process. And each watercolour is a masterclass in colour, composition and technique. A gem of a book.
The Nature Explorer’s Sketchbook by Jean Mackay I have been enjoying Jean Mackay’s blog for many years. If you don’t know her work by now, have a look. On her sketchbook pages and in her blog posts, you’ll find not only her keenly recorded nature sketches (birds, nests, eggs, feathers) but also elegant hand-lettered descriptions and titles, as well as tips and techniques for creating your own sketchbook pages. I was so excited to see the recent launch of Jean’s book The Nature Explorer’s Sketchbook. Geared for ages 10+, it invites kids to begin a lifelong journey of nature exploration with ideas, tips, and plenty of space to sketch. Perfect timing for the holidays, right?
Capturer l’âme d’un lieu par la forme et la couleur à l’aquarelle by Marion Rivolier I received Marion Rivolier’s book in the mail a few weeks ago, and as soon as I had a look at it, I realized it was a labour of love. Do you know her work? If not, have a look. She paints in direct watercolour — no pen or pencil to start — and if you’ve ever tried that technique you’ll understand what a challenge that is and why I’m in awe of her bold on-location sketches. I’ve met her many times at Urban Sketchers symposia, taken a workshop with her in Chicago and still, her strong and colourful way of painting and the way she marries warm and cold dark colours with warm and cold light colours remains a mystery to me. I have to admit, this is going to be a slower read for me because it’s in French, but I’m looking forward to reading, learning and hopefully experimenting with her ideas.
I apologize in advance for the blue mood of this post. The Covid news is grim these days in Canada. And in many other parts of the world. It’s hard to remain upbeat. And for many people, hard to find motivation to draw. I hear this so often from friends and students. One way I tackle this is by making sure I draw something every day. I don’t always post the drawings I do because sometimes they’re just scribbles on my iPad, but for me it is the routine of it that is important.
You don’t need a fancy setup to draw every day. Just draw what’s in front of you. Keep a pencil and sketchbook handy. Do it first, if you find that the day goes by quickly and you can’t find time to draw. Keep it simple. Draw virtually with friends. Try new materials. Don’t worry about the end result.
For today’s drawing workout, I picked up a water-soluble pencil in Permanent Blue (Museum Aquarelle from Caran d’Ache). Of all the water-soluble pencils I’ve tried, these are my favourites because they release so much colour and they make beautiful darks. Sketched after breakfast in a Handbook Watercolour Journal 8″ x 8″.