Begin with blue

I rode my bike to my favourite sketching spot along the canal in Sanibel to sketch some boats at the marina. I spent a moment thinking about the process for this sketch before I put brush to paint. The first step in a sketch like this is to paint a light wash of blue over almost everything. I begin with the sky and move right down into the water, leaving whites only where the lightest parts of the boats will be.

Why does blue work as an underpainting for this sketch? Because in a scene like this, almost everything has blue in it. The palm fronds are a blue/green, the distant trees have blue in them and the shadows on the boats are blue. A unifying wash of blue ties everything together, and hopefully creates colour harmony in the sketch. Highlights of red, white and pale yellow are added later, but with an opaque paint that I know will sit on top of the transparent colours.

The only thing I didn’t manage to capture in this sketch is the dolphin that surfaced just a few feet from the dock I was sitting on.

Greetings from sunny Sanibel

I’m taking a little break from winter, and also teaching a workshop in Fort Myers, Florida next week, so it may be a while before you see snow sketches again. I’m back on beautiful Sanibel Island and looking forward to drawing boats, reflections, beaches and shells.

This year we decided to drive from Montreal to Florida (with Alice the dog) — an adventure that probably requires its own blog post. I did no car sketching on the drive down, but now that we’re here and settled, the paints are out again. I’m still recovering from the three-day, 2820 km car journey, so I could only muster enough energy to sketch the view from my backyard chair, but I’ll be venturing further afield in the coming days! And maybe I’ll even sketch Alice at the beach.

A new pairing

Winter started with a bang and then faded. The snow we had in November melted away and except for a few flakes here and there, the ground was bare, and so was the wheelbarrow, until today.

Instead of using my daily palette and sketchbook, today I pulled a few new things out of a drawer: a Laloran sketchbook that I bought this summer, and a Daniel Smith Half-Pan set of earth colours called Desert to Mountains.

I love trying new pigments, and this little set contains six pigments that are mostly new to me: Buff Titanium, Raw Sienna Light, Bronzite Genuine, Venetian Red, Burnt Sienna Light and Lunar Black.

Buff Titanium and Lunar Black are both colours that have lived in my palette at one time or another, but my revelation today was to combine them. I’ve always found Lunar Black a bit too granulating, and Buff Titanium a bit too bland, but put them together and they make a warm grey that is quite opaque and very creamy — a pairing I will definitely be using again, even if it means carrying a second palette with me when I go out.

REM, moving up and over

I took a few days off from urban sketching of the REM line because of other commitments, and when I got back to it today they had made significant progress, moving right out of the Canadian Tire parking lot and into another big box store area where the views are even better. For the first time this line will soon intersect with a major north/south road that goes over the Trans Canada Highway, so there is an existing overpass that the rail line will cross. That means it will be even more elevated than it is already. The supports have gone up already for the raised portion, but we are all waiting to see the engineering of the line as goes over St. Charles Blvd. I hope I can find a viewpoint to draw it, but it’s highly unlikely that I can stop my car anywhere near the crossing. I may have to wait for spring when I can stand outside to draw.

Looking up

From my parking spot near the REM project this morning I had a view of cars. After all, I was in a parking lot, sitting in a car. But what makes sketching this sketching project so much fun is that the action is all at the top of the page. How often does that happen? Usually when I sketch from my car, most of my subject is at the bottom half of the page, and the rest is sky. But I love this site for the variety of compositional choices I have.

I’ve been trying to include figures in each sketch, mostly for scale. At any given moment, when I look up, there are orange-suited workers on almost every piece of equipment, no matter how high or whether the machinery is moving or still. In fact the very last brushstrokes I made today were to add in the tiny figure at the top of column, tucked in under the end of the concrete segment. Can you see him? He looks like he might be about to take a Tarzan-like swing into the Canadian Tire sign.


I went in search of Marie this morning but couldn’t find her and instead ended up sketching what I think might be the start of the platform for the Blvd. des Sources REM station.

Marie is the sister launching gantry to Anne, and she’s also named after a station where the elevated line will end — Avenue Marie-Curie. I’ve seen Marie from the highway, but she seems to be hidden behind some industrial buildings. I drove in a big circle to try to find her, without any luck. But there’s evidence of the REM construction everywhere in the West Island, and after my futile search I ended up on Blvd. Sources where I found this scene. The blue crane, orange tarps and yellow cement truck stopped me in my tracks (no pun intended), and that was my scene.

REM at dusk

I look at this REM challenge not only as a way to document a significant construction project in Montreal, but also as a way to strengthen my urban sketching skills. Yesterday I went to the site at 3:30 pm, which is just before the late November sun sets in this part of the world. I had to draw quickly at that hour, and paint fast too. The light was bright and clear, the shadows were sharp, but I knew it wouldn’t last.

In my cold car, drying time is slow, and I didn’t want to wait precious minutes turning on the car heater, so a lot of this was done wet-in-wet, especially when I painted Anne (the yellow gantry) as well as the long elevated rail line. I debated about leaving out the Canadian Tire sign, but having it there helped me place the shapes around it. Note to self: even when time is of the essence, spend a little more time drawing the signage and making sure it’s centred on the panel.