Morgan Arboretum

A walk on the trails of the Morgan Arboretum during a snowfall yesterday was a good opportunity to gather some reference images for painting. Although the arboretum is situated quite close to where I live, I’ve never had time to take advantage of the many walking and skiing trails. But as we all know, this is the year to appreciate what is close to home, so I’m now a member and will certainly be exploring this place in all seasons, both on cross country skis and with my sketchbook.

On a snowy day, the landscape in the woods is monochrome, so I have to admit I did take some liberties with colour, using lots of Burnt Sienna plus greens, reds and blues to enliven the scene. I painted on a sheet of handmade watercolour paper from Two Rivers paper in the UK. This is great paper if you are painting a subject that has a lot of texture in it like this or this.

A gift of the holidays

It was a fun time last night in Sketching PlayLab‘s end of year virtual block party. My friends Suhita and Paul shared their favourite sketching tools (check out Paul’s new Daniel Smith set) as participants listened and sketched. I think all sketchers love to get a glimpse into other sketcher’s toolkits, right?? I have to admit it was hard to draw and watch at the same time, but I did manage to sketch some pinecones in India ink and liquid watercolour.

If you are looking for an art experience for the holiday period, I have a suggestion. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, now closed because of the pandemic, is offering a gift for the holidays. They have made their five current banner exhibits available as virtual tours. I was hoping to see Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism: Signac and the Indépendants but never made it there before the museum closed in November, so I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to walk through the exhibit, even on a virtual visit. Also a must-see: Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures. I did preview both of these briefly, on my iPad, just to see what the experience was like. You can get a really good view of the work. Not as wonderful as if you were standing in front of the paintings, but it’s certainly better than not seeing them at all. I will be spending more time at all five of the shows over the holiday period. Here’s the link to all of the exhibits.

Écureuil gris

I just calculated and it turns out that I sketched this wheelbarrow for the first time just over nine years ago, but it has taken all that time for a squirrel to pose for me. It was worth the wait, I would say. Now I can say that I have an oak, a squirrel and an acorn all in the same drawing. The squirrel was sketched today with a dip pen and black Carbon ink in a Handbook Watercolour Journal.

Alice with lines

My sketch of Alice was done with Walnut Ink and a dip pen on Fabriano watercolour paper. Every once in a while I remember that I have these old dip pens hanging around in my studio, and I haul them out and dust them off. They’re not part of my plein air kit because who wants to carry around an ink bottle and a dip pen? But a dip pen is just so satisfying to work with. There’s the scratchy sound it makes when it is dragged across the paper, and the fat drip that falls from it after you take it out of the bottle. And if you are lucky another fat drip that lands on your paper in the middle of your drawing. My favourite illustrator who works with a dip pen is Barry Blitt. Have a look at how he uses it.

Oranges and oregano

I woke up way too early today so I drew before breakfast on my iPad. I’ve been using Procreate and an Apple Pencil for a year or two, and even though I’ve tried many of the watercolour and oil brushes, I keep coming back to my favourite — the one that is most like working with analog drawing tools — the 6B pencil. I don’t really use many of the features available to me in the app, like layers, transparency, fills, etc. That just seems too much like working in Adobe Illustrator. For me, using Procreate is like having a giant box of coloured pencils at my disposal. I use one pencil and just keep changing and layering the colours. The beauty of the process for me is having all of this available and easy to use, even before my morning coffee.


A few weeks ago we were taking a walk in the Technoparc Oiseaux in Montreal. The late November end-of-day colours were so striking that it made me gasp. It took me a few weeks to get around to painting it, but I had to see if I could capture the contrast between the warm and the cool tones in the scene. I went back this week and now the wetlands are a solid block of ice, so I’m happy we got to see this before it froze. Painted on a sheet of Arches Rough paper, 22″ x 16″.

Familiar corner

One of the things I love best about urban sketching is getting to tell the stories of the people or places I sketch. There’s not much of that happening these days, and I miss it. But today I have a story from my own neighbourhood. I have sketched the west side of the Pioneer Bar building in Pointe-Claire Village many, many times. You can see it on the right side of the sketches here and here and here. And there are probably many more sketches of it in my archives.

My story today is that when I arrived to sketch at my usual spot, the Pioneer was gone. It’s been scheduled for demolition for years, but there was an ongoing controversy because heritage groups for the city of Pointe-Claire were against the construction of condos and commercial properties being built in its place, and fought (and lost) to prevent its demolition. I have to admit the building was a bit of an eyesore, which you will see when you click on the link to the newspaper article, but I will miss the yellow stucco side wall, the big propane tanks and black metal fire escapes that provided me with so much opportunity for brush calligraphy. Au revoir Le Pionnier!

Bottles on grey

On my sketchbook shelf I just found a book I’ve never tried. It’s a Stillman & Birn Nova Series Trio — one third grey paper, one third black paper and one third tan paper — in a square 8″ x 8″ format. It’s a great book for practicing gouache, so I started sketching in it today and my aim is to fill it up completely. I’m not usually very consistent with my sketchbooks. I tend to draw in many at once, unless I’m travelling and only bring along one or two. But I think this paper is perfect for gouache, so I’m going to make an effort to go through it from front to back and use it both indoors and out. I’ll let you know if I’m successful.

Early winter

In December the snow comes and goes, and it’s usually not until January that we have a solid base that lasts until the spring. Last week we were out on a walk in my favourite wooded area near the house. In the early morning the sun was low and the shadows long. I snapped a quick photo and painted it later in the day from home. The snow is gone now, the woods are back to shades of brown, but I am patient. It will be back soon. Painted on a pad of Arches CP paper, using lots of Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, and my favourite blues for snow: Ultramarine, Cobalt and Cerulean.

Pears two ways

Pears two ways sounds a bit like a dessert you might order in a fancy restaurant. But mine aren’t poached or served in a pie. These were purchased at the store yesterday, set up in my studio today, and painted both in watercolour and in gouache. I was even thinking of trying them in coloured pencil or transparent inks, but I ran out of time.