No left turn

Another day, another paper to try — this time a sheet of Strathmore Gemini CP 140 lb. This is one I liked a lot. It’s a creamy paper with a soft texture that’s gorgeous to draw on. It also takes paint beautifully and the colours remain saturated. If you look on the Strathmore website, the paper is described as a traditional “old world” paper, and that might be why I like it. It reminds me of a deluxe edition of a novel that’s been printed on deckle-edged 100% cotton cream paper. You know how those books feel rich and luxurious every time you turn a page? That’s how this paper feels. And it responds beautifully when you touch it with a brush. Rough edges where you want them yet smooth enough for details, washes remaining damp for the right amount of time. It’s a paper that just feels right to me. Definitely worth experimenting on some more.

As for my location, I painted from the car today. I managed to get out there for a tiny window of good weather this morning, in between last night’s snowfall and tomorrow’s forecast of rain/thaw. There was even a few hours of welcome sunlight which gave me the snow shadows that I’ve been waiting for.


These snowy days

These snowy days are great for experimenting in studio. When the art store was out of Arches Rough paper last week I bought some assorted full sheets to play with: one sheet each of Winsor & Newton Rough, Fabriano Rough, Strathmore Gemini, and Strathmore Imperial, all 140 lb. I’ve torn them down into half sheets and quarter sheets, and since the snow is falling too quickly to paint in my car, I’ve been experimenting.

I love Montreal’s lanes and alleys in winter. You can’t really see much of them from your car, but if you park and explore on foot, you’ll find some wonderful spots. I did a bit of that yesterday and came home with some photo references to use. Today I tried Fabriano rough to paint this scene of the lane that runs between Prince Arthur and Milton in the McGill ghetto.

I’m a fan of both Fabriano cold press and soft press paper, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried this rough stock before. It’s quite pebbly and the texture reminds me of some sheets of handmade paper I bought as few years ago from Papeterie Saint-Gilles in Charlevoix. It has a surface that has a certain smoothness, despite being rough, and that makes it easy to lift and correct. Have you ever used Fabriano Rough? I’d love to hear what you think.

Update to my original post: I have been asked how I do the trees, whether I use white paint or simply leave the whites of the paper. Below is a detail so you can see. As much as possible, I try to leave the white of the paper. You can see those areas because the pencil lines are still there. But when I need more snow on branches, or to break up a dark area, I use some Titanium White watercolour. I’m sure you can spot the lines of that too.


The shortest day

I know, winter solstice was yesterday. And although I did this painting on the right day, I’m posting it a bit late. The sentiment remains, though. Have a wonderful holiday season, whatever you celebrate at this time of year. In our house, we celebrate being together by cooking lots of great meals. There will certainly be some walks through these woods with Alice (this is a late afternoon view which these days is at about 4 pm) and hopefully some cross-country skiing. Thanks so much for saying hello here on the blog. It’s a joy to write about and share my work here, and it means so much to me to read your comments. I hope you have a wonderfully creative 2023!


Nitro in winter

I’ve driven by this scene on Lakeshore Road hundreds of times, and drawn that yellow wall on the right often, but I don’t think I’ve ever drawn this garage. Today it was particularly appealing with the snow-topped trash cans out front and a parked car that was the same colour as the trim of the doors. When I had just painted the darks of the windows, a guy came out of the little door for a smoke break. Hunched over, a droopy knit cap on his head, a cigarette in hand — he held the perfect pose in that doorway for quite some time. Long enough for me to add him in… if only I hadn’t already painted the door! Sketched on a block of Hahnemuhle watercolour paper, 9″ x 12″.


Village walk

We’ve had about 20 cm of snow in Montreal since yesterday morning, and it’s still falling. It’s heavy snow that’s bending branches and creating a bit of havoc on the slippery streets. But it’s so beautiful that I couldn’t wait for it to stop before going out to paint. I mostly couldn’t see through the car windshield but the occasional use of wipers helped. I would work a bit, and when I got really lost I’d turn them on to clarify some of the details. Not an ideal way to work but it was better than staying home. Painted on a quarter sheet of Arches Rough paper.


Old mops for snow

What fun to wake up to all this snow today! I rushed through work so I could grab my paints and set up in front of the window to paint my favourite snow day scene of my Norway Maple and my neighbour’s house in the distance. My neighbour even obliged me by coming out to shovel her stairs while I painted. I’m excited that winter is here, and this snow is supposed to last for a bit so I will be painting more winter scenes this week.

I did the first washes of this painting with these old mop brushes. I bought these on my first trip to Paris many years ago. I was still a university student, and these were a big splurge for me on my limited budget. But they are still great brushes and hold a ton of wash, plus aren’t they gorgeous objects?


Ginger with forty cloves of garlic

You might think that I’m about to make a fancy recipe that needs a lot of garlic, but that’s not the case. I was doodling in my sketchbook while chatting with Suhita and Nina on Zoom. The ginger and garlic were on the table in front of me, but since our conversation lasted longer than it takes to draw two heads of garlic and some ginger, I moved the garlic around and around and just kept drawing it at different angles. Drawn with my Bic 1.0 mm pen in my Hahnemuhle sketchbook.


Sunday morning in Lachine

I love the quiet of a Sunday morning in the old part of Lachine. Especially when it’s cold out. And grey. People are out only by necessity — to walk dogs, to smoke a cigarette, to pick up milk at the dep. It’s very different from spring and summer when there are visitors from other parts of the city who come to stroll along the lake and picnic in the park. And far less interesting.

Despite the cold, I painted from my car. I enjoy setting up the drawing for a scene like this. Each shape is a piece of the puzzle. I start with the buildings but if I’m lucky a smoker or a dog walker will walk into the scene and give a bit of life to the bleakness of the street on a cold and grey Sunday morning in Lachine.


Two tree shadows

The light was so bright and the shadows so distinctive in the corner of my yard this morning that I had to grab my pen and sketchbook. There was even one shadow I’ve never noticed before, despite drawing the wheelbarrow dozens of times. It’s from the tall fir tree to the left of the oak that supports my wheelbarrow. Today the fir cast a long shadow that travelled up the left side of the oak. Every time I glanced up those shadows were a little different, so I scribbled quickly with my pen to capture the shapes on the tree, the wheelbarrow and the shed.

There’s always a moment when I’m drawing with a ballpoint pen when I ask myself if it’s time to stop. In this sketch I suppose I could have kept on filling in what I saw above the fence. But what attracted me to this scene at that moment was the shadow shapes around the wheelbarrow, and once that was captured, it didn’t seem that interesting to cover the rest of the page.


Curry and cardamom

I’ve never really explored drawing with a ballpoint pen, but I have to say I am loving it. After some technical difficulties with Wednesday’s boot drawing, I decided to splurge on some new ballpoint pens yesterday. The good ones. Bic Cristal, assorted colours. And now that I am drawing with them (an assortment of spice bottles on my counter, used first to flavour a curry) there are some surprises. They are very effective at building up tones slowly and with some subtlety. And they make great dark tones too. I was not expecting that. I chose a medium nib so the first lines I start with are very light (no pencil under the ink), and I layer from there. It’s great fun and also very meditative at the same time. A perfect activity while the curry bubbles away (or overcooks) on the stove.