Sorry zinnias

I managed to scrounge up a few sorry looking flowers in my garden so that I would have something to sketch today. The asters are just beginning to bloom but the zinnias, sadly, were not a success right from the start. Clearly, I did not read the nursery tags properly when I bought them because I was hoping for tall flowers for cutting, and ended up with short ones that got eaten by bugs. Oh well… These are the last few that were intact enough to cut.

I painted them in direct watercolour, meaning no pen or pencil drawing to start. Sometimes with flowers, the freshest way to go is just to put down the colour on white paper. I start with the blooms and then connect them with greenery, adding layers of negative painting as I go. Painted on a block of Hahnemuehle The Collection watercolour paper.

Down by the river

Last week I taught my first local in-person workshop in Gananoque, Ontario. If you don’t know the town, look it up. It’s situated on the St. Lawrence River, about halfway between Montreal and Toronto, and not too far from Ottawa either. I remember going there as a youngster with my family to take a boat tour of the 1000 Islands, but I haven’t been back since. It was a wonderful surprise to discover how many things there are to sketch there — historic houses, a beautiful town hall, a colourful main street, parks along the Gananoque River, boats on the St. Lawrence — along with some nice hotels and great places to eat.

Our meeting spot each day was the 1000 Island Heritage Museum, which we sketched, of course, and right next to that is the 1000 Islands Boat Museum, which we also sketched. Was it wonderful to be sketching together on these beautiful September days? You bet!! I created a montage of a few photos of the group AND their beautiful work, and I had to include a photo of the little tugboat that was taken out of the docks just for us to draw!

Many thanks to Mary Ann who planned this so well, and to our sponsors: Chrysler House, 1000 Island History Museum and Gananoque Arts Network!

Pinyon Cafe

A few weeks ago I had the best coffee and pastry from Pinyon Cafe in Salt Lake City. But besides the best coffee, Steve also has the best coffee trailer. It’s painted bright orange! You can see why I had to grab my sketchbook and draw it after I finished my breakfast. He parks it at various spots around the city (follow him @pinyoncafe on Instagram to find out where he’ll be), and he’s a popular guy, not just because the coffee is great but because he’s super friendly and loves to chat. Everyone who stops there spends a little time hanging out, so it’s also a great place to draw people and dogs. And if you are lucky you may even get a few flowers from Steve’s garden along with your coffee.

Backlit house

Lately I’ve noticed lots of new outdoor seating areas in Montreal, created to accommodate more people being outside due to the pandemic. In downtown Montreal there are little enclosures in downtown neighbourhoods that have a single picnic table under a wooden roof and include signage to indicate that they are meant to be used by one family or group. I love that they are on busy corners where you might not normally think of having a picnic.

Closer to home, I noticed some new tables, giant planters and umbrellas on what used to be an empty lot at the corner of Cartier and Lakeshore in Pointe Claire Village. I’ve painted many times in that area but could never get a great view of this little tin roof house. Now that there are tables to spread out on, and umbrellas for shade, I have at least a dozen new angles and viewpoints to choose from at one of my favourite corners. I will try not to think about how close this spot is to an ice cream shop and instead focus on the fact that the best coffee in the village is across the street.

The challenge today was the backlight. The whole house was in shade but the tin roof was glaring white. I started my sketch by painting everything except the white in one wash (green for the trees and blue for almost everything else). I added details when that wash was dry. Sketched in an Etchr Perfect sketchbook, A4 size.

Back to the island

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you probably know that I love to test out art supplies. I’m not fussy about the “best before” date of things. I sometimes find stuff in the back of a drawer that I didn’t know I had, like this mysterious ink without a label, or this old paint tube. But it’s even nicer to try out new stuff, if I’m lucky enough to be the recipient of some samples. Last month, just before I was scheduled to teach at the Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island, I received a pad and a block of The Collection watercolour paper from Hahnemuehle Paper, one of our generous sponsors. I used the paper when I was sketching in Gaspesie, and liked it so much I did all my workshop demos on the pad.

One of my workshop demos was of the old wooden structures of the Madeline Island Museum. My workshop topic was about using triads and other limited palettes in watercolour, so you can see all the swatches I created before we got around to drawing our subject. I was using the 9″ x 12″ pad for my demos. This paper has a really nice texture and a lovely softness for pencil drawing. It also takes colour really well and the 140 lb cold pressed surface allows for some great dry brush effects (like what I did in the grassy foreground).

We also sketched at the legendary Tom’s Burned Down Café, one of Madeline Island’s most iconic spots. The poles, awnings, flags and hand-painted signs make it kind of irresistible for a sketcher. It’s a hard scene to paint because of its complexity, but we tried to contrast inside and outside space. As you can see, the paper takes the saturated, deeper colours really well too, which makes it a winner for me. I painted each of these scenes four times on site, so I can say I put the paper through a full test and I was still happy at the end. It was really durable and great for glazing, but I haven’t tried any scrubbing or lifting yet.

If you’re interested in receiving a free sample of The Collection watercolour paper to try, send an email to, and mention “Shari Blaukopf Blog”. (These samples are only available for shipping to the US and Canada.)

As for the Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island, I’m thrilled to announce that we’ve been invited back to teach again next summer! Dates are July 11-15, 2022, and details are here. If you joined us this past August, have a look at the descriptions, because we’ll all be teaching a little something different next year.

Capitol Gorge

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the experience of sketching on location in Capitol Reef National Park, here’s a studio painting I just completed that is also inspired by walking in the park. On the day with hiked Chimney Rock and Capital Gorge, I didn’t carry my sketchbook with me because it was too hot for a full backpack and a heavy book, so the reference comes from my photos.

I wanted to convey the sense of awe we felt in that park. If you’ve been there you know what I mean. The Waterpocket Fold — that massive ridge of rock layers that runs for a hundred miles through the park — is so magnificent that it’s hard to find words to describe it. Have a look at this to see what I mean. When I decided to paint it at home the only way to express what I saw was to use a full sheet of watercolour paper, and put in some tiny figures. This particular view is near the end of the trail, almost back at the parking area. The larger figure in the painting is our son who walked on ahead as I stopped to take a photo. The other two figures are invented but they seemed necessary.

When you’ve been working in a sketchbook, it’s not easy to scale up to a bigger size. I made two false starts before feeling that I had the beginning of something that might be worth spending time one. My problem often is that I begin by sloshing too much pigment on the paper, but a scene like this requires more layering and glazing so it often takes a few tries before I slow down enough to work my way through it. Of course now that this is done, all I want to do is more large paintings of our trip to Utah.

Golden Throne

The first time I visited the national parks in Utah, it was for work — enjoyable work because I had a commission to paint the parks — but work nonetheless. When we visited again this summer, it was for pleasure, and so I had time both to sketch and to hike at Capitol Reef, my favourite of the parks.

I brought my sketchbook and travel palette with me on a hike up the Golden Throne trail. The view of the rocks in the late afternoon sun was so spectacular and the light so dramatic that I stopped in a shady spot partway up the trail to sketch, and let the rest of the family climb up to see the view at the top. When I think back on it now, I remember sketching a bit frantically as I tried to capture the shapes of the peaks, the changing light and the plunging view. Ink and wash were the best way to work, considering the situation. Drawing in ink allowed me to rapidly suggest the many layers in the cliffs that are so characteristic of that park. The whole scene would have taken much longer if I had tried to do it just in watercolour with no ink.

I regret not adding an element to suggest scale in my sketch. Perhaps a car or a figure on the road below would have helped but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Sketched in a hardcover Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook, 9″ x 12″.

Bouquet in ink

I love being surprised by the properties of new art supplies. I drew this bouquet in pen while on a Zoom call with friends and later added colour with Winsor & Newton drawing inks. I’m more familiar with inks for fountain pens but these inks are made from dyes in a shellac binder so they are best used with a brush (like I did) or in a dip pen, because they are likely to clog a fountain pen. I love the bright, transparent colours (I used purple, blue, green and yellow) and how they swirled into each other when I prewet sections of the paper in my Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. They’re also really easy to mix on a palette, which results in more muted tones, but just remember to use an inexpensive brush and wash it well at the end to get out the ink and shellac before it dries.

Almost gone

With all the travelling I did in August, and a heat wave in Montreal, my garden is looking quite sad. But dead plants can be beautiful, especially if you contrast them with a few living ones. As they dry up, my Echinacea takes on a purplish brown colour, and I used it as an opportunity to try out some new products I received from our sponsors at the Urban Sketching Retreat a couple of weeks ago. A tube of Jadeite (a very deep green) from Daniel Smith makes the most beautiful granulation, especially when mixed with Lemon Yellow, Transparent Orange and Permanent Magenta.


I’m back at my desk, mostly unpacked from my travels, and finally sitting down in front of my trusty scanner. In the next few days I’ll post a few sketches that I did in Utah, but before I get to that, I have one from Bayfield, Wisconsin. There’s a great memory associated with this one. I sketched it on the afternoon of our last day of the workshop at MISA, sitting in Bayfield with my fellow instructors Uma, Jim and Paul. We bought ice cream from a takeout window and then sat in the park to sketch a bit before dinner. We were all pretty tired from long days of teaching, so first we spent a fair bit of time staring out at the boats going by and getting a sugar boost from the ice cream. Even after that it seemed that no one had much energy to sketch, but we all managed to find a pen or a brush and put something down on paper. I was too tired to think about colour so I just painted with blue paint. And as with so many sketches done on location, for me it will always be evocative not so much of what I saw at the time but of what I felt in the moment — a wonderful mix of exhaustion and happiness and a fair bit of guilt for eating a giant cup of French Silk Pie ice cream.