Alice watches the Stanley Cup Finals

I was very honoured to be interviewed by Colin Devroe of The Watercolor Gallery. If you’re interested, have a look at his wonderful site and the interview here.

As for today’s drawings, they don’t need much explanation. There’s no stopping Alice during hockey finals. She’s cheering and shouting the whole time. Can’t keep her down.

Shadows first

The morning light on the greystones on the north side of Carré St. Louis is always so beautiful. I was sketching there quite early today, in my usual spot at the edge of the square under the trees, but I only had a short time to sketch. With that in mind, instead of building up layers or glazes of watercolour, as I usually do, I tried a different way of working. I painted the shadow patterns on the wall first, knowing that if I had to pack up, I would have captured the most important shapes in the scene. I ended up having a few extra minutes so I added another layer of darks, and I suppose it might seem unfinished, but there’s also something nice about leaving it exactly as I saw it in the moment.

White on red

The purple smokebush in my garden is never more beautiful than in the summer when it becomes the background to all the other flowers in front of it. I especially love it when the daisies are blooming. I did a quick sketch of this combo in my Etchr sketchbook, starting with a background wash that moved from deep red to green. An Alizarin Crimson and Phthalo Green mix was perfect for this. I added a little Green Gold at the bottom to warm up the leaf colours. When that was dry, I used negative painting to define the red leaves. The last step was some quick definition in the daisy foliage and flowers.

An invitation to our Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island

It’s official! The Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island is on and it’ll be my first in-person sketching workshop since the start of the pandemic. I’m glad to confirm my attendence, along with three other instructors, now that we’re fully vaccinated and the travel outlook is far more positive this summer. This event was postponed from last summer, so it’s wonderful that it’s back on and that I’ll be teaching alongside Paul Heaston, Uma Kelkar and James Richards! Dates are August 16-20, 2021.

We’ve been working hard to plan this workshop, together with the very capable folks at Madeline Island School of the Arts, and we’re all so excited to be teaching in-person again. We’re also thrilled that it’s a group event, with five full days of sketching, lively group meals, and some great talks we’ve planned for the evenings.

If you don’t know about the school or its location, have a look at the MISA facilities, the beautiful island site on Lake Superior, and a description of our immersive week together. I am SO looking forward to teaching and sketching with people again! There are very few spaces left for this event, so make sure you secure your spot today. To find out more and to register, here’s the link. As for the sketch below, that’s Tom’s Burned Down Café on Madeline Island. Hope to see you there in August!!

Lily pads

It’s been ages since I did a full sheet watercolour. When you are used to working smaller, it’s hard to scale up. But yesterday was a really rainy day and I decided that it would be a good time to give it a go on a sheet of 300 lb Fabriano paper. My reference materials were photos and a sketch from a few weeks ago at the Botanical Gardens.

The first challenge when you work this large is to use brushes that are big enough. I have wide flats and big mops so that’s not a problem. The second challenge is to get those big brushes wet enough. My first attempt was actually too wet and drippy with not enough colour saturation, so I ditched it and started again. Yes, the paper is expensive when you ruin it, but the other night I watched a demo by the wonderful Canadian artist William Rogers who had something to say about paper. He said he buys stacks and stacks of watercolour paper and treats it like newsprint. If you’re too precious with it you’ll never make progress. I will remember that great advice.

The second time around I was more successful in balancing the pigment and the water. There are lots of drips but the colours are more intense than my first attempt, so I’m happy with that, and I hope to paint more of these big ones this summer.

Dry dock

I spent another sunny summer day painting on location with Marc Taro Holmes. This time we met at one of my favourite spots in the area: the Pointe Claire Yacht Club, and he scoped out a view that I had never noticed, right outside the entrance to the boat club. It’s under a big tree so there’s some good shade, plus it was a new vantage point for me. I thought I had painted from almost everywhere there, but there are still new places to be found, as it turns out.

My painting was mostly done on location but when I got home I added a few spots of white and black and pure colour.

To see what Marc painted, and also some of Laurel’s great photos of our outing, head on over to Citizen Sketcher.

Lots of green

I have a great memory of this little café/kiosk in Carré St. Louis because the owner of the place offered shelter to my group during a sudden summer downpour when I was teaching an urban sketching workshop there a few years ago. Last summer the place seemed to be closed due to the pandemic (or at least it was every time I walked by), but this year it’s hopping again. What a joy it is to see people milling about, enjoying coffee and listening to live music when jazz trios perform there.

Yesterday morning the light was clear and the park was filled with dappled shade. I had time to do a quick sketch on site, but not to complete it, so when I got home I repainted it at a larger size (1/4 sheet) while the colours were still in my head. I think I may have overdone the brightness a little bit, but that was what I saw. Lots and lots of green.

Breakwater, and an updated materials page

The overcast weather and nearly still water on Lac St. Louis were ideal conditions for painting the breakwater at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club this morning. Later in the day, while waiting for a friend to visit (yes, we can do that now!!) I started reading “E. J. Hughes Paints Vancouver Island“. I had never heard of this Canadian painter until receiving the book from my son a few years ago, and it’s a pleasure to learn about him and see how he painted his West Coast surroundings in oil, acrylic and watercolour. The book also includes lots of pencil drawings and studies he made for his paintings. There’s a spread in the book titled “Painting Technology”. So far, my favourite quote from the section is this one:

“Watercolours are a good test in getting things right the first time,” Hughes wrote to his sister Zoë on March 5, 1974, “as changes can only be made in darker and duller direction, and as you probably know from experience, in order to change a transparent watercolour in a paler and brighter direction, an artist faces a near impossibility, resulting in fuzzy edges. However, watercolours depend a great deal on happy accident for results.”

As for my own painting technology, I finally updated my Art Materials page to include my most recent studio and plein air materials, as well as a new section on gouache. Have a look here.

Paper testing

I’m testing out some new paper today: Fabriano 1264 Cold Press in pad format. I ordered it because I love taking Arches CP pads out on location, and I thought these might also be good for the same reason: convenience. Sketchbooks are great but sometimes you want loose sheets and are too lazy to cut up full sheets into quarters. At least I am! So this 11″ x 15″ pad arrived today and I had to try it out immediately.

This paper is not 100% cotton (it’s wood pulp) so it doesn’t have the same texture as the best Fabriano sheets. But I do like how it behaves, and here are my first impressions:

The washes sit on the surface of the paper and don’t sink into the paper as much. That means that the puddles take longer to dry. Even after half an hour the wettest blobs were still a bit damp. But that means you can get some beautiful effects if you are using a wet brush. Look at the way the deep purple salvia wash mixes with the green. I love that!

It also lifts really well so if want to lose some edges, like I did on the glass, they are easy to lift.

Admittedly, the texture is not as nice as the cotton stock — it has less of an irregular texture than I am used to — but I quite enjoyed working on it and will use it again for quick sketches in the field. And of course more flowers.


After a long winter indoors, and then lots of time in my garden, there is really only one thing I long to sketch. People! People in motion, people in cafés, people at markets, sitting people, standing people, walking people — all would suit me just fine.

With that in mind I headed out this morning to a park where I was pretty certain I could find some life. And I was rewarded almost immediately with an outdoor kick-boxing/circuit training class in progress. I spent an hour or so drawing anyone I could see from my spot at a picnic table in the shade — the exercisers, a mother dancing with her kids to the fitness music, and then lots of people walking by. Each drawing took about 20 seconds or less. In each I tried to capture a gesture, a movement, an expression, a distinctive item of clothing, some great hair, an original hat — really just one thing — in as few lines as possible. It’s a great exercise. As each person walking by me I would pick that thing and begin the sketch with that. A good example is on the third page. There’s a man walking with a tray of coffee cups, and in that sketch I started with his arm and the cups. When the person walked out of sight I would move on to the next person. Near the end of the hour when I started to get warmed up, I added a bit of shading. By the time I put away my pencil, I started to feel like I too had had a bit of a workout.