I was back in Angell Woods with my easel today. The woods were packed with walkers and their dogs, which was a joy to see, but I set myself far back enough off the path to avoid getting knocked over by curious dogs. Standing at the easel helps, of course. When I was sitting on a stool last week, I was at dog level, which made me and my gear much more interesting.
I’ve wanted to paint this big old tree for the longest time. It’s at a place in the woods where the path takes a sharp turn at the base of slope, and you can’t miss it. It felt great to be painting outside on a warm autumn day, especially because in a month or so I’ll likely be back in my car studio waiting for the snow to fall.
My plan for today was to continue painting red peppers, this time in watercolour. But an opportunity presented itself that was too good to pass up. My street was blocked off for major tree trimming and felling in everyone’s backyards along the power lines. Before I even had time to finish my morning coffee, there were at least a dozen trucks from Hydro Quebec and a tree trimming service parked up and down the street. Massive vehicles, orange cones, men in hardhats, neighbours out taking photos of the giant crane lifting branches over the houses. All too good to miss, especially these days when not much happens anywhere near my suburban neighbourhood.
I’m always looking for an idea that I can use as an inspiration for a series of sketches. Especially during these mostly at-home days. After I did my market sketch yesterday I started thinking about the colour red, because after all we are in a Covid red zone in Montreal starting tonight.
Reds have always been difficult for me, so I thought I might explore working with different reds and see where that leads me. I started with a James Gurney technique — casein to cover the sheet, a drawing using a water-soluble pencil, and then a gouache painting on top of that. My gouache palette was pretty limited — Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and white. The aim of the exercise for me was to really look at the reds (cool, warm, light, dark, in light, in shadow) and paint what I saw. I hope to try to same thing in watercolour tomorrow.
Montreal is on red alert, and that makes me sad, so I had to get out to paint something colourful to counteract the pandemic blues. There are so many new cases both here and in Quebec City that restaurants, bars, museums, theatres and cinemas are all closed again. It’s not a full lockdown like in March. For the moment, schools are still open. The numbers are discouraging though, and this time it’s due to community spread. Starting tomorrow, and going until the end of October, there’s a ban on home gatherings. See why I needed to paint something colourful and full of life?
I have a new addition to my travel palette these days. I’m trying out Winsor & Newton Chromium Black. It’s one of the special edition colours they released last year, and is described as the colour of twilight. Isn’t that beautiful? I don’t usually have black on my palette, but I just love the warmth of this one. It’s almost like a warm sepia, and when mixed with any yellow it gives you a beautiful dirty green.
It was back to life drawing today with our model Marie. I brought along some gouache and used toned paper, to see what that was like. Marie has long curly grey hair which is a challenge to capture in gouache. I wasn’t really sure if using the white paint was effective, but it was a good learning experience.
Every week I feel grateful to be there, drawing, during this pandemic. But with Montreal and Quebec City moving into a red alert Covid zone tonight, I wonder how long we will be able to keep meeting. As long as the session is on, I will be there, appreciating every moment I can draw in person.
Do you have an inspiration wall? I have a series of bulletin boards in my office, covered in postcards with images of work I love to look at every day. There’s lots of David Hockney images on that wall, including a drawing of Stanley, one of the artist’s dachshunds. That must have been in my head when I was drawing Alice today.
Not on my inspiration wall but definitely something I would love to see in person is a new exhibition of drawings called “Studies in Sunlight” by Michael Thompson at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto. I especially love Mike’s dog drawings.
What’s on your inspiration wall?
In Angell Woods there’s a car skeleton that I’ve been admiring for many years, but I’m always walking Alice when I go there so I never have time to draw. This time I went into the woods without the dog to sketch this aqua beauty. The problem though, is that Angell Woods is still a place where everyone else walks with a dog. As proof, if you click on the image to enlarge it you will see on the far right lower corner of the sketch the area where a dog slobbered on my sketchbook, and a blurry area on the top right where another dog put his whole drooly face on the book and almost knocked me over into the dirt in the process. It’s a good thing I like dogs.
A few weeks ago I posted a sketch that I did at the Musée Maritime de Charlevoix. These days are busy, and although it was on my list to scan the full painting that I did based on that sketch, it’s been sitting in my studio until this week when it finally made it to the scanner. It seemed fitting to paint the larger version on a half sheet of watercolour paper that is made right across the street from the museum at Papeterie Saint-Gilles.
I’ve been experimenting a bit with this paper, which is very different from the Fabriano and Arches sheets I’m used to working on. It’s quite soft and beautiful to draw on, and the surface is a little smoother than what I’m used to, which makes it really easy to lift paint.
I also painted my final bouquet from Ferme Tournesol on some of the Saint-Gilles paper. I’ll certainly miss the flowers and vegetable baskets I’ve been receiving from them this summer, and sadly it will be back to the grocery store for me for both of those.
September is usually the month when I’m preparing for the Lakeshore Association of Artists outdoor show at Stewart Hall in Pointe Claire. This year we’ve decided to go virtual so everything is on our new website. Have a look at the show and at my recent paintings for sale on my sales page. Every year we support a community group, and this year 25% of each and every sale will go to On Rock Community Services/food bank. The show will be up until October 23, and if you’re interested in purchasing a watercolour, just let me know. Prices are in Canadian dollars and paintings are shipped unframed.
It was with some trepidation that I went back to life drawing sessions today. We’ve had six months of staying at home, in our own bubbles, except for occasional visits to grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, etc. But this weekly session is run by the City of Pointe Claire, and I feel that they are quite diligent with the hygiene of the room, which is in fact a huge space, and the reason I feel comfortable in it. Plus there are only a handful of us drawing — fewer than ten I think — plus the model. Once we are seated in our distanced spots we can take our masks off but most people leave them on anyway, including me.
After such a long break I was feeling rusty with life drawing too. I brought along some inexpensive Canson watercolour paper and decided to paint with just two pigments — Prussian Blue and Lunar Black. The black is a weak pigment, so the blue takes over, but the black has wonderful sedimentation, which seems to give an interesting effect on the Canson paper.
In the three hour session our model Melanie did lots of short poses, but these are the last two longer ones of twenty minutes each. It really was a joy to be back in that room drawing live people. I’m already looking forward to next week.
It’s been a challenging summer for urban sketching. The pandemic has kept me away from crowded places, and the warm temperatures in Montreal weren’t conducive to car sketching. But it’s almost autumn, the air is fresher and I’ll be getting out more to draw. I miss it, and my location sketching feels rusty! And when I feel out of practice I go back to what is familiar. Today I drew Chocolatier Marlain, one of my favourite little spots in Pointe Claire Village. I usually draw this in winter because it’s particularly interesting with snow on the awning and stairs, but I’ve never sketched it in summer.
Along with more location sketching, other activities seem to be starting up again, even if they are more limited or are online. I start Monday life drawing sessions, in person, tomorrow. I’m so excited for that to begin, even if everyone in the room, including the model, will be masked and distanced.
My local art group — Lakeshore Association of Artists — will be having a fall show coming up at the end of the week, but instead of being outdoors at Stewart Hall, it’s been moved online. I’ll post a link to that later in the week.
There are lots of new virtual workshops to help fill your autumn schedule. Suhita Shirodkar has a new online class called The Art of Capturing People, Places and Objects. Suhita’s a great teacher and this is guaranteed to be a wonderful class. Here’s a link to register.
I was interviewed recently by Chicago sketcher Nishant Jain for his brand new The Sneaky Art Podcast. Nishant and I met at the Chicago Sketch Seminar when I took his people drawing workshop. He’s a really smart guy and I had so much fun talking to him. You can listen to the full interview on your browser here or on Spotify or on Apple podcasts. And while you are on his podcast site, spend some time listening to his interview with Paul Heaston too!