Grey Monday

If you live in Montreal you probably woke up this morning to the sound of car windshields being scraped. Freezing drizzle, not to be confused with freezing rain, has been falling all day. Walking is treacherous but the white stuff that settles on the trees is quite unique. Neither snow nor ice, it is more of lacy coating that covers trunks and branches, and is actually quite beautiful if you don’t have to spend time scraping it off your car. From my window at school I had a view of the cemetery nearby, and it seemed like the perfect weather to draw in greyscale. Sketched on my iPad during a short break between classes today.

Ottawa Street, Griffintown

When I first started sketching in 2011, Montreal’s Griffintown neighbourhood was a very different place. It was just the start of a massive construction and gentrification process in what used to be the first area where Irish immigrants to this city would settle in the early nineteenth century. In 2012, the old buildings were still intact and I sketched the row houses and a few cranes. Seven years later, it’s even harder to find traces of the old neighbourhood. Griffintown is mostly tall condo buildings, construction sites for tall condo buildings, pricey home furnishing stores (you have to fill those condos with something), restaurants and cafés. I realize this is part of the evolution of cities but I miss being able to draw places like the Horse Palace and other old buildings in the neighbourhood. This watercolour is another half-sheet painting that will go into the upcoming show at Galerie Carlos in March.

Alice under the weather

Alice the dog did not have a good week. I suspect she ate something rotten in the woods. I will spare you the gritty details, but she did do a lot of sleeping. That gave me a chance to practice using different tools in Procreate on my iPad — chalk, coloured pencil, and different ink and paint brushes. I’m happy to report that she’s on the mend, and I am quite certain of this because on the last drawing she was back to her usual behaviour of looking at me impatiently, hoping for a walk, while I draw.

Wednesday wheelbarrow and winter sketching tips

It’s too cold to paint outside this week — even in a pre-heated car — but the trusty wheelbarrow is always there for me. It looked especially fetching in the sun today, under a blanket of fresh snow.

I guess over the years I’ve become a lover of winter sketching, despite the discomfort I sometimes have to endure to get the sketches finished. If you’re curious about my do’s and don’ts for winter sketching (some of which you may have already read in my numerous winter blog posts!) have a look at There’s a great interview by Brenda Murray, including my colour recipe for shadows on snow. And while you’re there, check out the store too. You may decide you need this or that.

Red bouquet

I often buy myself flowers, as much for the pleasure of painting them as for just having some colour to look at during our long grey winters. I select the bouquets carefully, trying to find the least expensive one with the most blooms. Preferably in the sale bin, and hopefully not yet dropping petals. This time, though, I splurged. This bouquet cost a bit more than I usually will pay, but I chose it for no other reason than the red flowers were so intense that even in the store I was imagining colours I would use to paint them.

This bouquet required pinks and reds that are not in my day-to-day palette — Permanent Magenta, Cadmium Red Scarlet Hue, and Pyrrol Crimson — special colours that live in my paint drawer until I can find the right use for them. Probably purchased on a whim and then forgotten (like many pairs of shoes in my closet).

Someone asked me the other day for some tricks about painting a glass vase. I can’t remember where I read or heard this advice, Charles Reid, perhaps: paint what’s in the vase, not the vase itself. I try to focus on the stems and give only the most minimal indications of the vase itself.

San Pietro colours

There are a few colours I have on my two palettes that I love using when I am painting urban scenes, especially city scenes with lots of signage. The reason I have Naples Yellow, Lavender, Cobalt Green and Cobalt Teal on the palettes is because they’re semi-opaque pigments, so I can use them quite thickly and effectively on top of dark areas like windows and doors.

Cobalt Green is a new addition to the group. I found good use for it the other day when I was painting Épicerie San Pietro.

You might have already tried this out with your pigments, but if you’re not sure if your colours are transparent, opaque or semi-opaque, test them out by painting with them on top of a dark (and dry) swatch of watercolour (like I did below), or across a black line drawn from a thick Sharpie pen. The transparent pigments will disappear and the opaque pigments will sit on top of the dark surface, like these four did below.

A workshop announcement: Amersfoort, The Netherlands

I’ve added a new workshop to my summer schedule: three days of sketching instruction in Amersfoort, The Netherlands.

This workshop is really about travel sketching — capturing people, places and things that evoke memories of a time and a place — and of course returning home with a fat book filled with fresh and vibrant sketches. If you followed my posts a few weeks back, this was exactly what I was doing on Sanibel Island.

As part of a small group, you’ll observe plenty of demos and receive individual attention as we work on value studies, colour, composition, vignettes, lettering, simplifying a scene, and keeping our watercolours fresh. The focus will be on having fun as we sketch, capturing the cafés, canals and traditional Dutch architecture. Each day will end with a review and a group dinner (which is optional, of course, but always fun).  

Our location in Amersfoort, The Netherlands, was chosen because of the many historic buildings and canals, making it a perfect sketcher’s destination that can be explored on foot. It’s a city of medieval origins, with a rich history. No wonder it’s the most photographed small city in the Netherlands!

I’m excited to run this one through the Urban Sketchers Workshop Program, and you can find all the details here.