October wheelbarrow

The wheelbarrow is back in its spot, under the oak tree, so you know I am ready for winter. I sketched it today with gouache on a block of watercolour paper. It made quite a good backdrop for the trumpet vine that has yet to lose its leaves.

My latest setup for gouache, which I find very useful, is the little porcelain mini-palette from Etchr. As you can see on their website, the 19-well tray is intended for watercolour and the 7-well tray is a mixing area. But I use the larger wells for gouache, and I’ve discovered that if I stack and store both trays in the little metal tin they come in (with gouache on the bottom), the gouache stays wet for weeks. That’s really economical because I used to squeeze out gouache on a butcher tray and would end up discarding a lot of it when it dried out. Now I just use the butcher tray for mixing. I suppose you could use also fill the 19 wells with watercolour and then have a really useful little portable kit with both gouache and watercolour! NB: Etchr sent this palette to me before I did my recent demo, but I am not an affiliate so I make no $$ by promoting this. I just find it really practical and I love the way the porcelain tray feels in my hand.


Studio travel

This time last year I visited Oaxaca, Mexico for the first time, and I fell in love with the culture, the food, and the beauty of the place. We took a day trip to the nearby archeological site of Monte Alban. I was supposed to be teaching there this November, but you know what happened to that. I miss travel so much, but today my paints and brushes went on a journey with me back to the breathtaking vista from that high plateau. This will have to do for now, right???


Rocks and replays

This year I’m determined to paint outside as long as possible, so I stood in my nearby woods this morning to sketch these big old rocks. You may have seen these before in my watercolours, but they’re usually covered in snow, and yes, that is coming soon enough.

Painting outdoors this morning was challenging. It was probably about 6C, which means that the paint doesn’t dry very quickly, if at all, so you have to get used to soft edges. And if you want to paint texture, like I did on the rocks, the paint needs to be quite thick. But if that’s what it takes, I’m fine with that. There’s a bit of snow in the forecast for this coming week, which means my days standing outside are numbered, but I’m dressing warmly and appreciating working en plein air.

I’m excited this year to be on the education committee of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour. Our group has been holding a series of free demos and workshops this month on Zoom. They’ve all been sold out, but if you missed them live, the first two demos with Poppy Balser and Bill Rogers are up on YouTube and will be there for the next month or so. They’re definitely worth watching!

Also on YouTube, you can find a replay of the live gouache demo I did with Etchr last evening. If you’re interested in learning more about painting with gouache, I’ll be painting hot peppers in a mini-workshop with them in a couple of weeks. The workshop seems to be filling up quickly, but if you want more info, here’s the link.


Live gouache demo

Want to learn more about gouache? This Friday October 23, I’m excited (ok, a bit nervous too) to do a free live demo on YouTube hosted by Etchr. I’ll be painting something similar to the paint tubes below. My gouache tubes will be set up on my table in front of me, and I’ll be painting them using… gouache! I’ll demonstrate how to play with highlights and shadows and since the session is moderated by Maria from Etchr, you’ll also be able to ask any questions you have on the topic.

If you want to paint along, have your paints, brushes, and paper ready for the session. And in case you don’t have any paint tubes, you can also find the reference photo here.

Here is the schedule for different time zones:

4:00 pm LA Time Friday (October 23rd)
7:00 pm NY Time Friday (October 23rd)
12:00 am London Time Saturday (October 24th)
7:00 am Singapore Time Saturday (October 24th)
10:00 am Melbourne Time Saturday (October 24th)

Hope to see you there, or at least answer your questions in the chat!!


Announcing a new online class “Sketching Boats: Simple Solutions for a Complex Scene”

If you follow this blog you’ve seen many sketches of the sailboats at my favourite spot in Pointe Claire Village. I painted there many times this summer. I love that crazy, jumbled view of sailboats with their masts swaying in the wind, but I’ve spent many hours struggling with how to make sense of that scene. And thinking about past successes and failures sketching this gave me an idea for a new course. Sketching Boats: Simple Solutions for a Complex Scene is about just that: finding ways to simplify that tangle of sail covers, masts, ropes, rails and hulls, AND giving you a logical sketching process that you can apply to any complex scene.

In this course I’m excited to share all the steps I use on location, like analyzing the composition first, doing a little value sketch, and then painting from big shapes to smaller ones.

For a preview of Sketching Boats: Simple Solutions for a Complex Scene, have a look at the trailer.


My favourite tree, year 8

I paint this maple every year. It has a perfect domed shape, and in the fall the whole tree turns a luminous yellow orange. The property where the tree grows was purchased this year, and the new owners have done extensive renovations on the house and garden, but thankfully the tree remains as is. In any case, you have to get a permit from the city to cut down any trees, and there would be no sensible reason to touch this once since it is not near any power lines, nor is it diseased. If you’re interested in seeing previous sketches of the tree: year 7, year 6, year 5, year 4, year 3, year 2 and year 1.

There are some upcoming events that I’m excited to share info about in the next few days. Watch for a new course launch in a day or so, as well as a live gouache demo with Etchr on YouTube.


Woods on fire

This really is the week to paint autumn colours, at least in Montreal. We are enjoying some warm days, and the yellows are at their brightest. The other day I painted this scene from Angell Woods in monochrome, and then took it a step further by painting it in colour and just slightly larger (16″ x 12″ on a block of Winsor & Newton Rough paper). I wasn’t really intending on having it this yellow/orange but somehow the colours outside my studio window made their way onto my brush.

My intention was to create a contrast between warm (the foliage, both on the trees and on the ground) and cool (the houses in shade and tree trunks). Here’s a photo of what the painting looks like on my easel as I set up the warms and cools.

Here’s the finished painting.

My value sketch was nearby as I painted, and it was a really helpful reference. There were a few details in the composition that I adjusted as I went from monochrome to colour, but the major one is the size and placement of the foreground trees.


Freya on the boat

Today’s virtual life drawing was a little crazy. Our model, Freya, was posing on a boat, somewhere out on the ocean off the coast of Sao Tomé and Principe. She was also somewhat of a contortionist. So the experience was like trying to draw one of the acrobats from the Cirque du Soleil, AT THE SAME TIME AS going out on a sailboat on a windy day. A great challenge and probably one of the hardest life drawing sessions I have ever done. This was one my more successful attempts.

Here are the ones where I became completely lost in body parts.


The edge of the woods

The light was really beautiful this morning in Angell Woods, and as I approached an area of the path bordered by houses, this grouping of buildings caught my eye. The pattern of light was so sharp as it cut through a clearing, that I quickly snapped a photo to use as a reference in studio.

I came home and tried out a technique I watched in a CSPWC demo by Poppy Balser the other night. Poppy is a Nova Scotia painter whose work I have admired for a very long time. Her technique for working in values is a little different than mine. Her value paintings are full size, meaning that they are on the same size paper as the sheet she is intending to paint on in colour, whereas my value sketches are always smaller than my paintings, more like postcard size. And instead of working in a single pigment like Payne’s Grey, she makes a gorgeous mix of Daniel Smith Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna and paints with that.

Why work in values first? In watercolour, this really lets you figure out where the lights and darks in a painting will be. I have been using this planning method for many years, but it was nice to hear someone else think their way through a painting, and see them paint in a slightly different way than what I do. I decided to try her method in studio today, so I worked on a 10″ x 14″ sheet of Arches CP 140 lb. Tomorrow I will paint this in colour and we will see how that turns out.

As for the demo series, most of the free events the CSPWC is offering on Zoom in October sold out quickly, but there are still tickets for a panel discussion about plein air painting that I think will be really interesting.


Park action

I go to the park every day to walk Alice. It has been particularly beautiful this week because the trees around the perimeter of the soccer field are in full autumn splendour. I may have mentioned already that the park was recently renovated by the city — lots of new play equipment mostly, plus a bocce court —and it went from a place where hardly anyone went to a gathering spot for families with young kids. It’s really wonderful to see, especially during these months where it’s hard to gather anywhere. Today it’s very warm in Montreal, and very windy, so I couldn’t set up my easel but I did find a seat across the field where I could sketch the action.