As predicted, we woke up to falling snow today. Not just falling, but actually staying on the ground type of snow. If not for the 200 bulb project, I would not have sketched outside, but I knew it would be possible to do since the sketchbook is small and I was close to the house.
My easel is hinged so I was able to clip my book vertically to keep it as dry as possible. And I worked in gouache, knowing that it would dry quickly. I still had snowflakes on the paper, but droplets on gouache do not do as much damage as they do on watercolour — something to keep in mind for other outings.
I kept my easel quite low to the ground and sat on my camp stool. As you can see, there were no birds in the birdbath to keep me company today.
When I started this ambitious project of sketching the 200 bulbs that I planted last autumn, I imagined sitting outside in the warm spring sun. But this week is unseasonably cold, and today I was wrapped in a parka and wearing a hat and gloves. I’m pretty sure a few snowflakes hit my sketchbook, and I had to hang on to the accordion book so that it wouldn’t blow away in the wind. I did manage to sketch the next group of hyacinths, which are beautiful but too heavy for their stalks. They’ve flopped over in the garden, and I have a feeling that tomorrow they’ll be covered in snow, if the forecast on my weather app is correct.
I was hoping to spend a bit more time on the drawing and painting of these but the wind was just too strong. I tried to convey the deep purple of the flowers with just a few washes, mainly a mix of Cobalt Blue and Quin Rose with some darks added at the end. Luckily the fierce wind worked in my favour because drying time was mercifully quick and I was able to get back into the warmth of the house in good time.
I was only made aware of the Technoparc Oiseax quite late in the fall when the trees were bare, so I’ve never explored its beauty in spring or summer. This morning when I sketched, it seemed like the colour in the wetlands was waking up. The faintest greens and ochres were visible in the distant trees. What you don’t see here, and what I’m not quick enough to sketch, were the geese landing and taking off across the pond. We are used to seeing lots of them in parks and farmer’s fields, much to the dismay of many, but don’t get to see them often in the water. Quite a dramatic sight! Sketched with gouache in a Pentallic Aqua Journal, 7″ x 10″.
In Montreal we had two days of non-stop rain, which the garden really needed. There are more daffodils blooming, and a few from this clump have even starting to fade from all that moisture. But there are lots more bulbs to come in my 200 bulb sketching project. My friends are taking bets to see how many of these actually bloom, so when I see foliage but no bulb, I record that too. I have a feeling that lots of tulips will flower at once and I’ll be spending the last few days of this project trying to sketch them all. The nice thing about this endeavour, besides spending time in the garden each day, is that each clump that blooms is a surprise because of course I neglected to take note of what I planted.
The hyacinths are blooming. They still have some growing to do, but I have other clumps in the garden so I decided that I would draw this grouping before they were fully upright. It was a bit cool this morning while I was sketching, and they seemed to be huddled inside their leaves, like I was, inside my jacket. To draw them I used a dip pen and water-soluble éclat de saphir ink from Jacques Herbin. Just the perfect colour for these flowers. I also used a brush in some areas to get masses of that deep blue/purple colour.
I also added the hyacinths to my jpeg of the full concertina sketchbook layout. There’s lots of rain in the forecast for the next few days, so it may only be the weekend before I can add to the book again.
I’m trying out a new easel that arrived yesterday from Cup Easels. I’ve been eyeing this one for a while and decided to buy it because it’s so perfect for gouache and watercolour. To try it out, I attached it to my Sirui tripod and raised it quite high. It has a perfect little mixing area for gouache or watercolour, and also this little tray for the paints that comes with a cover so that the gouache does not dry out in between outings. There’s a tiny water cup too, but I attached a bigger cup below the palette using the convenient holes and a couple of carabiners. This easel is also quite small so I could definitely use it on my lap or in my car. I love how close the mixing surface is to the sketchbook.
I sketched a view through to my neighbour’s yard where lots of thirsty birds dropped by to have a drink in the bird bath. This spring has been quite dry, so after my sketch was done I put out my bird baths too.
More flowers opened today so I added them to my concertina sketchbook. This time I painted them in gouache, but pale yellow on white paper is difficult, plus this is really not a nice surface for gouache either. I think ink might be the best way to go on this, but I will continue using it until all 200 bulbs bloom.
I’ll also combine all the sections in Photoshop, like this below, so you can see what the whole book looks like. When it’s done I’ll probably be able to paper a room with this 360° spring garden!
This weekend I raked up bags and bags of decomposed leaves and debris in my garden, and sitting outside to draw after that was my reward. Last week I mentioned that I planted 200 bulbs in my garden in the fall, but at the time, nothing was blooming yet. In the last few days though, we’ve had some very warm weather and the bulbs have gone crazy. These daffodils went from being a few inches high to blooming in what seems like a matter of hours. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
I thought that since I invested all that time planting them, it might be interesting to document them in some way in my sketchbook. Hidden in amongst my unopened sketchbooks, I found a concertina book from Seawhite of Brighton. I usually save these books for a thematic sketch project, but this would fit the bill if I draw all 200 bulbs (or what ever comes up) on this one long accordion sheet. I am numbering them to see how many bloom, and dating them too.
I’m not used to using smooth mixed media paper like this. It really only takes light watercolour washes from a brush that is not too wet, which is also why I chose to use ink instead of pencil to create a stronger line. Sketched with a Platinum Carbon Desk pen and a few blues and yellows.
This morning I did a walkthrough in the garden to see what was emerging from the ground in this warm weather. Many of the 200 bulbs I planted in the fall are making an appearance, although nothing is blooming yet. What I did find though, were some flowers that are so tiny that they can only be drawn from above — yellow Coltsfoot that you might mistake for dandelions, bright blue Scilla in giant clumps, and delicate Snowdrops, edging over to my garden from my neighbour’s yard. These tiny discoveries were enough to fill a page in my sketchbook, and hopefully by the time I get out there again there will be hyacinths and daffodils to sketch too.
I was back at the Morgan Arboretum today, pack on my back and rubber boots on my feet. The last remnants of snow have melted so the view is not as dramatic as when I was there on Saturday, but the subject was still worth painting.
It was really interesting to paint this scene on location after painting it from a photo just yesterday. This was a completely different experience. Whereas yesterday’s watercolour was quite stylized and in some ways almost imaginary, today’s is all about the texture and mess of being on location with the added challenge of dramatically changing light and shadow.
When you’re painting from a photo, the scene is fixed in time. Many details are, for the most part, missing or too dark to see. The best example of this would be the darkened ends of the floating logs. In yesterday’s photo those were completely black but when I was on location I could see colour in the darks, including mossy green and brown bits of rotting wood. Plus there was the sensory aspect of the experience — I could hear birds, squirrels and chipmunks in the brush, and the air was fragrant with fallen pine needles warmed by the sun. You can’t discount what all of that adds to the painting experience. This version may be messier and perhaps not as well composed, but the experience was so much richer in so many ways.