Green with envy

Last week Australian sketcher Jane Blundell was in town giving a workshop, but at the last minute I had to give up my spot as a participant because of work commitments. At the end of the session I stopped by to have a look, and I have to admit I was a little envious of the beautiful paintings of pears that people had done. I love painting pears, so I did some of my own today. No matter which way they stand or fall, pear shapes are always interesting to draw. And it’s a great exercise to paint green pears on a green striped cloth without using any green pigment. I painted this using Cerulean Blue and Hansa Yellow Medium, with a little Organic Vermilion washed in for the reddish blush on the pears.


The colour of fall

This is the week to paint trees in Montreal. They truly are at their autumn peak. When the sun hits the yellow and orange leaves they glow, but if you try to paint them that way, or at least if I do, they look garish. So today I took the intensity down a notch and simply suggested the colours of fall. A little red here and there, some muted oranges, greens that are a little softer than in midsummer, using mostly Quin Gold, Phthalo Blue and Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Dark trunks are painted with Phthalo Green and Alizarin Crimson, a combo that gives you one of the richest blacks you can make in watercolour. Painted on my lunch hour from a window at school, in a Handbook Watercolour Journal, 8″ x 8″.


The best-laid plans

When I give an outdoor workshop demo, I love to have the luxury of a little time beforehand to sketch in my location. Since I like to paint in the shade, it helps to give me a sense of the light at different times of the day. As well, I can see if there’s pedestrian traffic, wind, noise, or other factors that might affect how I teach. Plus, it helps me work out problems in the composition and think about colour too. But the best-laid plans don’t always work out.

At the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester this past July, my workshop “Bare Bones: working with limited palettes in watercolour” took place at the restored Castlefield Urban Heritage Park and Rochdale Canal district. I chose the location because the canals, the longboats, the restored brick buildings and the train viaducts offered endless sketching opportunities.

The day before the start of the workshop I did a series of sketches in the area, using different combinations of limited palettes, mostly primary triads. For the first one I chose Phthalo Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Gold for my sketch of the longboats on the canal.


The second sketch was done sitting beside the historic Rochdale Canal, and for this I used a combo of Hansa Yellow Medium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue to capture the traditional Manchester brick.


For my third planning sketch, I combined the unlikely trio of Cobalt Teal, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Gold to paint another section of the canal (and more brick!) where the River Medlock flows into the canal.


But despite all my good planning, for each of my three workshops, the skies opened up, the rain poured down, and we had to take shelter under the arches of the train viaduct. So for all that good planning and research, well, we didn’t get to sketch any of it. The view from our location was of, yes, more viaducts. And if you look closely at the sketch below you’ll see that even under our shelter, the wind managed to drive fine droplets of rain onto our sketches.


I was still able to do series of demos (the one above uses Cerulean Blue, Organic Vermilion and Yellow Ochre) and as a reward to all the shivering participants who toughed out the wind tunnel and the rain, we finished our sketches under the welcome warmth of the outdoor heaters at the restaurant next to the canal.



Since Canadian Thanksgiving (today) coincides with an anniversary (five years since I started this blog) I thought it might be a good time to send out a message of thanks.

I am so grateful for all the feedback and comments I receive for my posts. Even though I don’t always respond as promptly as I’d wish to (there are still some unanswered ones from this summer!!), I read them all and appreciate them more than I can express. This blog has brought drawing and painting back into my life, has allowed me to travel and teach in so many places, and most importantly has connected me with other artists from all around the world. It seems kind of silly to mark a blog anniversary, doesn’t it, but this has changed my life is so many ways, and I really am thankful for that.


As a way to celebrate this anniversary, Jane Blundell and I sketched at my favourite Montreal landmark: Jean Talon Market. With temperatures cold enough to frost up the grass this morning, the vendors (and the shoppers) were bundled up in hats and coats but the produce is still abundant and colourful. Happy Thanksgiving!



The last warm day

I spent yesterday afternoon sketching on Mount Royal with friends Marc Holmes (check out his amazing new book!!) and visiting Australian sketcher Jane Blundell.  All three of us sketched the fall colours on the mountain top but we couldn’t fail to notice the crowds going by, heading for the lookout. There were so many people in the park that it made me wonder if anyone works on a Friday afternoon in Montreal. Perhaps they were all tourists, here for the long weekend, but I have a feeling most people left work early to enjoy what might have been the last really warm day of the year.


Canadian Thanksgiving recipe

Recipe for painting ornamental gourds
Remove gourds from mesh bag.
Scatter carefully on cloth while trying to create appearance of randomness.
Light from side or above to pick up shiny highlights.
Freshen up paint in palette, paying special attention to fill wells of New Gamboge, Shadow Green and Spring Green.
Paint from light to dark, leaving occasional highlights and adding fresh paint in wet areas where necessary. Rinse brush and repeat with each gourd.
Create shadow colour from leftover paint on palette.
Mix Cerulean Blue into leftover paint of previous leftover paint on palette, and paint background.
Add extra highlights with gel pen.
Dry thoroughly before scanning.


The daffodil trap

This past winter I struggled to paint a little bunch of daffodils in a clear glass vase. They were on a table in my studio, set against a white wall. I probably painted six sketches of that subject — turning the vase this way and that to get a better composition — but each one was duller than the next. The whole pile ended up in the garbage. Later that day, when I had somewhat recovered from my frustration, I pulled a few of them out of the trash to have another look. The problem was that there was no contrast in any of the sketches — pale yellow shapes, pale background, spindly green stems. I suppose I could have imagined them set against a dark wall, and that would have helped somewhat, but that didn’t occur to me at the time.

I was reminded of that frustration when I set out to paint these brilliant yellow mums at the market, but today I had two things that helped me avoid the daffodil trap. First of all, the mums were in dark pots — big solid shapes of deep green that surrounded the yellow blossoms. Secondly, the whole grouping of flowers was conveniently set against a big neutral background (boxes, wooden palettes, grey wall) which also helped to make the bright colours stand out. I hope I remember this next winter during daffodil time.