Hyacinths are a sign of spring for me. And although it’s nowhere near spring in Montreal today, the ones on my kitchen counter make me happy. It’s not just the sweet fragrance that lingers in the air. It’s something that I realized only as I was painting them. It’s that each petal on each flower on each stalk curves into a little smile. That’s good enough for me. Painted in my Etchr sketchbook using lots of Cobalt Violet paint.

Lyon Mountain

A few years ago we met friends in the Adirondacks, and hiked up Lyon Mountain. The view from the top is quite something, and it was a clear day so we were likely seeing peaks in the distance as far away as Vermont to the east and Lake Placid to the south. I took plenty of photos from the summit, but the one that I kept coming back to as reference for a painting was one that I took on the way down the mountain.

It was taken from a footbridge that crossed over a stream, and the early autumn colours reflected in the pooled water were quite stunning. I love the abstract quality of the photo and I decided to try this one in gouache on toned tan paper, and hopefully maintain some of abstractness of the image in my sketch. I’m still having fun with gouache, and I’ll keep experimenting to see where it takes me. In a scene like this where it’s mostly darks, I appreciate being able to add lighter tones as highlights.

Awfully beautiful

Montreal is a bit of a mess right now. Since Friday we’ve had 55 cm of snow (that includes Monday night’s surprise of 15 cm), which makes for mountainous snow banks, very slushy roads, and traffic jams caused by snow removal trucks and plows. But if you are looking for scenes to paint, it’s awfully beautiful out there.

I was hoping for some sun so I could paint snow shadows, but I woke up to an overcast day. It was tempting to stay inside and paint from the studio, but instead I gave myself kick out the door and was rewarded with mist in the air and a wonderfully foggy day. Perfect for practicing with my gouache.

On a day with little colour, a limited palette seems best. This one is mostly Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Deep and Raw Sienna watercolour along with white gouache. Oh, and a few dabs of red and green for signage and stuff. Size: 14″ x 10″.

Window view

I’m not complaining about the first week of February. So far we’ve had one big winter storm and in addition to that, another overnight snowfall even before we had a chance to properly dig out from the first. But that’s ok with me. I’ll take snow over rain in winter any day. I was hoping to get outside to sketch from my car today but the snow was coming down too quickly, so I set up a chair in front of a window at home and settled for a window view.

Chemistry and balance

I don’t know Mexico well enough to organize a workshop there, but I’m glad I met somebody who does. I got to know Meagan Burns of Art Leap Adventures when she interviewed me for an article in Drawing Attention, the monthly online publication of Urban Sketchers. Meagan is an American expat living in Mexico, and she’s a sketcher, which makes her the perfect person to organize a sketching workshop in a country that I had only visited for the first time a few months ago.

Mojigangas from a visit with Hermes Arroyo.

I’m just back from teaching two back -to-back workshops in San Miguel de Allende, with Meagan as my guide and expert organizer. And I’ve had a bit of time to think about what made my teaching experience memorable. I think it’s basically what makes any travel experience memorable, except that there’s lots of sketching mixed in. You have to have the right balance of local culture and history, great food, good weather and interesting sights. And you have to have great chemistry with the people you are with.

The view from the Mask Museum.

Have a look at the photos here and here on the Art Leap Adventures website. You’ll see that we sketched all the iconic sights, learned how to cook local food, toured a fascinating mask museum, visited the famed Mojiganga studio of Hermes Arroyo, AND ate tacos and Mexican street corn (something I probably wouldn’t have done on my own).

Parroquia at night.

San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful place to visit, but when you’re with someone who has lived there, and who understands the culture and speaks the language, the experience is richer and more complex. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to teach not one but two interesting and talented groups of sketchers, and to have had someone to guide us to all the right places, including into the bar where the Mariachi bands practice before going out into the streets at night!

Painting on thin ice

I’ve been going to this park near my house for years and years. I walk my dog there every day, I took my kids there when they were young, and I’ve done many paintings of the woods behind it. This year they did a big park reno, adding new play equipment and making the park more accessible to people of all ages. They moved one of the kiddie skating rinks to a higher place and added benches so parents can watch. I’m not complaining. It looks pretty good at sunset. Painted in gouache and watercolour, 15″ x 11″.

Jardín Principal

The centre of San Miguel de Allende is clearly the Jardín Principal. This beautiful small square facing the big pink church is where everyone hangs out, both day and night. During my workshops we sketched there often because there’s a little bit of everything for both beginner and advanced sketchers. You can tackle the complex spires of the church, the balloon vendors, the hat sellers, the carts with ladies selling snacks, or the topiary ficus trees that have been trimmed into compact rounds to keep birds from nesting in them.

I loved sketching the candy carts. It was an opportunity to use my brightest colours in an almost abstract way by adding dabs of colour and creating separations with darks. I probably say this about every place I visit, but there really is enough in this one small public space to sketch for a full month.