Heron Pond

This week I stopped by Heron Pond at the Technoparc Oiseaux to see how the wetlands were faring. Last year I documented the pond in a drier state after a sinkhole had drained the water. This year, I was happy to see that there’s lots more water and dozens of ducks and geese feeding there.

It’s not easy to get to this viewing spot. The path through tall grasses and bullrushes is quite narrow, but once you get there, it’s worth the trouble of carrying all my gear and setting up my easel. It’s a secret spot in the middle of the city. I prefer the view in the autumn when there’s more variety in the colours of the vegetation but at least there was some purple loosestrife blooming in the distance, and that helped to break up all the green.


Old Montreal and old Santa Fe

After an appointment in Old Montreal, I had a few minutes to sketch before I had to move my parked car. A park bench, flanked by two colourful planters, caught my eye. After I had drawn the planter on the left, and had just started drawing the edge of the bench, a guy in a bright orange t-shirt sauntered over and sat down to catch some of the morning sun. What a gift! I quickly sketched him in and continued moving across the page. By the time I had drawn the other planter he was gone. Drawing time: somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. Pen: this one. Colour added at home.

I love drawing in cities, and this past May I had so much fun drawing people (and other things) on the plaza in Santa Fe. That’s why I’m so excited to go back there next April with my co-conspirators James RichardsUma Kelkar and Paul Heaston, with whom I recently taught at the MISA campus on Madeleine Island, Wisconsin.

The Urban Sketching Southwest Retreat is a five-day, sketching all day long type of workshop. You’ll get to spend a full day with each instructor, and there will also be lots of time for socializing with other sketchers, exploring the city and enjoying the regional cuisine (like my favourite green chile salsa). If you’ve never visited Santa Fe, here’s your chance. The city of mostly adobe structures is compact and walkable, with the most remarkable concentration of galleries devoted to art and Southwest culture I’ve ever seen. The dates for this workshop are April 17-23, 2023, and I have a feeling this will sell out quickly. Have a look at the workshop descriptions here.


The perfect day

For me, a perfect day is windless and sunny. I find a place to park and I set up in the shade of my car. The lake is like a mirror and there are no boats going by to disturb the reflections. I’m sure the sailor who owns the boat would not agree with my definition of a perfect day, but that’s ok.

On this perfect day, I use mostly three colours from my palette: Cobalt Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Hansa Yellow. With these, I can mix the soft blue of the sky, the bright greens of the trees and the neutrals of the rocks on the breakwater. There’s some diluted Yellow Ochre in my first sky wash (Hansa Yellow would turn the sky green) and a bit of Cerulean Blue in the sky. For the darkest darks, I mix in a bit of Ultramarine since Cobalt is a little too weak to do the job. Painted on quarter sheet of Arches 140lb Rough paper.


Gouache on panel

Usually when I paint with gouache, I used toned paper, and that was my original intention last evening when I painted this bouquet. But I found a toned gesso panel in my filing cabinet and switched to that at the last minute. I don’t remember why I have it, but it was likely on a supply list from a workshop I took a few years ago.

I wasn’t sure how well this would work with gouache but it said on the label that it was good for oil, casein, acrylic and other water-based paints, so it seemed safe to give it a try. It took a bit of time to get used to painting on it because the surface is so smooth and not at all absorbent. The paint sort of slides around as you apply it. But what I loved about using it with gouache is that the pigment doesn’t dry flat or dull like it does on paper. In fact, it remained a little bit shiny in places.

I’ll admit, I jumped right into this without doing any research. I had already tried (unsuccessfully) to paint this bouquet in watercolour, and I wasn’t going to let it defeat me. So I grabbed the panel and started throwing paint on it (no drawing) out of frustration, but I quite enjoyed the experience, and I may have to try it again. There’s one more of these panels in my file cabinet.

I always find it hard to scan or photograph gouache paintings. The colour is never quite right, but it’s as close as I could get. The colour of the warm background is the board itself. Size is about 8″ x 10″.


A green dumpster and a new newsletter

In between two errands yesterday, and with only a few minutes to spare, I continued my experimentation with my bent nib pen. I was hoping to see a few boats from my parking spot at the boatyard but instead this bright green dumpster caught my eye. And the only thing better than sketching a good dumpster is sketching a good dumpster with a puddle in front it it.

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you know that I occasionally review new products or talk about art books I like, along with posting all of my daily sketches. I’ve been thinking lately that it might be useful to launch a proper newsletter where I can gather all of that info in one place. I’m launching it tomorrow.

Although it will certainly contain some stuff you’ve already see here on my blog, there will be some new content as well. For example, I’m often asked about my favourite watercolour books, and this will be the ideal place to feature some of those. As well, new art materials sometimes end up in my sketching bag (like the Fude pen, above), so I’ll be able to write a bit more in depth about how I use them.

I can’t say with any certainty about how often the newsletter will come out. I’m aiming for once a month but with travel workshops, that might be difficult, so I’ll leave the dates open for now. I’m excited about this new project and I’ll be gathering material even when I’m away.

And as for the name of the newsletter, there was only one obvious choice: The Wheelbarrow. It had to be based on my favourite sketching subject which, in its heyday, was also a repository for loads of stuff.

The only way to get this newsletter is to be on my mailing list. Here’s a link to subscribe.


Pen calisthenics

Alice was a terrible model today. She changed positions at least five times while I was drawing. Almost as much as this guy on the beach. But the point of drawing today was not to draw Alice. It was to give my new Duke 551 Confucius Fude Nib Fountain Pen a vigorous workout. I already knew from some quick drawings on Friday that the ink flow was great and it made a variety of line widths. But the drawings I did the other day were simpler and I wasn’t trying to convey volume like I was with my drawing of Alice.

Today I worked on a Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook — I wanted to see how the pen would perform on a surface with a bit of texture. I work on paper like this all the time, both in ink and also with ink and wash, so for a pen to get a good rating from me, it has to keep flowing well even when the paper is not entirely smooth. My ink flow rating for this pen: 5 stars. It flows well with a lot of pressure (the fat lines around Alice’s pillow) and with very fine lines (Alice’s fur). I’m also able to obtain dryish pen lines by angling the nib and applying a lighter pressure (those horizontal lines on the checkerboard floor.) The pen does exactly what I want it to do every time. As for Alice, she’s not quite as accommodating.


Recent ink drawings and true confessions

Here’s one I haven’t posted yet from my recent trip to Wisconsin to teach at Madeline Island School of the Arts. We spent one evening at Tom’s Burned Down Café (no coffee in sight but lots of margaritas being mixed, btw) and in the classic urban sketchers tradition, we had a “drink and draw”. It’s an evening activity (usually) where sketchers gather at a local bar for drinking and drawing, of course. We draw each other, or the bar interior, or our drinks, or whatever else we choose. I chose to draw Paul Heaston who was sitting across from me. He humoured me by looking at his phone for a few minutes so I could capture his pose, and I wrote down what he was saying, which happened to be some complaint about body hair.

I love drawing in ink, and I’ve always coveted the Fude bent nib pens that many sketchers use. They make great lines that vary from very thick to very thin, depending on how you angle them. Years ago, I bought one at an art store in Singapore, but the ink never flowed properly. Years later, I tried again with one of those inexpensive Sailor green pens. Again, no ink flow. But after borrowing the pen recently from someone, and loving it, I ordered one from Amazon. It’s a big fat one, heavy in the hand, but it’s magic. The ink flows right out of the pen and onto my sketchbook, making big fat lines and very thin ones too. I love it! I did a little sketch after seeing all the beautiful pottery at 1001 Pots.

And when we stopped for lunch at a pataterie, I drew the garbage cans. If you try to find the pataterie, don’t go by the name on my sketch, which I got wrong. It’s actually called Patate Le 117, and it’s in Val David. This week they are out of veggie burgers but the fries were excellent.


The other side of the bouquet

This bouquet from Lutaflore was really quite spectacular when I picked it up last week — full of showy lilies and dahlias. But I can never paint showy flowers. I prefer the softer, faded ones, so I had to be patient. I waited until all the colours softened a little, and even then I turned the vase around until the showy flowers were in the back and the quiet ones faced me.

As for where these come from, I am really quite fortunate to have connected with Maryse Hudon this year. She grows all of these flowers in her backyard, and each time I go there she gives me a tour of the garden and her studio. It’s a real treat to see what she picks and how she puts together the bouquets. Next time I go, I hope to sketch there too.


Summer car sketching

It was one of those perfect days on the lake. Not much wind, good reflections, puffy clouds, and free parking in the right spot facing my favourite boats. I know, I know. Painting in my car in the middle of summer does sound a bit strange. I could have set up an easel outside. But after all these years of painting in my car, it really is the most comfortable place for me to paint, even in summer. I can easily lean a quarter sheet like this on my steering wheel and it does help to have that support when I paint all the masts and rigging. And with the windows open and a breeze coming off the lake, it’s rather pleasant.

I’ve been using a few new Da Vinci travel brushes which I will list in an upcoming blog post, but the new favourite is this one: the Casaneo Inlaid liner travel brush. It’s a synthetic brush with a fine point and a fat belly to hold lots of wash. It’s great not only for rigging but also wonderful for all the small details on the boats themselves.


Back of the sheet

It’s a good year for Echinacea. Last year they barely bloomed, and when they did open they were stunted or barely had any petals. I have no idea why. But this year they are much improved, and as they flower next to the Liatris and the Veroncastrum, the bees are having a party. Sketched on a pad of Arches, on the back of painting that didn’t work out as it should.