Trees and the City: an Ottawa workshop

I had a wonderful experience teaching at the Urban Sketchers symposium in Chicago, so it makes me happy to announce that I will be repeating my workshop at a location not too far from home — in Ottawa, Ontario, on September 30, 2017. I don’t usually hold workshops during my college teaching semester, but I said yes to this request from the Ottawa Urban Sketchers since this is a half-day event in a city close to Montreal.

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The format of the workshop will be the same as all the symposium workshops — three hours of instruction and sketching together. We’ll focus on capturing trees in an urban environment. If you are interested in joining me, details about the workshop format, supplies and registration are on the Urban Sketchers Workshop page.

I’m usually too busy during my workshops to take photos but I did manage to capture a few pics of participants and their sketches from the symposium in Chicago.

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Birches by the lake

I tried out some Strathmore Gemini watercolour paper on the weekend, just to see what it’s like to paint on something other than Arches or Fabriano. When I do paper tests like this, I try to pick a subject that’s not too complex (no street scenes, no architecture) so that I can focus instead on how the paint reacts on the paper. I really enjoyed the experience of working on the Gemini. It’s creamy white, nicely textured for Cold Press paper (140 lb), and softer than Arches. The most important thing for me is colour vibrancy — are the colours just as bright when dry as when wet? Of course all watercolours dry a little bit lighter but if the paper soaks up the chroma and the painting looks faded, then the paper fails the test for me. After this quick test, I can say that Gemini was really easy to work on, both with a light pencil drawing and then with a brush. Definitely a paper I will be trying again.

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Patient Alice

Alice is very patient while I experiment with art materials from the gift bags that participants and instructors received at the USk symposium in Chicago. I never try these things out at the event — no time for experimentation on site. But when I get home, it’s so much fun to play.

Today, while Alice waited, I found a tiny sample pad of Hahnemühle Bamboo mixed media paper along with a big fat 9B water-soluble graphite stick from Lyra. A wonderful duo, as it turns out. The paper is creamy, slightly textured and perfect for quick drawings. It takes a light wash well too. And with the sharpened Lyra graphite stick you can make thin marks to obtain soft grey washes, or very thick lines that release into the deep black washes. Definitely a combo I will use again.

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Speed painting in Chicago

If you didn’t make it to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago this year, you can see some of what you missed on the USk YouTube channel. Among the many videos from this year’s event, you’ll find one of me trying to speed paint (in 30 minutes!) my way through this demo of a little park kiosk in Grant Park. In the demo I use a triad of primary colours (Winsor Yellow, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue) to illustrate how using a limited palette can create unity in your sketches. Thanks to instructor and amazing sketcher Mike Daikubara for filming this, and to all the participants who had the patience to watch my thirty minutes turn into an hour! I’m glad there were no activities on the symposium schedule after this.ParkKiosk


Dots and dashes

I still have lots of Chicago sketches to post but thought I’d interrupt that broadcast to post my sketch from this morning. Due to flooding around Montreal this spring, sailing season had a rough start with boats going in the water many weeks later than usual. I never made it out to sketch in my usual spots before leaving on my trip to the West Coast, so I have a little catching up to do.

There is a particular vantage point in a park that gives me a clear view of hulls, masts and sail covers at the boat club. No boat can be seen in its entirety, but as a group the sailboats create a fascinating pattern. Before painting this, I start with a pencil drawing of the boat shapes, but most of the work is done with a brush — dots and dashes of flags, ropes, masts and rudders. It’s a complex view but a fairly simple subject to render if you treat it with repeating shapes.

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Chicago Symposium: on-site workshop prep

One of my favourite parts of going to an Urban Sketchers symposium is arriving a few days early, both to prepare for my workshops and also to watch to excitement build as sketchers arrive. This year in Chicago was my fifth time attending the event, so it’s become a bit like a college reunion, as one by one I find friends sketching on every corner of the city.

When I visited the city a few years ago, I didn’t have much time to draw, but this time I built in a full day to sketch in the location of my workshop (The Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park). If time permits, I like to do this so I can check out the light at different hours of the day, the views, the noise, and the people traffic. Thanks to great organizers at USk, my location was ideal for a workshop called “Trees and the City”. We were surrounded by a variety of greenery and had just the right amount of architecture to complete the picture. As for the people, it was a fairly quiet green space every day I was there, except for the initial prep day when I was surrounded by dozens and dozens of people staring at their phones. It didn’t take much research to find out that it was a Pokémon Go live event!

My first prep sketch was of the view north from the park, with the Prudential Buildings in the centre, the Trump tower on the left and the Aon Center on the right. As a resident of a smaller city, it was pretty difficult to wrap my head around the height of the Chicago skyscrapers, but I was a distance away so that made it a little easier.

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My second sketch was a view of the pedestrian traffic along Michigan Avenue as seen from the park. I like painting from a shaded spot, so I often end up using trees as a framing device when I look at building facades.

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Neither of these sketches came home with me, so the only photos I have of them are the quick shots I took on location. The first sketch went to the very generous couple who gave me a ticket to see the hit play “Hamilton” and the second one ended up in the silent auction on the last night of the symposium.


Windmill, with friends

After a summer of travel to many spectacular locations, I was wondering how it would be to get back to drawing in my neighbourhood again. I’ve driven around Pointe Claire village so often there are probably very few historic corners I haven’t sketched. But there’s nothing like showing newcomers around to make these familiar locations feel new again.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being a tour guide to visiting sketchers Liz Steel and Anne-Laure Jacquart. We spent the day driving around the West Island, stopping for a first sketch at the windmill in Pointe Claire. After the exhausting (and thrilling) experience we all had in Chicago at the Urban Sketchers Symposium, the shade and quiet in my sleepy end of the city was somewhat of a relief. (Chicago sketches coming soon!)

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If you are in Montreal and interested in meeting and drawing with these two talented artists, there will be a public sketching event tomorrow (Saturday, August 5) in Old Montreal. Details are here and everyone is welcome!

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