Unscheduled outage

There was an unscheduled power outage in my neighbourhood this morning. Poof, just like that, on a beautiful sunny autumn day, my studio went dark. Luckily I had some fresh ballpoint pens on hand, a sketchbook at the ready, and a seat at the window. There’s nothing like having a little unexpected break for drawing.

I haven’t drawn with a ballpoint in a long time but I loved the scribblyness of it, and how much fun it is for building up tones. It’s quite forgiving, for an ink pen, since you can start quite light and layer the lines. I thought it might be nice to take it along to the next life drawing session, but the city has put that on hold, like all other recreational and sports activities. I had a feeling this would happen one of these days with our new Covid restrictions. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

Red-on-red, step-by-step

I took process shots while painting these hot peppers because it was a watercolour challenge for me. Red peppers on a red cloth. What gets painted first? The red subject or the red background?

In this experiment, I decided to try painting the background first. The cloth is a deep crimson, so I used mostly Alizarin Crimson mixed with a bit of Cobalt Blue in places. I used a 1″ flat brush that carries a lot of wash and has a good edge. I mixed up enough paint in a big puddle so that I wouldn’t have to make more wash while painting.

Next I painted the peppers. For these I used mostly Cadmium Red, mixed with a little Hansa Yellow for the light parts, and Alizarin for the shadow sides. I left the white of the paper for the shiny highlights on the peppers.

The green pepper and the stems were painted with a mixture of Hansa Yellow and Prussian Blue. I wanted to choose a blue that made a nice bright green, and this worked well.

The last steps are adding the shadows on the cloth. Here’s the trick with this: if you paint the cloth too dark to start with, you won’t see the shadows, so paint this a little lighter than it was. Reds are tricky. Also, make sure your background is dry so your shadows remain sharp.

This is the final, scanned version of the sketch. The previous images are photos of the sketch on my easel.

Myriam, mostly in contour

Myriam has a wonderful body to draw. She must be a dancer, although I never got around to asking her. Wearing a mask definitely limits small talk in a life drawing session.

In our Monday sessions we start with three minute poses. Today I worked in pencil with a contour line.

With quick contours like this I try to follow the edge of her body with my eyes, and let my pencil follow along on the paper.

Five minute poses are ideal for me. It gives me a little more time to do contours and then measure both vertically and horizontally to line things up.

With a ten minute pose you can add a bit of shading. Or in my case, work on getting that foreshortened right leg right!

Or that foreshortened arm!

The final poses are longer, but we can’t move around the room if we want a better angle on the model. We are restricted to staying within our taped-off squares on the floor. This was a very difficult pose to draw from where I was sitting, but I figure that I am there to be challenged so I struggled all the way through.

At the sharp turn

I was back in Angell Woods with my easel today. The woods were packed with walkers and their dogs, which was a joy to see, but I set myself far back enough off the path to avoid getting knocked over by curious dogs. Standing at the easel helps, of course. When I was sitting on a stool last week, I was at dog level, which made me and my gear much more interesting.

I’ve wanted to paint this big old tree for the longest time. It’s at a place in the woods where the path takes a sharp turn at the base of slope, and you can’t miss it. It felt great to be painting outside on a warm autumn day, especially because in a month or so I’ll likely be back in my car studio waiting for the snow to fall.

Red crane

My plan for today was to continue painting red peppers, this time in watercolour. But an opportunity presented itself that was too good to pass up. My street was blocked off for major tree trimming and felling in everyone’s backyards along the power lines. Before I even had time to finish my morning coffee, there were at least a dozen trucks from Hydro Quebec and a tree trimming service parked up and down the street. Massive vehicles, orange cones, men in hardhats, neighbours out taking photos of the giant crane lifting branches over the houses. All too good to miss, especially these days when not much happens anywhere near my suburban neighbourhood.

Seeing red

I’m always looking for an idea that I can use as an inspiration for a series of sketches. Especially during these mostly at-home days. After I did my market sketch yesterday I started thinking about the colour red, because after all we are in a Covid red zone in Montreal starting tonight.

Reds have always been difficult for me, so I thought I might explore working with different reds and see where that leads me. I started with a James Gurney technique — casein to cover the sheet, a drawing using a water-soluble pencil, and then a gouache painting on top of that. My gouache palette was pretty limited — Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and white. The aim of the exercise for me was to really look at the reds (cool, warm, light, dark, in light, in shadow) and paint what I saw. I hope to try to same thing in watercolour tomorrow.

Red alert

Montreal is on red alert, and that makes me sad, so I had to get out to paint something colourful to counteract the pandemic blues. There are so many new cases both here and in Quebec City that restaurants, bars, museums, theatres and cinemas are all closed again. It’s not a full lockdown like in March. For the moment, schools are still open. The numbers are discouraging though, and this time it’s due to community spread. Starting tomorrow, and going until the end of October, there’s a ban on home gatherings. See why I needed to paint something colourful and full of life?

I have a new addition to my travel palette these days. I’m trying out Winsor & Newton Chromium Black. It’s one of the special edition colours they released last year, and is described as the colour of twilight. Isn’t that beautiful? I don’t usually have black on my palette, but I just love the warmth of this one. It’s almost like a warm sepia, and when mixed with any yellow it gives you a beautiful dirty green.


It was back to life drawing today with our model Marie. I brought along some gouache and used toned paper, to see what that was like. Marie has long curly grey hair which is a challenge to capture in gouache. I wasn’t really sure if using the white paint was effective, but it was a good learning experience.

Every week I feel grateful to be there, drawing, during this pandemic. But with Montreal and Quebec City moving into a red alert Covid zone tonight, I wonder how long we will be able to keep meeting. As long as the session is on, I will be there, appreciating every moment I can draw in person.

Inspiration wall

Do you have an inspiration wall? I have a series of bulletin boards in my office, covered in postcards with images of work I love to look at every day. There’s lots of David Hockney images on that wall, including a drawing of Stanley, one of the artist’s dachshunds. That must have been in my head when I was drawing Alice today.

Not on my inspiration wall but definitely something I would love to see in person is a new exhibition of drawings called “Studies in Sunlight” by Michael Thompson at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto. I especially love Mike’s dog drawings.

What’s on your inspiration wall?


In Angell Woods there’s a car skeleton that I’ve been admiring for many years, but I’m always walking Alice when I go there so I never have time to draw. This time I went into the woods without the dog to sketch this aqua beauty. The problem though, is that Angell Woods is still a place where everyone else walks with a dog. As proof, if you click on the image to enlarge it you will see on the far right lower corner of the sketch the area where a dog slobbered on my sketchbook, and a blurry area on the top right where another dog put his whole drooly face on the book and almost knocked me over into the dirt in the process. It’s a good thing I like dogs.