A new sketchbook and some irises

Last month in Santa Fe, someone in my workshop group let me try a new 100% cotton sketchbook from German paper maker Hahnemuhle. I just did a small sketch but was really impressed with the paper. This week I received a couple of these books from Hahnemuhle — an A4 portrait and an A4 landscape — and I’ll be experimenting with them this summer.

There’s a gorgeous spring bouquet on my counter, filled with flowers from Lutaflore in Pointe Claire and waiting to be painted, so I decided to give the book a try. I sketched the bouquet first with a fine grey marker, and then added colour. The paper is a bit smoother than my Etchr Perfect Sketchbook, which makes it easier to do more detailed drawings, both in pencil and in ink. It’s closer, in fact, to the paper texture of the Handbook Watercolour Journal that I have been using for years. If you work in ink, you might like this book because pen glides really easily on the paper. As for taking watercolour, I was really impressed. The colours remain vibrant, the washes flow well, you can glaze and layer, and lifting is easy. So far it’s a two thumbs up for me.

Pen envy

Ok, I’m guilty of buying something I didn’t really need. I certainly have enough pens — dozens of markers, dip pens, fountain pens and other assorted drawing tools — but I saw my friends using a Kakimori dip pen in Instagram reels, and I had to have one. Call it an early birthday gift to myself, which is easy to justify since I do have a June birthday.

The pen arrived today, in its beautiful packaging. The brass nib in a tiny grey box with a debossed imprint for the logo, the wooden handle in a long box, and the pigment ink in a square box. All as beautiful as Japanese packaging can be. So beautiful that I’m tempted to save the boxes too.

There are no assembly instructions for the pen. Insert the nib in the handle, dip in the ink and draw. And draw is what I did after seeing the beautiful thick and thin lines this pen can make in drawings from Suhita, Paul and Paul.

Plaza Cafe

I’m still making my way through Santa Fe sketches from my recent teaching trip there. This one is from a day we spent on the historic plaza in the centre of town. I always love sketching from parks or squares in the middle of a city since there’s always such a variety of subjects to choose from — people, trees, statues, architecture, urban details like lampposts and ornate benches, arts & crafts vendors, musicians and food carts, if you are lucky. And because of all the activity, you can remain fairly invisible if you are a self-conscious sketcher. I chose the Plaza Cafe as my morning demo because I loved the leaning bike and the waiters in their white shirts and bow ties. And if you’re hungry after sketching, stop in there for a bite too. The food was great.

Monday afternoon by the lake

Lac St. Louis does not look nearly as tropical as I made it seem today. You might think I’m in Bermuda, but I’m not. It’s just that I used some Prussian blue in my mix for the water, and that gives it a sort of turquoise tint which might be more appropriate for a tropical setting. When I’m painting sky and water, I never use just one blue. I often dip into Cerulean, Cobalt, Ultramarine and, like today, sometimes a bit of Prussian. The mix that I get is a bit more rich and complex than using a single pigment, and if you adjust the proportions, can even evoke a more exotic locale.

Sketches from the Museum of International Folk Art

There’s no shortage of great museums in Santa Fe, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to see them all. I did spend a couple of hours at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and there are others on my must-see list for the next visit, like the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

I love sketching in museums, especially if collections are colourful and 3-dimensional. It’s the best way to really spend time looking at and appreciating the art. But sketching in many museums is often not permitted, at least with anything more than a pencil. I often bring a small sketchbook to the MMFA, work in pencil in the galleries and then add colour to my sketches in the museum café because, understandably, using ink or watercolour near the artwork is prohibited.

But there are exceptions to this rule, and if you checkout each museum’s guidelines for visitors, you can prepare properly with the right materials before visiting. One of the most welcoming museums for sketchers is the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. I spent a day there with each of my workshop groups, and I think we all felt a day was not enough! First all all, sketchers are welcome to set up stools, draw in the galleries, and even use ink and watercolour in front of the display cases. Plus, the collections of folk art from around the world are so fascinating that you do actually need a few visits to absorb them all.

We only had a morning there, so most of us filled our pages with ink drawings, and then added colour later. I sketched objects from many countries, picking and choosing based on the shape of the object, working from large to small and filling in blank spaces with progressively smaller shapes. I added lettering later too. If you are in Santa Fe, don’t miss a visit to this place, hopefully with your sketchbook in hand.


There’s a lot to buy in Santa Fe. I’ve never seen so much art, jewelry and pottery anywhere in my travels. But the only souvenir I really wanted to bring home was a ristra, those long strings of dried chile peppers (or other vegetables) that hang all over the city, including from lampposts in the main square. Of course, getting one of these home intact would be near impossible in my already crowded suitcase. And I’m not even sure that if I did manage to pack it safely that I would be allowed to carry it through Canadian customs. The best I could manage was to sketch a few of the most beautiful ristras — one of chiles and another one of corn from the farmer’s market — in some empty places in my sketchbook.

The corn is sketched on top of an erased (and awful) drawing of a museum building from my first day in Santa Fe when I was still getting used to the altitude and the dryness.

Blue cranes

I missed launch day at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club, but it felt like a celebration this morning when I got down to the lake and saw the boats bobbing in the water. It is indeed the start of plein air painting season here in Montreal.

My sketching window was only about an hour, so I painted from the car instead of at my standing easel. That presented certain challenges. For example, it’s difficult to paint long straight lines (like the masts and the crane) when my work is on my lap, or balanced on the steering wheel. I just can’t get the arm motion right when I’m that cramped. Lesson learned, though. Tomorrow the easel is coming along with me. Painted on a pad of Arches CP, 140 lb, 10″ x 14″.

Come and gone

Summer made an appearance while I was in Santa Fe. It was spring before I left (only a few hyacinths blooming), and it’s spring again, but in the interim there was a heatwave in Montreal, with temperatures exceeding 30°C on some days. Tulips and daffodils bloomed without me, and now I am left with shrivelling stalks waiting to be pruned. Fortunately my favourite early perennials are still here for me to enjoy — lilies-of-the-valley, bleeding hearts and forget-me-nots. I have a whole sketchbook of Santa Fe scenes to post, but that can wait. If it gets warmer again, these flowers will be gone too. Sketched in a Handbook Watercolour Journal, 9″ x 12″.

A few hours at Ghost Ranch

On my weekend off between two workshops in Santa Fe, we rented a car and took a drive north up to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. Those names might be familiar to you if you know the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, because she lived in New Mexico from 1934 until her death in 1986.

We tried, unsuccessfully, to get a ticket to visit her home and studio in Abiquiu. In fact, I had set an alert on my calendar months ago when the tickets went on sale, but I guess everyone had the same idea because they sold out immediately. We stopped anyway at the O’Keeffe Foundation where a guide told me that if we drove very slowly on the road going north as we exited the parking lot, we could catch a glimpse of a corner of the house on the hill. That would have to do for this trip.

From there we continued on the road to Ghost Ranch where O’Keefe lived for many years and which is now a retreat and tourist destination. Instead of taking the Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour on a minibus, or the Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Trail Ride on a horse, I decided to sketch a view of the redrock cliffs that she might have painted. The midday light wasn’t ideal, but I found an Adirondack chair in the shade and sketched for an hour or so. It’s obvious why O’Keeffe fell in love with these surroundings and made these views the subject of her paintings for decades. I feel lucky to have spent a bit of time there too.

The air up here

It’s taken a bit of time to get used to the altitude and the dryness in Santa Fe. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly things dry here, most importantly the water on my paintbrush. It’s a big learning curve when you’re outside painting in the wind and the sun.

I spent a few days scouting locations for my MISA workshops. The biggest challenge so far, besides the climate, is figuring out what colours to use to paint the adobe walls. Some are brownish, some are pink, and some are putty-coloured. I’ve been experimenting with different pigment combinations but haven’t settled on the perfect mix yet.

The best place to hang out and draw is the Historic Plaza, and on the weekend it’s filled with musicians, vendors, tourists and dog walkers. It’s a great place for people sketching — lots of shade and plenty of benches.

It’s always been a dream of mine to paint in this beautiful city and the surrounding area, and as we happily enjoy the culture, the great food and all that pink adobe, it’s easy to forget that we are in close proximity to some raging forest fires. As we drove here on a shuttle from Albuquerque, we could see the smoke drifting across the mountains from the Cerro Pelado fire. There’s another one further to the north near Las Vegas, NM. So far, it hasn’t affected us here, but there have been several amber alerts on my phone for evacuations in the affected areas. Scary stuff indeed.