Dreaming Alice

Even when asleep and dreaming of chasing tennis balls in the park, Alice is constantly shifting positions on her bed. That’s why my drawing tool of choice for dog sketching is a brush pen. With the open line of this pen I can adjust my contours for a paw that shifts, a nose that gets tucked in, or a single eye that opens to look at me.

The good stuff

Spring is the best time in my garden. That’s when all the good stuff blooms. After that it’s mostly hostas and other low maintenance plants that are good in shade. Nothing worth cutting or sketching, unfortunately. In spring there’s also lots to do in the garden, liking hauling around bags of mulch, but my reward at the end was that I picked a jar full of this good stuff, and I got to sketch it.

Magnolias in the rain and a new car palette

The magnolias are in full bloom, but falling fast with the rain. I had to paint from my car today but wanted to capture them before they’re gone.

I experimented with something new in my car studio today. A few weeks ago I received a Portable Painter palette to try out. I filled it with Daniel Smith colours in preparation for my workshop at the Chicago Sketch Seminar (more about that below) but hadn’t had a chance to try it out in the field until today.

Wow, it’s basically the perfect system for the type of car sketching I do. The palette holds 12 half pans and on the sides there are two water reservoirs. There’s a spot for a travel brush, and my other brush is resting across the water reservoir. Very compact and neat compared to my usually messy setup.

If I had purchased this years ago, it sure would have saved a lot of mess in my car. My palette is usually on the passenger seat which results in lots of dribbled paint on the gear shift as I dip into the colour. With this setup the only mess will probably be on my jeans, but that’s a lot easier to resolve than cleaning the whole car.

The new palette is filled with 12 Daniel Smith watercolours. They’re sponsoring some of the workshops in Chicago, including mine, which is titled Bare Bones: Working with limited palettes in watercolour. Since the workshop is about creating unity and harmony in your sketches by using fewer colours, I’ve been creating different triads of colour in a small sketchbook. If you look on the Daniel Smith website you’ll find a great post about colour mixing charts. Mine (below) is adapted from their six-colour template. You can see how two colour combinations work together, and also how they all mix to form different greys and neutrals (across the bottom of the page).

Fredericksburg workshop recap

I’m just back from a weekend in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which I can say was the official start of summer workshop season. I was given the gift of great locations, perfect weather and very talented students, so no complaints on this end.

We worked on all kinds of things over the three days — value studies, composition, page design, brushwork and colour — so lots of little demos in my sketchbook (the big tree above and the little vignettes below).

At the end of the first day I finished with a small demo of the Fredericksburg railway bridge. Everyone appreciates a demo at the end of the day when they’re tired and they can watch the teacher struggle to paint the constantly changing reflections in the river.

We spent Saturday at the Fredericksburg farmer’s market. My demo (still not finished) was how to simplify a complex scene with moving people and multiple tents. The results from the group were very impressive, and that always makes it a pleasure for me.

Our last day was spent at Chatham Manor. This is a place where I could easily spend a week painting the perfectly tended gardens, the Georgian-style main house, or the panoramic views across the river to Fredericksburg. Coming from Montreal where we are experiencing the late arrival of spring, the peonies, climbing roses and deep purple irises were a feast for my eyes.

Thanks to this talented group for working so hard!

From above

Spring is late this year, and all I could find to sketch in my garden were these three tulips, seeking a bit of sun like all of us this May. It took a while to figure out the right mix of colours to get the glowing orange/pink of the blooms. Quinacridone Rose, Azo Yellow and a bit of Transparent Orange did the job, in the end. And although I rarely use it, Lunar Black mixed with Alizarin Crimson gave me a dark that was just right for the centres. Sketched in a Travelogue Watercolour Journal, 8″ x 8″.

Brick house on Lakeshore

Shadow patterns are worth waiting for. They add so much to a scene, don’t you think? When I started out sketching this house on Lakeshore Road in Pointe Claire, it was sunny, but then clouds appeared. I painted the local colours of the house and trees, but the scene was flat. I’m an optimist, though. A patient optimist. I loaded up my brush with shadow colour and waited. And waited. And waited. When the sun reappeared, I rewet my brush and quickly added in the shadow areas. I probably could have tried to do this from memory but the shadow patterns from the mostly bare trees were quite dynamic and I wanted to get it right.

All or nothing

For the past few weeks I have been looking for outdoor subjects to paint, but it’s been a bit of a wasteland of grey days, bare trees and yellowed grass.

And then all of a sudden, there’s too much choice. Tiny buds are opening on trees, the grass is green, and today I drove by the market and was thrilled to see all the hanging plants on display. It made me realize how starved for colour I am. The red and yellows on my palette are getting some attention again, and before you know it the boats will be in the water too. Seems like the start of summer sketching is finally here.