A few weeks ago, I took photos of and subsequently painted a view of the wetlands at the Technoparc Oiseaux. Perhaps I made it seem like a rural wilderness area in my watercolour, but the reality of the location is that it’s a series of wetland areas and a huge bird sanctuary bordered by Montreal’s main airport and an industrial park. When I was there, I also took some reference photos of another view of the same marsh area with the industrial complex behind it. Google maps tells me that the buildings in that complex include an aircraft maintenance company on the right, but there’s also some new construction and I’m not sure what the buildings on the left are.

At first I was reticent to paint this view with the buildings in the distance, but the more that I looked at my photos, the more the juxtaposition of the wilderness landscape and the built landscape intrigued me. The buildings, lit by the afternoon sun, were indeed just as beautiful as the marsh with its wild grasses, tree stumps and floating logs in the shallow water. Plus there was a similarity of colours that easily unified the background and foreground. I painted with a limited palette of blues, siennas and ochres, with just a touch of Cobalt Green for the industrial glass. Painted on a quarter sheet of Arches paper.

Best wishes for the holiday season

2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least. As urban sketchers, we have all had to find new ways to connect and new subjects to draw. It hasn’t been easy getting used to this new reality — of not being able to wander freely with our sketchbooks, and not being able to draw with friends. I know I’m not the only one who misses both. Remember just a few months ago when zoom was something you did with a camera? These days, not a week goes by without some sort of Zoom event, either with friends or for work. It’s not the same, but I’m happy to have at least this way of staying connected.

As I pause during the holiday season to reflect on all the dramatic changes in our lives, I also want to thank you so much for stopping in to say hello on the blog, and also for encouraging me to create courses that keep us sketching. It has been such a pleasure to connect with so many of you. And, since I won’t be traveling again until a vaccine becomes widely available and in-person workshops are safe, I plan to continue posting often in 2021. And there will be a few new courses coming up too.

I hope you have a wonderful and safe holiday, wherever you live. I wish you and your loved ones health and happiness for the new year, and I have my fingers crossed that one day soon we will be sketching together in person.

Happy sketching in 2021!

Morgan Arboretum

A walk on the trails of the Morgan Arboretum during a snowfall yesterday was a good opportunity to gather some reference images for painting. Although the arboretum is situated quite close to where I live, I’ve never had time to take advantage of the many walking and skiing trails. But as we all know, this is the year to appreciate what is close to home, so I’m now a member and will certainly be exploring this place in all seasons, both on cross country skis and with my sketchbook.

On a snowy day, the landscape in the woods is monochrome, so I have to admit I did take some liberties with colour, using lots of Burnt Sienna plus greens, reds and blues to enliven the scene. I painted on a sheet of handmade watercolour paper from Two Rivers paper in the UK. This is great paper if you are painting a subject that has a lot of texture in it like this or this.

A gift of the holidays

It was a fun time last night in Sketching PlayLab‘s end of year virtual block party. My friends Suhita and Paul shared their favourite sketching tools (check out Paul’s new Daniel Smith set) as participants listened and sketched. I think all sketchers love to get a glimpse into other sketcher’s toolkits, right?? I have to admit it was hard to draw and watch at the same time, but I did manage to sketch some pinecones in India ink and liquid watercolour.

If you are looking for an art experience for the holiday period, I have a suggestion. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, now closed because of the pandemic, is offering a gift for the holidays. They have made their five current banner exhibits available as virtual tours. I was hoping to see Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism: Signac and the Indépendants but never made it there before the museum closed in November, so I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to walk through the exhibit, even on a virtual visit. Also a must-see: Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures. I did preview both of these briefly, on my iPad, just to see what the experience was like. You can get a really good view of the work. Not as wonderful as if you were standing in front of the paintings, but it’s certainly better than not seeing them at all. I will be spending more time at all five of the shows over the holiday period. Here’s the link to all of the exhibits.

Écureuil gris

I just calculated and it turns out that I sketched this wheelbarrow for the first time just over nine years ago, but it has taken all that time for a squirrel to pose for me. It was worth the wait, I would say. Now I can say that I have an oak, a squirrel and an acorn all in the same drawing. The squirrel was sketched today with a dip pen and black Carbon ink in a Handbook Watercolour Journal.

Alice with lines

My sketch of Alice was done with Walnut Ink and a dip pen on Fabriano watercolour paper. Every once in a while I remember that I have these old dip pens hanging around in my studio, and I haul them out and dust them off. They’re not part of my plein air kit because who wants to carry around an ink bottle and a dip pen? But a dip pen is just so satisfying to work with. There’s the scratchy sound it makes when it is dragged across the paper, and the fat drip that falls from it after you take it out of the bottle. And if you are lucky another fat drip that lands on your paper in the middle of your drawing. My favourite illustrator who works with a dip pen is Barry Blitt. Have a look at how he uses it.

Oranges and oregano

I woke up way too early today so I drew before breakfast on my iPad. I’ve been using Procreate and an Apple Pencil for a year or two, and even though I’ve tried many of the watercolour and oil brushes, I keep coming back to my favourite — the one that is most like working with analog drawing tools — the 6B pencil. I don’t really use many of the features available to me in the app, like layers, transparency, fills, etc. That just seems too much like working in Adobe Illustrator. For me, using Procreate is like having a giant box of coloured pencils at my disposal. I use one pencil and just keep changing and layering the colours. The beauty of the process for me is having all of this available and easy to use, even before my morning coffee.


A few weeks ago we were taking a walk in the Technoparc Oiseaux in Montreal. The late November end-of-day colours were so striking that it made me gasp. It took me a few weeks to get around to painting it, but I had to see if I could capture the contrast between the warm and the cool tones in the scene. I went back this week and now the wetlands are a solid block of ice, so I’m happy we got to see this before it froze. Painted on a sheet of Arches Rough paper, 22″ x 16″.

Familiar corner

One of the things I love best about urban sketching is getting to tell the stories of the people or places I sketch. There’s not much of that happening these days, and I miss it. But today I have a story from my own neighbourhood. I have sketched the west side of the Pioneer Bar building in Pointe-Claire Village many, many times. You can see it on the right side of the sketches here and here and here. And there are probably many more sketches of it in my archives.

My story today is that when I arrived to sketch at my usual spot, the Pioneer was gone. It’s been scheduled for demolition for years, but there was an ongoing controversy because heritage groups for the city of Pointe-Claire were against the construction of condos and commercial properties being built in its place, and fought (and lost) to prevent its demolition. I have to admit the building was a bit of an eyesore, which you will see when you click on the link to the newspaper article, but I will miss the yellow stucco side wall, the big propane tanks and black metal fire escapes that provided me with so much opportunity for brush calligraphy. Au revoir Le Pionnier!

Bottles on grey

On my sketchbook shelf I just found a book I’ve never tried. It’s a Stillman & Birn Nova Series Trio — one third grey paper, one third black paper and one third tan paper — in a square 8″ x 8″ format. It’s a great book for practicing gouache, so I started sketching in it today and my aim is to fill it up completely. I’m not usually very consistent with my sketchbooks. I tend to draw in many at once, unless I’m travelling and only bring along one or two. But I think this paper is perfect for gouache, so I’m going to make an effort to go through it from front to back and use it both indoors and out. I’ll let you know if I’m successful.