Circular saw

There’s a spot just outside the fence at the boat club where I can set up my easel and look in at the big covered sailboats during the off-season. I always love sketching them before they go into the water, and spring is the best time because as soon as it warms up, they start repairing them and there’s lots of activity in the boatyard.

This morning I had the added bonus of Alex and his buddy standing in the middle of the scene, working on the circular saw. I knew the painting would be much more interesting with figures in it, so I quickly grabbed my pencil, drew the silhouettes of the boats and then added the two guys in. They were moving around a lot but I managed to get their general shapes. When it was time to paint them, they had already moved away, but the details of hoodies, caps and pants were not too complex and I was able to add a few loose washes on them. And of course they had noticed me painting, so on their lunch break they came over to have a look and take some photos of themselves in the painting.


It all started the other night when we watched the movie Kodachrome. Here’s a synopsis from IMDB: Set during the final days of the admired photo development system known as Kodachrome, a father and son hit the road in order to reach the Kansas photo lab before it closes its doors for good.

Watching the movie led me to a storage closet in my basement where I have a box of hundreds of Kodachrome slides, neatly organized in trays that fit into a projector that I no longer own. I hauled them out to show to our younger son who was born long after most people used slide film. And from there I went down a rabbit hole of looking at the slides. The box I opened was labeled “Antigonish, 1980”. That was the summer I took a watercolour workshop with Ed Whitney in Nova Scotia.

On my Epson scanner I have a transparency adaptor for positive and negative film so I threw a few of the slides on there to see what they were like. Some of the images are really wonderful, and have a nostalgic quality both because of the rich colour of the film and the scenes they depict. Today I painted this scene in gouache from somewhere on the Nova Scotia coast, probably near Antigonish, circa 1980.

Luckily I also found a slide of Mr. Whitney giving one of his morning demos.What a treasure to find these.

Old and new

There’s a little bit of old and a little bit of new in this sketch. The tulips are new — brought over by a friend the other day — and opening slowly in my dining room. The painting on the right behind the tulips is old. It’s a big one (a full sheet), that I painted years ago, of a white chef’s shirt on a hanger. I don’t remember why I had a chef’s shirt because I was never a chef, but it was hanging on a door handle, freshly ironed, and it made a good subject for a painting. Sketched in my Hahnemuhle sketchbook while heavy snow was falling outside.

Winter boats

The end of March is never pretty in Montreal. We still have heaps of snow on lawns, and mountains of it piled up in parking lots, but it’s mostly grey and slowly starting to reveal debris that’s been hidden all winter. It’s hard to find a subject that I am inspired to paint. But I can always count on boats. Even covered by tarps, they still have great shapes, and I especially like this location at the Beaconsfield Yacht Club where they are huddled under the trees.

I’ve painted this scene before in monochrome but today I added a few more colours — several blues, Raw Sienna, a touch of black and a few spots of red. I can’t wait to see these boats in the water!!

The wash at dusk

It’s grey, rainy and damp here in Montreal — and not even good weather for sketching from my car — so I’m going back through my recent photo archives to places that are warmer and sunnier. The wash at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson was quite splendid at dusk. The hills turned from a dull ochre to a flaming orange at sunset. I was on my way to a campfire cookout so I couldn’t paint at that time, but the memory of that riverbed scene stayed with me. I like to imagine that this is the view that Paul and Linda McCartney also had every evening when they lived nearby.

Gouache day

A new gouache set arrived in the mail this week. I was overdue to buy some new tubes since most of what I have is from my university days when we used gouache for illustration projects. The set I selected was one I noticed Peggi Kroll Roberts using a few weeks ago when I took her online course. Her gouache paintings are extra creamy-looking because she uses the paint at full strength and really loads up her brush with those gorgeous colours, so I bought a set of six primaries plus black and white to try.

I created a page of swatches from the primaries without adding any black or white. The colours are really bright, and indeed very creamy.

And since my expensive grocery store bouquet is still looking great, I tried the paints out on some white bristol board. I didn’t always have as much paint on my brush to get that smooth creamy feel, but I’m happy I wasn’t trying to extract paint out of dried up old tubes.

Big Skies, Open Spaces

In other news, I’m very honoured to be teaching at the CSPWC Watercolour Symposium in Regina, Saskatchewan, this summer, along with Jean Peterson, Bhupinder Singh, Alice Bottrill and Marlene Madole. I’ll be teaching a two-day urban painting workshop in the Cathedral District of Regina, and a one-day landscape workshop in the Qu’Appelle Valley. The dates are July 16-21, 2023. Hope to see you there!

Alice at home

Thank you all so much for sending good thoughts to Alice yesterday. In case you are interested, she survived the tooth extraction and is now home making us laugh because she’s still a bit loopy from the anaesthetic, and she keeps flopping over on her bed. But she just ate some soft food — almost nothing stops labs from eating, including a swollen mouth — and I know that she’ll be her normal self by tomorrow.

Alice with a toothache

Alice has a toothache. I’m not certain if it causes her any pain because eating and playing (and sleeping) are all normal. But tomorrow the vet will take out one molar that is cracked and is likely causing some swelling in her face. I know she will be fine but I am drawing her today, AND giving her a few extra treats since I know tomorrow she will be a little bit miserable.

Houses and sheds

I forgot to post this winter scene from a few weeks ago. It’s interesting to see this studio painting (with all its hard edges) compared to Saturday’s plein air paintings from the woods, which are all soft edges. This was a scene I saw while I was walking Alice in Angell Woods on a cold, sunny morning. I always enjoy the overlapping shapes of houses and sheds on this part of the walk, and sometimes stop to take photos. I painted this when I got home and the cold winter colours were fresh in my mind. I especially like the little yellow shed on the left with the big window because I can see silhouettes of pots and garden tools in there. It would be interesting to take my easel to this spot and paint the same scene on location, without Alice of course. I suspect it would be a very different painting.

Vodka works

There was no procrastination this morning. The sky was blue, and the outside temperature was slowly inching up over the freezing mark. I packed my plein air watercolour setup and headed out to my woods, which are about half a block from my house. I’ve never tried this before, but I also added a bit of vodka (about 20/80 ratio) to my water bottle (yes, the one I use for painting!). I planted my easel in the snow and painted a view towards the houses that line the woods.

And since it was so glorious in the woods with the birds chirping around me, and I was so thrilled to be outside, when the first watercolour was done, I turned my easel around and painted another view.

Painting outside in winter at 3°C is not as bad as I thought it would be. I was wearing many layers, the sun was shining and I only noticed the cold after about 2 hours. As for the technical side of things, everything worked well. My paint stayed liquid, the vodka water kept my washes flowing well, the paint dried more slowly than usual but eventually it DID dry in the sun, and most of all, IT FELT GREAT TO BE OUTDOORS!!