It’s a rainy day in Montreal, but I was itching to get out to sketch. I took advantage of a break in the showers to do a little drawing from my car. I had just enough time to put in the pencil lines and add some red on the fire hydrant before heavy rain started again. If that hydrant is the only object that’s in focus, it’s because it is. I couldn’t see much else through the window as I painted the rest, but I’m happy that the drippiness of the sketch mirrors the mood of the day.
This week magnolia trees are in their prime in Montreal, but I don’t have one so I sketched one in my neighbourhood. Every year it’s the same tree because it’s huge, laden with blooms, and fairly close to the road, so I can paint it unobtrusively from my car. The pink on saucer magnolias is kind of a muted colour and I’m never sure what pigment to use. Today I tried Permanent Magenta, since I have that on my palette at the moment.
Last year when I filled my travel palette I left a few spots for colours that I might want to try out, and those are the ones on the far left. A year later they are still there, so I guess they’re staying. At the top is Chromium Black from Winsor & Newton. It’s a black that is not too granulating, and it’s warm, which is nice for greys in urban scenes. In the middle is Cobalt Green — a very opaque pigment that is perfect for accents of colour in sketches with lots of people in them, or for painting glacier-fed lakes or tropical seas. And the third in the row is Permanent Magenta, which I use often for florals, and which came in very handy today with these magnolias.
This spring I’m a little obsessed with anything that resembles a wetland. I think the obsession started in the fall when I discovered the Technoparc Oiseaux, and continued into the winter when I often painted the stream that runs through Angell Woods. This week, on a walk with Alice, I discovered a wooded area that had been flooded from some recent rainfall. It’s an area I know well because that’s the neighbourhood pool where my kids spent their summers, way in the distance. I took a reference photo and painted this from the warmth of my studio, in gouache, on a small piece of 9″ x 7″ watercolour illustration board that I found in the back of a closet, left over from my days as an illustrator. It’s a really nice surface to work on — Arches paper mounted on thick board — because it has some tooth to it and it doesn’t buckle. It’s even better than working on a block of paper, and that’s a good thing because there are more sheets where this one came from.
As predicted, we woke up to falling snow today. Not just falling, but actually staying on the ground type of snow. If not for the 200 bulb project, I would not have sketched outside, but I knew it would be possible to do since the sketchbook is small and I was close to the house.
My easel is hinged so I was able to clip my book vertically to keep it as dry as possible. And I worked in gouache, knowing that it would dry quickly. I still had snowflakes on the paper, but droplets on gouache do not do as much damage as they do on watercolour — something to keep in mind for other outings.
I kept my easel quite low to the ground and sat on my camp stool. As you can see, there were no birds in the birdbath to keep me company today.
When I started this ambitious project of sketching the 200 bulbs that I planted last autumn, I imagined sitting outside in the warm spring sun. But this week is unseasonably cold, and today I was wrapped in a parka and wearing a hat and gloves. I’m pretty sure a few snowflakes hit my sketchbook, and I had to hang on to the accordion book so that it wouldn’t blow away in the wind. I did manage to sketch the next group of hyacinths, which are beautiful but too heavy for their stalks. They’ve flopped over in the garden, and I have a feeling that tomorrow they’ll be covered in snow, if the forecast on my weather app is correct.
I was hoping to spend a bit more time on the drawing and painting of these but the wind was just too strong. I tried to convey the deep purple of the flowers with just a few washes, mainly a mix of Cobalt Blue and Quin Rose with some darks added at the end. Luckily the fierce wind worked in my favour because drying time was mercifully quick and I was able to get back into the warmth of the house in good time.
I was only made aware of the Technoparc Oiseax quite late in the fall when the trees were bare, so I’ve never explored its beauty in spring or summer. This morning when I sketched, it seemed like the colour in the wetlands was waking up. The faintest greens and ochres were visible in the distant trees. What you don’t see here, and what I’m not quick enough to sketch, were the geese landing and taking off across the pond. We are used to seeing lots of them in parks and farmer’s fields, much to the dismay of many, but don’t get to see them often in the water. Quite a dramatic sight! Sketched with gouache in a Pentallic Aqua Journal, 7″ x 10″.
In Montreal we had two days of non-stop rain, which the garden really needed. There are more daffodils blooming, and a few from this clump have even starting to fade from all that moisture. But there are lots more bulbs to come in my 200 bulb sketching project. My friends are taking bets to see how many of these actually bloom, so when I see foliage but no bulb, I record that too. I have a feeling that lots of tulips will flower at once and I’ll be spending the last few days of this project trying to sketch them all. The nice thing about this endeavour, besides spending time in the garden each day, is that each clump that blooms is a surprise because of course I neglected to take note of what I planted.
The hyacinths are blooming. They still have some growing to do, but I have other clumps in the garden so I decided that I would draw this grouping before they were fully upright. It was a bit cool this morning while I was sketching, and they seemed to be huddled inside their leaves, like I was, inside my jacket. To draw them I used a dip pen and water-soluble éclat de saphir ink from Jacques Herbin. Just the perfect colour for these flowers. I also used a brush in some areas to get masses of that deep blue/purple colour.
I also added the hyacinths to my jpeg of the full concertina sketchbook layout. There’s lots of rain in the forecast for the next few days, so it may only be the weekend before I can add to the book again.
I’m trying out a new easel that arrived yesterday from Cup Easels. I’ve been eyeing this one for a while and decided to buy it because it’s so perfect for gouache and watercolour. To try it out, I attached it to my Sirui tripod and raised it quite high. It has a perfect little mixing area for gouache or watercolour, and also this little tray for the paints that comes with a cover so that the gouache does not dry out in between outings. There’s a tiny water cup too, but I attached a bigger cup below the palette using the convenient holes and a couple of carabiners. This easel is also quite small so I could definitely use it on my lap or in my car. I love how close the mixing surface is to the sketchbook.
I sketched a view through to my neighbour’s yard where lots of thirsty birds dropped by to have a drink in the bird bath. This spring has been quite dry, so after my sketch was done I put out my bird baths too.
More flowers opened today so I added them to my concertina sketchbook. This time I painted them in gouache, but pale yellow on white paper is difficult, plus this is really not a nice surface for gouache either. I think ink might be the best way to go on this, but I will continue using it until all 200 bulbs bloom.
I’ll also combine all the sections in Photoshop, like this below, so you can see what the whole book looks like. When it’s done I’ll probably be able to paper a room with this 360° spring garden!