Chicago Symposium: on-site workshop prep

One of my favourite parts of going to an Urban Sketchers symposium is arriving a few days early, both to prepare for my workshops and also to watch to excitement build as sketchers arrive. This year in Chicago was my fifth time attending the event, so it’s become a bit like a college reunion, as one by one I find friends sketching on every corner of the city.

When I visited the city a few years ago, I didn’t have much time to draw, but this time I built in a full day to sketch in the location of my workshop (The Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park). If time permits, I like to do this so I can check out the light at different hours of the day, the views, the noise, and the people traffic. Thanks to great organizers at USk, my location was ideal for a workshop called “Trees and the City”. We were surrounded by a variety of greenery and had just the right amount of architecture to complete the picture. As for the people, it was a fairly quiet green space every day I was there, except for the initial prep day when I was surrounded by dozens and dozens of people staring at their phones. It didn’t take much research to find out that it was a Pokémon Go live event!

My first prep sketch was of the view north from the park, with the Prudential Buildings in the centre, the Trump tower on the left and the Aon Center on the right. As a resident of a smaller city, it was pretty difficult to wrap my head around the height of the Chicago skyscrapers, but I was a distance away so that made it a little easier.


My second sketch was a view of the pedestrian traffic along Michigan Avenue as seen from the park. I like painting from a shaded spot, so I often end up using trees as a framing device when I look at building facades.


Neither of these sketches came home with me, so the only photos I have of them are the quick shots I took on location. The first sketch went to the very generous couple who gave me a ticket to see the hit play “Hamilton” and the second one ended up in the silent auction on the last night of the symposium.

Windmill, with friends

After a summer of travel to many spectacular locations, I was wondering how it would be to get back to drawing in my neighbourhood again. I’ve driven around Pointe Claire village so often there are probably very few historic corners I haven’t sketched. But there’s nothing like showing newcomers around to make these familiar locations feel new again.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being a tour guide to visiting sketchers Liz Steel and Anne-Laure Jacquart. We spent the day driving around the West Island, stopping for a first sketch at the windmill in Pointe Claire. After the exhausting (and thrilling) experience we all had in Chicago at the Urban Sketchers Symposium, the shade and quiet in my sleepy end of the city was somewhat of a relief. (Chicago sketches coming soon!)


If you are in Montreal and interested in meeting and drawing with these two talented artists, there will be a public sketching event tomorrow (Saturday, August 5) in Old Montreal. Details are here and everyone is welcome!


The Bean

Last time I visited Chicago I missed my chance to draw Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, so this time I decided that it would be the first thing I sketched.
Of course it's a daunting subject – a highly polished stainless steel surface reflecting the sky, the city and the crowds of people below. Yikes.
Surprisingly, though, once you start to draw you realize that's it's not as difficult as it looks if you simplify the shapes. I painted it in sections: clouds first, then trees, foreground and lastly the dots of people.
Even though the Urban Sketchers Symposium does not officially begin until tomorrow, there are already lots of sketchers here from around the world, and many have drawn "the Bean". Have a look on Facebook or Instagram to see the incredible sketches that have already been posted! And watch starting Wednesday July 26 for a live feed on the Urban Sketchers You Tube channel:

The last few West Coast sketches

As wonderful as it is to get home after a long holiday, I have to admit I miss the West Coast mountain vistas. I managed to get in a few final sketches before flying home. The first one was painted while waiting in Nanaimo for the ferry back to Vancouver. It was a great day for painting clouds so during the long wait on the dock I found a spot with a spectacular view out into the Strait of Georgia. From that distance the snow-capped coastal mountain peaks on the mainland are visible but very subtle in value. They’re a bit darker and warmer than the clouds, but not much.


On the last full day in Vancouver I got out early to paint the palm trees along English Bay.  The first time I visited the city years ago I couldn’t believe we had palms in Canada, but I’ve never sketched them and thought they would be a good addition to my handout for “Trees in the City”, the workshop I will be giving at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago next week.


In true Vancouver fashion, it started to rain just as I completed my palm drawing, so I found a dry spot under a big tree and sketched the deep-sea freighters out on English Bay, finishing my tree sketch when the sun came out again.


And a quick note to everyone who commented on posts when I was travelling: I tried my best to respond to all of them from my iPad but it seems that many of my responses did not come through. I blame it on spotty wifi in remote locations, and I will answer them all  very soon.


Middle Beach

The best beaches are the ones where there are flat logs for sketchers to sit on. Don’t you agree? If you find the perfect one you can rest all your gear on it and the sand doesn’t get on your palette. I’ve only just arrived in Tofino, after a long and at times very twisty ride across Vancouver Island, but I had to get down to Middle Beach to do a quick sketch, feel the ocean breeze, and look up at the tall, tall trees. I’ve been waiting a long time to say I’ve seen both coasts of Canada!

Texture and value

I went out today with only a small sketch kit, not intending to paint anything large because of the haze, but when I saw this scene near the lake I couldn’t resist using some good paper. I had no large palette or brushes with me but I managed to eke out a quarter sheet with what I had, which was a travel palette and some good travel brushes. 

The scene was a study in values and texture. The far side of Okanagan Lake has disappeared into the haze, and even the near side is hardly visible, so I painted in layers, getting lighter and less detailed as objects moved away from me. Painted on Arches 140lb rough paper on a picnic table near Cedar Creek Park. 

Through the haze

If you’ve seen any footage of the wildfires in BC, you’ll know that it’s smoky and hazy in the Okanagan Valley where I am this week. In fact there’s so much smoke that it has travelled across Alberta and even into Manitoba. I was planning to paint some large format watercolours this week — views across the lake and over the vineyards — but that is impossible. The air quality is poor and the views are nonexistent. The only thing I did today was a small sketch from Quail’s Gate winery. In a few days I hope to be on Vancouver Island where the air is clearer. In the meantime I am hoping for rain in the interior of BC, and for the people who have been affected by the fires to be able to return home.