Claddagh Hall, Galway

I haven’t seen enough of Ireland (after less than 24 hours of being in the country) to write anything insightful, and I’m still a little jet-lagged too, but I do have some first impressions. 1. The people are as warm and friendly as advertised, starting, surprisingly, with the immigration officer at the airport.   2. The weather changes from one minute to the next which makes for tremendous skies. 3. I’m glad I brought along lots of green paint. 

Today I toured around town with local urban sketcher Roisin Curé. In a couple of days we’ll be teaching a workshop here along with Marc Holmes, so it was nice to scope out our sketching spots. I intended to sketch the iconic view of colourful seaside houses called The Long Walk but the sky was so dramatic in the other direction that I sketched that instead. Galway is a city with an abundance of water views and Claddagh is a wide swath of land where the Corrib River meets Galway Bay. It was cold and very gusty out there but incredibly beautiful too. 

Down to the beach

I am still scanning paintings from my trip to Rockport. I painted this one in the shade of my car, setting up my easel in a parking lot and using my car both as a windbreak and as a shelter from the sun. Of course, sitting in this spot for a few hours allowed me the time to dream a little and think about what I would paint every day if I lived in that house, with that view…

Painted on Saunders Waterford CP 140 lb, 15″ x 11″.


23 for Galway and Manchester

There’s nothing like a new palette that’s filled with colour but never touched by a brush. So pristine. So much possibility contained within. So many choices. It’s like a box of candy. You don’t know which one to pick first.

I always carry too many art supplies with me when I travel, so with the aim of travelling light — especially after recently losing (and then finding) my luggage — I have a new palette that will go with me to Galway and Manchester. This one is much smaller than my usual plein air Alvin Heritage Palette. The closed size is only 3″ x 5.75″ and yet I have managed to get 23 colours in there. This replaces a travel palette that I used so much when I first started sketching that most of it rusted away.

Of course I’ve filled it with plenty of yellows, blues and greens for painting the Irish landscape, as well as lots of rusts and reds for my industrial workshop location in Manchester. I’m not leaving just yet but have filled the wells a few days early, in the hopes that they will dry before I get on the plane.

Except for two half pans, the colours are all filled from tube paint. They may be hard to make out from the photo so here they are from left to right.
Top row: Cobalt Teal, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Mineral Violet and Permanent Alizarin Crimson.
Middle row: Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Pyrol Orange, Organic Vermilion, Quinacridone Rose.
Bottom Row: Naples Yellow, Hansa Yellow Medium, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Gold, Leaf Green, Sap Green, Phthalo Green, Shadow Green (first time trying this deep green).

Ironically my workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester is called “Bare Bones: Exploring limited palettes in watercolour“. That might lead you to believe that I use a tiny palette with only three or four colours in it, but the workshop is more about achieving unity in your sketches through limited use of colour. I may be packing light but I don’t think I could ever travel without a full range of pigments.


The North End

This was sketched as a demo for the workshop I gave in Boston last week. We stood on a corner of the Greenway and looked down Hanover Street into the North End. It’s a pretty busy corner for teaching —  traffic going by, music from a Boot Camp class blaring a little distance away, and the cacophony of fruit vendors at Haymarket right behind us —  but that setting is what urban sketching is about. The view was perfect for what I was trying to teach (simplification of a complex scene) but about halfway through the sketch there was a thought bubble over my head that read something like this: “What am I doing standing on a hot street corner in Boston trying to shout over all this noise?” Many thanks to my patient group of students who watched and listened and tried to learn something despite the distractions.


Winooski Historic District

Before the start of my workshop in Burlington, Vermont I thought I should probably do a warm-up sketch. I haven’t drawn all week and thought I might be a bit rusty, so I stood out on the river walk in historic Winooski and sketched a view of one of the old mills before heading off to teach. This is my favourite sort of subject. Brick industrial buildings, sharp ledges of rock, churning water and ominous sky. Of course the old mill buildings now house upscale restaurants, vegan cafes and yoga studios, but the exteriors are as interesting as they must have been during the heyday of lumber, cotton, wool and flour production. 

Low tide

One of the reasons the Rockport harbour is so interesting to paint is that it’s enclosed on all four sides. Seems odd for a harbour but if you look carefully you’ll discover that there’s a small, hidden channel for boats to move in and out of open water. This enclosure makes for many great painting spots depending on the time of day and the position of the sun. I love the north side of the harbour because there’s a grassy area with benches — perfect for contemplating the view… or painting. Saunders Waterford CP paper, 15″ x 11″.


Landscape sketching in Boston

It seems like a landscape sketching workshop in an urban setting like Boston would be unlikely, but I am just back from two days of teaching with the Newton Watercolor Society. The first day of the workshop took place in Auburndale Cove, a bucolic setting in a suburb of Boston, complete with a shaded park, Canada geese, waterlilies and great river reflections.

Even though it was a day for sketching landscape, for my first demo I couldn’t resist drawing a house across from us on the Charles River. The shadows cast by the awnings on the white clapboard were so remarkable, so dramatic and so sharp that I had to paint them first. That’s not my usual way of working. In fact in my online class Sketching the City I go into quite a bit of detail about how to add these in near the end of the sketch. But since they were likely to change quickly and they were on a white surface, I painted them first and then proceeded to paint the rest of the page.


During a long workshop day I like to do a second demo, and I’ve discovered lately that a good time to do that is at the end of the afternoon when students are tired and quite happy to sit and watch. This second demo is usually something less complex, perhaps a smaller vignette or a closeup view — on this day some waterlilies. If I had been quicker with my camera I could have also captured a family of ducks that silently swam through the scene while I painted.


The day’s paintings by the group were immensely successful and of course the day ended with the obligatory Urban Sketchers photo of everyone proudly displaying their sketches.



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