Ten before two

It would have been wonderful to paint the front of the Santa Barbara Courthouse with my students, but we just never found the time to do it, and when it seemed like it might be possible there was another wedding party that had reserved the spot. The clocktower is quite beautiful but the main attraction for me is that big stone arch that leads to the sunken garden. I snapped a photo of it on my way back from lunch one day, and while the memory of all those white Santa Barbara buildings was still fresh in my head, I thought I’d tackle the scene. Painted wet-in-wet on a quarter sheet of Fabriano CP.

First blooms

While I was in California the first crocuses popped out of the ground and bloomed. When the sun came out today, I ran out there with my easel and a few tubes of gouache (which I haven’t used in ages) to capture their beauty. I should have been raking last year’s oak leaves instead but I couldn’t resist the little purple flowers, and of course that raking can wait until later.

I was trying out a brand new pad of Hahnemuhle Toned Watercolor Paper, which I suspect I will use more for gouache than for watercolour. It has a beautiful beige colour and a slightly textured surface, and when I’m working with gouache it’s always nice to start with a toned surface so the the whites really stand out.

Cacti, agave and succulents

I took my sketchbook and pen out for a walk in Santa Barbara, and along the way I drew the plants in front of the El Zapato house on Garden Street. It’s liberating to carry such a light kit because I can be very mobile and work standing up. The plants in front of the house are really comical, and a bit reminiscent of something from Dr. Seuss’s imagination. I added colour back at the hotel, and even though I did take reference photos, in a drawing like this, does it really matter if the colours are naturalistic? I think not.

Julia Child in Santa Barbara

Did you know that Julia Child lived in Santa Barbara near the end of her life? I didn’t. But when I found out that La Super-Rica — her favourite taqueria — was only a short walk from our hotel, we had to take a walk to find out what was so special about it.

I wish I could have sketched the outside of the building with all that turquoise trim and the giant tree above, but the line to order was really long and I was hungry. As I passed by the kitchen door I did a quick sketch (on top of a painted swatch sample) of a lady chopping greens. After we ordered, we found a table and I finished the sketch during another long wait for our tacos.

You’re probably wondering how the tacos were. They were okay, but maybe not worth the long wait. Or maybe I ordered the wrong thing on the menu. I think on my next trip to Santa Barbara, I’ll eat before I go so I can sketch the building instead.

We also spent some time sketching at the Old Santa Barbara Mission, including in the rose garden where Julia Child has a butter-coloured rose named after her. It’s no surprise that after all that Julia inspiration I had to watch the new tv show about her as soon as I got home.

Around the courthouse

I guess I was overly optimistic when I thought I would be able to post and write while teaching back-to-back workshops with French Escapade in Santa Barbara. I KNOW I had high hopes because my last post was titled Santa Barbara Day One! Well, it’s almost two weeks later, I just got back home, and I’m finally getting around to posting my sketches. Instead of uploading them all at once, I thought I’d group them by location and spread them out over several posts.

During the workshop weeks, we spent a full day on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. It was a familiar site because I’ve seen Brenda Swenson‘s beautiful sketches of it over the years — but it’s even more grand when you see it in person, especially from the sunken garden where we sketched. In the spring and summer months it seems to be a popular setting for weddings, so beware that if you set up to sketch you may be asked to move (like we were!) because a bridal party has reserved the garden. Of course that might be an added bonus for you if you like to sketch weddings.

We were really fortunate to have sunny weather every day, although the temperature varied from really cold to uncomfortably hot during my time there. But if I can draw shadows on a white wall, I’m happy, and the courthouse has some beautiful walls and handsome palm trees.

If you’re in the garden and you turn your back to the courthouse, you can also sketch a few of the small businesses on E. Anapamu Street. The little shingled building that houses Adornment was my favourite, especially in the morning when a tall palm casts a shadow across its facade.

Santa Barbara Day One

It’s been ages since I visited Santa Barbara, and I’ve forgotten what a beautiful city it is. White stucco buildings, clay roofs, lots of tall palms, and plenty of street life. So much to sketch! I’ll be teaching a couple of workshops here this week, and as I always do, I did a tour of my demo locations this morning so I can figure out what we’ll be sketching.

The weather was unexpectedly cold and overcast when I got up to the Old Mission Santa Barbara. And I couldn’t get the paper to dry in the mist! So much for the clear blue California sky and sharp shadows I was expecting. Hopefully it will be better when I get there with the group!

I also painted a view of the beach and the city from Stearns Wharf. The architectural shapes and contrasting lights and darks are so interesting from there, but it’s really those skinny wiggly palms that I love best.

And finally, two years later than planned, I got to meet artist Brenda Swenson who is just finishing her workshop with French Escapade as mine begins. We’ve been Facebook friends for ages, but what a treat to meet her in person!

Royal Terns and Sailor’s Ears: a few things from the beach

On our last trip to Sanibel Island at the end of 2021, I did lots of sketching on the beach. Sanibel is known for being a shelling mecca of sorts, and I love to collect stuff after a storm when you find not only shells but sea urchins, starfish and crabs. If they’re not too stinky, I create a still life on the beach and sketch them from my chair.

This year we brought the recording stuff to the beach and filmed a little on-location video called “Sketching Shells in Sanibel“. It’s free, and you can see it on my teaching website. I’ve even included a supply list and a reference photo if you want to try your hand at sketching them too.

If you signed up for Sketchbook Revival this week, you might have painted a Royal Tern with me. Here’s the final sketch. And if you forgot to sign up, it’s not too late to watch lots of fun sessions. Here’s the link!

Wrapped or discarded

For many years there was no black pigment on my palette. I’ve always been taught to make rich darks from the darkest pigments on my palette. And that works most of the time. But sometimes you just want to dip into a real black — like when you are sketching a lamp post or a municipal trash bin, or in today’s example — a pile of discarded tires. There is real pleasure in diluting your chosen black down to a truly neutral grey, and also layering up to a deep black.

For that reason, I have several blacks in my paint drawer. This one is Peach Black and I love it because it is not overly granulating like Lunar Black. I also love Chromium Black which is a little bit warmer. And a gorgeous warmer grey, like on the utility pole, is the result of mixing black with Naples Yellow.

On thin ice

There’s no boats in the water yet in Pointe Claire, but I can see people working on them in the boatyard. That gives me something to look forward to. In the meantime, the breakwater has a little interest with a few good shapes and colours with which to create a composition — the deep blue water, the little bits of remaining ice, and a greenish rim of slush where the snow is slowly melting. There’s not much going on until two geese fly in. I can hear them before I see them. I’ve already started to add colour, but I grab my pencil and add them in as they gingerly tread across the ice.

The end of winter

It’s not a very pretty time of year in Montreal. The snow is melting into dirty puddles, garbage that was hidden in snow banks is slowly revealing itself, and, like last spring, we are discovering a winter’s worth of discarded masks. On the bright side, it’s now much more pleasant to walk outside this week. I was early for a walking date with a friend so I sketched this scene from my car — dirty snow and trash day in Westmount. Sketched in my Handbook Journal, 8″ x 8″, with a Platinum Carbon Desk pen and colours from my travel watercolour palette.