These past few weeks at school have been intense, in a good way. My graduating students are looking for internships for the last month of their studies, and that creates a lot of buzz in the classroom. All 32 of them are putting together portfolios, writing cover letters and, fingers crossed, going on interviews. No doubt, by mid-April, all of them with have placements, but in the interim, being in the classroom is an exhausting experience.
I was planning on doing some car sketching today but when I got home, I had no energy left to sit in a cold car. Instead I gathered up my tubes of gouache, some bottles from my studio and a cut lemon left over from lunch. Sitting in my kitchen and getting lost in the reflections was better than meditation.
I like my new neighbours and I haven’t even met them yet. I can see that we share an affinity for lazy wheelbarrows. Wheelbarrows that lean upright in the garden, half buried in snow. It remains to be seen if their wheelbarrow will get more use than mine, come spring. I somehow feel that it will, since they are new to the neighbourhood and will likely want to impress the rest of us by digging and planting and hauling rocks.
I am a bad guest. We were visiting friends in the Eastern Townships on the weekend, and during lunch I could see this scene out window. Cool blue shadows, crisp white snow, side-lit pine trunks against a backdrop of even darker pines. A value sketch formed in my head as I ate. And then, instead of sitting politely while everyone chatted and finished their meal, I set up my paints on the kitchen counter and painted the scene. Rude behaviour indeed. Painted on a pad of Arches Rough 140 lb, 10″ x 14″.
It’s been an intense week of grading student projects — for hours and hours and hours on end. It’s the type of work that fries my brain, and all I can think about when I am doing it is that my reward will be an hour in my studio when I’m done. Nothing too ambitious for my tired eyes, just a bit of time enjoying the feel of a sharpened pencil as it travels over the hills and valleys of some soft white Fabriano, followed by the pleasure of dipping into pure colour and watching what it does on the paper.
Look what arrived in the mail today! It’s the first copy of my book “The Urban Sketching Handbook: Working with Color“. I was so thrilled to see it in print that I had to get my husband to flip through it for me while I did this video. It’s scheduled to be in the hands of retailers at the end of March, and that’s when pre-orders should arrive too. I am grateful to the many contributors who generously sent me their sketches to be included here.
It’s a relief after all the work to see that the colour reproduction is good (especially for a book about colour) and that everything is where it should be.
Who doesn’t love a snow day? Especially when you’ve set a 6 a.m. wakeup call for an early class but find out that you can roll over and stay in bed a little longer because all the school are closed.
I’ve got plenty of school work to do, but instead started the day with a few sketches using Artgraf watersoluble graphite, the one in the shape of a tailor’s chalk. It was perfect for sketching the monochrome landscape outside my front window.
Alice came outside with us while we shovelled our way out of 40 centimetres of snow, but then she was pretty tired and took a nap while I sketched.
After looking out the front window, I sketched a view of the backyard too. The solid graphite is wonderful for painting values. Since I was going directly to watercolour with no pencil or pen drawing first, I was able to lightly paint the shapes in pale grey and then gradually build up to deep black, with lots of layers of mid-tone greys in between.
In my studio I have a big collection of books on watercolour — some new and some quite old. When I go into a used bookstore I head straight to the section on art instruction, and I often discover out-of-print treasures. There’s always something to be learned from reading about how other watercolour painters work. In particular I like reading about their colour palettes. I guess we all do. As if finding out what pigments people use will unlock the key to creating better paintings.
This week I’m reading Michael Reardon’s “Watercolor Techniques: Painting Light and Color in Landscapes and Cityscapes”. A few years ago I saw his award-winning painting “The Domes of San Marco” at the AWS show in New York and I’ve been following his work ever since.
The book is excellent. Full of step-by-step paintings, concisely written explanations, and detailed examples to illustrate his process. Well worth the read. He uses some pigments that I have but don’t use too often, like Cadmium Orange and Carmine, and others that I’ve never tried, like Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet and Burnt Orange. When you are used to reaching for the same colours again and again, it’s fun to be surprised by some new combos, so I gave them a try when I painted this Griffintown scene. I particularly loved the purples that I mixed from Cobalt Blue and Burnt Scarlet, which is a rich red-brown colour. Great for wet Montreal streets in winter.