I didn’t get out to sketch at all this week because I was filming a new online course. While I was working away in my video studio, we had rain AND several overnight frosts, which meant that all the leaves on my favourite tree dropped to the ground. And although I usually sketch this maple in colour, when I finally got around to sketching it today, I realized that it really called for line instead of shape. The tree is quite stunning when it turns bright yellow, but when I was drawing it it seemed to me that there was as much beauty in the shape of branches today as there was in the colour of the leaves last week.
I used my Platinum Carbon pen in my Hahnemuhle A4 portrait format book and although I started drawing the trunk of the tree and the light on it rather carefully in the beginning, by the end, I was frantically scribbling in branches. It takes a whole lot more lines to draw this than it does brushstrokes to paint it.
What a day to be out sketching. And even better when you can do it with friends. It was the monthly outing of Urban Sketchers Montreal, at Parc Laurier. Ten years ago I co-founded this group with Marc Taro Holmes, and since I missed the anniversary outing in September, it was particularly sweet to make up for it today by catching up with friends and enjoying the beauty of this fall day in Montreal. It was also great to see that the group is still going strong with a solid turnout of a few dozen people every month and an upcoming exhibition.
When there was a break in the rain today I pushed myself out the door to sketch some of the beautiful fall colours in my neighbourhood. They have to be sketched soon because with all this rain they will be gone soon enough. It was a bit of a shock to get back to sketching from my car. It’s cold and damp. The paper doesn’t dry. At 5 pm it was starting to get dark. A bit of a reminder of what’s ahead in the next few months.
Highway 401 between Montreal and Toronto is a flat and mostly boring 5-hour drive, but this weekend the trees were ablaze with autumn colour and that made car sketching such a treat. I love creating a grid of little rectangles on my sketchbook page and filling them in with mini landscapes. I usually start by trying to find one interesting tree or the silhouette of a hillside, and then I fill in the rest from there. Of course we are long past the first tree when I get around to adding colour, but there are more trees along the way to give me inspiration.
The reason for our visit to Toronto was to see Michael Thompson’s incredible paintings and drawings at the Mira Godard Gallery. If you are in the Toronto area, the show is on for another week. Don’t miss it.
Also starting this week is the CSPWC’s 97th Annual Open Water Exhibition. I’m very honoured that my painting “Wetlands” was selected by jurors Laurin McCracken, Donna Acheson-Juillet and Alan Brain. There’s still lots of time to have a look at the wonderful paintings in the online show. It’s on until December 16th, 2022.
On my recent workshop in Greece we spent a night in Delphi. If you’ve been there, you know that the famous archeological site is worth the drive from Athens, not only because it’s where you’ll see the Temple of Apollo, but also because the vistas of Mount Parnassus and the surrounding valleys from the ruins are breathtaking.
Our first sketching spot was the Tholos at the sanctuary of Athena Pronaea — where we found a shady spot under some trees that overlooked the three remaining Doric columns of the structure.
On our second day we walked up to the larger site of the Temple of Apollo. If you visit archeological sites in Greece, keep in mind that you may not be permitted to sketch on location, which was the case here, and I believe is also true at the Acropolis. It’s understandable that the Greek Archaeological Service would not be in favour of paint splatters on the stones and columns, nor would they want sketchers blocking the paths through the ruins. With that in mind, we took lots of photos at the temple and worked from those references later in the day.
These fall days have been gorgeous but I know they won’t last. Every day that I get out to paint in October seems like a gift, especially since the boats are still in the water. I’ve painted this scene at the breakwater many times, but today there were some unusual patterns in the water. The lake was calm enough for reflections yet there was movement created by a light wind from the west. A circular wave rippled below the rocks, and I have to admit I was mystified by how to paint it. I stared at it for a long time, took a deep breath, and tried to paint it with some simplified brush strokes.
I’ve been procrastinating since returning home from Greece. I have a whole sketchbook full of sketches to scan, but scanning is a tedious process. The only good thing about doing this is that I get to relive the experience of sketching, and sketching Hadrian’s Arch was one of my favourite moments in Athens, apart from sketching the Acropolis, of course.
This is a highlight of any visit to the city because if you stand in the right spot, the Parthenon in the distance is framed within the arch itself. As you can imagine, it’s a place of endless selfies, family portraits and tour guide stops. I couldn’t place my chair in the perfect spot to sketch that view because it was occupied by some other tourists, but this spot nearby was pretty good too because I had a view up Lisikratous Street with the hordes of tourists marching towards the Plaka. A more accurate sketch might have included at least a hundred more people in between me and the arch, as well as a dozen bicycles, their riders and their guide. If you go to Athens to sketch this, leave more time than I did. If you turn your chair around you’ll also be able to sketch the Temple of Olympian Zeus right behind you.
I’ve just returned from a week of teaching and sketching in Greece, and I’ll be posting my sketches from there very soon, but before that I can’t really write anything new without acknowledging the destruction and loss of life caused by Hurricane Ian in the Sanibel Island, San Carlos Island and Fort Myers Beach area, places that I know so well and sadly recognize in news images every day. It’s just heartbreaking to see, and I hope that helps comes soon for all who have lost so much in this storm.
Our first visit to Sanibel was in 2017 and in the past few years I’ve sketched buildings and canals, the lighthouse, beach people and sea urchins, birds and shells, boats, nets, the now infamous Sanibel Causeway, and lots more.
I have been reading the news reports obsessively since our return this week. There are so many places that I’ve sketched that seem to have been destroyed, like the Oil House and the Tipsy Turtle, and of course lots of palms.
We were supposed to return to Sanibel next month but for now that seems unlikely. In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite sketches from over the years.
Another workshop tour starts for me in Athens in a couple of days, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying being a tourist in the city. I had read that our hotel has a rooftop view of the Acropolis, but I didn’t realize that it had an AMAZING, PANORAMIC view of the Acropolis, at a restaurant/bar where you can plunk yourself down at happy hour and draw the whole city including the Acropolis.
In all the years I have been sketching, this will probably go down in memory as my all time favourite sketching experience. When you see that view of the ancient temple on that hill with the clouds behind it and modern Athens below, it’s a scene of such drama and beauty that it takes your breath away. You can do nothing but gasp.
I worked on a double page spread, so my sketch is quite large, probably around 22 in. X 8 in. During the time I drew, which was probably a little over an hour, the light changed dramatically. It was overcast when I started and about half way through the sun came out which made modern Athens a lot more dramatic.
I probably could have spent more time making the sketch more detailed, but for me the pleasure was all in the experience and not so much in the outcome. And when I get home and look at my sketchbook from Spain and Greece, this one will bring back memories of a very happy Happy Hour.
There’s a splendidly-gnarled olive tree in the main square of Vouliagmeni. If you walk around it, you’ll see a sign that has a big 1,200 on it. Under the 1,200, there’s a word in Greek, but I don’t read Greek, so let’s just assume that the word can be translated into “years” and that the tree is 1,200 years old. If nothing else, it makes for a good tidbit to go along with my drawing. As for the proportion of ink to wash, I figured that if a tree managed to survive twelve centuries, including at least 50 years in close proximity to a major coastal road in Greece, it deserved all the colour in the sketch.