Sketching with an old friend

For the first few years of posting on my blog, I sketched almost exclusively with a Micron 005 pen — the finest nib I could find at the time. A few years ago I stopped using it because that fine nib wears out too quickly, even before the pen runs dry, and it annoyed me because the pen is fairly costly for something that must be so quickly discarded. I switched instead to a Platinum Carbon desk pen (and ink cartridges), which I still love, but occasionally I miss the very fine line of the Micron so I packed it in my bag today.

Rain, heavy at times, is expected for the rest of the week. That’s what the warning on my weather app says. With that in mind, I went out today to find some light and shadow on objects in my neighbourhood. Actually these were things I had noticed on a walk with my dog and I went back to sketch them. I have to remind myself that not every sketch has to be a full page. It’s sometimes fun to create vignettes like these — simple observations or even things that are a challenge for you that require some extra practice. I think the two page spread would have been nicer with a fourth sketch on the left but I ran out of time.


My mix for brick

In Montreal I tend to sketch a lot of brick buildings, and over the years I have experimented with many combinations of colour to achieve that reddish brown that so perfectly describes Montreal architecture of a certain era.


My latest and most successful recipe is this: Winsor Newton Burnt Sienna + M. Graham Mineral Violet + the tiniest dot of Permanent Alizarin Crimson (also M. Graham, in this case). I’m not sure how I ended up with a tube of Mineral Violet but I added it to my palette last summer and it’s been quite useful. If I make the brick mix without this, it ends up too pinkish, but the purple gives it a depth that is much closer to what I see in the buildings. I used to use Carbazole Violet when I wanted a ready-made purple but it’s quite strong. Mineral Violet blends in well with other colours in the same way as another favourite of mine: Cerulean Blue. It’s a polite colour. It adds something confidently and gently, without taking over, like some pushier colours on the palette might do.

And as always, there is no right or wrong with this. Just a personal preference.


First of the month, last of the snow?

Last night’s snowfall started as rain and then turned to heavy, wet snow. Not the pretty stuff that that blows into drifts either. More like wet clumps that slowly shrink to reveal mud and bits of winter’s trash. As I sketched today I watched what might be the last traces of winter melt and drip down the wheelbarrow and the fence and the shed. But maybe winter is not really over, even though we are officially into spring. Flakes have been known to fall in Montreal as late as May so there may be one more wheelbarrow sketch to come.


I need to sketch 100 animals

Last week our Urban Sketchers Montreal group met at the Redpath Museum, and I thought I’d try out my people sketching technique (Payne’s Grey watercolour and brush in a small sketchbook) on some taxidermy animals. This was a lot harder than I thought it would be even though these guys move a LOT less than the people in Tim Hortons. There are some parts of these creature that you just have to get right, otherwise it can look really wrong. Like where the eyes are on the wolf, or the shape of the head on the polar bear.


Or the length and angle of the neck of the caribou…

It left me thinking that drawing people was actually easier than I thought. Or else that maybe I needed to sketch 100 stuffed animals some time.

Anyway, this week I went back to sketching people again, at school and in cafés. It was kind of a relief to get back to noses and skin instead of snouts and fur.




Red shape, green shape: a step-by-step bouquet

I had a bit of time today so thought I’d do a step-by-step post of a bouquet of flowers I had on my counter. There are no pencil lines in this, just brush shapes and colour on a pad of Fluid watercolour paper — a quick flower sketch for a grey day in Montreal.

The first washes you make on the white paper are the most satisfying, aren’t they? You haven’t overworked anything, or messed up any washes yet! With flowers I try to group the blooms into big masses of colour, and add variety in the washes. For these Alstroemeria flowers I used yellow, orange and red pigment, and let the washes flow together.


The next step is to add the green, again in one big shape. Since the foliage is lightest at the top of the bouquet, under my counter lights, I used more yellow and as I moved down to the foliage in the vase, I allowed the green to darken.

IMG_2641When those two washes are dry, the fun part starts. I go back into the flowers to define them a bit. At this stage I think about edges of petals, centres of blooms, etc. This is still fairly loose.


The next step is to pick out some of the leaves, figure out what is in front and what is behind, and also where the vase starts. That’s where the sharper darks come in too.

IMG_2643The last steps are the final details: a bit of spattering for the flowers, some tiny shapes of stems and the darkest darks. And even though you see 2 brushes in the photo, this was all done with a Winsor Newton #8 brush.


Here’s the final sketch, fully dry and scanned. If you are interested in these types of exercises, the paper in these Fluid Field Watercolor Journals is perfect. Colours retain their brightness, the paper is not too textured so you can use an ink line if you wish, and they are reasonably priced too. This was sketched on the 7″ x 10″.

High tide

I painted twice at Crosby Seafood in South Carolina. The first sketch was in my sketchbook but I went back a second time because I loved all the complexity and calligraphic marks I would have the opportunity to make because of the rigging and nets. That stuff is so much fun to paint. Luckily the second time I painted was during high tide and the boats were higher up in the water.

The marsh grasses in the foreground were a challenge. I wasn’t really sure how to deal with them so I painted a series of washes using lots of lines and texture, and tried to keep it quite simple. It’s a difficult shape to deal with — a big rectangle with not much going on — but I tried to suggest the marsh grass and leave it be. Painted on Arches paper, 14″ x 10″.


Blue truck

I liked Backman’s pier in South Carolina so much that I went back a second time to paint. This time instead of driving right up to the pier I parked a little further back, so I could see the blue truck and the rusty tanks.

Last year when I travelled on spring break, I lost my luggage for about ten days. It was a bit of an adventure. This year I travelled with only a carry-on bag and a minimal kit of art supplies. It was an experiment to see how I would manage with only my small palette. I know this palette is fine when I use a small sketchbook but I also brought along a pad of 10″ x 14″ Arches paper and some bigger brushes. I was worried that the small palette wouldn’t afford me enough mixing area but it was actually quite adequate — the wells in the palette are big enough to mix up enough paint for a big sky wash. And if you can get enough paint for half the sheet of paper, you can pretty much manage anything else. Of course you need to bring along the big brushes too, but they don’t take up too much space. Travelling with a carry-on also means that you can’t bring along extra tubes of paint, but I filled the wells before leaving and there was more than enough pigment for a solid week of painting. This bodes well for future travels.