Announcing “Sketching Markets in Ink and Watercolour” — a new online class

Ever since I started urban sketching ten years ago (yes, it’s the tenth anniversary of my blog this month!) I’ve loved sketching in markets. In fact, the first meeting of Urban Sketchers Montreal (which I co-founded with Marc Taro Holmes) was in Marché Jean Talon. When I was a college teacher I sometimes planned long breaks in my schedule so I could sneak off to the market to sketch between classes. And of course, in my travels as an urban sketching instructor, I’ve been fortunate to sketch in wonderful markets around the world.

So it made perfect sense to share my passion for markets by creating this sketching course, and basing it at my favourite market of all — Montreal’s Marché Jean Talon. I’m partial to Marché Jean Talon because it’s in my home town. But it’s also one of the world’s great markets. This year, as harvest season approached and I began to see the market stalls bursting with freshly-picked produce, I decided to create this course and share my love for sketching markets!

In Sketching Markets in Ink & Watercolour, I’ll show you how to:

  • Combine expressive ink lines with colourful watercolour washes
  • Simplify a busy scene with large shapes and repeating patterns
  • Contrast brights and neutrals for maximum visual punch
  • Integrate people into your sketches using simplified lines
  • Add lettering and signage, which contribute local character to any urban scene

This class included five full-length video demonstrations that you can watch on your own time, as often as you wish.

If you want to learn more about the course, have a look at the trailer.

And as always, there is a special introductory price this week. The regular course price is $35 USD or $47 CDN, but I’ve discounted it for this first week to $30 USD or $42 CDN. The launch week special expires on Sunday, October 31st at midnight ET, and there’s no coupon necessary at checkout.


Portraits in watercolour are so difficult! As part of my role as a volunteer on the Education Committee of the CSPWC, last night I had the pleasure of moderating a Zoom workshop — Portraits and Figures in Watercolour — for Bill Rogers. Since my duties as a moderator were not too time-consuming, I painted along.

Bill has a wonderful way of teaching. He takes his time getting the drawing right, explaining the planes of the face and looking at shadows, highlights and halftones. He makes it looks so easy, and that comes from years of practice. He uses a limited palette — mostly Raw Sienna, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, and Burnt Sienna — and starts by painting the shadows first. I painted on a sheet of Baohong watercolour paper for this. As you can see, the eyes aren’t quite lined up and I really messed up the washes on the neck, but I learned a ton from Bill and I hope to try this again on better paper.

This workshop was part of the Education Program of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour. We have more exciting workshops and demos coming up this fall, so please have a look or get on our mailing list.

Étang aux Hérons

A visit to the Technoparc Oiseaux was long overdue. I’ve been meaning to sketch there since early September when the wetlands were drained from several sinkholes, likely caused by the underground tunnelling of the REM. I didn’t see it at its worst but I think Étang aux Hérons has slowly been filling up again and as I sketched, ducks landed and swam across the pond. A good sign, indeed.

This is one of my favourite places to paint in Montreal. It’s surrounded by the airport, industrial buildings and the REM construction, but when I’m facing this scene with a paintbrush in my hand, it’s as if I’m a million miles away from civilization.

Pressure wash

My sketching outing at the boat club was ruined by drizzle so I wandered around to take a few photos of the boats that had recently been put in dry dock. Between two hulls, I spotted the bottom of a yellow slicker and some rain boots. I approached from another direction, hoping to get a better photo of the man in the striking yellow poncho who was pressure-washing his blue boat. In these situations, I try to be discreet, but I’m always a bit self-conscious in case my subject sees me. There was nowhere to hide from that vantage point, though, so I took the photo anyway. As soon I did, the man in the slicker started walking towards me, and I was ready with my usual speech, “I hope you don’t mind, I am just taking some reference images for painting…” But as he got closer he waved and I realized he was approaching because we knew each other. We both used to work at the same college where he was the technician for our computer labs. We often talked about how much he was looking forward to retirement so he could spend more time sailing. Now he spends his summers on the water, part of autumn trying to get the zebra mussels off the boats, and the rest of the time growing a bushy beard which is the reason I didn’t recognize him in the first place.

Mercury Capsule and my smallest sketch kit

A Concorde, the Lockheed Blackbird, the Space Shuttle Discovery, the Boeing Enola Gay, or a 1903 Wright flyer. How do you choose what to sketch at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum when you only have about 30 minutes? Everything is so big and SO complex. There are aircraft on the ground AND hanging from the rafters in the enormous hangar that houses the museum. It’s a place that I could easily spend a whole day, but with only a bit of time before heading back to the Washington airport I chose something relatively small to draw. Something on a human scale: the Mercury Capsule.

I had a small sketch kit with me for the weekend — a 5 x 8” Hahnemuhle sketchbook, a few ink pens, a pencil, a brush with a water reservoir, and a folding Winsor & Newton palette with a small selection of half pans. This is the kit I often use for travel on airplanes because there’s no need to carry water. I empty the water brush before going through security, and fill it again on the other side. The brush is not ideal for painting big washes but if I’m working with ink and only want to add a few dabs of colour, it’ll do. 

Although the Mercury Capsule is relatively small compared with the massive Space Shuttle Discovery that was behind me, it still has a fair amount of detail on it, including a window that allows you to see inside it. I was only able to draw the basic shape of the capsule, and then add a light wash on top of it before it was time to go. The rest of the drawing and lettering was done while waiting for my (delayed) flight. 

A note about the palette

Although my favourite travel palette is the one where I add my own half pans of artist-quality tube paint, I highly recommend this Winsor & Newton one as well because of the quality of the paint in the half pans. It’s a fairly expensive product that I bought at least five or six years ago, but the pan colours are STILL fresh and soft. That means that they release tons of colour when you re-wet them. The last thing you want when you are using a water brush is to have to empty half the water from your brush into the palette to get good, saturated colour. 

Tools in the studio

I was looking for something to draw for today’s Zoom chat with friends. To be more precise, I was looking for something easy to draw. I found these tools in my studio and plunked them down on my drawing table, under my desk lamp so I would get some cast shadows. Once I started to draw them though, I realized they were more complex than expected. Drawn with a Platinum Carbon Desk pen filled with Carbon Ink, in a Travelogue Watercolour Journal. Still one of the nicest combos I can find for ink drawings.


When I bought these gladioli at the market last week, the flowers were all closed. So I waited. And waited. And then I waited a little too long. By the time I found some time to paint them, the flowers were shrivelled. But then I noticed that the colours in the papery, decaying flowers was so much more intense than the open blooms. I squished out some Quinacridone Coral on my palette and mixed that with some Carbazole Violet for the darks. Painted in direct watercolour with a Rosemary rigger brush on a sheet of Saunders Waterford paper.

Right page, left page

I’ve often strolled by Marché L’Olivier in the Jean Talon Market. From the back entrance it seems like a dry goods store, with all the baskets and bags hanging outside. But as often happens when I’m out sketching, I never venture inside a place to see what’s beyond the door. If I had, I would have discovered that this is a Halal butcher and grocery store. I sketched this in Pitt Artist pen and watercolour, on the right hand side of my Handbook sketchbook.

Later in the day, I used the same pen to sketch Alice, this time on the lefthand page in my sketchbook. The nib on my Pitt pen was almost used up, which made it perfect for the subtle tones on her fur. Yesterday was the first day of #inktober2021. I’m never very consistent and have never completed a full month of ink drawings, but I do love watching what goes by on my Instagram feed. How about you? Will you be joining Inktober this year?

Market produce and people

This really is the week to sketch at Jean Talon Market. Tomatoes are winding down but peppers, pumpkins and apples are plentiful. It was hard to decide where to stand to get the best view but on a weekday morning were picnic tables were empty, which meant that I could have coffee AND sketch at the same time. Quite a luxury, and much appreciated, because that market is always so cold, especially on an overcast day.

I was sitting too close to the produce racks to add people in, but when I finished my colour sketch, I drew a few shoppers on the lefthand page of my book using some Neutral Tint that I just added to my travel palette. It came in handy both for the people and the darks behind the vegetables.

Hello autumn

The first signs of autumn in my neighbourhood are always this row of trees at the edge of the baseball diamond in my park. Instead of going red, they turn a soft yellow. I saw them this morning while walking the dog, and went back later with my easel to sketch them. It’s a fairly simple composition but I tried to make it interesting by really looking at each shape, and separating the yellow ones from the darker ones behind. Sketched on a block of Hahnemuhle Collection Watercolour paper, 12″ x 9″.