Announcing a new class filmed entirely on location: The Broken Mill

I’m so thrilled to launch a new class today. “The Broken Mill” was filmed entirely on location, in Pointe Claire Village, with the soundtrack of red-winged blackbirds and in the company of many bugs and the occasional dog walker.

What excites me about this course is that I get to share everything I love about urban sketching, taking you along with me as I compose the scene, share the story of what inspires me about the location, and show you how I plan and sketch (in ink and watercolour) the windmill from start to finish. I also get to finally show you my full compact plein air setup that I take with me on daily sketch outings. In fact, this course is as close as I can get to the experience of an in-person workshop these days!

My subject is one I’ve sketched often — a 300-year-old windmill in Pointe Claire that is situated on a peninsula that juts out into Lac St. Louis — and is interesting not just for its historical significance but also because it was recently damaged in a storm (hence the “broken” in my course title) and is awaiting repair. For me, that enriches the story behind the sketch. 

You’ll learn about: 

  • Plein Air Sketching Tools: My own take on a compact, transportable sketching kit
  • Narrative: Choosing a subject that tells a story
  • Good Planning: Creating a values thumbnail to establish composition, along with lights and darks
  • Preliminary sketch: Using rough pencil lines to block in shapes and composition
  • Ink and wash: Combining ink and wash to create a lively under-structure
  • Shadows: Using shadows to add volume to your subject
  • Darks: Finishing with details that “finish” your sketch

Along the way, you’ll also see how I deal with changing light, and how I mix colours on my palette for stone, sky and trees.

“The Broken Mill” includes:

  • Eight video demos
  • A downloadable reference image
  • A full list of materials for my plein air sketching setup

For a preview of “The Broken Mill,” check out the trailer.

The west side

We were all waiting on the street, me on the east side and them on the west. Me, for a dental appointment (during Covid times waiting rooms are off limits!). Them, to get into the bank, or get on a bus, or cross the street. I sat on a low wall, pulled out my leaky brush pen (leaky from neglect, I think) and tried to draw them quickly, as they moved along in the line, or crossed the street, or got on the bus. I drew until I got the call that the dentist was ready for me.

Waiting for the birds

I planted Campsis Radicans (Trumpet Vine) about four years ago. The first year, there were no flowers. Second year, the same. Last year, I had one cluster of buds that was quickly eaten by something. This year the thing is covered with flowers. I know, some consider it invasive, and it can grow up to 40 feet. But I have it in a spot where it has room to move, and I really enjoy the deep coral colour of the blooms, so I am letting it go for now. Plus, the flowers attract hummingbirds, and that is certainly something worth waiting for.

A very fast step-by-step

The daisies in the garden are at their best right now, and the Coreopsis that I painted a few weeks ago are fading. I sketched this one using lots of negative painting and a mostly limited palette of Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Green and Winsor Lemon, with a bit of Cadmium Yellow for the shrivelled Coreopsis.

At the same time, I did a few videos for an Instagram story. I should have taken step-by-step photos too, but I was in a bit of a hurry before an appointment, so short videos are all I have. Here they are, included with the captions from Instagram, which you will notice are also very concise. Next time I promise to be a bit less brief in my documentation of the process.

Step One: Paint everything but the whites
Step two: Negative painting for stems and leaves
Step three: Add the details

Opening today

Everything in my garden seems to be blooming this week. That is likely the result of poor planning on my part. A few weeks ago there was no colour at all and now I have too much choice. Better gardeners would have had more blooming in June, but for me, it all starts to look good around mid-July. This week, in one corner of a bed, the first Echinacea opened, and next to that the Veronicastrum. When I did a little research on this long-blooming plant, it was described as “extremely showy with elegant vertical lines.” I can also attest to the fact that it attracts plenty of bees and butterflies. Cobalt Violet mixed with a little Cobalt Blue seems to work best for its spikes of tiny flowers.

Market morning

I sketched at Marche Jean Talon this morning. Wow, it felt great to be at one of my favourite Montreal spots. To have an iced coffee, listen to the buskers and sketch the masked shoppers. But it was so sad to see that the market is half empty. No tourists. Empty stalls with no vendors. Hopefully that will change soon as local produce ripens. Despite all of that, it felt fantastic to be an urban sketcher again, even in 34C heat!!

Flower share

I’ve been a subscriber to the CSA program of La Ferme Tournesol for over a decade, and have happily been enjoying plentiful baskets of vegetables every summer. This summer I also decided to take part in the flower share since I am home to enjoy the bouquets. This week’s was full of amazing blooms, most of which I can’t even name.

Before I painted this today, I rewatched a Charles Reid video on painting flowers. I do this periodically when I feel that my flower painting looks too dry and stiff. He reminds me of several useful skills that I always seem to forget:

  • Start with a contour drawing first, and really observe changes in direction of the contour
  • Clean the palette often
  • Use a REALLY wet brush
  • Paint vertically
  • Take your time

After I watch the video my work ends up looking like his. Lots of little drips and splatters, which happens when you paint vertically with a very wet brush. But overall it helps me paint a fresher looking bouquet, which is always what I aim for.

The past few days

The weather has been so beautiful these past few days and I’d rather be painting than sitting at the scanner in my basement office. But now it’s piling up, so time to get to it.

At the start of gardening season, on one of my first outings after the lockdown, I bought this plant at a garden centre. I had no idea what it was but its shiny green leaves and the promise of lots of flowers attracted me. It has not disappointed. When I finally read the tag I discovered that it’s a Dipladenia. It’s constantly putting out new buds that open into flowers that remind me of propellers.

Yesterday morning I painted on a street corner in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. At the corner of rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste and rue Saint Thomas. I wasn’t happy with what I did on location because the colours were a little flat. I came home and redid it in studio, this time a little brighter.

This morning I took a drive to see what was happening on Lac St. Louis. Summer camps have started up again and the kids were having a sailing lesson.

There was also a couple deep in conversation on a bench in back of me. I just had time to draw them before they got up and walked away. They probably saw me drawing them. I painted them from memory. Then a guy sat on a rock in front of me. Before I had time to paint him he walked away too. But by then I was hungry and went home for lunch.

Here today gone tomorrow

The daylilies that opened in the garden this week are so vibrant, so shockingly ORANGE, that I had to paint them with pure orange paint. There’s nothing I can mix from red and yellow that could come close to the pure fiery saturation of Schmincke Transparent Orange. And for today’s sketch I decided not to draw with pen or pencil first. I wanted the brush to lead me as I made the flower shapes, and then have the pigment and water combine within those shapes. Sketched on Fabriano CP paper.


Stella doesn’t sit still for long. She’s a little Yorkie who is visiting for the afternoon. When I started drawing her, I quickly realized that the sketches of her would have to be quick. As soon as she hears a sound, those giant ears go up and out, like the wings of a bird in flight.

When she finally did settle down (in Alice’s bed!) the body was still but the ears still had a life of their own.