The last warm day

I spent yesterday afternoon sketching on Mount Royal with friends Marc Holmes (check out his amazing new book!!) and visiting Australian sketcher Jane Blundell.  All three of us sketched the fall colours on the mountain top but we couldn’t fail to notice the crowds going by, heading for the lookout. There were so many people in the park that it made me wonder if anyone works on a Friday afternoon in Montreal. Perhaps they were all tourists, here for the long weekend, but I have a feeling most people left work early to enjoy what might have been the last really warm day of the year.


Canadian Thanksgiving recipe

Recipe for painting ornamental gourds
Remove gourds from mesh bag.
Scatter carefully on cloth while trying to create appearance of randomness.
Light from side or above to pick up shiny highlights.
Freshen up paint in palette, paying special attention to fill wells of New Gamboge, Shadow Green and Spring Green.
Paint from light to dark, leaving occasional highlights and adding fresh paint in wet areas where necessary. Rinse brush and repeat with each gourd.
Create shadow colour from leftover paint on palette.
Mix Cerulean Blue into leftover paint of previous leftover paint on palette, and paint background.
Add extra highlights with gel pen.
Dry thoroughly before scanning.


The daffodil trap

This past winter I struggled to paint a little bunch of daffodils in a clear glass vase. They were on a table in my studio, set against a white wall. I probably painted six sketches of that subject — turning the vase this way and that to get a better composition — but each one was duller than the next. The whole pile ended up in the garbage. Later that day, when I had somewhat recovered from my frustration, I pulled a few of them out of the trash to have another look. The problem was that there was no contrast in any of the sketches — pale yellow shapes, pale background, spindly green stems. I suppose I could have imagined them set against a dark wall, and that would have helped somewhat, but that didn’t occur to me at the time.

I was reminded of that frustration when I set out to paint these brilliant yellow mums at the market, but today I had two things that helped me avoid the daffodil trap. First of all, the mums were in dark pots — big solid shapes of deep green that surrounded the yellow blossoms. Secondly, the whole grouping of flowers was conveniently set against a big neutral background (boxes, wooden palettes, grey wall) which also helped to make the bright colours stand out. I hope I remember this next winter during daffodil time.


The other keeper’s dwelling

Eastern Point Lighthouse in Gloucester, Mass. has two keeper’s dwellings. Most often people paint the white one with the red roof that was built in 1890 and is attached to the lighthouse itself. In fact, I did that myself last year and you can have a look here and here. This year, I chose instead to paint the newer one, built in 1908. If you park in the lot at the end of the road, this newer grey dwelling is situated on top of a little hill, and I find that makes for an interesting composition. Half subject and half foreground can sometimes be problematic because you are dividing the sheet in two equal parts, but if there is enough going on then sometimes it can work. I thought that the sharp diagonal of tree shadows on grass might help to break up the large rectangular shape of the foreground. Size: 15″ x 11″.


Split screen

Need a little portrait practice? TV debates are a good choice because the faces are in the same position for a long time. NB: If you want to listen to someone who has drawn Trump more than once, check this out on It’s Anna Maria Tremonti’s interview with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau who has just launched “Yuge!”, a compilation of many years worth of his Trump-related cartoons.


The car studio

How do I paint from my car? What does my setup look like? I’ve been promising this post for a long time and I finally found a photographer willing to take some quick photos of me sketching (well, fake sketching in my driveway). Several things to note before you read the post in its entirety: the car is not always this clean and my palette is not always this dirty. But this is a good week because the car was just washed. As for the palette, a cleaning is a bit overdue, as you will see.


I am sometimes asked if I sit in the driver’s or the passenger’s seat. Well, as you can see, it’s the former, for two reasons. One is that I use the steering wheel as a support for my sketchbook. Secondly, I am right handed and that gives me easy access to the palette and water container.


So where does the palette go? I have a good setup for that. I take my brushes out of their sturdy holder, and that flat container goes under the palette on the passenger seat. This keeps the palette flat so the water doesn’t flow into the pigment wells, and prevents it from sliding down the sloped seat too.


As for the water and brushes, they sit conveniently side by side in the car’s cup holders where I can reach them easily. Some might ask if this makes for a messy car. Well, despite the dirty palette, I am actually quite a neat painter, so there’s not too much watercolour in the car.  There are sometimes water splashes but those are easy to wipe up. (What you will find though, is remnants of my lunch since I often paint on my way to and from school.)


So what’s different in the winter? 1: The clothing. This car painting setup seems pretty easy to do in late September when the weather is warm but imagine doing this in the middle in the winter with a puffy jacket on? It becomes a little more difficult but not impossible, though I often end up with paint on my jacket sleeves. 2. The temperature of the car. I warm it up before I get in, and by the time I reach my sketching location it’s pretty toasty so I can paint for some time without getting cold. Of course I turn off the engine while I sketch, but turn it on periodically to warm up my feet and use the car heater/fan to dry the washes.

There are some days that I can’t paint in the car, but those are infrequent. When the thermometer goes too low (-20C), the washes crystallize on the palette even in a preheated car, and then I have to paint indoors. And on days when it’s raining so hard I can’t see out the front window, I find a nice café and sketch from there. (Let’s agree not to talk about the time when I painted from the car with the wipers on and drained the battery.)

So that’s my setup. Nothing complicated, really. If you any questions about this, I’d love to hear.

In with the wind

This has been a balmy summer in Montreal but, as if on cue, the first day of autumn blew in on a cold wind. And with that began my season of painting from my car studio. I used to think painting in my car was something I did out of necessity, but I have come to love the comfort of the car studio. I can let in as much or as little of the cold wind as I want and I have a support for paints and water. And a fan for drying the washes. I haven’t drawn boats very much this summer but figured I should get some in before they come out of the water. And, as usual for a sketch done on my way to school, I ran out of time before I finished the painting. Sketched at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club, in a Handbook Watercolour Journal.