Flats and rounds

Except for runs, walks with the dog, and a brief ride around the block to draw, today was my first time getting away from the house with the purpose of doing some real urban sketching. It felt strange to drive around Pointe Claire Village and see all the shuttered stores in the middle of the afternoon. There were plenty of people walking, biking and driving but you get the sense that everyone is quickly passing through. Moving with purpose. No one stops to window shop, have a coffee or sit on a bench. It makes me wonder what Montreal will be like when it finally starts to warm up here. It’s going to be a strange summer.

From my car, I did a quick watercolour of a corner on Lakeshore Road that I’ve sketched in all seasons. It felt great to be outside on a sunny day, watch the changing shadows, and draw a familiar scene. There are the tiniest of buds on the trees but no green yet. I’m looking forward to that changing in a week or so.

I also wanted to tell you about a new FREE video “My Five Favourite Watercolour Brushes” that I just posted on my teaching website. The subject is one that I’ve talked about a lot on my blog over the years, but it’s great to be able to finally SHOW how I use each of these brushes.

It’s not a follow-along class like “Sketching Structure in the Garden,” but rather my personal take on brushes, with a short demo of each and a short discussion at the end of how I used all five in my most recent watercolour painting. Have a look here. I hope it gives you a little inspiration for some sketching on the weekend.

Slush coloured

This yellow wall in Pointe Claire Village always looks great on a sunny winter morning. I’ve painted it many times before in watercolour, but never in gouache (or in a mix of gouache and watercolour like I did here). Working with gouache is a bit of a learning curve for me, but I am starting to figure out a method for this. Instead of working from light to dark, I have figured out that the best direction to take is to move from clean to dirty. I start with the light, bright colours like sky, yellow wall, snow (while the white paint is still white), and then I move to snow shadows and wall shadows. By the time I get to the colours on the road I have all kinds of gooey neutral colours on the palette which are perfect for the slush on the road.

A garage with no name

If you know Pointe Claire Village you might recognize this garage on Rue Ste. Anne. It rarely seems to be open but there are always vehicles parked there, and I’ve sketched some of them over the years. The location is of little interest in the summer. It’s mostly dark and looks abandoned, but in the winter it holds all kinds of intrigue when everything has a coating of snow on it. I particularly love the vintage Land Rover with the frame at the top for cargo, and an old yellow Jaguar that’s sometimes parked out front.

And the winner is…

I needed a large hat for this draw. There was such an overwhelming response and so many kind words from last week’s anniversary post. I have been reading all of them over the past several days, enjoying each and every one of them. Thanks to everyone who responded.

And now you are probably curious to know who won the wheelbarrow painting. Congratulations to Claire Russell, whose name was picked out of that big sombrero! As soon as I receive your address, I’ll send you the watercolour.

Of course picking a name out of a hat wasn’t my only activity today. I received a sample sketchbook from Etchr_Lab, so I had to get out there to try it. The A4 format book is made with 230g acid-free, artist grade 100% cold press cotton paper. I was anxious to try it since I’ve been looking for a better quality hardcover watercolour sketchbook. To date the only book that has worked perfectly is the handmade one I received as a gift this summer.

Fortunately it was a clear day and the boats are still in the water at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club. When I try new paper, I find it’s always better to sketch something I’m familiar with, and I’ve painted this grouping of boats plenty of times. The added bonus was that the owners of the red boat were working on it today, so I even got to add in some figures.

There are many qualities that I look for in a good sketchbook. After today’s sketch, I think this comes close to being a perfect book for me. The paper is beautiful to draw on, meaning that its creamy texture yields to soft pencil lines. It’s also really gorgeous to paint on. The washes stay wet for a long time, allowing you to charge in with more paint in large areas. That is, in fact, quite rare in sketchbook paper. Also, the colours remain bright after they dry, and can be layered and lifted. There’s enough texture on the cold press paper to take advantage of granulating pigments, yet the edges of brushstrokes remain sharp. All in all, great results for a first try.

Full disclosure: Even though this was a free sample that was sent to me to try, I was under no obligation to review it. Of course manufacturers hope artists will do this if they like the product, but I have received lots of stuff that I have tried and would never use in my daily sketching. I just don’t write about it. I took the time to write about this one today because, as you can see, I really liked it. Maybe you are in the same boat (no pun intended) and have been looking for a great watercolour sketchbook too. Maybe you’ve even been considering this one. If so, I hope this helps.

Sailing lesson

In my workshop last week, we spent a long time talking about how to decide what to sketch when you are looking at a complex scene. My suggestion was to begin with the thing that interested you most, and work outward from there.

This morning I spent some time contemplating the scene at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club. I walked along the shore looking at the boats, then I moved further back and took in a wider angle which included the clubhouse, but it was only when the sailing class came out that I knew what I was going to paint. The instructor stood for a long time with his arms akimbo — blue shirt framed by the white sail — waiting for his group of kids to get ready for the lesson. When I saw his pose I knew that would be my starting point. In a fairly monochromatic setting, the touches of colour and movement from the group as well as the white sails set against the dark building formed the start of my drawing.

Brick house on Lakeshore

Shadow patterns are worth waiting for. They add so much to a scene, don’t you think? When I started out sketching this house on Lakeshore Road in Pointe Claire, it was sunny, but then clouds appeared. I painted the local colours of the house and trees, but the scene was flat. I’m an optimist, though. A patient optimist. I loaded up my brush with shadow colour and waited. And waited. And waited. When the sun reappeared, I rewet my brush and quickly added in the shadow areas. I probably could have tried to do this from memory but the shadow patterns from the mostly bare trees were quite dynamic and I wanted to get it right.

Limited palettes, for today and for Chicago

I’m very excited to be returning to Chicago this spring to teach at the Chicago Sketch Seminar. If you don’t know much about this event, the organizers call it a Symposium-like experience but on a much smaller scale. This year there will be 18 workshops, designed for all levels of sketchers — beginner to advanced — and the home base for the three-day event is the American Academy of Art on Michigan Avenue.

My workshop is called “Bare Bones: Exploring Limited Palettes in Watercolour“. It’s a workshop that I first taught at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester, UK, in 2016. This time we’ll be exploring new ways of working with colour, with the beautiful skyline of Chicago as inspiration. Dates of the Seminar are May 31-June 2, 2019, and registration opens this Saturday, March 16 at 10 am CST.

With limited palettes on my mind, I went out sketching in Pointe Claire Village today. The warmer weather is on the way and the snow is melting quickly. I wanted to sketch the watery reflections of the traffic signs in the wet street but a car parked in front of me after my drawing was done so much the colour was done from memory. Limited palette was Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Quin Rose and Quin Gold.

Walk the dog

It seemed like a perfect painting day. A quiet morning in Pointe Claire Village. Some freshly fallen snow. A view I’ve sketched many times, AND a lucky parking spot just behind a bus stop, which pretty much guarantees that no one can park in front of me. WRONG. It turns out that the no parking zone in front of me is the busiest parking spot in the village. The first offender was a Purolator truck making multiple drop offs. Then it was a sidewalk-clearing plow that ironically got stuck in the snow. After that it was an 18-wheeler reversing into a grocery store parking lot. And then a man dropping off a gift bag to someone in a café. The list is long.

Each of these things might seem like a minor distraction on a warm day, but when you’re painting in the car in winter, time is of the essence. Five or ten minutes longer than expected can mean frozen feet and fingertips. You see, my process when painting in the car is to warm it up sufficiently before I set out to paint, in the hopes that when I turn off the engine to paint, the residual heat will keep me warm for some time, maybe even long enough to get me through a full painting. That’s the plan, anyway.

The end of this story is that I did manage to finish my painting on site. After all the comings and goings that blocked my view, the space finally cleared and I was able to add in all the details that are so important at the end of the painting process.

Trash day

As much as I appreciate discovering the unique possibilities of ink, October is the most vivid month in Montreal, so letting it go by without sketching some of autumn’s warm colours would be a mistake. On my way to school today I made a quick detour through Pointe Claire to sketch a little strip of Lakeshore Road, on my 8″ square Fluid CP block. Luckily I was there early enough to avoid having my view blocked by the city trash truck.



Art by the Lake

This coming weekend (Sept. 8 & 9) I’ll be participating in Art by the Lake, the annual outdoor show of the Lakeshore Association of Artists. It’s always a highlight of my September to exhibit along with 40 other artists on the scenic lakeside grounds of Stewart Hall in Pointe Claire. Every year we hope for sunny weather so we can exhibit outdoors, and it’s looking pretty good for this weekend. Hours of the show are 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll be there both days, so drop by to say hello if you are in the Montreal area. Besides getting the chance to see lots of great art, one third of all sales from the originals we sell goes to support On Rock Community Services.

In keeping with a lakeside theme, I was out sketching near the boat club today but my sketching expedition was cut short by one of the hazards of September outings in Montreal: wasps. They were buzzing about as I sketched near the lake but I wasn’t paying much attention to them until I reached into my bag to get a brush and a big fat one that was hiding in there stung my painting hand. Wow, does that hurt!