Waiting for the boat

I’ve seen the massive limestone iconic Percé Rock in photos all my life, as have all Canadians, but it’s so much more spectacular in person. If you are approaching from the north, you come up over the top of a hill and suddenly there it is in all its glory, backlit in the morning sun. When I sketched it later in the day, I decided to include the people on the pier who were waiting for the boat that goes to Bonaventure Island. It might not seem like the monolith it is without something to give it scale.

The funny thing about painting a landscape feature as iconic as Percé Rock is that you have to get the shape right. Mine may not be as wide as it should be, but close enough. If it was any wider it would have gone off the page at the left. My favourite part of the scene is the tiny bit of sky and tiny slice of water that you can see through the hole in the rock.

I painted this on location, on a brand new pad of Hahnemuehle The Collection Watercolour paper. It’s the first time I try this paper and my first impression is very positive. It takes the colour really well, it’s fantastic for dry brush effects like I used in the water, and apparently it lifts very well although I haven’t tried that yet.


The great thing about the Gaz-O-Bar in Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis is that it seems to be a gathering spot for the whole village. People come to fill up their cars for sure, but I also loved the three guys who sat on a red bench and chatted for the whole time I painted. And they seemed to know everyone else who dropped in too. Not sure where this village is? Look for the Gaspé Peninsula on a map of Quebec. Follow route 132 right around to the northernmost part of the peninsula. You’ll find it just after Mont-Saint-Pierre and just before L’Anse Pleureuse.

Good news week

There was a nice surprise in the mail today — the Fall issue of Watercolor Artist magazine with an article I wrote called “Windows of Opportunity”. It’s about using windows or window views as inspiration for sketching, which I know many of us have been doing during the pandemic. Many thanks to Anne Hevener at the Artists Network for giving me this opportunity. It’s a great issue of the magazine, especially because I’m in good company with sketcher friends Uma Kelkar, Stephanie Bower, James Richards and Brenda Swenson, who have their sketches featured there too.

It’s also an honour to have my paintings in a couple of online exhibits. “Winter Boatyard” was selected to be in the 53rd Open International Juried Exhibition of the Society of Canadian Artists. Check out the show and make sure you have a look at my friend Marc Holmes’s incredible painting “The World has Appetites of its Own”. It won the grand prize. I’m so happy for him!!

My painting “One Day in Havana” was also selected to be in the Beyond the Edge, the online juried elected members exhibition of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour. The show is on until August 21, 2021. Be sure to check it out!

Edited by necessity

When I posted this sketch on Instagram earlier today, someone commented about the way I edit a scene to simplify it. But that was not the case for this. I was sitting in full sun, which I really dislike, so I had to abbreviate my paint strokes. I edited out the details in the far shore because I couldn’t wait to move to the shade, although I started off in the sun because the view from that spot was so perfect. One boat, one reflection. A great little vignette. I’ve painted this boat before but the result was overworked and lacked the spontaneity of this one. Maybe sitting in an umcomfortable spot isn’t so bad after all, if it forces you to simplify.

I used a limited palette on this, again, not intentionally. Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna had overflowed on my mixing tray after I filled my palette this morning and I had to use them up. Sketched in an Etchr Perfect Sketchbook, A4 size.

Backyard sketches

These warm July days are pretty nice for sketching in the backyard, and observing animal life. The birdbath is a popular spot for thirsty visitors. A big black bird stops in for a bath but doesn’t stay long enough for me to add him in. I really need to observe birds to be able to draw them, but unfortunately it’s a quick bath, not a long soak, and I can’t get the shapes that quickly.

Alice doesn’t move much when it’s warm outside, until I put down the first few marks of my pencil. She flops over and I have to start again. That’s no excuse, though, for making her front paws too long.

Pink amongst the greens

The one pink lily in the pond at Baie d’Urfé was blooming for me today, just as it did last year. The rest of the scene was mainly greens and blues. When I set out this morning, I had a feeling I would be painting this, so I packed for the occasion. I grabbed a handful of green and blue watercolour tubes and stuck them in my painting bag. They came in useful. My recipe for the greens of the pond: Green Gold + Hookers Green + Lemon Yellow + Cobalt Blue plus some Prussian Blue and Burnt Sienna for the very darks. Painted on a sheet of Two Rivers handmade paper, 16″ x 20″. This paper can really take a beating, and the colour saturation when you paint on it is excellent.

Is it just me

I am curious to know if anyone has had the same frustration as me with some Winsor & Newton paper. I painted this bouquet on a block of Winsor & Newton 140 lb CP paper. I’ve had success on this paper before. In fact for my most recent course “Victorian Vignettes” I did all my demos on this. But for some reason, the larger block (12″ x16″) does not seem to absorb the paint the same way it did on smaller size blocks. Is it just me or have you had difficulty with this paper too?

You can see from the detail below that the paint doesn’t get absorbed into the paper unless you add multiple layers of washes. I assume that this might be an issue with the sizing. This was a difficult bouquet to paint from the start because of all the tiny flowers, but I found myself going over areas again and again because every wash seemed to disappear into the paper. Plus there are all these little white speckles that appeared even after going over the surface with a fully saturated brush. Have you used this paper and noticed this same issue? I’d love to know.

A different view

This past year, like many of you, I have been painting my immediate surroundings again and again. And even though it’s nice to get to know your own neighbourhood, sometimes one longs for a different view. Last weekend we were invited to visit friends who have a beautiful lakeside house and garden. The garden is so lush and filled with every sort of perennial you can imagine, but I started by sketching the white birches. I’m always drawn to the subtle colour changes from the shady to the sunny side of these trees.

I also spent some time sketching the shed that’s tucked way back behind the garden. If you look really closely you might even see a wheelbarrow in there somewhere.

Announcing “Victorian Vignettes: Historic Facades in Light & Colour” — a new online course

One of my very favourite places to sketch in Montreal is historic Carré St. Louis, so it’s a real pleasure to launch “Victorian Vignettes: Historic Facades in Light & Colour” today.

In this new course, you’ll learn how to draw and paint stunning facades from start to finish. The lessons cover three full-length projects — a window, an entranceway, and a full facade — so you can feel confident capturing historic treasures wherever you live.

In this three-hour course, I’ll show you the steps I use when I sketch architectural details on location, starting with the all-important pencil drawing. Then we’ll get out our watercolours to add in the larger areas of slate, stone, sky and painted trim. We’ll contrast areas of light and shadow to add depth to our sketches and, to finish up, we’ll create visual excitement with calligraphic details and spots of pure colour. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might recognize some of these facades from my outings!

If you love sketching in watercolour and want a step-by-step process for creating architectural vignettes, this course is for you. In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Simplify the main shapes in your drawing first and add details later
  • Create focus and excitement with watercolour through contrast and colour
  • Use the right brushes for both large washes and detailed ornamentation
  • Glaze with luminous layers of wash on window reflections
  • Mix the right colours for architectural surfaces in both light and in shadow

This course includes:

  • THREE full-length video demonstrations that you can watch at your own pace, as many times as you like
  • A practice exercise in creating colours particular to these scenes
  • Downloadable reference images so you can practice what you’ve learned!
  • A detailed list of materials
  • A comments section where you can ask questions and post your finished sketches

Special price for one week only!

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, July 25th at midnight EST and there’s no coupon necessary at checkout.

To find out more…

Head over to Victorian Vignettes to watch the trailer, read the course details and enrol. And if you have questions about the class, don’t hesitate to ask.

The opaques

I have a bunch of opaque pigments —Lavender, Naples Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Turquoise and Cobalt Green — on my palette. I don’t necessarily use them for mixing but I do put them to good use in the final stages of a sketch or painting to add some sparkle or a few highlights to dark areas of a sketch.

Lavender came in handy when I was painting the Veronicastrum in my garden this morning. (That’s the spiky purple flowers on the left that are a favourite of bees.) While the purple wash was still wet, a wind caught my paper and I ended up with a dark green spot in the middle of the flowers where the paper hit my wet brush. When the sketch was dry, I came back in with some spots of opaque Lavender and a bit of white gouache too, to bring back the spikes of the flower. I also used some Lemon Yellow on the grasses at the right.

Another recent favourite is Buff Titanium. I don’t use it much in a diluted state, but it’s wonderful when I’m painting a marsh scene and want to add some dry texture or grasses like I did in the foreground of Wetlands.