All that is blooming

Just before the rain, I went out to the garden and cut down almost everything in bloom — a few perennials from the beds in front and in back, and for contrast, a few red geraniums from containers on my deck. Sadly, it left me with a bare outdoor garden, but that will fill in again soon enough. The harvest of blooms was too much to fit in one vase so I spread out the wealth amongst several glass containers, and added a white mug, again for contrast. I was so excited to paint this giant mass of colour that I forgot to even tape my paper to a board, but it didn’t matter much. A couple of bulldog clips did the job. Painted on a 16″ x20″ sheet of Arches CP 140 lb.

Santa Fe Railyard

I’m still finding sketches from my Santa Fe sketchbook that I haven’t scanned or posted, including this one of the railyard area — one of my favourite sketching locations in the city. If you’re there on the right day, there’s a fantastic farmer’s market, plus there’s plenty of shade and lots to draw. I love the water tower with a view of the mountains in the distance. The day we were there, there was a vaccination clinic under the tower which added a lot of interest to the shadow areas.

I started with a value sketch, and a bit of colour planning too. By the time I went to put colour on the sketch the light had changed considerably, but the sketch was detailed enough to use as plan for the shadows in the bigger version.

And a bit of advice if you go there (and this is a tip from a local): there’s a cafe in the market that sells the best blue corn blueberry donuts. I am not usually a donut eater but this one was really good. I wish I had done a sketch of it but it didn’t last that long.

Hear and there


It was a real pleasure to be interviewed recently by Kelly Anne Powers from the Learn to Paint Podcast. As part of the prep for our talk, I listened to many of Kelly Anne’s interviews with some of my favourite painters like Andy Evansen, Dean Mitchell and Brienne Brown. She’s a great interviewer — her questions are insightful and they really made me think about how and why I paint. If you are interested in hearing our ramblings, here’s the link. It goes live today.


Workshop season is in full swing, and it feels so great to be sketching on location with people again. Here are a few upcoming events, both this year and next.

It makes me especially happy to be teaching this summer with super-talented friends/artists Uma Kelkar, Paul Heaston and James Richards at the Urban Sketching Summer Retreat on Madeline Island from July 11-15. I know I’ve mentioned many times how much fun we had last year, so forgive me for saying it again, but great times were had by all and we aim to recreate that next month. The sketching locations are gorgeous, the food is delicious, and it really is like summer camp. There are just a few spots left, so if you think you might be interested, sign up soon.

Next year I’ll also be teaching with Madeline Island School at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona from February 6-10, 2023. I can’t wait to set up my easel to paint some of those desert landscapes. Registration has just opened up, and if you are interested in learning more, here’s the link.

There’s been one cancellation in my workshop in Costa Brava, Spain from September 10-17, 2022. In pre-Covid times, I taught in France and Italy with Jackie and Valerie from French Escapade, and I can’t wait to meet up with them again. If you’ve never been a guest on one of their holidays, you are in for a treat. They always pick the best sketching spots for us, and their hospitality in unmatched! Here’s the link to find out more.

From the moment I first saw Claude Monet’s magnificent water lily paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I’ve dreamed of visiting Giverny, France, to view the garden that inspired them. It will be a thrill to host a workshop in France next September, again with French Escapade. Find out more here.

Out of season

I’m out of sync with the season. I should be painting something from the garden instead of the grocery store. I should be eating strawberries instead of pears. I should be painting outside instead of inside. But sometimes it’s just nice to set up a simple still life on a table, turn on the music, and spend a few hours in my studio. Painted on a pad of Arches paper, 10 x 14″, with a mostly limited palette of Quin Coral, Ultramarine and Hansa Yellow.

Falling peonies

Susanne‘s garden is especially nice in June and I often join her to paint poppies. Sometimes I miss the blooming of the peonies, which are usually the following week, but I made it this year! I love the way they look when they fall over and rain petals on the grass. Painted on a quarter sheet of Fabriano CP 140 lb paper.

Martin 16 moment

It happens occasionally when I’m working on location that suddenly something more interesting than what I’m painting catches my eye. That was the case yesterday. I was drawing the masts in the harbour, when a Martin 16 sailboat sailed past and docked next to another boat. The two sails set against the dark building was so striking that I set aside my first painting and quickly did a pencil sketch of this scene.

If you’re not familiar with the Martin 16 boats, read about them here. I tried to capture a bit of the action when the boat came in, but it wasn’t long before the sail was down, the instructors were gone, and I had to finish that part of the scene from memory.

The scene I was going to draw was the one I do often of the docked boats. Below is one I did a few years back. If you’re interested in learning how to simplify a complex scene like this one, my online course “Sketching Boats: Simple Solutions for a Complex Scene” is on sale until tomorrow at midnight! No coupon necessary at checkout.

Green trim

In between two sessions of teaching in Santa Fe we did a couple of road trips outside the city. One day we visited Ghost Ranch, and the next day we took a drive along the Turquoise Trail, a historic byway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We stopped in a few small towns including Cerrillos and Madrid. If you’ve taken this route, you may know that Madrid was a coal mining settlement back in the 1800s, but now it’s quite a colourful place, with lots of small shops, bars and galleries, and a parade of tourists visiting for the day.

When we stopped for coffee, I did a sketch of a courtyard from the patio where we were seated, but when we got up to leave I saw this abandoned property next door which looked far more interesting than what I had sketched. I took a photo and painted it in studio today. When I look at the reference photo, I can hardly discern any colour in the scene. Every bit of anything, whether man-made or natural, was dried, desiccated, rusted, cracked, corroded, peeling or shrivelled, except for the bright green trim of the peaked roof. It didn’t seem like it really belonged in a town where everything has been prettied up, but that’s what made it, by far, the most interesting scene to paint. Painted on a sheet of Arches CP 140lb, 16″ x 20″.

A new sketchbook and some irises

Last month in Santa Fe, someone in my workshop group let me try a new 100% cotton sketchbook from German paper maker Hahnemuhle. I just did a small sketch but was really impressed with the paper. This week I received a couple of these books from Hahnemuhle — an A4 portrait and an A4 landscape — and I’ll be experimenting with them this summer.

There’s a gorgeous spring bouquet on my counter, filled with flowers from Lutaflore in Pointe Claire and waiting to be painted, so I decided to give the book a try. I sketched the bouquet first with a fine grey marker, and then added colour. The paper is a bit smoother than my Etchr Perfect Sketchbook, which makes it easier to do more detailed drawings, both in pencil and in ink. It’s closer, in fact, to the paper texture of the Handbook Watercolour Journal that I have been using for years. If you work in ink, you might like this book because pen glides really easily on the paper. As for taking watercolour, I was really impressed. The colours remain vibrant, the washes flow well, you can glaze and layer, and lifting is easy. So far it’s a two thumbs up for me.

Pen envy

Ok, I’m guilty of buying something I didn’t really need. I certainly have enough pens — dozens of markers, dip pens, fountain pens and other assorted drawing tools — but I saw my friends using a Kakimori dip pen in Instagram reels, and I had to have one. Call it an early birthday gift to myself, which is easy to justify since I do have a June birthday.

The pen arrived today, in its beautiful packaging. The brass nib in a tiny grey box with a debossed imprint for the logo, the wooden handle in a long box, and the pigment ink in a square box. All as beautiful as Japanese packaging can be. So beautiful that I’m tempted to save the boxes too.

There are no assembly instructions for the pen. Insert the nib in the handle, dip in the ink and draw. And draw is what I did after seeing the beautiful thick and thin lines this pen can make in drawings from Suhita, Paul and Paul.

Plaza Cafe

I’m still making my way through Santa Fe sketches from my recent teaching trip there. This one is from a day we spent on the historic plaza in the centre of town. I always love sketching from parks or squares in the middle of a city since there’s always such a variety of subjects to choose from — people, trees, statues, architecture, urban details like lampposts and ornate benches, arts & crafts vendors, musicians and food carts, if you are lucky. And because of all the activity, you can remain fairly invisible if you are a self-conscious sketcher. I chose the Plaza Cafe as my morning demo because I loved the leaning bike and the waiters in their white shirts and bow ties. And if you’re hungry after sketching, stop in there for a bite too. The food was great.