Goodbye Sketchwalk

This summer I joined the Fredericton (NB) Urban Sketchers. I could only attend the summer meets because I live an hour away and can't drive after dark, which excludes all the months with short days.

Yesterday was my last visit of the year, and perhaps of all time, because I'm in the process of moving to Montreal. I will miss them, they're nice people.

While the other members settled on a building to sketch, I went looking for something more to my taste. After having a go at some very complicated sculptural details inside the cathedral, I decided to do some blind contour drawings*. I was inspired by the old Mexican sketchbook I was using, where I found some life models I had done in it about 20 years ago. Then I remembered a video I saw a few days ago of the famous Lapin of Barcelona, who said his warming up exercises included doing some blind contours of peoples' faces.

Looks like a van, doesn't it?

Cathedral side entrance

Giant maple tree

No comment necessary, I think!

I realize I was not following the rules of "real" urban sketching, but my idea was to have fun, and I did.


* Wikipedia entry for blind contour drawing:


The Christmas Card Project, Part 2

This is the finished card. (See Part I here.)

New Directions

I've had a lot of fun on classes these last few months.

These days I'm doing a six-week creativity class called "Creative Bootcamp", taught by Lisa Congdon, one of my favourite artists and instructors.

This week - the 2nd in the series - the assignment consisted of making our own coloured paper, then using it in a collage.

Painting the paper took a whole day! I used some full-size sheets of multimedia paper cut into four. That inexpensive paper took the washes really well -- I must replenish my supply.

And instead of being boring, covering sheets and sheets with those pretty watercolours was strangely satisfying. I loved the resulting textures. (If you click on the pictures you can see what I mean.)

After making the set, I had to choose only six colours for my project.

This is the "paper rainbow" that I produced:

These are the paints that I used (clockwise beginning with the violet):

  • Amethyst Genuine (Daniel Smith)
  • Prussian Blue (Holbein)
  • Cobalt Teal Blue (Daniel Smith)*
  • Cobalt Teal Blue - more dilute (Daniel Smith)*
  • Prussian Blue with various additions to make dark green (Holbein etc.)*
  • Viridian (Winsor & Newton)
  • Sap Green (M. Graham) plus Aureolin (Winsor & Newton)*
  • Aureolin (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep  (Da Vinci)*
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep - less dilute (Da Vinci)*
  • Brown Madder (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Scarlet - one thin coat and one thick coat (Winsor & Newton)*
  • Rose Madder (Holbein)*
  • Rose Madder Genuine (Winsor & Newton)
  • Off to the side: Payne's Grey (Maimeri)

Colours with an asterisk are the ones I used for the assignment. 

Using only those papers, I made this collage:

As I wrote in my description in the course Gallery, next time I will spend more time planning the different layers, but for a first real collage painting, I am rather satisfied about how it came out. I believe I achieved a good composition and colour balance, which were the main items to look out for.

Now I look forward to the next lesson!


The Christmas Card Project, Part I

It's been at least three years since I gave up my subscription to Jackie Lawson's elegant Ecards. At $14 (Canadian) per year, the three or four cards I was sending had become kind of expensive.

Nowadays, most of my personal contacts are content to send and receive holiday greetings by email, and the only paper cards I get are from places I buy stuff from.

It was the fact that my cousin Nicole still bothers not only to send cards, but to make them herself that made me realize it was time to revive my mother's legacy. Every year she would buy plain cards and envelopes, and paint Christmas cards with red and green ink. The ink bottles had a glass stick which served as a pen, and she would draw green holly leaves with red berries, christmas trees with red balls and other simple Holiday themes.

I admired the swift confidence with which she would create the holly leaves. Up to the left, down to the right, and up the centre for a vein. Three leaves, of different sizes. Three red berries. It was quite magical to me! Then she would write "Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année". Sometimes she would put some glue on parts of the drawing and sprinkle glitter on it. I never tired of watching her.

As is my nature, my own Christmas card project was far more complicated than that. First, I searched Creativebug for a class on card making and wouldn't you know it, they had one. Of course, they also had a class on making envelopes.

I watched both (I have a monthly membership), and took something from each one.

1. My first consideration was the envelopes. No card envelopes around here - the nearest city is an hour away -, and my vast supply of materials had no paper large enough to make my own. That left only letter-size envelopes from the dollar store, of which I had an ample supply.

Luckily, I had learned from Courtney Cerruti's class that you can make a lining for your envelopes.

2. The cards were going to be flat, of a size that fit inside those envelopes. I had just the perfect paper: some bargain 300-lb watercolour paper I purchased years ago. It's so bad for painting that Curry's don't carry it any more. (300 lbs is the thickest watercolour paper made. It's very stiff. And when I say "bargain", I'm not kidding. The good stuff costs over $20 per sheet; this was around $5.)

3. I decided to use a vintage photo or image from the internet. I downloaded a dozen images that I liked, and finally settled on this one:

I wanted to follow Courtney's suggestion of glueing it to coloured paper to create a frame, and settled on the blue of the harlequin doll. In fact, blue was going to be my theme for the whole project.

I turned the studio inside out, but no, I did not have any paper of that colour, so I had to make my own. (Didn't I tell you that I like to make things complicated?)

I happened to have exactly the right kind of paper for the job: some Strathmore Aquarius paper. It's thin, yet it doesn't buckle if you wet it. Pretty neat! I just covered a couple of sheets with Prussian blue, using the largest brush I own. The result was a somewhat irregular coverage, which gave it just the right look.

4. After counting the number of people I wanted to send it to -- 25 or so -- I realized I needed a tutorial on how to create a repeat pattern with Photoshop, and I found the perfect one:

Short, and to the point. I created this letter-size sheet, and printed it three times:

5. Finding a font that I liked and could reproduce by hand was another matter. I searched and searched and finally decided on a variation of the same old one. I have no idea what it is or where I got it, but it's the kind of font that makes me smile.

I fiddled around a bit and came up with the layout on the left.

6. Another consideration was the kind of pen I would use to write on that weird textured paper. Not all pens can take the roughness, and not all inks are waterproof. This test was pretty conclusive: even though the writing looks a bit wobbly due to the texture, and the paper's high absorbency, the Sharpie was the best fit for the job.(It does bleed right after you use it, but becomes waterproof with time.)

7. It took far more time and experimenting to find the right brush for painting the single snowflake on each card. I tried about a dozen, and the only one that would hold enough paint for a whole snowflake, and had a point fine enough for the lines, was my No. 8 Escoda Perla Joseph Zbukvic that I bought in Barcelona, where they are manufactured, in 2012. According to this review, I couldn't have made a better choice.

8. The next step was to produce a sheet of snowflakes to print out for making the envelope linings. A small detail which I hoped the card recipients would appreciate, though if they did notice it they would probably think the envelopes came like that instead of being painstakinly hand-lined one by one.

I painted an 11 x 14" page of different snowflakes, dots and so on, then I scanned a section of it for the linings, and printed 12 copies -- I needed half a page per envelope.

At this point, I was ready to mass-produce my very own Christmas cards.



As I drove down the street during our previous blizzard, I saw a woman brushing snow off her car and I thought to myself, now that's the perfect Canadian winter scene.

The perfect picture to paint.

I tried drawing it from memory - no luck.

Google to the rescue! The photo I found, and copied in watercolour,  was very similar to the scene I saw, except that my model was wearing a big tuque with a fluffy pompom. The lady in the photo was using her umbrella to knock off the snow. I turned it into a red brush. I like the pop of colour.

Here is my full painting:

And here it is, cropped differently, as a square format.

I can't decide which I like best.

I titled it simply "Winter".

I've Been Away, But Not Idle

I'm back at the drawing table, thanks to $7 or so gives me access to all the classes, and so far my favourite art instructors have been Lisa Congdon - whom I discovered thanks to her wonderful, whimsical folk art colouring books - also Pam Garrison and Yao Cheng, whose magical calligraphic brushstrokes I'm trying to imitate, so far with limited success!

Here are just a few of the many drawings I've uploaded to my Creativebug gallery (yes, you get your own gallery).

The monthly fee I quoted is in Canadian dollars; it's even less in US funds, and the first month is free. If you prefer, you can purchase individual classes and then you will have access to them forever. 

The other way to have permanent access is to take advantage of one free class for each month of membership. That way, you can accumulate quite a library, but at any rate, as long as you pay your monthly fee (by automatic deduction from your credit card), you have access to all the hundreds of classes in all the different categories (art, sewing, cooking, etc.)

The platform is very user friendly and oh yes, in case you're wondering, I'm not getting anything for this obviously biased review!

Macbeth's Outhouse

Macbeth's Outhouse, Fall 2010, Watercolour on Paper
There’s an interesting story attached to this painting.

In the small New Brunswick village where I live, the nicest area for walking is to the left of my house, towards the countryside. At one point you are quite high up and you get a great view of the valley, unobstructed by the forest.

When I'm out in that direction, my preference goes to some of the more intimate places, and of all those, my favourite is a lane with an intriguing sign at the road. It’s just a wooden board on which the word “Macbeth” is painted in white.

When I first saw it, I thought, oh my, we have an intellectual living around here! Because of course I assumed it referred to the Shakespeare play.

It was only a few years later that I found out  that Macbeth is a relatively common family name around here!

That lane is especially beautiful in the fall, as it is bordered on each side with a row of trees, and that’s when the long driveway itself is covered by a thick carpet of multicolored leaves.

At the end of the lane, there is a small camp – hunting is a big hobby around here – and a few feet away sits the outhouse.  When I saw that outhouse I knew I had to paint it, so one day I lugged my art supplies up there and conquered my fear of bears and alligators, and I produced this painting. That was in 2010. The date is right on the painting.

I put the painting away and forgot about it until last week. My friend Carol and I were driving around, and I mentioned to her that we were about to pass my favourite spot in the whole village, the Macbeth place. Then I told her about painting the outhouse. She immediately asked if I still have it and I said I was sure it was somewhere and she said the Macbeths would be delighted to have it (not only does Carol know everyone in the village, it so happens that Beth Macbeth is her hairdresser). I said I’d look for it.

Which I did. I scanned it and sent it to her, to get her approval I guess, and she liked it and assured me that they would like it for sure. I said I’d frame it for them, and I was very lucky to find this perfect frame, complete with charcoal mat, on my next trip to the city.

Of course I couldn't resist titling it "Macbeth's Outhouse".