Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sketch Journal Workshop at Wintergreen

This spring, I will be leading a sketching workshop.  It will be held at Wintergreen Studios on the weekend of May 28-29 with a jaunt into nearby Westport, Ontario to practice.  Wintergreen is a wilderness retreat centre that offers educational programming in the arts and on the environment.

Before photography became easy and affordable, travellers and artists used sketchbooks to record new places or study elements to be used in a subsequent composition.  And while taking photographs has never been easier, many people are returning to the practice of keeping sketch journals.   These are often very personalised drawings and notes, which emphasize impressions and character  over detailed documentation.  This requires focused observation and concentration, which deepens experiences and memories of a new place, or even familiar surroundings.    


Over the weekend, we will cover selection of subject, composition, visual editing and the use of line and colour.  The workshop will be structured as a rhythm of demonstrations, practice exercises and group reviews, to give participants the tools and confidence to create their own sketch journals.

waiting for a flight
 Guests at Wintergreen have access to a network of over a dozen trails for self-guided hikes through the 204-acre property. The land features mixed forests and meadows, granite outcroppings, ponds, marshes, and a glacier carved lake. It is home to a wide range of plant life and wildlife. Our simple and comfortable accommodations include private rooms, shared rooms, woodland cabins, and tenting for those who prefer to sleep under the stars.
rural Spain

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Craft Markets in the Sacred Valley

The craft markets were great fun in the Sacred Valley of Peru.  They were a bit chaotic and all the more fun for that.  What was really impressive was the variety and quality of the goods - particularly woven and knitted cloths and clothing.

The sketches are from Ollantaytambo (upper) with the Inca granaries up on the mountainside beyond and Pisac ( below), and here's the surprise - selection and especially prices were actually better in Cusco.


So here's the situation -  I'm visiting a nice little Ontario town on a grey, damp cold day - sketching outside just isn't on and manage to get a window seat in a coffee shop.

The view isn't great - even with imagination, it would have been hard to put something together.

Then I realized - I draw because its fun.  So, I drew the bike in the foreground, easy - chatting as I did it.

Keep It Simple, Stupido, says me, to myself.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Transferring Images

I think of my sketchbooks as "pieces".  Sometimes they are themed as a trip, but more often, just a few months of activity.  I would never consider cutting a page out - not even the uncompleted or messed up pages, not to mention if they have been used on two sides.  The problem is that original sketchbooks are nearly impossible to display and besides, I don't have the time or patience to do larger paintings from the sketches. And maybe more importantly, my reworked stuff seems to loose the energy of the on-site work.

I have found that, with a good scan, my little sketches (5 1/4 "x 8" - 13 x 20 cm.) enlarge quite nicely and I would love to try something poster size. In fact if it got grainy, I'd probably enjoy the effect.  

But here's my recent discovery - transferring images with the use of acrylic medium. These are not "reproductions", as the colour is subdued, but the result is nonetheless quite faithful and fully in the spirit of sketching.

I did a batch recently and used small wood painting panels , that are commonly sold in art supply stores, or ordered online.  They are made with a nice light blond coloured plywood surface (birch)  a 1 1/2"- 3.8 cm frame and are very inexpensive.  

So, here is the recipe:

1. Make laser prints 
LASER prints, not inkjet prints.   I went to Staples as I don't have a laser printer with my scans saved as mirror images (the other menu term, is "horizontal flip") at the same size as the panels I am using.

2. Copy Images 
Brush acrylic medium onto the panels and place the copy face down, then use a credit card to flatten the paper and squeegee out the excess gel.  Acrylic medium is sold in art supply stores as a white gel usually used to mix with acrylic paint colours.  Let dry for a full 24 hours.

3. Remove paper 
This is the  most delicate part of the operation.  It took me a few tries to get it right.  Staples had loaded the printers with really nice thick glossy paper, which made great prints, but it was a tad heavy for the reverse paper-making process of soaking and removing. I was initially too aggressive in scrapping off the paper and took off portions of the image.  However I was able to reuse the panels by sanding them clean and starting over.  Resist temptation to over soak.  If immersed for any length of time the glue used in the panels is likely to let go or the grain of the wood may "raise", leaving a bumpy texture which would detract from the clarity of the image.

Remove paper by wetting it under hot water and rubbing it off gently with your fingers.  Wet the paper thoroughly under the faucet and let it stand and soak for a couple of minutes.  Then hold it under a trickle of warm water and very gently roll shards of paper off with your fingers.  Think of the paper as being several layers.  Work slowly and let the panel sit occasionally so that the water can soften the layer under the colour emulsion.  I found that I had to let the panels nearly dry several times in order to see the last little bits of paper film , but that with re-wetting, these came off with no scraping of the image.

Now I'm trying to decide whether to paint the side frames of the panels or just leave them as the unfinished wood.  

cost:  $4 each.  

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Postcards from Peru

I have drawn my own postcards since my first big trip to Australia, nearly 40 years ago.  I remember cutting some stiff white card with my trusty Swiss Army knife and knocking off copies of the Sydney Opera House as line drawings on my bed at the YMCA hostel.Some old friends have received cards from  a dozen different countries over the years.

Last month, I did the same thing, setting up my postcard factory on a bed in Cusco and cranking out 8 one evening.  Although, now I use the pre-cut watercolour postcards and add some colour.

It's especially fun to think of old friends receiving them and remarking, "where is crazy John now?".

But here's the caution 5 weeks after posting them, not one has arrived in Canada. On investigating, it seems that a service is stalled indefinitely because of a labour dispute in Peru.   You'd think they would have told me when I bought the stamps, wouldn't you.

Friday, 1 January 2016

My Artist Pals in Cusco

Plaza de Armas in Cusco is a busy spot with many pedlars offering handcrafts, shoeshines, taxi rides and so forth.  There are also many individuals selling art.  Generally there is a wide range of styles in each portfolio and a similar range of subjects and styles from one to another, leading me to suspect that the work, or at least not all of the work, is by the vendor.

While sketching in a quiet corner of the square, one of these art guys came over to watch.  He showed me a small sketch from his portfolio and I offered him a brush and my paints.  He skilfully added some wash in a true Urban Sketchers fashion.  Soon his competitors had also gathered around and there was lots of good natured joking and some questions to me despite my inadequate Spanish.

It was another one of those circumstances that broke down the tourist barrier and seemed a natural opportunity for a sketchcrawl type photo of all of us with our work.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Meeting People by Sketching

Some of the best moments on this trip to Peru were meeting local people as a result of sketching in public.  I've heard this form other sketchers - taking photos of people is something that is often resented and people can even get upset about it.  However, people seem to be interested and even complimented if you draw them.

Here at home, I rarely seem to be noticed drawing on location, much less strike up a conversation, however in Peru, people often came up to look over my shoulder and called others over.  In Cusco's San Pedro Market, a pair of small boys were quite uninhibited in learning over my sketchbook as I worked and the ladies in the smoothie aisle were all curious to see the finished product.

It somehow broke through the tourist barrier so that rather than being a foreign voyeur I was treated as a curious visitor.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Tuk-Tuk Moto Taxis

One of the charming aspects of the couple of days I spent in Ollantaytambo was the put, put of the tuk-tuks.  There were a few flatbed models moving produce, but most of them were "moto taxis" running people around the small town.  There was a taxi stand of sorts near the bridge over the river, but they rarely seemed to be there for long.  The dozen or so little vehicles were all somewhat customized and so were quite recognizable, as they constantly circulated around the streets of the newer part of town.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Don Miguel

While sketching in Pisac, Peru, I bumped into this gentleman several times. As luck would have it, I was lucky enough to met Don Miguel Chavez again at a cafe and he had some time to tell me a little bit about his fascinating life.

Born on the coast in northern Peru, his forbearers were from Italy.  In the early 1960's he made his way to Hollywood and had bit parts in serval movies before training as a pilot and finding employment as a crop duster.  A few years later he found himself back in Peru and became established in land-reform.  At that time the whole of the Sacred Valley was controlled by just 11 families and a new system of co-operatives was established.  As an offshoot of this he went to Prague to study agricultural engineering, but with marriage to a German woman, remained in Europe.

All these years later he is back in Peru studying "Andean Cosmology", ancient beliefs that continue as folk practices and cultural values, such as "Pachumamma (Mother Earth).   On a more practical level, he became aware that most of the Llama and Alpaca wool was either being laboriously spun by hand spindle, or sent out to be mechanically spun commercially.  He started to import simple spinning wheels and train local women to use them, in order to improve the economics of their beautiful weaving.    A brief outline of the project can be found at