Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Postcards from the left coast

Last March I was in British Columbia, skiing at Whistler and a day in Vancouver.  It happened that the manager of the St. Clair noticed me sketching and a few months later asked permission to use the sketch as a postcard.  About the same time I was contacted by Dave, one of the owners of the Southside Diner in Whistler with a similar request.

And here they are.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Back to the Redpath

I was in Montreal last weekend and lined up a visit with my friend Marc Taro Holmes.  He's one of the Urban Sketcher ringleaders and is always up to go sketching.  I learn something from him every time I talk to him. This time it was about self publishing companies and software for layouts.

It was grey and cold outside so we headed to the Redpath Museum which is an anachronism.  Its a sort of Victorian curio cabinet with bits and pieces of natural history, dinosaur bones, animals and cultural artifacts. It would make a great location for a movie.

We found ourselves attracted to some of the stuffed animals and birds at one end of the main hall.   We both did about a dozen sketches and Marc cleverly electronically composed his individual drawings into a montage....see what I mean about learning from him?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Sorry, did this before I was told I couldn't

I asked for permission to bring my sketching group to a local climbing gym last week.  The owner prevaricated and asked many questions over several days before just spelling it out that in the past photographers had creeped out the climbers.  I get it, but I am disappointed as it would be a good venue for sketching.  The climbers move fairly quickly, but the positions are somewhat repetitive and with the 20m height of the walls there is lots of scope for dramatic exaggeration of perspective.

Friday, 29 November 2013


Another sketch from tea time in France...this one with water not tea.   Not that it improved the accuracy of my draughtsmanship.

This was done in a tiny 3" x  5" sketchbook that begs to be opened and used as double pages. I prefer the landscape format but shouldn't quibble as Laloran was generous enough to provide these to the Urban Sketcher participants in Barcelona last summer and more to the point, I love the paper they use.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Whales downtown - honestly

I have been leading a sketching group one evening a week this fall.  I say lead rather than teach, as I coach more than lecture.  We did have a few indoor classes to cover some basics including an evening explaining perspective.   Many people have trouble with perspective which isn't surprising really when you look at the history of art and how many centuries it took to figure it out.  We anayzed and copied photographs to understand the main principles.

We've moved on to drawing on location, which because it is now cold and dark in the evening has to be indoors.  This was at the  World Exchange Plaza in Ottawa, where yes, beluga whales and one narwal swim through the air.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Generating Station No. 4

Victoria and Chaudiere Islands lie in the Ottawa River between the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau.  These islands were the site of the lumber industry from the early 1800's when timber rafts were piloted down the rapids.  Later the water was harnessed for generating electricity and the lumber industry evolved from transferring logs to making matches and later paper.  Most of the industrial remains are not active and inaccessible except for this one generating station on Victoria Island.

The term "hydro" confuses people from outside Ontario.  Understandably so, as it isn't water, its' water generated electricity  The equipment in the sketch is used to adjust the stop logs in the dam and control the water flow to that particular generator's turbines - prosaically know as Generating Station No 4.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Bishop John

Two things that I noticed at the Carnet de Voyage book fair were drawing people and annotating the pages.  Even old dogs can learn new tricks, or at least practise them.

I am also getting pretty cheeky about drawing surreptitiously. Not that anyone really usually notices, it just seems irreverent sometimes.  That's another thing I heard from several of the exhibitors at the Carnet de Voyage - often in remote places people are very curious and tremendously complimented to be drawn.  Unlike photography which usually feels very intrusive, sketching seems to well received and open doors.  Exactly what I would hope for when travelling, or for that matter, anywhere.

John Chapman is Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Painting in the Rain

Last week in Last week in Clarmont-Ferrand, I did manage a couple of sketches outdoors even though it was spitting a few drops of rain.  The trick was to find an overhang to at least avoid the direct drops.

As always working while standing forces me to be fast and loose.  Not qualities one would normally aspire to, or use as a self description.  I was quite taken by the roofscapes with overlapping forms of tiled roofs and large chimneys with many pots and could have done dozens of sketches of those skylines.

Friday, 22 November 2013

No Need to be Bored

The annoying thing about travel is always the interminable waiting.  Drawing steps up the natural activity of people watching to a productive activity.  I filled several pages of my little pocket sized notebook last week while waiting for my flight home.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Tea time in France

It was cool and damp for most of my trip, but I did manage to find the occasional coffee house with a view.  Sketching inevitably amuses the waiters, particularly when caught so absorbed that I was dipping my brush in my tea, instead of my water.  That's a really bad idea as there are some nasty things in watercolour pigments, so I ordered a fresh pot of tea.

I could do the same thing here at home, but when in a different place all I can see are potential compositions.  It's attitude as much as observation and the challenge is to see the familiar with fresh eyes.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Basilica Notre Dame du Port

While attending the Carnet de Voyage book fair in Clement-Ferrand, France I attended mass an 800 year old Basilica.  It was a very serene building and was absolutely full.  One of the interesting things, from my Canadian perspective was the number of children who sat quietly through the whole service, rather than going off to Sunday School.  But then again, this is something I have noticed repeatedly in Europe, the strength of family life and mixing of generations which seems at times, to have fallen apart here in North America.

A major theme in the travel journals I saw at the book fair was the mix of annotations with the drawings and so, I was working at incorporating that into the pages I filled while there.  Luckily, no seemed to notice my eccentric behaviour of painting through the service as I was a little nervous it might be seen as disrespectful.

Drawn Along The Way

Earlier this month, I put together a draft book of my collection of sketches from my pilgrimage in Spain last spring.  This was the Camino de Santiago which involved a month long walk across northern Spain culminating in the city of Santiago de Compostella.  This is also know as the Way of Saint James, as the remains of the Apostle are believed to be enshrined in the Cathedral there. Hence the Title - DRAWN ALONG THE WAY, My Camino sketchbook.

The book is not a guide, rather a reflection of the experience and includes about 70 of the 110 sketches I did while on the trail.  My good friend, Anne-Louise Mahoney, who is a professional editor did a very helpful edit and I will be launching the book and offering it for sale in the next few weeks.  It has been a very satisfying project in part because writing it helped me process the incredible experience of this ancient pilgrimage and share the drawings in the form of a book.

Carnet de Voyage

Last week I journeyed to France to attend the Carnet de Voyage.  This is a book fair that focuses on illustrated travel journals.  This genre is very popular in France, and there is nothing close to it here in North America.  I went primarily to learn and investigate what  is being done as well as in the hopes of finding a publisher for my book about the Camino de Santiago.

The show was much larger than I had anticipated.  There were easily 100 artists with booths profiling their work, as well as books for sale.  These books were both by some large publishing houses as well as a table of self-publications by the participating artists, offered for sale by volunteers helping with the fair.  Only the juried artists were able to meet with publishers, but I did manage to talk to a couple of them and left copies of my draft book as well as many conversations with the participating artists.  I learned something and built enthusiasm with each conversation.  Several of my Urban Sketcher mentors and friends, that I met last July in Barcelona were participating, so I had the fun of visiting with them also.

On reflection, as much as it was a long way to go, it was extremely worthwhile.  I brought home some great examples of books and had several signed by the artists and while it's a long way away, I'm thinking I should submit to participate next year by way of a goal and deadline to work towards.

In addition, the overriding impression was the wide variety of styles, the rigour and volume of work each artist had produced and above all,  people following their dream to go out and explore the world and document it through their own eyes.

Monday, 23 September 2013

3rd Ave. at Bank St.

So, I'm back at it now that the temperatures are a little cooler and invigorating.  This is the backside of some commercial buildings along  Bank Street in the Glebe.  The walls have been strapped with pipes and wires and contain air conditioner units, vents phone boxes and electrical stacks.  Despite it all it has a sort of urban charm and sitting out on the apartment balconies would offer green views up the middle of the residential block.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

48/50 Second Avenue

In the Glebe neighbourhood there are five streets with numbers for names, they are referred to as "The Avenues".  Many have shared driveways and even if wholly on the property they are seldom very wide as the homes were built in the streetcar era, when most people did not have cars.

As I walk my friend and do my errands I always enjoy these glimpses into the heart of the blocks where large trees have been allowed to grow and the rear of homes tells the storey of incremental additions.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Front Windows at Parkview

Today the glass went into the aluminium frames on the front of the first unit.  It is in fact a commercial curtain wall which fronts both the 1st and 2nd floors.This faces Stirling Park across the street and will fill that end of the building with green views.

Phoenix Glass and Aluminium brought in a hydraulic lift to raise the aluminium frame into place yesterday and today put in the glass.  These machines are incredible and it seem to be easy to learn how to use.  Like a lot of the increasing mechanisation in construction, the efficiencies and safety make it well worth renting the equipment.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Brown-eyed Susans

Most of the flowers in the garden are past thier bloom, except for these brown-eyed susans whci seem to just keep comming.

I've been experimenting with some "artificial" paper called Aquarius II, made by Strathmore, that I learned about from one of my Urban Sketcher mentors, Marc Holmes.  I like it in terms of how is smooth for inking and it doesn't buckle, but you need to use very strong colour as it soaks up the paint and fades a fair bit.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Pair of Fiats

On the way back from the construction site the other day I thought I'd go to Pub Italia on Preston Street to draw the great little Fiat 600 Multipla there.  On the way I spotted an original Cinqucento (500) and knew I was onto a theme.  The only thing better would be to have a new 500 beside the old one.  Just like the Mini's it's a surprise to see how much small the originals cars were.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Wednesday's Pour

Yesterday was a big day on the Parkview project.  The street was closed to allow a big concrete pump truck to set up to place concrete in the next two foundations and floors in unit 3.  The floors will be heated by hot water circulating through a series of looped plastic embedded in the concrete.  yesterday the pumper delivered concrete through a window on each level where it was spread, levelled and then power trowelled.  In a couple of weeks it will be honed, but even today they look fantastic.

The next operation was placing the concrete in the Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF)  forms for unit 2 and 5's foundations.  This was a little nerve-wracking as they are at least 10 feet high and if done to quickly could potentially burst open.  They were well braced and by placing a 4 foot lift first and letting it set a little, the forms were able to accept the second, top-up lift.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Windows at Parkview !

The window frames arrived last week are installed in the first unit.  There is plastic sheeting on the outside as with these high quality commercial steel frames the glass is installed in place.  This, at least made lifting the large sizes them up along the outside wall practical. These rooms will look east towards PArliament.  There is a great view of the city skyline and Peace Tower through the enormous sliding doors up in the penthouse.

Drywall is mostly complete, except for some interior walls.  The first floor, which will be the kitchen and living space is not yet primed, but with windows across the entire end wall and 10 foot high ceilings it will be a very bright space.

The next stage will be to install the heating pipes and pour the concrete floors. Then interior walls, cabinets and such can be installed.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Actors and Stage Workshop

This sketch was one from my workshop with Lius Ruiz.  I have followed his blog and studied his work for the last two years.  On top of his proficiency, he's a delightful guy and he gave me some very practical tools to help my composition. He had us start our drawings at the focal point and move out.   As in draw from the back and move forward.   He also taught us to simplify buildings by implying the rhythm of the windows.  We did several thumbnails to practise this as well as place overlapping figures in the foreground (the actors) to add some dynamism and draw the eye to the focal point.

The one question I continue to have is "when to stop".  His lesson plan didn't directly address that, but I think it gave me some tools to help me with that decision.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Betty Ford - Barcelona

I chanced into a little pub conveniently located between the conference and my hotel called Betty Ford. Dave, the proprietor, is an Aussie and the staff were wonderfully friendly and welcoming.  Good music, good vibes. I had a great hamburger there on two different evenings.  5 thumbs up on the JW travel scale.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The first workshop I participated in was given by Lynne Chapman.  I met her last year in Santo Domingo and correlated her expressive sketching style with her buoyant personality.   True to form, the workshop was lots of fun.  My take-away was cropping and using angles to create interest.  She suggested zooming in on an object and filling the page. Of course, true to form, I started with the interesting root buttress of a Plane tree, before moving to buildings.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Barcelona Sights

I was in Barcelona last week attending the Urban Sketchers Symposium.  I went a couple of days early to catch up with the time change and loosen up my hand before the event started.

The upper sketch is the Sagrada Familia, the cathedral that Antonio Gaudi designed and which has been under construction for a century.  It is a stunning building and was well worth touring.

Below is a typical small plaza, complete with outdoor cafe and water fountain.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Walking Through a Green World

Moving through the green and cultural landscape along the Camino at a walking pace is a tonic. Coming from the “new world” where our idea of a heritage building is often less than 100 years, the tangible connection with the past is striking.  In fact as a painter, it was tortuous to keep moving, when my instincts were screaming for me to stop and sketch. 

My Camino was in May and this year the weather was unseasonably cool through most of the month.  This cool weather delayed or extended the bloom of many plants and kept the landscape green and verdant. Green is a calming colour.  Prisons and so called green rooms in theatres and television studios are painted green for its psychologically calming effect.  It was a soothing experience to walk through those lush fields and forests. At times I felt I was drinking in the greens through my eyes and was constantly thinking about how I would mix paint to reflect the subtle range from blue to yellow hues of green as I walked. 

There were a few overcast days on the Meseta especially on the long stretches between villages, where I started to take the landscape for granted.  However form day to day and certainly over the weeks I passed though many different and often dramatic landscapes, usually accompanied by birdsong and drifts of wildflowers.  How could that daily proximity to the natural worlds not be restorative to the spirit? 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Anticipation - The Night Before Camino

Eric Viotte in an uncharacteristic still position

Julian, one of the many volunteers I would meet in coming weeks

It had rained all day, but by late afternoon it was letting up when I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port.  I was full of anticipation about the journey and my first stop was to pick up my Pilgrim’s Credential, which is the document required to stay in Albergues and when stamped by each accommodation along the route, is the proof required to secure the Compestella certificate in Santiago de Compestella.

The albergues were filing up but I did find a bed at the Gite le Chemin vers Etoile, which means “Cottage on the way to the Stars”.  A beautiful name referring to the start of the journey to Santiago de Compostella, which is named for the discovery, by sheppards, of St. James (Santiago), the apostle and brother of Christ who been led to the relics by the stars (compostella).  Here I met the delightful and energetic owner, Eric Viotte, who was setting the stage for the Pilgrimage to each guest as he signed them in and showed them to their bunks.  I’d been itching to draw and say down to sketch Julian, from Belgium.  He had completed the Camino last year and was volunteering his help to Eric for a couple of weeks.  I met many of these volunteers over the coming weeks.

Later, I managed to get Eric to sit down in the kitchen for few minutes.  Between interruptions he gave me some insight into his passion for the Camino.  He walked the Camino in 2007, starting in France and had to lay up in St. Jean Pied de Port for 10 days to recover from tendonitis. His experience was so profound that 2 years later he quit a very senior position with an international corporation in Paris and bought the albergue.

He told me that I would only be a “walker” until I completed the journey and attended the Pilgrim’s mass in Santiago de Compostella.  He passionately advised me not to expect anything, but to throw away my preconceptions and the special magic of the Camino would reveal itself.  He hinted that there are some predictable stages and emotions over the four weeks, but emphasised setting my own pace to intentionally choose (or leave) companions.

He closed my little interview with these nuggets of wisdom. 
“You will come to love yourself and stop judging others”.
“Open your heart.”
“This is life.”

Good advice.  Thank-you Eric.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Wise Trees

Santo Domingo
 I arrived from Paris in Bayonne on the second day of May in cold, pouring rain.  I had a couple of hours to have a late lunch before the train to St. Jean Pier de Port departed and did manage to find a cafe under an arcade facing the town square where I could sketch.  This public space would be delightful in the heat of summer as it was defined by pollarded Plane trees and contained a fountain.

I anticipated seeing these trees all along the Camino and was looking forward to them sprouting out and forming leafy canopies to enjoy as the month progressed.  Wrong.  It was an unusually cool May and the wise old Plane trees knew it.  They were waiting for warmer weather and just starting to sprout a full month later when I arrived in Santiago de Compestella.

Pollarding is the practise of severely pruning branches back leaving only stubby, club-like structure.  Additionally, many of the plane trees were grafted to each other, so that when the leaves and branches do sprout out for the season they form a living trellis. Pollarding also prolongs the life of these trees, which also are exceptionally tolerant of air pollution, which is another reason they are so commonly planted in urban conditions.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Barcelona Primaries

I used my little water colour field box for the majority of the sketches, but a few times I did experiment with mixing from three primary colours.  I had a couple of sunny hours on a Sunday afternoon in Pamplona and worked with just three tubes of paint.  I would have done this more often, but didn't have a cover for my little palette and didn't want to goo up my paint kit.

I got onto this through one of my on-line mentors Shari Blaukopf who is going to use this as part of her sessions for the Urbansketchers Symposium this summer in Barcelona.  Her Barcelona mix is French ultramarine (blue), Aureolin (yellow) and Rose Madder (red).  The green, orange and purples are obvious, what I didn't expect was the subtle range of beiges and greys possible by using all three pigments.  Shari introduced me to limited palettes last summer in a workshop and believes they contribute to harmonious paintings.  She has a very sophisticated understanding of colour, so I'll take her advice.

This 'Barcelona primaries"mix will be perfect for the stone buildings and crisp shadows in Barcelona, but I haven't been too pleased with the range of greens.  I learn by doing and only then investigating theory.  After two years of blundering about with watercolour, I'm now ready to do some reading as well as experiment with some other primaries to see what I can mix for greens.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Local Colour

Sinin, the propritor of Bar Torres in  deep discussion with one of his regulars
underground houses in Religious
Sinin, complete with his signature
Away from the larger cities, rural Spain can be delightfully eccentric.  Many of the towns are nearly empty, with plenty of abandoned buildings and closed up houses. Religious was a tad busier than some places, but had its own special twist.  The Torres Bar, seemed to have several names painted on it, including "The Elvis Bar". The proprietor, Sinin, is one of those lean hansom men who appear to run on caffeine and nicotine.  Graffiti covers the walls and while the music was predominately Elvis Presley, the odd jazz tune was thrown in for variety.  I don't know if smoking is allowed indoors in Spain, but this was the only place I noticed that happening.

The other curious thing we saw in a few of these small communities were underground houses.  When I first saw them I thought they might be kilns.  However looking in the the entrances, there were well kept doors, flower pots, benches and the like.  There wasn't anyone about the evening I was there so maybe they are a weekend thing.  Who knows?  Maybe its a hippy thing.  I would have loved to meet one of the owners and get a peek inside.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Roman Bridges

Next to churches (with storks) the other ubiquitous painting subject were the ancient bridges along the Camino. I would have liked to paint more of them, but alas, the pressure to get the walking done often trumped sketching. We encountered many of these Roman built structures and some sections of old Roman roads as well. Aside from the astonishing age of the structure they were always surprisingly narrow.  Less material to construct and easier to defend, I imagine.  I guess if you know what you are doing the stone is inert and will last indefinitely as long as the joints are well done and distribute the load evenly.

The upper sketch was done at the end of one of the hotter days as I soaked by swollen feet in the icy cold river.  The lower one was a quick morning break sitting on the grass beside the trail, looking back as the stream of perigrinos paused and flowed over the bridge.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Just Follow the Yellow Arrows

Sahagun was nearly the middle of the journey, between Burgos and Leon.  These mid trip-days were my "Forest Gump" phase. In the movie Forest enters a running race, but likes it so much he proceeds through the finish line and continues - like for months.  That was my state of mind, get up and follow the yellow arrows, like the one in the upper sketch, day after day. Simple.

The Sahagun churches are Romanesque in design,although  I don't think stork nests are necessarily part of Romanesque style.  The church in the upper sketch is now a nice newly renovated  Albergue (hostel).