Sunday, 24 June 2012

Niagara on the Lake

The Niagara peninsula has reinvented itself from a fruit growing area to a wine district.  We sailed across the Lake from Toronto with my friend Kevin and yesterday we toured some local vineyards - by bicycle.  It's all very compact and flat so its easy to tour  several wineries in a few hours.

The top sketch was at Inniiskillin, one of the larger operations. Later at Lailey we were taken down to the cellar and educated on the different types of oak barrels, degree of toasting and importance of the yeasts used.  The vintner used a "thief", which is sort of a long turkey baster to draw samples from the barrels and give us a sense of the differences within a batch that was all put away on the same day.  The enthusiasm and friendliness of the wine makers makes for really pleasant conversations, but after a few minutes I generally get overwhelmed and am happy to step outside and do a drawing.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Front Door - on the side street

There are many variations on half round doors in my neighbourhood.  None of them contemporary.

Funny - I love simple, pared down modern buildings, but always choose to draw the older ones which exhibit craft and detail.  Oak, beveled glass, brass, clay brick; all standing up well more than 80 years after construction

Thursday, 7 June 2012

White Oak

I think of canopy trees as 'street ' and 'park' depending on how they have been pruned and underlimbed.  'Park' trees usually have the luxury of plenty of space and develop large low limbs - sometimes so low you have to duck to walk under.  This sketch is a mid-sized white oak - probably 50 cm. diameter trunk and 12m height.  Aside from being true tree royalty, this oak is definitely a great 'park' tree. I wish I had got closer to show more of the sturdy branches under the canopy.

I learned from an Irish colleague, just last week, that Oak trees were often planted beside churches in Ireland, for the very practical reason of having some good lumber close at hand as the inevitable repairs to the interior where required over the decades and centuries.  What a different attitude and perspective on time than we have here in 21st century North America.

Over my career as a landscape architect, I have done hundreds of sketches with trees.  I developed a drawing shorthand style for vignettes of design proposals, which employs a sort of graphic symbol for trees and people which is quick and effective, but doesn't really portray the real attributes of particular species, or reality of what people look like.  As a sketcher, it has been on my mind to do a series of tree portraits, not only of the different species, but some of the wonderful landmark trees in Ottawa which are truly heritage elements.

 Trees are hard to draw, as the filigree of light and glimpses of branches can be fussy.  They are more challenging to paint as there are at least three shades of green, depending on the reflection of light in the open portions and dark shadow parts.  Strangely it seems that the colour values are as much in layers of depth as opposed to upper and lower, sun and shadow sides.

Watercolour Workshop - part 2

These are some of the exercise sketches I did while participating in Shari Blaukopf's most excellent workshop this week at MacDonald College in the west end of Montreal. 

The black and white sketches are value studies , done as a plan before undertaking a painting.  Shari put me on a colour diet and I only had three near primary colours to work with.  This is also a good way to achieve unity. This was a great exercise as it was also a jump from my little travel kit of hard pans to tube paints which where different hues from those in my kit.

The planning sketch also inherently addresses composition - not only fitting the whole subject of the page, but how to lead the eye and provide a point of interest.  I think I'll start doing 2" x 2" blocking studies on the left (backside) page in my sketchbook prior to starting a sketch. if nothing else it should keep me from running out of room on the page for the whole subject, as I sometimes do.

I brought away several other very practical little reminders and techniques to use as I continue to try and figure out to make watercolours work.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Shari Blaukopf's Watercolour Workshop

I'm spending a couple of days at a watercolour workshop given by Shari Blaukopf at John Abbott College in the west end of Montreal.  Shari is also a member of Urban Sketchers and has been faithfully posting a sketch every day since last fall.

Today we worked on values.  The exercise was to do a planning sketch which blocked out light, mid and dark areas then do a painting.  I found this very helpful and will continue to block out  a 'plan' before starting into a full page. The photo was my third practice sketch and painting.  It is a mundane representation of a magnificent ginko tree with a huge buttress and multiple stems, which in my experience, is unusual as most of the ginkos I know are one trunk with higher branches.  This illustrates my challenge - my quick sketch is better than my painting.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

One Year of Blogging

It has been a year since my first post.  As it's a rainy day and I'm in a reflective state of mind, I thought I'd make some observations about what I've learned and the direction that is emerging.

I started the blog as an incentive to draw at least 3 times a week and was surprised at how I became engaged in the blogsphere.  Some sites have counters, but I have no idea what to expect in terms of traffic, especially for such an obscure interest niche. One thing I have noticed with art related sites that have huge numbers of followers, is that they have been at it for   5 or 6 years.

First, some stats:
- 101 posts - probably 120 sketches
- 5040 visits / over 40 countries , presently averaging about 30 visits/day
- almost 50:50 return visits to new visits
- 38% from Canada, followed by USA, Russia and UK
- top post 146 visits...ironically not a sketch, but an article "Get Drawing- Five Tips to Break Sketchers's Block" which was picked up by Making A Mark blog ( a major British Art Blog
- posts about totem poles, trip to Italy and skateboarding have been popular

Goals Achieved
I am pleased that I have incorporated sketching into my lifestyle as a habit.  It's easy to draw while away on vacation, but harder when back to the pressures of working life.  That's where the journalistic side of the blog has been helpful in looking for themes or thinking about what might be unique to someone looking in from another country.

The other goal was to become a member or Urban Sketchers.  This has continued to be rewarding as I develop some profile online and make connections among the other members.  This virtual experience became real last weekend when Mark Taro Holmes contacted me to see if I wanted to go sketching with him when he was in Ottawa.  Next week I will be attending a watercolour painting workshop with Shari Blaukopf in Montreal and in July I will attend the annual Urban Sketching Symposium in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  Without a doubt, in the future I will contact USK members when travelling.

Is my drawing better?  Sometimes.  It's certainly faster and a bit looser. I am starting to learn how to paint - instead of colouring in shapes like when I started last year, which is a whole other world.  The sketching has promoted some other projects - like lino-cut prints of the Gatineau warm up huts and hopefully this fall, some much larger works.

Year 2
Expect the same pace of contribution, although with the added interest from travel subjects on several trips this summer and addition of some side projects, such as my "not furniture/not sculpture" woodworking.  Looking back, some of my personal favourites told a story - like "Little Mike's Mean Bike", so expect the narrative to continue or expand.

This has been a journey. Not sure where it is taking me, but I do sense it's going somewhere and more than that it is intrinsically rewarding activity.  Oh, and one request.  If you stop in, please leave a comment.