Thursday, 13 November 2014

A New Father

Earlier this week I attended an ordination service at the Anglican Cathedral here in Ottawa.  My friend Jonathan Askwith was one of the new Priests brought into the Church.  It was a formal, but very moving ceremony which included all the priests in the Diocese laying on their hands onto the Ordinates.

I felt a little self- conscious sketching in church, fearing that some might think it irreverent, but as usual, I don't think anyone really noticed.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Above the Clouds

The sun was setting behind a distant range to the west and I had to work quickly to catch the yellow and orange glow.  The other, unusual effect for me, was the cloud lower down in the valley.  I was only up 1500 or 1700m, but the cloud cover over Lake Geneva had spread up towards Gryon.

Very ephermal.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Hidden Pools

Well up a long valley in the Swiss Alps there is a hidden stream with smooth rock basins, or pools.  It is in a cool, shady ravine not far, but well screened from the narrow road and walking track.  A place where children paddle on a hot summer day, with low water, or maybe a quick skinny dip later in the evening.

My visit was on a fall day with it's weakening sun and long shadows.  It had snowed a couple of days before and the glacier blue-grey water was full and between it's turbulence and temperature did not tempt me to even wade.

The forest has a palpable spirit here, with trees growing out of cleft rocks and twisted trunks looking like wise, bearded faces.  If there are fairies or wood nymphs, surely they dwell here in under the canopy of the trees and music of the stream.

I don't believe in any of that, but did leave some of my lunch for the fairies...just in case.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Walking in the Swiss Alps

I haven't been doing much sketching this fall.  However, there is nothing like a trip to interest me in breaking out the sketch kit.  Last week I was in Switzerland and enjoyed glorious clear weather most days while walking in the mountains.  This is the view south to the Dente du Midi from near Sololex (Gryon).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

before dinner cocktail

Just mix, water, paint and a small dog together in your neighbourhood park and you have a delightful late summer afternoon cocktail.  My friend got to run crazy with a succession of afterwork dogs, as I focussed on the various hues of green and reflections in Upper Brown's Inlet.

This is a tiny little painting in my 5" x 3 1/2" Laloran sketchbook - minus the taped edges.  Maybe someday, I'll have the courage to paint without lines, but in the meantime I did manage to avoid the "detail trap" just by working small.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


I don't do it consistently but am always happy that I took the time to do a little thumbnail study before starting a sketch.  In this case, I considered both landscape (horizontal) and portrait (vertical) formats.  In doing so, I also planned what would be in the frame and the composition.  Not only did it help me decide on the format, but I also decided to eliminate the tree behind the building to emphasize the interesting roof shape.

Many people use these thumbnails as a value study also.  I was using watercolour crayons and having trouble with controlling their values, so went with the flatter, graphic approach.

Often I do the thumbnail and then redefine the frame.  Many times his has saved me from running out of paper, simply by taking a minute or two to plan before starting.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Masking a Border

ink and watercolour crayon 
Jim absorbed and unaware of me drawing him
The sketchmaster, Jim Belisle, also introduced me to using masking tape to create a border when we were making smudges on Centre Island.  He recommends the green coloured masking tape and shared his secret of tacking it several times to your shirt so that it's not so sticky that it takes up the surface of the paper.

Many people draw a frame within the page, but the tape very sharply limits the paint and sets off the sketch quite nicely.  It's a rewarding moment removing the paint and seeing the crisp white border.

The upper sketch was done with watercolour crayons - I liked the intense colours but was having trouble controlling values to convey depth,

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Sketching with a Friend

10 1/2" x 2" Franklin's Garden
Jim busy "smudging"
with some new friends
On of the things that I learned and accessed through Urban Sketchers is how fun and it is to sketch with others.  Last weekend, I was in Toronto and spent a delightful afternoon with Jim Belisle sketching on Centre Island.  Jim was one of my wonderful professors at University of Toronto and I got to know him as a teaching assistant for a couple of terms.  He kept sketchbooks then and also introduced me to drop-in life drawing. He has been filing sketchbooks all his lfe and has not lost his enthusiasm to "make smudges".

So all these years later, it was not only fun to catch up but compare techniques and ideas.  He had generously bought me a box of watercolour crayons.  These are softer and more vibrant than  watercolor pencils and amped up my usual muted wash. So in addition to catching up I tried something new and came home full of ideas and enthusiasm for filling sketchbooks.

We encamped and did three sketches, of increasingly larger sketchbooks, from the same location.  That was an interesting exercise in itself and always fun to compare what we chose to portray.  I focused on the landform while Jim (lower sketch) dove into the colour and texture of the perennials in the foreground.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Garden Community

The Toronto Parks Commission manages the islands that make up Toronto Island, including operating the ferries.  Most of the the islands are very park like with the exception of the communities on Algonquin and Ward Islands. These are more like gardens - varying degrees of care, but all lush and green.  The climate is obviously just slightly milder compared to the mainland as several plants can be found here that would not survive even a few kilometres away from the lake.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Boathouse

There are several bed and breakfast lodgings on Toronto Island, and I've stayed at two of them.  The Boathouse on Ward's Island was absolutely perfect. It's a small suite with a kitchenette and washing machine.  Brand spanking new with first class finishes.

Like most of the homes on the Island, it has its own charm and beautiful garden.

Dog Tie Tree

I am pretty good at tree identification - especially when the leaves are on.  There was a new one for me though at the Island Cafe - A Dog Tie Tree.  I would have thought it a fruit tree, but for the sign.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Island Cafe

A good restaurant is largely about the vibe.  The Island Cafe is a case study in that regard.  It personifies the island community  - very friendly and eclectic.  Great fun always.  I went all crazy and had cafe latte every morning.  Normally too much for my mild metabolism, but it would take much more than a shot of caffeine to rattle me when on the Islands.

Oh, and then there is the Ontario Raspberry Tart!  How did I ever find the strength to leave?

Waiting to Board the Ferry

I spent several days on Toronto Island last week.  One afternoon waiting to get on the Ward Island Ferry I took a few minutes to do a little sketch.  Its amazing what you can do with a fat pen and time constraint.  I decided the story was the rhythm of the kayaks pulled up on the beach and didn't fuss with any detail.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


This week with my sketching pals, I suggested we draw some buildings front on orthographically, like architectural elevations.  This is not how we actually see buildings, but is a valid representation nonetheless.  It's not so obvious with smaller, flat faced  buildings, but with taller buildings and stepped facades or intricate rooflines, you have to sort of rectify perspective out of the drawing.  In that way it's instructive because by flattening the image, you become aware of the way you are perceiving perspective.

These are two buildings on Sparks Street here in Ottawa, both very narrow by todays standards, but imbued with a craftsmanship and sense of legacy that we seem to have lost in our era of construction.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Maplelawn Garden

Large perennial gardens are a rare thing in recent years given the level of care and associated cost of maintaining them in top shape.  There are a couple in Ottawa and Maplelawn in Westboro is always worth a visit.

The irises are still going strong in many locations, but I think they've been cooked off in the open sun of the Maplelawn Garden.  Even the poppies, usually tolerant of heat are starting to fall apart.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Bob Ross

The Bob Ross is the "committee boat" at Britannia Yacht Club.  This means that it anchors across from race buoy at both the start and finish lines of a race so that the race officials can see along the line for false starts or to time the various classes as they finish.

She, or is it he?, is moored in a quiet corner of the harbour waiting for the first race of the year.

Lunch in the "Market"

Last week an old pal David, visited from London England for a few days.  He is Canadian but has now spent more of his life in England than Canada.  He is also an artist so we had a good time chatting and sketching together.  Lunch, of course, is always a prime opportunity and the natural place to take him was the By Ward Market district to find a restaurant with a patio.  Something I rarely do.

When travelling, I want to sketch everything. But here in my own city, it's more challenging to see those opportunities, or perhaps feel an urgency to catch it while I can.  So, it was great to having a sketching pal show around town because it helped me see Ottawa through the eyes of a visitor.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Library

Well, not just The Library, but the back side of Centre Block as seen from Major's Hill Park.  The tower on the left is the Peace Tower and the Library of Parliament is the   stepped conical roof to the right.  The copper roofs were replaced on with a restoration of the library a few years ago and are still bronze coloured as it takes several years to weather to the lovely green colour on the Centre Block roofs.

Friday, 16 May 2014


"The drawings are executed with an architect’s eye, balanced with a love of freshness and spontaneity."
Marc Taro Holmes

Last night I uploaded my book about walking and sketching my way across northern Spain to the print on demand publisher, Blurb.

I didn't have a book in mind when I did the sketches.  Oh yah, the idea had gone through my mind, but it seemed overwhelming.  However, along the way, people would look over my shoulder as I was sketching and ask if I was going to "do something with them".  I thought I might look back on the journals, but  I really draw and paint because I like doing it, not because I believe anyone would buy them.  And anyway, I couldn't cut the pages out of my little sketchbooks to show them on a wall.  Not to mention they are really small, and I love big pieces.

When I got home I started writing - almost compulsively.  It helped me to process the trip.  It was still sort of a dream to do a book.   A slender little thing, at 96 pages and only using about half of the 120 sketches I did in the four weeks.  But its funny how these things work on you and while it took a lot of investigation and a few false starts, but here it is.

It has been a great experience and I learned a lot.  Now, I have several ideas for other projects like this. Not because I think it will be a living, so much as because it's intrinsically satisfying.  But... it would be nice to break even.

It can be ordered from Blurb - and even if you aren't interested in buying one, check out Blurb - you may want to do something yourself!

Marc Taro Homes, one of my Urban Sketcher pals and mentors posted a nice review of the book on the Urban Sketchers site.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Harbour Stuff

Last night our sketching group met at Britannia Yacht Club.  Due to the late spring very few boats have been put into the water, so there was lots to draw.

Aside from the boats one of the things I love about harbours and boat yards are the various mechanical devices and equipment.  Most of these objects are unabashedly functional and inevitably a little dinged up and rusty.  I even like the names - bollards, winches, sponsons, davits, engine wells and the like.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Blessed Sacrament

I would have described this Catholic church built in 1931 as art deco, however Wikipedia tells me its "perpendicular gothic".  At first glance it is very simple, but upon farther study the tower has stepped and bevelled corners and is tall enough to be seen from several blocks away.
There are some decorative elements and a couple of niches presumably waiting for saints.
It's a well attended busy place judging by the ebb and flow of cars and families at various masses each weekend.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Flapjack's Pancake Shack

While according to City by-laws this may not be a food truck, it looks deceptively more like a an old milk truck, than a shack to me.  The Flapjack logo is a burly lumberjack and the coat of arms is a fine piece of Ottawa Valley heraldry, which includes a crossed pan flipper and axe.

The "shack" is visible from Bank Street in a an informal courtyard behind Mrs. Tiggy Winkles, close to Fourth Avenue.  Thematic patio furniture is made of from large logs fashioned as chairs and tables - very lumberjacky.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Backside of Bank Street

There is an informal courtyard behind the shops on Bank Street between Fourth and Third Avenues.  I went to sketch the food truck there, but it was rainy and this back of Mrs. Tiggy Winkles was easier to see from the sheltered location od a building alcove.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Theresa Apartment

The entrance to this small apartment building here in the Glebe is classic art deco.  The rest of the building is well proportioned, but plain.  It's saved  however by the detailing of the entrance, the place where her residents approach and experience the exterior.  I've never pressed my nose to in inside to get a sense whether that character was carried through into the interior.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Yellow Garage

I've been noticing this little garage all winter walking by, but only stopped yesterday to finally sketch it.  As usual, this is also about the big maple tree in the rear yard.

There is still some snow lingering in the shadowy north sides of the houses.  Some people have not been willing to wait and have been shovelling it out just to get it gone.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Irene's Pub

Irene's Pub is a bit of an institution here in the Glebe. Affordable and cosy through the week and a bit of a community centre on weekends. Always worth a visit on Friday or Saturday nights for live music.  A cultural institution, if there ever was one.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Waiting for Spring

It's interesting how many basketball nets live between the houses, all waiting for spring.  You don't think of Ottawa as a basketball town  but it was actually invented not far form here in Almonte, Ontario.  Unsurprisingly however, that took place in a indoor gym.

When sketched this a nearly a month ago, I was thinking the snow would not last much longer and that I would soon, not just be drawing, but be painting on site.  No such luck, so I'm returning to some older drawings and painting inside.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Little Mike's Workshop

I call him Little Mike, but I'm sure he's had more colourful nicknames over the years.  I joke about him being little - he's not.  He's built like a rock and I always remind him not to crush my hand when we shake.  An eclectic character, Mike.  A graduate of Canterbury which is a The creative arts high school in Ottawa, a former professional boxer and owns a couple of Triumph motorcycles.   His business is custom steel fabrication.  Although the term "custom" doesn't really describe the kind of art he creates. Just ask him and his eyes light up and next, he's scrolling through images on his phone to show you some of his work.

I met him in my role designing the new streetscape for the Bank Street reconstruction. Tim Desclouds had won the public art competition and in coordinating with Tim, I met Mike who was fabricating the sculptures.  When I stopped in recently there was the beginning of a large tree sculpture that Tim is working on with Mike for the Bronson Avenue streetscape.

The workshop is a fascinating place.  A little different each time I visit depending on what is being worked on and the way they have arranged the tools to work on that project. Lots more there to draw.  Thanks Mike.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Tommy's Totem

Last March on a ski trip to British Columbia I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of carvers from Squamish, Rick  Henry  and Aaron Nelson-Moody.

I did some sketches of their work and them carving and best of all chatted and had lunch with them.  I learned that totems in their tradition were really prompts for story tellers to recount a legend event.  More that that I saw that  Rick and Aaron and were taking that ancient form and as artists making statements.

Which brings me to Tommy's Totem.  Tommy is my younger son and he is fixated on skateboarding.  This includes making videos which is why on his totem there is a camera lens and and a floodlight. (both broken...accidents happen on a regular basis in the world of skateboarding). It always bothers me to see broken skateboards thrown away and I decided to grab a few and make a totem which reflects Tommy's passion for the sport.

This summer I will collect some objects which represent my diverse range of interests to make my totem. Does anyone have some old skis to donate?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sketching at the Laff

The Chateau Lafayette House is a classic tavern, one of the last in the city.  It's located in the By Ward Market area, not  far from the Ottawa School of Art, so sketching here doesn't draw a second glance.
I suggested my Monday Night sketching group meet here, ostensibly to discuss plans for spring, should it every arrive.  The ladies in the group were surprised, expecting something a little seedier -  not that they are likely to return.

I suspect Gary is a regular.  He's certainly well known and when I was last there was moving between tables chatting.  Diana Ross's classic, "You can't Hurry Love" was playing on the jukebox.  No, you can't - if you're on a budget you need to nurse that quart out for the whole evening.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Home Hardware in the Glebe

I laid down more ink than I normally do when planning to paint.  That's why I've included the line drawing before painting below. Just for comparison and to show how the paint gives it volume.  Normally my pre-paint drawings are very brief and don't look like much without colour.  But this morning, it was hard not to keep scribbling, sitting in the front window of the Bridgehead coffee shop, like a cat in the sun, avoiding getting back to work.  Its still too cold, at -15, to sketch outside comfortably, but the bright sun is at least cheery.

The building on the corner of Second Avenue at Bank Street, which houses Home Hardware and Felinas Restaurant was originally a theatre.  I don't know if it had a marquee, but that does explain the large facade without second story windows.  Oh, and if you are there with your dog, they'll give him a cookie.  Brilliant.  Now Sailor tries to take me in every time we walk by.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Threatened Species

Last weekend a couple of boys were making this snowman right in the middle of the walkway to their home. He was still there when I returned a few days later with my sketchbook.

It's been sunny and cold - no wonder Snowy is smiling.  Lucky for him he's in shadow most of the day, because March is just days away and the weather has to break soon.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Streetcar Neighbourhood

I continue to be fascinated by the interiors of the blocks here in my "streetcar" neighbourhood of the Glebe in Ottawa.  The term streetcar refers to the era in which it was built.  From the 1920's through the second world war years when people may have had cars, but didn't nescessarily use them to get to work daily as they would walk or take the streetcar.  As a result there are few homes with attached garages.  The garages are usually in the back often accessed by narrow shared lanes between the houses.

So as I walk my dog, or the few blocks to skate on the canal or do errands at the shops on Bank Street, I am continually looking into the gaps between the houses. These lanes offer a glimpse to in interior of the blocks and the interesting back sides of the homes which more often than not have been expanded in one or more stages.  Sort of urban anthropology.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Cajun Siding

Have you ever had blackened catfish?  Its good - blackened siding is too.

Typical of Bramel's approach to innovation and anything but production methods, the siding at ground level is cedar that has been charred with a torch.  Excess char will be wire brushed or power washed off which leaves a raised grain and hardened surface that will be extremely durable.

The shiplap boards are torched before being fastening on the wall, as doing it in place would be just asking for trouble - the objective is blacked, not flambĂ©.  The guys were joking about bringing hot dogs for lunch tomorrow though.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Where The Big Trees Live

This is the view from my second floor deck looking into the gap at the end of the block.  The big trees live here in the rear yards, where they have some space, unpaved ground and can thrive.  Many of them were not planted intentionally but as a result of nuts buried by squirrels or simply, blown seeds which as they grew, were not cut out.  These trees create a microclimate in the interiors of the blocks with shade in the summer as well as food and shelter for urban wildlife.

The tree in the sketch is an oak and must stand 15m tall.