Skip to content

I’ll have a few paintings on display at Stewart Hall through November

October 30, 2015

15Apr09_LesEboulments (2)

Just a note to say, I have a couple of my oil paintings on exhibition at the Stewart Hall Art Gallery in Pointe Claire as part of the 2016 group exhibition for their Art Rental Program.

This is an interesting service, in which the gallery offers a chance to take a ready-to-hang work of art home and enjoy it on your walls for a very reasonable monthly fee. Most works are available for under $20 a month. A great way to bring original artwork into your home while supporting a local artist.

15Apr09_LesEboulments (1)

These knife paintings were done last spring – here’s the original post about the paint out in Charlevoix. You might be interested to get a close up look at these works. They have a delicious surface, if I do say so myself.

The exhibition runs Oct 31 to Nov 29, and the vernissage is this Sunday, Nov 1 at 2 pm. Stewart Hall is at 176 Du Bord-du-Lac, Lakeshore Road Pointe-Claire, Quebec H9S 4J7.

As an added bonus, you can see some large-format photography by my wife Laurel Holmes. Work from our last trip to Newfoundland. This will be our first group show together! Very exciting for us :) Hope to see some of you there!


USK:MTL : Aztec Archaeology

October 26, 2015

15Oct25_Aztec_Ages of Man
[A small ‘mask’ – part of a broken terracotta vessel. Depicts a man as a youth, aged, and in death].

The other day USK:MTL sketchers met up at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum for an exhibit on Aztec culture.

What a fascinating show! It is closed now – we met for our drawing outing on the last day of the exhibit. We were lucky to get this great collection of work here in Montreal. A miniature version of what can be seen in Mexico City of course – but impressive nonetheless.

I’m always inspired by the imagination and unique sense of design in the ancient South American cultures. I’ve always been more attracted to Mayan art vs. the more decorative Aztec – particularly when it comes to visiting archaeological sites. But in this show, I was exposed to a wider range of sculptural forms than I’d previously seen. This exhibit presented things as a continuum of design, rather than distinct periods.

I admit to spending my whole time looking and drawing – enjoying things in a naive way – rather than actually reading any of the informative panels. (Sorry museum people! You work so hard. I’ll have to do some after-the-fact-research to learn more about what I saw).

[Brush Pen Montage of Sculptural Elements]

Though there were many ‘in the round’ figurative forms on display – statues and clay figurines – I’m more intrigued by the solid shapes of the architectural carving. The designs are cut into cubes or wedge shaped masses of rock, making powerfully planar forms. Everything has such a massive strength.

Like most museum shows of antiquities, the items here were dramatically lit with top-down lights casting deep shadows. I love this presentation visually – it makes for great drawings of the sculpture.

It seemed very natural to sketch entirely with a brush pen – just drawing the negative and positive shapes of light. I came in after with some accents of watercolor – as of course we can’t paint inside the exhibit hall.

But I can’t help but think – as much as I like it – isn’t this an odd practice museums do? Why do they make these things look so moody? Some of these figures are rain-deities or female figures related to fertility and domesticity. Yes, some of them have to do with death and sacrifice – but not all of them. When we see things in this theatrical lighting, everything becomes kind of like telling ghost stories around the campfire. Shining a flashlight under your chin.

When we were in Singapore recently, I noticed how the Hindu temples wreathed the statues in fresh flowers. The Buddhist temples were brightly lit with gold decoration and colorful murals on the walls. If you put one of those statues in the dark under a spotlight – suddenly it’s an angry vengeful god. Put it in a sunny courtyard draped with colorful silk and flowers – and you get a different feeling entirely.

I think it creates a false impression of these cultures. Yes, there was human sacrifice involved at times – but I can’t help thinking everyday life wasn’t as grim as people seem to think it was. I’m not saying it’s a party for the guy getting his heart cut out – but I don’t think they did that every Sunday either. I guess I don’t know for sure – readers who are anthropologists – tell us what this is all about! Write us in the comments :)

15oct25_Aztec_Rain God

BUT – all that being said – I did do a couple of fun watercolors playing up the dramatic lighting.

These are pencil drawings done in the exhibit on Fabriano Artistico, then painted back home. The drawings were fairly well developed, indicating all the shadow shapes.

These were sort of just playtime for me. I felt like using a tube of Payne’s Grey that I normally dislike. I had a bad experience with it and haven’t brought it out since. I’ve been meaning to just squeeze out a big blob of the stuff and use it up!

I paired that with a tube of Tiger’s Eye Genuine. A Daniel Smith Primatek color – which is in their ground-rock series. It seemed appropriate to paint carved stones with ground stone.

The background is painted with clear water and the Payne’s Grey is splattered and dropped with a fully loaded brush. The color floats on the water, and will not leave the wet area – so you get that nice sharp edge with the figure. You can get some nice floating effects if you get in while it’s wet. I actually did this twice – once with a paler tint, and the second time with full strength pigment.

I’m not sure what you’d use this effect for, other than an abstract treatment like this. But it’s fun to watch the color bloom!


Sketching Birds from Life : Video Demonstration

October 20, 2015

This summer I had the opportunity to make a series of sketching videos with ArtistsNetwork.TV – the video arm of my book publisher North Light Books. Art Net has a giant library of 4000+ videos showing artists-at-work in all media and styles. You can sign up for a monthly ‘all you can watch’ subscription – or, pick up just my videos individually on DVD or by Digital Download.

Here’s the trailer for the first episode on sketching birds from life.

We made all four videos in the Cincinnati area, each on a different field sketching topic – travel sketching, drawing panoramas, and sketching life on the street.


My editor at ArtNet managed to arrange a visit to Raptor Inc – a bird rescue facility near Cincinnati – where we spent the day drawing three fascinating animals: a Great Horned Owl, a Turkey Vulture, and a Falcon.

I took on each bird with a different approach, so I could demonstrate three ways I like to draw. Basic pen and ink drawing, then color washes over a water soluble drawing, and finally a sketch in watercolor – drawing directly with the brush.

I have had a previous opportunity to sketch birds from life. But it had been a while since then. It’s very different from sketching museum mounts. Birds move in their own strange ways, that are not immediately easy to draw when we’re used to drawing people.

Every time I do a workshop or a demonstration, I like to get out and do some practice work. So here’s a chance to show you the behind-the-scenes stuff I did to get warmed up. These drawings that follow are not done live in the video – they were for my own practice, and to have examples to show my thinking when I arrive on location.


The basic approach to sketching a bird is the same as any other subject. If you start with a very loose approximation of the silhouette (in pencil), it’s much easier to add details over that guideline. If you were to try and go right to the final drawing, starting with the beak and working downward, very often you’re going to develop problems with proportion. Small errors accumulate, and you end up with the head too big, or the feather patterns misplaced. By making big round shapes that describe masses – the head, the body, and the wings – I can adjust these simple pencil lines and know that they are right – (erasing if necessary) – so the permanent details that follow in ink are going to work out.


There is an indoor tropical greenhouse at the Montreal Biodome. They have parrots flying freely among the trees. This seemed like the best chance for me to observe birds in motion. They fly from perch to perch in a bit of a loop around the area. With a little patience, you can follow them around and collect sketches.

I wanted to practice with multi-tasking – working on more than one sketch at a time. When drawing animals (or people), you’ll find they tend to repeat behaviors. Taking a certain pose for a few moments then moving – but, after a while returning to the same, or similar postures.


Because I’d done some warm up drawings, I was able to relax and have fun with these poses. Going straight into ink. You’ll find the pencil stage helpful for a while – and I do it whenever I’m feeling rusty. You’ll know when you don’t need it anymore. If it starts to feel like the pencil is a chore that’s only slowing you down – then it’s time to try going straight to pen!


You might have noticed the small notes around the sketches. That’s me jotting down the colors in the feathers. It was too crowded in the greenhouse for me to paint on the spot – so I was making notes, and going out to the cafe to paint. Then back inside to sketch some more. I do this sort of thing in any place that doesn’t permit paints – like a museum or courtroom – or when I’m pressed for time.


The thing that I find the most fun about animals – they have such variety of shape and color. People, by and large, are all the same :) All our individual features and skin colors are within a fairly narrow range. Not like the amount of variation you’ll see between animals. The key to each bird is learning its silhouette with your practice drawings.



This is all the stuff that was fresh in my mind when we arrived at Raptor Inc. Maybe you’ll enjoy seeing me do it under the eye of the camera. The next best thing to coming to an Urban Sketchers conference!

It’s interesting to see the drawings come together from beginning to end. And a fun challenge for me. I had to do it right the first time and still keep up an interesting conversation. I enjoy doing these ‘performance drawings’, and hope I’ll get the chance to do more. So – thanks in advance to anyone who checks out the videos.

If you end up with any questions – these are not interactive like my Craftsy classes – so feel free to email me with questions.


Announcing: Stephanie Bower’s online course: Perspective for Sketchers

October 12, 2015

15Oct12_StephanieBower_Perspective_For_Sketchers (1)

I’m excited to help spread the word: fellow USK workshop instructor and correspondent Stephanie Bower has just released an online course entitled Perspective for Sketchers in partnership with

I signed up for the course myself on day one (edit: full disclosure – as a Craftsy instructor myself, I get all the courses for free) – and have found it an excellent drawing tutorial. Perfect for anyone who wants to work on location in an urban setting, or accurately capture an inspiring interior.

I’ve watched first hand, as we sketched side by side in Venice, amazed at how Stephanie’s impeccable technical skills and elegant artistic sensibility allow her to capture a location full of sunlight and intricate detail.

Venice.SanMarcoAfternoon.SBower Venice.SanMarcoAerial.SBower

Her seven part program starts from basic principles of sight measuring – how to see angles and correctly measure relative proportions – and takes you all the way through one and two point perspective drawing.

The concepts do get progressively more complex, but each lesson builds cleverly on the one before – the instruction is clearly demonstrated with multiple examples. Students benefit from Stephanie’s years of experience teaching these skills to architects and artists, as well as her own award winning architectural illustration practice.

15Oct12_StephanieBower_Perspective_For_Sketchers (2)

In the later lessons, after all the perspective drawing theory, there’s a section on watercolor – with a focus on seeing the light and dark sides of architectural forms. It’s a great primer on making your paintings look three dimensional.

Finally, you follow Stephanie out into the city, where she does a few more examples on location – reviewing the drawing process from first measuring to finished drawing, to completing the painted piece in watercolor.

15Oct12_StephanieBower_Perspective_For_Sketchers (5)

I hope you’ll check out her excellent online workshop, and stop by her blog and facebook for frequent updates about her own sketching adventures.


Sketching People in Action at the Cortona Flag Tossing Festival : Repost with real scans!

October 8, 2015

During this summer of 2015 we were in Tuscany on a painting expedition that happened to coincide with the Cortona Flag Tossing Festival. This event is a festival of color, a patriotic display, and athletic competition rolled into one. We were there for a week of plein-air painting, but some of us took the opportunity to take in the action with a small sketchbook.

10Oct02_Corton_Flag_Sketch (1)

I had blogged about the event on the day using cellphone photos – but we’ve finally found some spare moments to make real scans, so we’re able to bring it to you again with real color and sharper images.

Before the Flag-Tossing Teams marched in to the sound of trumpets and drummers, there was kind of a pre-game show. A troupe of medieval minstrels played bagpipes, and a team of falconers showed off their birds. The crowd started to gather – a mix of tourists in stands and the local citizenry coming out in costume to support their teams and be part of the show.

10Oct02_Corton_Flag_Sketch (6)

10Oct02_Corton_Flag_Sketch (4)

The flag event was the culmination of a three day historic festival including a crossbow competition and a recreation of a renaissance wedding – which I think was an important alliance between Cortona and a neighboring town. The cast of the recreation are all locals, drawn from the approximately 800 residents. Amusingly, the groom was played by a tall handsome gentleman who owns one of the local art galleries, and the bride by his beautiful daughter.

Earlier in the week we’d met the Cortona crossbow team. They were out early in the morning taking practice shots at a wooden plank leaned against the doors of the towns basilica. That seemed a little odd to me, but they were having a good time and nobody was stopping them. You wouldn’t see that over here in the Americas!

10Oct02_Corton_Flag_Sketch (5)

The flag tossing event itself was full of enthusiasm and intense competitive spirit. Each nearby town sent a delegation, their star performers marching in through a phalanx of crossed trumpets – like gladiators into the arena.

10Oct02_Corton_Flag_Sketch (2)

The event itself was a mix of tossers juggling flags 30 feet in the air while synchronized sprinters wove silk rivers of color around them. Every so often dueling pairs matched their talents in a kind of Kung Fu dance off. A squadron of drummers provided a dramatic martial soundtrack while flagpoles clacked like quarterstaves, whipped over ducked heads and below leaping feet.

10Oct02_Corton_Flag_Sketch (3)

In the final spectacle all the teams ran a tight double spiral, filling the small square with upraised 12 foot flags, then peeling back out a huge iron studded gate.

This night  was a terrific unexpected bonus to cap our week of sketching in Cortona!

Announcing: Travel Sketching Workshop in India! Feb19 – Mar 06, 2017

October 3, 2015

photo: Ryan

I’m excited to announce plans to travel and paint in India in the spring of 2017. We will be going to Delhi, Varanasi and Agra, painting and sketching as we go. I’m super excited about this trip. Even though it’s a long way off, I’m already getting inspired by the possibilities. India always been the first on my list of “where do you want to go to paint”.

There are spaces for 15 artists. You may bring companions at a reduced rate. We will have an experienced travel planner and English speaking guides. All the travel details in-country will be taken care of. It will be a tremendous opportunity to see new sights and be inspired to create art! We’ll all come home with a fabulous painted record of our experience.

To find our more about the trip, and how to register – click over to my upcoming workshops page.

photo: Ashley Coates

Singapore Symposium in Pictures

October 1, 2015

Here’s some great memories from this year’s USK symposium in Singapore.  Laurel’s posted loads more photos on her flickr, if you don’t see yourself here. I’ve heard next year will be hosted by USK Manchester. We’re looking forward to it. Will be my first visit to the UK.

Pregame Sketchcrawl in Kampong Glam

Sketching with Jane Blundel in the Chinese Garden

Sketchers Everywhere you Go!

USK Workshops


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,423 other followers