Here’s a fun thing: Some entrepreneurs have set up a couple of faux pirate ships at the quay – big wooden platforms with numerous tall masts. The ‘boats’ are lashed together with a series of swings, zip lines and rope ladders making a kind of giant jungle gym. Kids and even adults are having a great time climbing all over these things. It’s quite high over the port, so the view is probably pretty good. Everyone is clipped in with a climbing harness, so it’s *fairly* safe.
If you’re making a day of this, maybe go first to the pirates exhibit at the Pointe-à-Callière, and then take the kids to the ‘real thing’.
If you’re down on a sunny day there’s always a crowd of people to sketch – even if it’s not Jazz Fest or Grand Prix. Just stroll up and down the pier taking in the street life. Our touristy horse drawn carriages are still around, but they might be banned by this time next year on animal welfare concerns. We’ve just added food trucks (last year? or the year before?) and there are always street musicians. It’s a perfect day for a sketch-walk!
Here’s a few more summer greens that have been on the easel recently.
Just a little sketchcrawl, up to the top of the mountain. That (above) is the back of the Mount Royal Chateau – not its most fancy view – but this week I picked the big trees over the glass city or the stone steps.
I met up with some painting pals and we hung out in the cemetery (as one does), and then wandered over to Monkland village.
By the end of the day the painting was getting more abstract, and more fun.
I’ve learned the trick about plein air painting in Montreal. You go when the weatherman says go :)
This year it’s working!
One thing about living in a four season climate – you get to rotate through your colors! Montreal has two distinct red/brown seasons. Fall of course can be beautiful, and very early spring has a red-brown look that can be calm and restful in its own way. But when the leaves first burst out on the scene, they are a special kind of green/gold.
I’ve had to go and get another color: DS Green Gold (PY150/PY3/PG36). In the past I’ve based my green foliage mixes on Sap Green, but I find lately it’s too dull for these fresh spring greens.
I’m still following my own advice of course and injecting color variation (<click over for a more complete demo) into wet areas as I go, so there are no boring passages. I think of it as having a ‘home color’ which I’m adjusting with every stroke to be slightly towards its neighbors or its complements.
Of course there is the grey winter season as well. This is a bit of a romantic color scheme based on blue grey, using DS Perylene Green (PBk31). A favorite color I really couldn’t live without when it comes to pine trees.
To be honest, most of the time the winters here are really an overcast brown, rather than the prettified snowy blue.
In this case you just mix some dirt using a bit of everything. Quin Gold Deep and Ultramarine Blue, or some Bloodstone Genuine and Raw Umber Violet, 0r whatever random pigment is accumulated in the corner of your palette. Perhaps in winter it would be good to add Sepia to my color choices?
With leafless trees, you can see how point work is the main issue. Taking your time and drawing twigs. This is when the sharp sable quills earn their high salary.
Though I’ve done a few clusters with an improvised ‘rake’ – that is, a sable brush splayed out like your fingers spread wide. (You just mash the brush into your palette and twist it to splay it out). Just use the very tips of the resulting fan to get parallel strokes.
Another important trick, is not to worry about connecting every twig to the trunk. Some of them can just be a cloud of floating marks.
When you look at a distant leafless tree, you get an impression of branches. You can’t really see specific twigs – (once you move down from actual branches of course). So I think about the muscularity and the rhythm of the main branches – and then I surround them with a kind of loose net of mark making.
That’s what I wanted to talk about today – the idea of painting foliage with broken brush strokes.
I am *usually* trying to make solid shapes. A human figure, or a shape like a sky, or the roof of a building – this might be done in a single solid wash. One wet puddle that goes on in a continuous motion with no gaps. Or at least, with carefully placed gaps. Well, the trunks of the trees are examples of this solidity.
But for leafy foliage on the other hand – I might use a net of small strokes. Little dabs, like what the impressionists called broken brush strokes. I have seen Stapleton Kearns use the term ‘colored rice‘. Many small dashes and dots and placed brush points that accumulate into a cloud.
So I might start with a drawing of the tree trunks, then make a pale, cloudy green background that will show through where want it later.
Then I begin building the tree canopy with these dabs of color. Placing them next to each other, like small tiles in a mosaic. I let a few of them touch so the colors intermingle. You want to work with fairly rich paint so you are putting enough pigment down in these touches.
After enough of these dabs, your tree trunks have been clothed with foliage!
I think this is a kind of painting best suited to a beautiful day in the park. This is not for rushing around getting multiple sketches in a day. I suppose you could sketch the trunks, and finish the foliage at home (if you run out of time). But I was painting these from a very comfortable Adirondack chair under a shade tree in Montreal’s botanical garden. So I was perfectly willing to spend a lazy afternoon enjoying myself!
Hopefully this summer you’ll get a few beautiful days like this for your own sketching!
I’ve recently finished reading The Painted Girls by Canadian author Cathy Marie Buchanan. (2012, available in paperback, hardcover or ebook).
I realize I’m a little late to the game, as it’s been available for a good while now. But nonetheless, some of you out there might not have gotten around to it either.
The novel is historical fiction set in Paris around 1880, told from the alternating points of view of two sisters.
Marie, age 15 who is a student striving for a position as a dancer at the opera, and Antoinette, 19, who is already washed out as a ballerina, working as a walk-on extra and desperately avoiding her alcoholic mother’s career as a laundress.
As an aside, Ms. Buchanan has been chastised on various book review sites for the names Marie and Antoinette being too cute for credibility – however this bit is a true fact, not the author’s choice, so any tut-tuts should be aimed at the girls’ mother.
( Sketches after Degas )
Being an artist myself, I was initially brought to the book by Marie’s story.
As a “petit rat” – a student of ballet from ages 10 to 15, the young Marie is pushing herself to the limits of her growing body, attempting to rise to the physical demands of the upcoming examinations – hoping for promotion to the stage, and the steady wage it will earn.
Every calorie she can beg, borrow or have filched by Antoinette, is crucial to her success. Naturally the stipend allowed dancers is not sufficient for a girl without family, so she works early mornings kneading dough in a bakery to save the strength in her legs for the days training.
Her focused drive to master the demands of the ballet earns her the eye of artist Edgar Degas, who was well known to haunt the opera school, sketching in classes and rehearsals, obsessively drawing the girls in their awkward postures of exhaustion.
He is involved in a search for a new modern mode of drawing that is aggressively stripped of romance. Nothing idealized, only reality laid bare.I found Marie’s story the best part of the book’s historic recreation. We experience the obstacle course laid out before these aspiring dancing girls. The unflinching standards of performance, dress, and decorum that serve as a sieve, filtering out all but the most ruthlessly determined and privileged.
Marie is only able to advance by selfish dedication to art, and the opportunity to earn a small wage modelling nude for the 50 year old Degas.
The girl’s never very deep innocence is peeled off bit by bit as Degas’ drawings of her developing body become sought after by ardent collectors.
Meanwhile her success as a dancer becomes a two-edged sword. Elevation inside the opera putting greater and greater demand on her to pay for tutors, purchase silk slippers and tarlatan skirts.Ms. Buchanan brings us one of the fascinating stories in 19th century art. The real life story of the models behind the paintings.
In some ways the turning point of the story is Degas’ wax model La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans. (The Little Dancer).
This wax model over an armature of wire, leather and old paint brushes, dressed in actual clothing and with a wig of real hair, becomes the ultimate expression of Degas’ obsession with drawing Marie.
However, public reception to the sculpture was mixed.
The 3/4 life size figure is lauded as the first truly modern sculpture. A triumph of realism in art. Degas turning his back on the pearly-white floating nymphs found cluttering every over-stuffed parlor and gilded brothel in Paris.
Yet, The Little Dancer was simultaneously rejected as simply too ugly. A female ape, a barbarian Aztec, a sinewy-muscled circus acrobat.
Given the frank realism of the work, reaction to the sculpture is also the honest truth that Paris’ elite would never truly accept an underfed guttersnipe like Marie as a prima ballerina.( Monsieur Degas )
Of course, I’ve neglected to mention a whole other story in the book – that of the older sister Antoinette. Her tale is torn from the headlines of the time.
We see her diamond-hard stubbornness, pressed into her by the crushing poverty inherited from a dead father and neglectful mother, inevitably turn into an ill-fated love affair and an inexorable slide into the underbelly of Parisian society.
Hers is the life of a failed dancer, an actress of little note, and a girl looking for more options than her social class allows.
You may order the novel from my Amazon affiliate links below – and if you do, you’ll be giving me a small tip, which goes towards maintaining this blog and my drawing practice.
Thanks in advance
Ed Note: I’m just back from the UQAM life drawing intensive. And I promised to show you the results – but! I’m quite busy getting ready for painting in Ireland and the UK. (Leaving in a few days!). So I’m going to leave that hanging, and start you off on some automated posts that will go up over the weeks we’re away.
Let’s launch with a post I wrote a while back, and never knew quite when to release on the world. This seems like a good time – as I head off to the USK symposium. I’ll be talking to a lot of people about the different value of drawing vs. painting in the coming days!
Hey there dear reader :)
I’ve been trying to articulate an idea for a while now.
It goes something like this:
Drawings should be drawings, paintings should be paintings.
By that I mean: pen & ink line work, if you’re going to bother to do it, should stand on its own strengths, rather than being seen as a preparation for color.
Don’t get me wrong – I do a lot of tinted sketches (the ‘perfect marriage’ of ink and watercolor). So who am I to talk?
But here’s the train of thought:
When you do a line drawing with the plan of tinting it later, it’s always tempting to make it the most efficient, the most economical drawing you can possibly make.
But if you take that as true, then it leads you to not even drawing in ink at all.
Why not just draw in pencil? It’s faster, and the lighter lines are even less intrusive to the painting.
Any contrast you might sacrifice by skipping the ink – you can get back by including deep pigments like Bloodstone, Perlyne Green or Indigo. Any of the various alternatives to black I have on my watercolor palette. I’m recently trying Neutral Tint for yet another black alternative.
And if you take that even further, you realize you can just paint without any under drawing at all.
After all – the edges of every shape are lines in their own right. There’s no need to outline every form – just use the reserved white, or the light-against-dark contrasting edge, and follow up with some calligraphic work with a rigger.
It starts to sound like, if you’re good enough with the brush, you’ve surpassed the usefulness of drawing.
Because, at the end of the day – I just LIKE drawing!
I love the instantaneous stylization of reality. I love the aggressive mark-making. Every fidget and twitch of the hand is boldly visible in a drawing. And I love the way a drawing has to be read. Has to be interpreted by the reader.
I’ve said before, a drawing is poetry, where painting is prose.
I’m not going to make any rash decisions – like swearing off tinting drawings.
Well maybe I will for a while.
Everything goes in phases. But I still need to keep it in reserve for challenging situations.
Draw now / paint later is still the best way to get results when you’re pressed for time and the final presentation matters.
I suppose my main take away is that there’s still a long ways to go towards the mastery of ink – towards even greater range of expression – more interesting marks.
Even as my painting evolves in parallel.
Right now we are packing our bags for a month long painting trip. I hope to have more definitive things to say on this topic when I get back. So stay tuned, and I’ll be haunting your comments from our hotel wifi.
This week I’m taking a class! The twice annual figure drawing intensive course at UQAM. We’ll be doing five full days of figure painting, with a wide variety of models and poses. I expect it to be an excellent bit of training, right before we jump off for our workshop in Ireland, and the USK symposium in Manchester the week after.
In any case – right as I was thinking of heading back into figure painting – I happened to get a question about drawing shadow shapes from a student in my Craftsy.com class.
I collected this set of older images to help answer her question, and I thought I’d repost these examples here.
In this collection of images, you can see I’ve been drawing shadow shapes the whole time I’ve been learning to paint. Back in 2010 I might have sketched in black brush pen, or tinted with color over-top of ballpoint pen drawings and later fountain pens. In more recent years I’m starting to draw with calligraphy nibs, and more seamlessly combine washes – or – just sketch the whole thing with a long hair quill brush. Eventually, my goal is ‘real painting’. Just seeing the shapes of shadows as a single unit of color, and not needing a drawing underneath.
No matter how you go about it, this kind of modeling of the form, by drawing the high-contrast edge of the light – it seems to be fundamental to the way I (we?) see.
First with a pencil – outlining all the edges between values. And in the second version – simply massing in the big shapes, directly with the brush. Using the edge of the wet/dry wash on paper to simultaneously draw the shadow and the light.
In this direct-to-ink drawing from 2015, you can see a more playful sketch of shadow shapes. Once again, I’m basically drawing the terminator edges of light. I don’t really draw eyes or nose or lips, I just draw light patterns.
This sketch was part of an ink solubility test. I ended up using this Noodler’s Red/Black as my favorite ink for about a year. Only quitting when I found its ultra-slow drying time too great a liability in humid climates.I think the philosophy of outlining shadow edges is also visible in these sketches from the 2015 Rodin exhibition at the Beaux Arts. I always feel like a good drawing contains a map for the color. These kind of ‘note taking sketches’ are drawn on the spot, and often painted after the rush is over. I need to be fairly clear to myself where the volumes of shadow are, if I plan to pick it up the next day.
As I dive into this week long figure drawing event – let’s see if I can get back to that feeling of direct painting! I’ll report back in with the results next week :)
L’Occitane en Provence wants you to have a painting!
I’ll be in Quebec City this Sat June 25, from 1-4pm at the brand new L’Occitane shop, opening up at 85 Rue du Petit Champlain.
I’ve been commissioned to be on hand, painting live. We are offering my miniature watercolors as a gift to customers. Not sure about specifics of the offer, I know there are $30, $50 and $75 thresholds that give at least 15% off your purchases. At this very moment I am making a large collection of tiny paintings to complement those made on site. All are images of the south of France and the botanical ingredients in their products.