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Montreal Insectarium

April 24, 2018

We need only look at nature to be inspired by its infinite variety.

I love to paint creatures, big or small.

You have to know, you can’t really beat the universe at its own game. Just look at this!

Still, it’s fun to try :) And you learn something from every attempt.

These sketches are making me say this – I think you don’t need an art school or a teacher. You just need to get out and experience what life has to show you. Look at how far I’ve come in eight years since sketching the Insectarium.

The doing is more important than the having done, and the journey is the goal itself.

Never Fear the Blank Page : CSPWC/SFA Canada/France Exchange

April 18, 2018

I recently undertook a set of still life paintings of manual typewriters. I’d like to think, this is the one I’d use to write a detective novel.

Some people say they get stuck for ideas. Artist’s block! I’ve never had that problem – for paintings, (or for writing).

I keep lists. And lists of lists. Little books full of thumbnails, folders full of sketches. Subjects that won’t go away keep re-surfacing. I find the same sketches over and over (sometimes years apart). I come up with a concept, and I see I already have it on a list, buried in an old notebook.

I finally got around to these typewriters – just in time for the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolor. We’re doing an exchange with the Société Française de l’Aquarelle (SFA), and, I’m happy to say ‘The Mystery Writer was selected for both shows. Halton Ontario at the Helson Gallery, June 6- July 7, and in Avignon, France at the Cloître St. Louis, Aug. 28 – Sept 17.

This one is clearly for a science-fiction screenplay. It doesn’t get more retro-futuristic!

Here’s a step by step of the painting process.

You’ll see I did a clean line drawing. Then it was simply a matter of taking on each major component one at a time. Not quite following my normal Larger>to>Smaller and Lighter>to>Darker approach. Mor of a nit-picky, one element at a time version. It’s a bit like assembling a model airplane or doing a jigsaw puzzle. A good rainy day activity.

Collectors of these antiques might know this particular machine. If you do, you’ll see I’m taking plenty of liberties. Just like that time I was sketching motorcycles.

I enjoy the game – giving the impression of mechanical gew-gaws without rendering every cog and flywheel.

This one is kind of a comedy of errors. I call it ‘The Cheshire Cat‘.

Once you see the cartoon grin, the painting is doomed. You can’t take it seriously any longer.

I debated showing this one at all, but I suppose it’s interesting that a piece can fail for reasons that have nothing to do with your drawing skills or paint handling.

I’d spotted that brassy grin early in the painting – and should have just junked it then. I’d hoped somehow I could down-play the illusion with the right values. But like the Cheshire Cat, the grin is persistent :)

Announcement: Direct Watercolor $20 Pop up Sale at USK:MTL, April 22d, Redpath Museum

April 15, 2018

Next Sunday, April 22, starting at 11am, Urban Sketchers Montreal is having a sketch-out at the Redpath Museum.

I’m going to be there with signed copies of my latest book, Direct Watercolor.

Even better – I‘ll be offering books for $20! (While supplies last).

As we speak, Amazon Canada has it for $31.34.

Such a deal I have for you!

Hope to see some of you there :)


And of course, if you can’t be here in Montreal, you can order from any Amazon outlet.

Thanks for your support!


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Laguna to LA : iPhone Photo Journaling

April 12, 2018

Following up my post on abstraction, still on the topic of alternatives art-making :) What about photography? It seems like sketchers often ignore the obvious. Everyone else is mad about photography! But we stubbornly turn away from it. Why is that I wonder?

This past December we brought my parents to California. Which was a big deal – given my stepfather is fully in the grip of dementia.

By the way, I have no advice on flying with intellectually compromised people. Other than don’t try it. He was on the edge of crisis the entire time, and, had we lost control we’d probably have grounded the flight. So – it’s driving trips or none at all from now on.

Anyway, I’m trying very hard not to make this blog all about my dad, even though it kind of takes over your life. Last comment on that for a while, I promise!

The short story here is – there were many times on this trip I’d normally have been sketching – but instead, I was taking pictures with my phone.

After all – it’s right in your pocket, you hardly need to stop walking to take a shot.

I’ve never given much thought to photography as an artistic end-product. You know, as opposed to just taking snapshots for color reference.

I feel like, I have to be doing something creative. Life is too short to go a day without.

If there’s simply no possibility of doing a drawing for ‘reasons’. Well, you have to adapt.

I *should* have been doing simple line drawings – something like [ these ones ]. But we were in California! So much nicer than Montreal in winter! I had my mind locked on [ painting like this ], and thus I only mustered the willpower to take the paints out once on the entire trip. Which is fine. But sometimes, with travel sketching – if you get greedy, you lose out.

I don’t think photography will be a regular thing for me. (?)

Probably not – I mean, I’m so invested in drawing as a lifestyle, I don’t see how I could switch.

But it’s interesting how you can take the same creative energy and put it into a new thing.

If you have no choice.

A New Manifesto!

April 1, 2018

So, in recent days I’ve been thinking about abstract art.

Naturally, I got on this line of inquiry through my stepfather’s artwork. The paintings he created after the onset of dementia. < a post about that).

I’ve been spending more time with him lately, not exactly by choice (if I’m to be entirely honest), but because he needs someone around 24/7.

We watch Netflix, or read, or, for a couple of days, I worked on these paintings. Sitting with him on the couch painting on the iPad.

He was more interested in these than in a show. If I watch TV, he can’t follow it, so he just sleeps.

These, he’d watch what I was doing for a while, and sometimes want to tap the screen himself. Even though he isn’t able to paint anymore, he remembers doing it.

I was going to use these for a hilarious April Fool post. I was imagining a fake declaration about abandoning watercolor forever and switching to abstract art.

It would have been super-funny.

But eh. Who’s got the time for jokes.

I’ve always said I don’t understand abstract art.

Trying it for the first time, (even half-seriously) it feels like trying on a doctor’s scrubs or a fireman’s coat.

Getting dressed up for a job – but it’s only putting on a costume.

It’s very possible that I’m just over thinking it :)

It’s true, when I paint on location, I don’t worry about slavishly rendering reality.

Yet, I find it difficult to create entirely from imagination. I normally want to be looking at something, and then maybe I can break the boundaries of reality.

I will say – I think I’m short-cutting the real deal by painting digitally.

You can try something, and if you don’t like it, undo it.

There’s no element of risk.

When you’re contemplating a big move on a traditional painting you feel real fear!

Holding a dripping brush over the canvas, you’re afraid you’re going to ruin the painting, and really wish you hadn’t done that, and it’s going to take you hours to get it back, if ever.

With digital, you don’t have any fear, or any boredom waiting for paint to dry, or any exhaustion from the physical effort.

So, with this silly April Fool prank that never became a prank, all I can say is – you can’t learn anything about painting sitting on your couch.

Classical Remix

March 26, 2018

Here’s a few more pencil drawings from the MBAM. These are from the classical wing, just to the left of the old main entrance, which you can’t get to anymore from the street.

These begin as a doodle, drawn in the museum in pencil (that’s all they officially allow). Then later I use all those squiggly lines to remind myself of where the light and shadow were.

I actually painted these on a different day, while sitting in the botanical garden :) I could take some cellshots to help later – and sometimes I do – but mostly it’s not necessary.

You can just go with what you see in the drawing. Sometimes it’s more interesting than getting it right.

Mesoamerican Clay Figurines at the MBAM

March 20, 2018

There’s a little side-room in the permanent collection at MBAM where they keep some cultural artifacts from Mesoamerica. They don’t get as much traffic as the big shows. It’s easy to pass right by them on the way to something more ‘exciting’.

My favorite display case has three small shelves of tiny clay figurines. They’re small – smaller than the palm of your hand.

I didn’t read too much about them – we were just sketching and chatting. But it’s most likely they’re fertility wishes. Something someone would make and say a prayer for conception or a safe childbirth.

Any anthropologists out there can chime in on what these are all about? (Jennifer? are you reading?)

I’ve really been enjoying tiny little sketches lately. I have no time right now – life is a bit crazy – and it’s one way to keep going with not-really-daily-drawing.

There’s no watercolor allowed in our art gallery exhibits, so they’re simple pencil drawings, which I tinted later on.

I would call this tinting approach – “Puddle and Poke”.

Make a wet shape with a base tone that fills the entire figure (minus the highlights) and touch-in contrasting (cool) color washes. Then – as things begin to dry down – add some small darker accents with pure pigment. Sometimes these are tiny dots or dashes of pigment – like the eyes and mouth on the mask-like heads below.

I love the free interpretation in these figurines. It would be fun to make some of these.

Maybe I’ll get out some polymer clay someday and play around with some arcane little characters!