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Using Color Notation for Speed Sketching, Jasper Parkway

December 16, 2014

So the funeral is over and done with. Plus most of the paperwork required to make an orderly transition. Not much fun to be handling these things right now. Those that know us, can guess that my wife Laurel did it all.

These recent days, I find myself keenly aware of our finite life span. I felt every ticking second being wasted in meetings with funeral directors. It’s been a reminder to me to get my own affairs in order. I’m leaving a directive telling those vultures exactly what they can do with their satin lined boxes.

I’m sure everyone wants to say what they’re thinking to those guys. I think I’ll pay in advance, so I can say it in person. I don’t get how anyone can do that job in good conscience. There needs to be a website for ugly brass urns so nobody has to be the sales person.

But. Enough about that.


We had a day before the flight home. So we took a drive up north, past Lake Louise and towards the Saskatchewan River Crossing. The same route we took this summer in fact – but this time, suitably shrouded in ice and fog.

Seemed like it fit the occasion well enough.


We chose to ignore the fact our rental didn’t come with snow tires. It mostly worked out. Got stuck briefly. Had to get a snow plow driver to loan us a shovel and some gravel. You should probably respect the posted warnings about tires. Don’t do what we did. There’s no phone signal up here.


There were people that we probably should have visited in town, but I felt we should take a day to recharge, see some nature, make some art. I expect nobody will mind all that much. Who wants to sit around talking about funerals.



These are quick sketches, captured from the car while Laurel was walking up and down the roadside taking photos. Perhaps 5-10 minutes at a go. They’re done in a mix of water-soluble and water-proof line – two fountain pens, alternating – planning ahead which lines I wanted to stay, which I wanted to melt. Color is the usual W&N pan watercolors, sketched in rapidly – a page of three sketches painted over in another 10 minutes, probably less.


This last one is Vermilion Lakes near the town of Banff. The lakes are surround by marshy areas full of twiggy willow bushes with clouds of bright red branches. Quite a remarkable sight.

I had a pad of TerraSkin paper lying about, grabbed that when we flew out the door. Had just been given to me to test out recently. A tradesmen we had around the house turns out to be married to the Canadian distributor. So, I can say – it works exactly as advertised. The plastic-y paper is mostly waterproof – not rippling in the slightest when wet. Watercolor pools on the surface, but eventually dries down, and can be painted over without any lifting. As opposed to YUPO – which seems similar at first, but is really quite different in practice. If you’re going out in the field, on a sketching trip where you want to pack light – a pad of TerraSkin will definitely allow you to paint without taping your paper down. On the other hand, you will have to wait for it to dry before you can close the book.

Did you notice the margin notes – the small letters and numbers? Those are color and value notes (on a 5 value scale). I did all the sketches as time allowed – working quickly, being ready to move when Laurel was done shooting. I ended up painting in the car during the long drive, but in the past I’ve come back for color in the evenings. If I don’t do it the same day, I rarely get back to it.

So the notes, GR1 for ‘grey. value 1’ or G4 – for ‘green, value 4’ (pine trees), are to help me remember the colors. They’re a bit vague. You should probably note actual pigments you’d use. But they only needed to assist my memory for a few hours at most. I knew by context if I meant (G)rey or (G)reen. Also, I didn’t stick entirely to the plan.  Many greys became blues or purples. Didn’t want to be depressing.

So in any case – there’s a trick for drawing fast and coloring later. Try it out, see if it helps? It’s an option when you don’t want to stop to take a reference photo. I’m drawing too fast in this case to be switching between pens and camera. Besides, the colors I see are not always visible to a cheap camera. Sometimes they’re not even there at all.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2014 5:30 PM


  2. December 16, 2014 5:46 PM

    So sorry for your loss, and I totally agree with what you say—vultures! On a lighter note, you’re sketches are lovely, and I always enjoy your posts. Take care.

  3. December 16, 2014 6:18 PM

    These are terrific…so fresh looking….and what a great idea about the color and value notations! Thank you!

  4. December 16, 2014 6:36 PM

    I am very sorry for your loss. I am sure getting out into the landscape and immersing yourself in drawing was therapeutic.

  5. anne permalink
    December 16, 2014 7:06 PM

    Thank you so much, yes, beautiful.

  6. Nandan Balwalli permalink
    December 16, 2014 7:34 PM

    Vermilion lake ..
    Rich winter Blue hills, Green and vermillion trees and reflection is really eye catching.
    This one pops up.
    Thank you .

  7. Valerie permalink
    December 16, 2014 8:57 PM

    Loosing a parent knocks the wind from one’s sails. After my father-in-law’s passing this last month and having the same sentiments, we’re hosting a Grateful Dead, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” party in the spring. All us sibling will make and broadcast our end-of-life plans. Liquor us up, gallows humor flowing, and no undertakers allowed. Best of luck on the transition,

  8. Lee Ekland permalink
    December 16, 2014 9:41 PM

    So very sorry for your loss. Beautiful drawings and thanks for the TerraSkin paper link.

  9. December 16, 2014 9:51 PM

    Marc and Laurel, so sorry for the loss of your father. Art therapy takes on a new meaning.
    Your sketches are beautiful and poignant. Joni

    • December 17, 2014 11:40 AM

      I might be interested in researching more about it (art therapy). Perhaps there is something more “serious” to be followed up behind the Urban Sketchers message :)

  10. December 16, 2014 10:28 PM

    /S/ an old guy

  11. Mary Warren permalink
    December 16, 2014 10:44 PM

    My sympathy to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and talents with us.

  12. December 17, 2014 2:20 AM

    Fine works. You seem to be capable on doing drawing to paint quickly under the time constraints. You must know handling of the equipment so well. I can not find the my best tools yet.

  13. Volker Joen Jung permalink
    December 17, 2014 3:09 AM

    I am sorry about your loss, Marc! My thoughts and sympathy to you, your familiy and friends! I know how it feels to loose a parent. You can’t mature enough in your life for not staying a son or a daughter. Take care!

  14. December 17, 2014 3:13 AM

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss and how the vultures added to your stress. Your post reminded me to go hug my Dad and thank him for planning ahead. The doctors have given him less than six months so he’s arranged everything and taken care of us when he should be letting us take care of him. I am glad your art can be a source of peace and blessing for you.
    My prayers for you!

    • December 17, 2014 10:23 AM

      So sorry to hear of your situation. I can’t imagine what it’s like having that short-yet-long a time to dwell on the end. I imagine, if I was him, I’d also be focusing on others. Best wishes to you all.

  15. December 17, 2014 5:54 AM

    May I offer you my sincere condolences?
    Some of those undertakers are cutthroats. Maybe even a lot of them. But some just are genuinely helpful. (Those are usually familybusinesses in small towns where they know the deceased and the family that is mourning.) Even today you hear about a young person, now and then, who sees this job as vocation. I am sorry that you had so many bad experiences.

    • December 17, 2014 10:19 AM

      Thanks for your good words.

      I know partially it’s the family’s own fault for not preparing ahead. But, still. It’s a crazy situation. I the funeral industry only exists because people don’t think about it until they have to. It seems like this should be a non-profit society instead of a business.

      • December 17, 2014 10:51 AM

        It is a crazy situation – and it is taking advantage of people who are suffering from a severe trauma AND who are in a haste, too. Maybe a non-profit-thing would be best – but you know these days they rather privatize prisons …

  16. Mit permalink
    December 17, 2014 7:35 AM

    Marc, I’m very sorry about your loss. Beautiful paintings to tribute to your father.

  17. December 17, 2014 8:40 AM

    Marc I know how hard funerals are–I lost my mom this spring. And I sketched her in the hospital like you did so I also know how therapeutic art can be during times like this. Looks like you made the right decision to get out in the country after the funeral. Your sketches are enough to make me want to take a trip north. But perhaps I’ll wait till Spring. Condolences to you and you family.

  18. Gina B. permalink
    December 17, 2014 9:32 AM

    “Sometimes they’re not even there at all.”

    To me, that says it all.

  19. December 17, 2014 10:12 AM

    Thanks for sharing and reminding us to put our own house in order. Loved your sketches and your helpful advice. My condolences

  20. December 17, 2014 3:54 PM

    So sorry about your dad. Experiences like that make us appreciate those we love and every day we have to enjoy. I can fully understand getting out to sketch and get away for a bit. The real world comes back into our lives too quickly. These are just wonderful!

  21. December 17, 2014 4:13 PM

    I offer you my deepest sympathies. Never easy, but it’s life…
    Your drawings are beautiful.

    Marc Lépine

  22. Nathalie permalink
    December 17, 2014 10:31 PM

    Marc, all my condolences to you and your family. Nature is a blessing when going through a hardship and your sketches are beautiful. À bientôt.

  23. December 18, 2014 2:34 PM

    There’s a lovely clear brightness about these sketches that captures beautifully the sun gleaming on snow, contrasting with dark masses of trees and rock. But there is NOTHING simplistic about these little gems , of course…the greenery wraps itself gently around the foothills and valleys; mists sometimes can be seen hanging over water and around the treetops; while the high peaks beckon shyly but enticingly from the far distance…the work of a master sketcher indeed!

  24. December 19, 2014 7:54 PM

    Interesting, your mix of waterproof and no-waterproof inks… going to have to try it! Happy to see you back on the blog, Marc. Thinking of you and your family.

  25. January 12, 2015 12:52 PM

    Great idea here with making notes in the margins. I suppose it helps when you know you have a limited palette of watercolours to work from too, so you could remember what each brick or squirt from a tube is. These turned out beautiful though.

    Sorry again for your loss.

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