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My Team Sketching Card Game from #USKManchester2016

August 22, 2016

Reportage Drawing Cards_01

If you head over to my free downloads page, I’ve just posted up the resource material for my team sketching card game, which was designed for my workshop at the recent international symposium, #USKManchester2016.

I know a traditional watercolor demo from me would have been a crowd-pleaser. But this year I wanted to present something that could *only* be accomplished at an event full of hard-core street sketchers :)

This project/game/drawing activity is designed for everyone to draw in their own style, with their own favorite materials. The underlying goal is about helping a group to work together. The deck supports a team of 10-15 artists (or more) making a complete catalog of a drawing location in a single afternoon.

It’s a scale model of how any sketching group can work as a team to document their city, or cover an event.

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I think everyone involved in our Manchester sessions had a great time. And I hope some of you might be interested in downloading the workshop notes and giving this a try with your local sketching group.

Besides the core USK audience, I hope there are art teachers who might find this useful. I think it would be perfect for a high-school or college level class.

Feel free to pass round the files. And if anyone does try it out – send me some pics from the event! ~m

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Liz Steel’s Sketching Now: Buildings

August 19, 2016

Sketching Now

Just wanted to pass on the word that Liz Steel’s third online course on sketchbook drawing is opening for registration.

I always look forward to sketching with Liz at the international Urban Sketchers symposia. She’s a voracious sketcher, taking on any and all subjects. I’m sure you’ll feel her excitemtn and enthusiam for sketching in her videos.

Check out her SketchingNow site for more info on all three courses:

Foundations | Edges | Buildings

Just a great day painting :)

August 13, 2016

16Jun26_WaterLillies_MTL Botanical

Sometimes there’s not much to say about a painting except, wow, I had a great time with this one.

Two months ago USK:MTL was out at the botanical garden for our monthly meetup. I ended up wandering off on my own and finding this pond with some slightly out of season water lilies.

It was incredibly nice painting weather. When it’s hot and dry with a nice breeze? Perfect for my kind of wet-on-dry watercolor. The paint get’s whiny if it’s humid. On a hot dry day you can easily work in layers. Less waiting around for paper to dry.

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I feel like a dedicated painter would haul their gear out into the hinterlands and find some amazing vista. But sometimes you can just have a great day painting in a park at home. I was just having fun watching the fish, dragon flies and these cute turtles paddling around the pond.


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Fingers crossed to get a few more of these days as we head into second summer!


Chateau Ramezay Garden

August 1, 2016



We’re still in the UK, probably hanging out with some other die-hard sketchers after the main event is over.

To tide you over until I can bring back trip-stories, here’s a sketch from the Chateau Ramezay in Montreal. We were downtown for something else that didn’t pan out – so we took the opportunity to hang out in the shade and make a painting! I’ve painted this (almost) exact same view before – but you can see, I’m just a smidgen faster these days.

Sketching Interiors or: Breaking the Tyranny of Perspective

July 26, 2016


Ed. Note: We should be arriving in Manchester for the USK Symposium today! I wrote this before we left home. I was just finishing these drawings, which I did as part of my research for this year’s workshop. Wish me luck – once again I’m trying out a new class on the eager sketchers here in Manchester! ~m 

As a person who travels and sketches, something I’m frequently bumping up against is my lack of interest in perspective drawing.

This above is one of the few ‘proper’ ones I can find in my archives. (Christchurch Cathedral in downtown Montreal).

I know perspective is one of the big innovations from Western Art, and is the key to convincing realism.

But – as we’ve heard a few weeks ago from Georges Braque, perhaps correctness isn’t the only thing that matters?

Typically, inside a venerable old church, or a fusty museum, (the kinds of places I find myself drawing interiors), there are amazing things all around you.

I just want to get it all in! And as fast as possible! There’s an entire castle to draw today! (Or whatever it might be).

Proper perspectives can get in the way of a suitable speed of execution.

I feel that even an experienced artist needs to take their time planning one of these. Setting up the vanishing points and guidelines. Measuring things to see where they fall in the structure. Learning the underlying grid the architects have built.

I would say, most artists that do these well spend at least a half hour setting up the drawing. And of course, it shows! They get great results. But it’s hard for me to delay gratification like that.

Plus, when I have a wealth of detail around me, it’s always frustrating to leave anything out. When something is drawn correctly – most of the time that means you can’t really see it. Unless, like many architectural draftsmen, you’re making *huge* drawings.

In a sketchbook-sized perspective, once you’re past the second pillar in the row – I bet you can’t really see the carving any more.

Not to mention, if your viewpoint is fixed, that fancy carved candlestick that you’re dying to draw? It might be just outside a doorway, only a few degrees beyond reach.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow see around corners?

So here’s a few things I find myself doing, right or wrong, to make sketches that are high on ‘sense of place’, if a bit low on realism.

Portugal_Ink Pano01_Old Town Faro_Step02_Ground Line_Medium Nib

I have this principle I call ‘Roof Line/ Ground Line’ – which I talk about in the Painless Perspective chapter of my online drawing class. (Or you can read about it in this post).

Essentially, the idea is to sketch the ‘mountain range’ of a building or block, and then the grounding line, where everything touches the earth. See those two lines above – that’s what I mean.

The Roof Line and the Ground Line. I sketch those first, and then everything falls in place.

Portugal_Ink Pano01_Old Town Faro_Step05_Broad Nib

So how does that help us when we’re drawing an architectural interior?

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We can apply this basic principles, but instead of a roof/ground, we have a ceiling/floor line. Any time you’re in a room or hallway, you can count on this odd “X” shape to be your guide.

You might start a drawing by actually sketching the  X shape lightly in pencil, or just by visualizing it, or by doing a Dot Plot.

Then just proceed to hang your drawing of the room from that ceiling/floor framework.

Here’s the important thing:

Even if the proportions of your X are wrong – it doesn’t matter!

Just finish the drawing based on what you’ve sketched – don’t worry too much about  reality. Once you’re long gone from the place – what is more important? The accuracy of the sketch, or the fact that you finished it!

I’d say, having something to remember the place wins out.

And besides – over time – as you get some practice – your estimates will get more accurate.


This study-slash-library is in the Chateau Dufresne in Montreal. I most wanted to capture the carved wooden built-in bookshelves framing the room – but also to include the best pieces of ornamental clutter on the shelves and desk, and to note the ornate fireplace with it’s iron dragons.

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Here’s another example – this one gets tricky.

This is a long corridor inside the Victorian style Redpath Museum on McGill Campus.

Now, what I will often do, in a situation like this, is cheat a bit.

16June17_Redpath_Interior (1)_X Drawing

This long hallway was of course much narrower, and much longer than the study from the Dufresne above.

I wanted to get the various skeletons hanging on the walls, and some of the display cases – and I needed the items on the wall to be easily seen, and simple for me to sketch.

So I’ve distorted reality – spreading out the hallway so that I’m looking at both walls more flat-on than in reality.

After quickly sketching in an X for of the ceiling / floor, I stand with my back to the right hand wall to draw the opposite (left) side with the turtle skeletons – then physically move my view point – putting my back to the left hand wall to draw the opposing (right) side with the office door.

I started the drawing from the very back of the hallway, because of where the skeletons are hung, but moved to around the middle point so that I could peek in at the academic clutter inside office door.

There’s no way to actually see into that door from the back of the hallway – so I had to edge forward to get it in.

With this trickery, we able to see the most interesting parts of the two walls, somehow magically in the same drawing.

This isn’t correct by any means – but it’s lets me see what I want to sketch.

Take that, Rules of Perspective!



Ok, third example on an interior – this one even more un-likely.

What I wanted to draw most in this little stairwell in the Chateau Dufresne,  was the statue of the frolicking couple in the niche between  landings.

(Sorry, it didn’t turn out very clear in the sketch – it’s a dude throwing his girlfriend up in the air while stepping on an old man. Typical French Rococo stuff. Why wouldn’t you want a thing like that in your hallway!?)

But at the same time I was interested in the yoke-arched doorways and ankh shaped windows that are quite distinctive of this house.

That Ankh pattern is repeated in almost every major archway in the house. It makes me thing the was some secret-society mumbo-jumbo going on in this place. Some gatherings of old men in silk robes going about expanding their minds and contemplating the mysteries of the universe.

16June172_Chateau_Dufresne_02_X_Wing Drawing

So, to get this ultra wide view in, once again, I’ve moved from one side of the hall to the other in the middle of the drawing.  Sort of ‘drawing cross-eyed’.

In one half of the drawing I can see into the next room, and in the other half I can’t!

Perspective is shattered!

But still – it’s a fun little drawing with a unique point of view.


Ok – Finally, let’s forego perspective drawing entirely.

In this sketch, I started at the fireplace on the far side of the room – and just kept on drawing.

Moving around the room in a kind of continuous panoramic drawing.

Imagine you are standing in the center of the room, and just pivoting. Drawing each important landmark on the walls as you come to it. I actually had to do more moving than simply rotating, as the center of the room was blocked with various furniture and display cabinets.

I sketched each of the exits to the room, and kind of back-filled the furnishings and connected the paneled walls in between as if they joined seamlessly.

You might want to try this with an accordion book, so you won’t run out of space. Or, you can do as I did and just draw over the edge of the page onto a new sheet, adding sheets as required. The bigger the room, (or the more stuff crammed into it) the more length you might want for the drawing.

As I drew left to right across each of the three entrances, I was shifting my viewpoint so I could get a good sight-line into the rooms beyond.

Similar to what I had done with the office in the museum. I wanted to give the best peek at the silly furnishings in each adjacent room.

I’ve decided to call these kind of sketches Panopticons. For the ancient Greeks, a Panopticon was a particular type of building, usually a prison or a library, in which every room could be seen from a central point.

I guess their enemies and their books were the two things they most wanted to keep an eye on.

Makes sense to me!

I had a great deal of fun with this one. Just drawing, and making it up as I went along.

I plan to see what else I can do with these kind of interior panoramic sketches – and I’d be interested to hear if anyone else is playing around with similar ideas.

Why not drop me a note or a comment if you have some drawing experiments to share?

Pirates at the Old Port

July 19, 2016

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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’.

16May14_Montreal_Old Port_Pirates (1)

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!

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Up and Down the Mountain

July 15, 2016


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!