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Cathy Johnson’s latest book: Artist’s Sketchbook

September 1, 2016


Another shout out: I contributed recently to Cathy Johnson’s latest book: Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot. This is an ‘inspiration’ book, packed with tips on every page from sketchers all over the world. My contribution is pretty small I have to admit, but it’s nice to be asked to show something :) I do have two small appearances showing some quick sketches from Rio done with no preparatory under drawing.

You can find our more about Cathy’s book on her blog, or order with my affiliate links: AMAZON US | AMAZON CA

Liz Steel’s new book: 5-Minute Sketching Available for Pre-Order

September 1, 2016

5-min-sketching-architecture-cover-sqJust a quick note:  I’ve got a small demo in Liz Steel’s new book 5-Minute Sketching:  Architecture which is now available for pre-order!

Liz has more details, including a look inside, and links to all the other contributors up on her blog.

In my small contribution I take on the challenge posed by the title, and try to do a drawing with a very tight time limit. Exactly what you might do if you say to a friend: “just give me 5 minutes and I’m going to sketch this place” :)

The book isn’t shipping just yet, but you can place a pre-order through my affiliate links at: AMAZON US | AMAZON CA.

If you’re a supporter of Mz. Steel’s enthusiastic blogging, it really does help. Pre-orders make us look good with the publisher. The numbers help us get the next book deal! Thanks on her behalf ~m

Manchester Urban Sketchers Symposium : Painting the town (brick) red!

August 31, 2016

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 06_Manchester School of Art_Pics (1)

The Urban Sketchers symposium is always a highlight of my year. This past July we gathered in Manchester, UK for three days of watching demos, taking classes and sketching in the streets.  You can just see Pete Scully in the back there, and I’m sitting next to Paul Heaston – and chatting with Stephanie Bower as we all show up for the day of teaching.

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 06_Manchester School of Art

It was a shock to the system having just spent a week in Ireland (Tease: those paintings coming up soon!). The sudden change from rolling green hills to this magnificent brick architecture was challenging for sure.

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 03_Learnign Scale16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 11_Secret Cafe from cafe across the street in the rain

It took three or four of these quick sketches for me to feel like I was capturing the rich rust-red of the brick, and the big scale of the structures.

Recently I’ve been starting a painting directly on white paper – fusing stroke-into-stoke to create solid shapes. What I call “growing a wash“.  But the deep tone of these brick buildings requires combining a strong silhouette underneath, and darker shadow-tones over top. The color would simply be too pale without two or three layers.

I pulled out my old strategy, Tea, Milk, Honey for these. I always say, the first color pass should be the Lightest Local Color (which will then show through gaps you leave in the shadow tone to follow). It’s just that sometimes the lightest color is fairly dark – especially with wet brick on an overcast day.

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 01_First Decent Brick Building 16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 04_Palace Hotel

Can you see how these sketches are each a single wet shape, left to dry, then detailed over top with the darks of windows, doors and moldings?

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 04_Palace Hotel (2)

Sometimes if I run out of time or get rained out (Hello Manchester!) I can finish those second layers later. As long as I get the color ‘concept’ on the spot, I can probably put the shadows on from memory. Especially if there’s a pencil drawing underneath. Though in these I was only drawing the simplest silhouette before diving in.

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 05_Palace Hotel, Roof

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 05_Palace Hotel, Roof_Pics

Because some of us are teaching all day, a few of the instructors like to do an early morning sketch.

Here’s some of us looking homeless and blocking the entrance to the Tescos. This was not a comfortable spot. Heavy foot traffic of people desperate for morning coffee, and full-on road work to our immediate right. But that does mean you can use the construction barriers as a temporary easel. I’ll often look for something like this. A trash bin also works well – and keeps you out of the flow of pedestrian traffic at the same time.

These morning sessions might be the only time some of us manage to draw together at the event. I always learn a lot from this time. It’s great to be able to watch the others work. But as well, we have to work fast! And the pressure is on. To do a painting between breakfast and the first workshop – and to not embarrass yourself next to your fellow teachers :) What a great training ground. Especially doing this three or four days in a row. Something I *should* do at home, but rarely find the time. By the very last day you’re fully tuned up.

That’s both the fun, and the curse of travel sketching. The whole trip comes down to those last few sketches, when everything falls into place.

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 12_Last Day_Knott Mill Station Deansgate

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 12_Last Day_Knott Mill Station Deansgate_Pic

I freely admit my sketch (above) of the Knott Mill Station isn’t particularly accurate. But it’s one of my favorite. I would stand by the changes I made. Mostly removing clutter so you can see the arc of the train bridge and making a more interesting roof-line.

One thing I love about this painting is the fact my mechanical pencil jammed in the middle of the drawing. We only had so many minutes before Anne-Laure had to catch the train, so I had to just keep going! In the end, I like how there’s more accuracy on the station entrance, and a more expressive painting on the shops to the right. This follows along with my theory of ‘paint the best part first’. As long as you get the main subject down, it doesn’t matter if you lose control at the edges.

This one is also proof that the secret of expressive brushwork is: Tight Time Limits.

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 05_Palace Hotel, Roof_Pics (2) 16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 07_Mancheester Cathedral_Pic (3)

Here’s a better look at Anne-Laure’s painting kit, and my new bag, which I copied from what she showed me in Portugal.

All the cool kids are painting standing up these days.

I have adopted the idea of her art-bag.  This an incredibly useful tip. She has a jar of water open in a small pocket on the front of the bag. Also, her brushes stick out of the open main body, ready to hand. Carrying an open water container in your bag like this keeps both hands free for board and brushes.

Here’s a video she made showing her bag of tricks.

My painting water is actually inside the bag sitting on the bottom. I just reach into the bag to wet my brush. It doesn’t spill as there are three 125ml bottles wedged in there. There are some pen pockets inside this particular bag that are perfect brush holders. Extra (rarely used) brushes go in that case caribiner’d on the strap. The small palette you see clipped on the boards, goes in the very bottom of this square bag and stays reasonably flat while walking around. It’s the perfect fit.

This bag is a Think Tank Speed Changer* that I’ve hung on a shoulder strap. (*affiliate link, mainly for product info, thank you for your support).

It’s just a cube with two pockets and some webbing on the front, where you see a bit of paper towel and my water misting spritzer.

I wouldn’t have bought this bag *just* for this – even though it’s the exact perfect wonderfullest size for this painting kit. It’s a bit pricey. But my wife already had it as part of a fancy-schmancy lens holding harness.

I ‘borrowed’ it permanently as she calls that rig her ‘please rob me suit‘ and doesn’t take it travelling.

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 07_Mancheester Cathedral

The last day of painting, after the workshop was formally over, I was lucky to end up at the Manchester cathedral at the same time as the famous sketcher from Penang, Kiah Kiean. It was a real treat make a drawing side by side with one of my urban sketching heroes. Definitely check out his work!

16Aug20_Manchester_USK symposium 07_Mancheester Cathedral_Cafe out Back

So! That’s all from Manchester. Thanks so much to everyone who worked so hard on the USK symposium, and everyone who came out to support the event! Without you guys, I’d never have been introduced to the marvelous brickwork of Manchester.



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.

Reportage Drawing Cards_02

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

Reportage Drawing Cards_03

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.

16Jun26_WaterLillies_MTL Botanical_Detail

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.


16Jun26_WaterLillies_Spot (2)

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.