Tag Archives: Stillman and Birns Alpha

August and September 2017 Sketches

For various reasons that I won’t go into here, there was a huge pause in my sketching from April to August and I really missed it. I started back at with with a ‘sketch anything’ attitude and moved out from there. What follows is some of that.

Make up BrushesI was encouraged to begin sketching again with the purchase of Perylene Green from Daniel Smith and with a ‘sketch anything’ attitude I took some make up accessories out to the sun porch and immersed myself.

House down the hill in summerLooking out my south window and down the hill a bit, this gray house and the steep hill behind it fill the view. There is so much information in the view – the house, its dimensions and perspective; the treeline in the distance and the enormous trees beside it that shield the road and the foliage clustered around the sides and back of the house. I wanted to keep all the greenery loose and let the house be more accurate. I’ll come back to this view again since it is quite a teacher for me, especially around dropping perfectionism.

Blue house in ThorntonOne of the challenges of sketching for me is doing it in public, but I’m determined to get comfortable with it since there is so much to be gained. This house is kitty-corner to a pancake house in town. I decided to sketch it over a light lunch. This is also in my Alpha. I have to say, I had a great time. The waitresses were interested in what I was doing so we had some fun conversations. This was my first time in this restaurant and patrons who live in town and are regulars came over to chat. A woman who does wood burning introduced herself and showed me photos of her art – impressive!

Blue house in Thornton 1This is entirely about the boat. I had been practicing boat shapes since I very much want to sketch the marina in Barrie. This was also another plein air adventure and some of the learning was in the practicalities of a manageable sketching kit and something to sit on. Of course the refinements will be ongoing and seasonal. Now remember … this was just about the boat, the rest is just, well , the rest.

The following two sketches are of the view from my back porch. The first I did in a Moleskine 5×8 and the second is in the Stillman and Birn Alpha.

View from the back porch Moleskine watercolour book Trees behind the yard

And to round out this post, here is Castor peering out the porch screen, waiting for the occasional chipmunk or red squirrel to enter the scene I’ve been sketching.

Castor Saturday in the porch

FEBRUARY 2017 – MARCH 2017 : A Handful of Sketches

Japanese Tea Set

In February in Ontario there is no plein air so what is around and at hand became my subject matter. I sketched in pencil first and as you can see, it’s rather loose and wonky. This was also my first learning of mixing gray for shadows. The paint is Daniel Smith.

Japanese Tea Set 1Here I did a pencil sketch first then penned over it with a Pigma Micron pen, and again the paint is Daniel Smith.

Mug PracticeOvals, the mouths of cups, mugs, plates, saucers … you get  the idea, are an ongoing challenge for me, so I draw a lot of mugs and cups. Just as a note, on almost all of the sketches done in the Alpha sketchbook you can see shadowing of the sketch on the following page coming through. I hope it’s not too distracting.

Remembering BodhiMy girl kitty Bodhi passed away quite suddenly at the end of February and I very much wanted to do a sketch to honour her memory. I tried to sketch her from a picture but at this stage of my learning was unable to anywhere near doing her justice so I gathered up her toys and sketched them instead. This was done with M. Graham paint but this scan is nowhere near as vibrant as the paint on the page.

Ice FishermanOne of my photography projects was of the ice fishermen on Lake Simcoe. This is from a black and white photo. This sketch was when I woke up to perspective …. see how I’ve sent the roof of the fish hut off into orbit? It’s become a theme, sending rooftops into orbit. The light this day was heavy and overcast, the snow on the lake slushy with big puddles of water everywhere.

Here’s a snapshot my assistant took of me working. I’m including it to show you how dull the light was.

Me with 4x5 ice huts Lake Simcoe


As I return to this blog after a year away, I offer you this quote to express the tone of this new beginning:

For last year’s words
belong to last year’s language
And next year’s works
await another voice.

T.S. Eliot
Four Quarters


Me with 4x5 Wasaga 2

Last year was a time of solitude and assessing as old things fell away and it was time to reflect on where to from here. Very early in the year I had what I am calling my little epiphany when I realized how much of my soul life was lost to me when I stopped photographing. It had been my passion and my life’s work and I had to give it up when I could no longer carry my large format cameras and I had developed severe sensitivities to the darkroom chemicals.

Of course I tried to use a digital camera but my heart wasn’t it.

I didn’t realize that I was walking around in a funereal funk until one day I saw someone sitting in a cafe hunkered down over a book of blank pages, dabbing paint onto the sketch they had penciled out. A little bell went off in me and I walked over and interrupted, asking what they were doing …. rude , I know.

In the next half hour a whole new world was opened to me and I could feel myself coming back to life. Jamie called it Urban Sketching. People, many with no previous art experience ( like me), sit with sketchbooks, some doing line and wash with water colour paint, some sketch in ink or pencil alone, and others use pencil crayon, whatever media suits.

As soon as I arrived home I went straight to the photography storage space upstairs and dug through boxes yet unpacked searching for art supplies that I have carried with me for years. Yes years. I bought my first sketch book and water colour pencils in northern Scotland on one of the Outer Hebrides islands – Skye perhaps. I was on a 5 week photography trip and had hit a wall of exhaustion. Having decided to rest for a day or two I wandered into an art store. All of that is a very long story. I just wanted to let you know that this ‘art’ thing has been percolating in the shadows for some time.

Back to the storage closet …. I found old tubes of water colour paint, brushes, good paper, palettes – unused.

This post is getting long, so I will leave the rest to unfold itself as this blog continues.

Here’s the nutshell version…. I’m learning to sketch, use water colour paints, have fallen in love with the landscape again,  and my joy in seeing has been reconstituted.

I want to bring you along on this journey of learning and discovery through this blog. Now, be forewarned – sometimes I manage a half decent sketch but mostly I truly suck. But I’m learning a great deal and my hope is that you will find some value in that. My hope is also that you will be encouraged to discover or rediscover your own passion for the creative life which is one of the great privileges of being human.

For your amusement, here is a little  water colour sketch of my 4×5 camera I made before packing her away.

Stillman and Birns Alpha, Daniel Smith watercolour.
Stillman and Birns Alpha, Daniel Smith watercolour.

And here is a photo of ‘Rosie’ and I busily at work.

Me with 4x5 Wasaga 1