Tag Archives: urban sketching

THE 30 SKETCH CHALLENGE: Book 1 Hahnemuhle Watercolour Book

Since deciding that I needed to grow out of the Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook, I have been testing 3 sketchbooks: the Hahnemuhle Watercolour Book, the Global Arts Watercolour Handbook, and the traditional Moleskine.

The Hahnemuhle is not easily available here in Canada, both the Global Arts and Moleskine are. Since the Hahnemuhle has been looking a little precious to me because it is of such obvious quality, I’ve been somewhat intimidated about using it(translate- didn’t want to muck it up with my beginner sketches). So I decided to dive into it first.

Here is why I have given myself this challenge: I will only learn the qualities and challenges of a sketchbook if I use it consistently over time. It is also the only way I will be able to get a feel for the book and know it is ‘mine’.

Here is what I need in a sketchbook:

1. It needs to be light weight but not small. 5×8 or 6×9 is the perfect size for me so far.

2. The ability to work on both sides of the page without shadowing.

3. It must be able to take more than a light wash and not dry up   instantly.

4. Priced reasonably enough so that I can use it daily and not break the bank. (Alpha scores big here)

5. Lots of pages. (Love my Alpha for this)

6. Available in Canada. ( Yay Stillman and Birn!)

7. Have some texture.

I know … basically what I’m asking for is watercolour paper bound in a sketchbook at sketchbook prices!

Now that I’ve listed those things they go on the back burner until I’ve finished this challenge. The upside is that I will be sketching regularly, planning to do 30 sketches within 40 days. I need discipline in this area since it so easy for me to be distracted by what presents itself as more important. And, I’m lazy. The other upside is that given the attention, my sketching and use of watercolour will improve.

Feel free to join me in this. I would be happy to hear from you if you do!

September and October 2017 sketches

In mid to late September my part of Ontario experienced an intense heatwave. During this time I had been keeping an eye on a large field of pumpkins, waiting for just the right time to watercolour sketch them. I was hoping for a bright sky filled with lush clouds.  Just that sort of day arrived, yet soon after arriving at the field I packed up and retreated home. It was 104F with a hot and high wind blowing.

I managed a few photos of the field and made the following paintings at home using various sketchbooks. I’m testing a few, looking for ‘my sketchbook’.

Pumkin Field along Hwy 27Stillman and Birn Alpha 6×9

Pumpkin field on Hwy 27 Global watercolour handboodGlobal Arts Watercolour Handbook


                                                      THE BLUE HOUSE

The Blue HOuse in Thornton againAlpha 5×9

I returned to the pancake house for that table by the window to have another go at the house. Funny how my eye fools me. I thought I had managed correct perspective this time, but clearly not.



A couple of gourds Moleskine watercolour bookA couple of gourds Moleskine watercolour book 1Moleskin Watercolour 5×8

I did a pencil sketch only before painting these, passing on the ink. The scan appears lighter that in the sketchbook, nevertheless they are still  too pale and lack richness.

Two Gourdes in Alpha S&BStillman and Birn Alpha 5×9

These were straight to paint if I remember correctly.



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

March and April Sketches

Cazie's Cat GrassIgnore the oranges. The sketch of the cat grass was the first one I did where I felt like I could actually learn to do this watercolour sketching thing. It has nothing to do with the quality of the sketch, clearly. It was just a shift in my sense of things.

Pink Long Blouse 2Laundry day provides sketching subjects, it seems. I was trying to learn about shading folds in clothes and some movement in the hanging fabric. I continue to do pencil first then pen.

Kempenfelt Bay, Barrie Ont 1Here, I continue to launch roofs into orbit. Sigh. This was my first ‘Urban Sketch’, made from the second floor of a Barrie cafe.

Winter Boots and HatBecause the Stillman and Birn Alpha felt so comfortable and unfussy to work in I used it a bit as a journal, keeping notes of what I could have done better and what I was learning. For example, I painted my black boots grey.

Spring BootsThese scans are making the sketches appear lighter in colour than they truly are, however I didn’t render these red boots as deeply red as they are.

Georgian DownsThis is Georgian Downs, sketched in my car, whilst stuffed in a down jacket, juggling palette, brush, water, sketchbook, jammed behind the steering wheel in the driver’s seat as a left handed person. But did you notice …. I didn’t launch the roof into space! ( see previous posts re my dance with perspective.).

Boots from St Marie de la MerAgain, the boots are much darker in reality, but not by much. It seems I’ve been a bit colour shy. I suspect the reason for this is that I haven’t learned yet about layering and I know that I can’t layer in this sketchbook.

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