Once upon a time 

Watercolour over pencil and ink in Moleskine.  The church behind our B&B in Edinburgh was the inspiration for a little fantasy sketch.  

I could have stayed true to the colours but since I was just playing around with my travel paints, and because there was so much lovely detail, I decided to keeep it bright while working with the evening light.  

I could talk about how far away from realism I got but I’ll just say, I made the tower fairly bright then decided I liked it. It went from there. 

There was some  reflected light on the back of the church but I chose to lighten it more to balance it with the towers, and so there wouldn’t be a dark lump in the lower half. The dark stains and shadows on the two back pillars were closer to the actual values.

I lost the slate blue in the roof so went for a verdigris look because I had already laid down the yellow, and blue and yellow… on the other hand I discovered some great greens.

If I saw this in a children’s book I’d want to read the story.  I hope you find it enchanting.


Packing Paints

We’re off to Glasgow and Edinburgh tomorrow with a detour to Loch Lomand and Isle of Sky.  I’ll have a bit of time on my own so I hope to do some sketches of the scenery in those areas.

Taking all my gear was out of the question. We travel pretty light. With two day packs and small suitcase to share, I needed to think hard about what to take for paints.

The first step was to pair down my palette to two of each primary colour.  A big shout out to everyone who suggested doing this by the way!

test patches for warm and cool

After doing test patches with a few likely candidates, I chose a warm and a cool colour for each primary, then set up a test grid mixing simple colour combinations. I was looking for greens, oranges, browns, and purples that seemed to work together and that could be used for landscape or urban sketch.

mixing secondary colours

It would have been tempting to empty my original Windsor and Newton travel palette and just put new colours in (W&N include a Chinese white and Pthalo blue which I likely won’t use on the trip), but I wanted a fresh start, so, I repurposed a weekly pill keeper that had seven containers to fill.  Some one else’s idea — I’m grateful for the tip.

in mostly the right order

Somehow during the selection process, I picked eight colours including Burnt Sienna and Indigo. It was a tough decision to leave one out.  Both give me strong blacks but were outside the scope of the six primaries. I figured the BS gave more mixing options. In the end, the seven lucky winners were:

  • Burnt Sienna
  • New Gamboge
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Red
  • Permanent Rose
  • French Ultramarine Blue
  • Cerulean Blue

The Moleskine, sharpener, eraser, pill box, scraper (piece of credit card), pencil, small sponge, and colour chart fit neatly into a 6″ x 6″ zip-lock bag along with three travel brushes that have their own water reservoir. The Becel lid edge was awkward to fit so out it went; but the right half of the clear plastic board was easily cut down and will work for mixing paint.  That left just enough room for a six inch ruler and four small sheets of 140lb paper. (Note: I rounded the edge of the plastic mixed chart so it didn’t puncture the bag.

Nice and tight! And, I may still be able to slip in a small tube of Indigo!  Let me know how minimalistic you go when travelling with your art tools.

Nictaux Falls: A bridge too far

Fresh off the easel
 I haven’t painted in a week and as I left for the plein air session this morning, commented that I felt a little rusty. It was reassuring that almost everyone in the group today found this spot a challenge.

with changes

The pillars are all that’s left of a bridge that once crossed Nictaux Falls above a small hydroelectric station. The water spills over a dam and between the pillars, then tumbles through a small gorge before levelling off. 

I remember canoeing this river about ten or fifteen years ago with my husband and some friends. I was hesitant then too as we put in near the top of the gorge. There was bigger water that day but it was fast. And, we still had to run some whitewater. Fortunately my husband is an experienced paddler so I just followed his lead. It was a thrilling start but I was happy to find an eddy. 

I approaced this effort with a lot of hesitation as well. There are three focal points (four if you count the falls). The centre stand of trees could be more muted.  The values seem too light. I toned down some of the greens in the second version but lost some details that worked. 

I’m happiest about the whites though there’s not much more I can say at this point. Perhaps I’ve just coasted into an eddy on this one and will need to look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow. 

Tree Rock, Baxter’s Harbour

The locals call this ‘Tree Rock’. It’s not hard to figure out why. There are many outcroppings and stand-alones like this on the Fundy Shores. ‘Tree Rock’ was the second of two paintings done today. The first was abandoned. I may go back another day and start from scratch. Things got complicated quickly with the changing light and ebbing tide. It was still a good exercise, and was useful for working out the correct hues.   

Happy to say, I hit a sweet spot with the second piece which practically painted itself. Skipping the pencil sketch, I used a gray mix to outline the tree and rock as wet on dry, added the lights, then the shadows, and finished by using wet on wet in the base rock to let the edges self-define.  

I’m always amazed at the tenacity of the fir trees and plants that grow here despite the lack of soil and fresh water. They are literally clinging to the rock for survival. When you have forty foot tides you have to get up pretty high not to get your feet wet. 

That got me thinking about climate change and after a bit of  fiddling with the detail I decided to walk away and go look for my own high ground.  


Red Roof: Light on the Hay

It was nice to get back to the Rec Centre this morning and work with the other artists from the Cooperative. 

I’ve wanted to do a study of this image for a while now.  I took it a few years ago from my car window on the way home from errands.  The buildings in the back belong to a farm on my street. 

I used a little artistic license to add a red roof. It seemed to give some significance to the objects in the painting and complete a path to the grain elevator that looks like a cross on the skyline.

I softened some hard edges in the clouds but didn’t want to lose the freshness.  

A lot of things came together that I’m happy with. The best thing was keeping my whites white. I hope you find it as poignant as I do. 


Corn fields 

Tap Root Farms opened up their fields for a u-pick this weekend.   

The pay-what-you-can model was a big draw and many people arrived to share in the harvest. There were individuals,  families, and charitable organizations. Smallish children who each carried one ear while groups from shelters took back multiples of dozens.  

Many folks arrived early from the city to make a day of it and went off looking for apples to pick afterwards (though I don’t think they’re quite ripe yet). 

Susan and I arrived with our easels and added to the festive atmosphere. I got to talk to a lot of people about watercolour and I even got my picture taken by the local paper!  

Susan painted flax while I did a quick sketch of the corn. The thin line on the horizon is North Mountain. 

I worked quickly as cars jockeyed around me for parking spots. Though normally that would bother me I didn’t really mind them. I guess I was “in the zone.” 

A reference photo will help if I choose to rework a bit of this. I’d like to capture more uniform shadows to better define the rows.  

I’m happy to have kept it light and a little loose, though I feel some work on the straight edges would help a bit as well. I’ll save the edits for winter.

Speaking of winter, I better get started blanching and freezing the four dozen sweet corn I bought… or at least the ones we don’t eat for supper. 😊

A Wet day at the Church in Kentville (painting the side door)

 Today was urban sketch day with the Plein Air Artists–not something I’ve done a lot of.  Only three of us showed up at the assigned location due to rain. After deciding the bees in Centre Square didn’t want us around, we headed to the church property hoping for a better welcome.   This was the home of the new Library and a few businesses, and no longer a church. The owner “was flattered” we wanted to paint it though he was a little taken aback when first asked.  I had to clarify that our request to paint it meant paint on paper or canvas, not the church itself.

While setting up, Elaine kept telling me it was raining but I kept making the case that, no it wasn’t. It was just a little mist… good for atmosphere. As I put the first stroke of colour on the page I had to admit that, yes, the rain was adding too much water to the watercolour.

We managed to get in about 30 minutes of work (including set up) before we threw everything back into our vehicles and ducked (no pun intended) into Tan’s coffee for a confab (and to dry off) when I ended up spilling my coffee all over the table and floor (it was a very wet day) Insert some eye rolls here.

Not enough room for the soy milk in my decaf
There was no sign of the rain letting up, so after a cup of decaf and a good discussion about local and international artists, with a few other juicy topics thrown in, Elaine and I decided to continue working from our cars.   Steven had prior obligations or I’m sure he’d have stayed too.

Elaine working from her car

The car set up was easier than setting up outside! There seemed to be a place for everything.

The steering wheel doubled nicely as an easel… img_1596

while the passenger seat held my brushes and gear. img_1595

Water and snacks tucked nicely in the cup holders.

I was set.

We were content and dry as the sky’s opened up. Rain blurred our subject but it felt to me as if we were just getting a good lesson in wet on wet.

In the end, I punched up the colour a bit to keep the mood cheerful despite the gray day. We were both happy with our end results and after this experience have no excuse to stay home in inclement weather.