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It’s fall in Montreal, but we’re going to Ithaca

October 16, 2014

14Oct04_Fall_George Etienne Cartier Monument

These are from a few days back, when the leaves were just turning. This was the last awesome day of the year. 25 degrees, sun and a light breeze. I had no choice but to ditch work and go painting. It’s very likely this was the last great painting day of the season.

14Oct4_Fall_Beaver Lake

This weekend we’re headed to Ithaca NY for some more fall colors. There should be sketchers converging from NYC, Toronto, Montreal and Kitchener/Waterloo. If you’re anywhere near the area and you’d like to come painting, here’s a MAP showing where we will be, when.


This is Triphammer Falls. One of the locations I hope to sketch while we’re there.  Watch this space to see what we get!


Copies of The Urban Sketcher going out the door : About half way through my 200 copies

October 15, 2014


Hot off the presses. Tonight I’m signing books for the people that pre-ordered directly. Just mail me if you’d like a signed copy with artist print. Or – for the best price: Order from Amazon.

Everything old is new again : Getting excited about Dipping Nibs

October 7, 2014

Everyone who sketches has a love of pens. We all have a collection of our favorites, the ones that feel right in our hand. I’ve certainly laid down a lot of miles with my personal trifecta: a ballpoint, the Lamy Safari, and the Pentel Pocket Brush (replaced these days with the Kuretake #13 plus Sable tip add-on).


I think I might be ready to retire my manufactured pens, in favor of dipping nibs. These little tin nibs are just so flexible. (Pun intended).


The great thing about nibs – they come in so many sizes and shapes – you can get a whole range of drawing styles for a few bucks. My mainstays (right now) are: a new Japanese crowquill called a “G” nib (used for fine lines).  A weird Brause nib called 361 Steno or ‘The Blue Pumpkin’. It’s a larger nib featuring a gunmetal blue finish. It seems to be a bit more flexy, offering a large range of tapering marks. And some chisel tips from Brause in 1 and 2.5 mm, used for bolder brush-like marks. These chisel nibs are the grandfather of the new ‘Parallel Pen’ you may have seen on the market.

Most of these were in the back of a drawer for 20 years, so I have no idea where they came from. But these days they are all available on Or, if you prefer to shop locally, just look for a stationers with a calligraphy section.


The first thing you’ll notice, drawing with a dipping nib, is the nice range between thick and thin marks you can make. They’re much more responsive than a fountain pen.  For me, the next huge discovery is how easy it is to switch colors on the fly. And to jump around between water proof and water soluble on the same drawing. I have a little fleet of jars with different custom ink mixes. It’s like alchemy, combining colors to get a favorite shade.

Yes, you could just carry a fat handful of pens (like my online crush Andrew Tan), but you’d need quite a few fountain pens to cover all the combos of nib styles, colored inks and solubility. I enjoy the elegance and efficiency in this minimal kit of pen nibs.


Shown here: 1 oz (30ml) Nalgene jars (leakproof). Syringe with large bore needle for measuring out ink mixes. ‘Clip-on’ oil painters medium tin that can go right onto a sketchbook or drawing board. I have four of them, from the Guerilla Paintbox brand – these have a rubber seal to prevent leaks.



Doing these ‘research drawings’ side by side with some traditional Lamy pen work had me saying “Time to toss out all the modern conveniences!”.

The only thing holding me back is the issue of mess. There is a much higher risk of ink spots, drips and stained fingers. And perhaps one day a serious spill. But you know, I think the risk is worth it. There is an energy to a messy drawing that I enjoy. I don’t want it to be perfect. If I wanted that, I’d go back to my previous career in digital art.

Next pen drawing outing (not sure when that will be – let me know if you want it soon!) I’m going to try Kiah Kiean’s ancient Chinese trick – filling a bottle with gauze, which is then saturated with ink. I want to see if this makes it spill proof. I’m not sure if it’s going to interfere with loading the pens with enough ink. More on that soon-ish.


Dawson College Watercolor Class Demo : White on White

October 6, 2014

I’m at Dawson College right now, doing a watercolor demo for the illustration class. This was my dry run. I like to do a version of a demo the night before, to improve my chances in front of an audience.

This guest appearance is something I’ve been doing for the last few years (2013, 2012). I hope it goes well. I had to be here at the ungodly hour of 8:30am. The first thing I’ll tell them is, as a professional artist, you will never have to be up at 8:30 again. Except that’s a total lie, as I was doing it all week in Brazil. But I digress.

I like doing this lecture. It’s just a brief demo, but it’s been helpful for me – doing it once a year. Clarifying how I talk about the three steps in the Light > to > Dark,  Large > to > Small painting process I call ‘Tea, Milk, Honey”. (More info on that here and here).



Here’s an attempt at recording the three steps, Tea, Milk and Honey. Apologies for the image quality in these shots.

Marble Head

Here’s the reference image I grabbed off the googles. The assignment the students are doing is ‘White on White’. A classic art school project designed to test a beginner’s abilities. You have to have a light hand, building up tone carefully, or you quickly go too dark. I found it quite tricky myself – as I’m normally trying to push watercolors darker than is natural. For this high key image I had to modify my Tea Milk Honey process to be more like Tea, Tea, Strong Tea :)

As you can see, I’ve ended up with a lot more color than in the reference. I couldn’t help it! At the end of the day, what’s the point of making a painting, if you can’t splash a little paint around. This kind of sculptural study would probably be better as a pencil drawing assignment. I did studies of white eggs and crumpled sheets of white paper as a student. I seem to remember we did it in charcoal. In any case – it’s a nasty trick to pull on a beginner in watercolor! Watercolor is hard enough without trying to be tonally accurate. But – they are illustration students, not mere fine-art dandys and I know from my own illustration work, that precision is important at times. This is just the sort of training you need to build up the hand skills.


Urban Sketchers Montreal : Sketchcrawl at Atwater Market

October 3, 2014

USK:MTL just recently did our Every Fourth Sunday Sketchcrawl at the Atwater Market.  Was a gorgeous fall day. And I don’t use the word gorgeous very often. I’m starting to think it’s the being outside that I like, even more than the sketching. That and the great people :)

Peter Scully and his Sketching Maps

October 1, 2014


USK correspondent Peter Scully is doing this wonderful thing, where he puts up hand drawn maps to great sketching locations.


I think this is the best idea ever. I absolutely want to print out his sketched maps and follow the routes looking for hidden sketching treasure.



Follow his blog to see what other brilliant ideas spring forth from his ginger head.

Watercolor Sketching in Rio de Janeiro : The Three Big Shapes

September 27, 2014

14Sept17_Rio_01_Corcovado from Sugarloaf_Looking West

Rio de Janeiro.  This town seems impossibly picturesque. The combination of mountainous coast and teeming metropolis.  A landscape like nowhere I’ve been before.

A view like this has to be painted with a keen eye toward simplification. What are the Three Big Shapes? (This is one of my code phrases – mantras I use to keep myself on track). Here, they are Land, Sea and Sky – with the white city being the shape left behind.

14Sept17_Rio_02_Looking East_toward Jurujuba

This one is my all over favorite sketch from the whole trip. This is winter in Brazil! As a Canadian, this is rather incredible. As the day warmed up and the sun moved, we got Land Sea and Sky in a different set of colors.

14Sept17_Rio_03_Sugarloaf next to Omar

The best thing about travelling and painting with the group. Well there are many best things – the great company, the shared motivation to paint, paint, paint – but also, being able to look over at a friend’s paintings and see – wow, that’s what I need to do! Exactly there! This rapid sketch of Sugarloaf mountain was cribbed right out of Omar Jaramillo’s sketchbook.

14Sept17_Rio_11_Linda Heaston Dared

This last one, a fun experiment. We were walking back from a long day sketching, and Linda Permann dared us to sketch one more – on the beach, in a puddle of streetlight, looking at the dark water. Isn’t that awesome? Sketching buddies that won’t quit, even when the sun goes down. I honestly had no idea if this was possible, so I’m quite happy with the way it turned out.

Every one of these sketches from Rio is something I’ve never seen before. That is what I love the most about urban sketching. Experiencing something new wherever you go.


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