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Direct-to-Ink Exercises: Part One: Single Line Sketching

April 17, 2015

I’m going to do a short series of posts about the exercises from the Richmond workshop.

These projects are designed to be quick jolts of inspiration. Something you can do in under an hour.

Each one is a visual/perceptual game. Just have fun playing with them, and see what you can do. Don’t worry too much about the results – these are aimed at fun and relaxation.

Although, I hope at the same time, they will get into your subconscious and help you be more spontaneous, more ready to just throw down and make a sketch in a few moments.

You will not need any special supplies. Just a drawing pen and a brush pen. Any brand will do (but I do have supply notes here).

These types of sketches all work very well with watercolor (because, that’s my ultimate goal – drawing methods that translate well into painting). But for the first few times, don’t worry about tinting your sketches. Just concentrate on feeling what it’s like to draw quickly with confidence.

Direct to Ink Exercise: Single Line Sketching

  • In this exercise we’ll be sketching with a continuous line.
  • We’ll do five sketches in 20 minutes. Work small. 4×6″ or 5×7″ would be great.
  • When you start drawing, don’t allow yourself to pick up the pen point. Make the sketch in a single, uninterrupted line.
  • Keep the pen moving, letting the line flow between objects, cross forms, and break out of shapes.

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  • Finish the line drawing with the brush pen, placing darks in trees, windows, and cast shadows.

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  • It’s best to work on location (you can see so much more looking around), but if you want to draw at home, Google Street View or Image Search are good resources.
  • This probably won’t be easy at first – but that’s ok! You are learning with every sketch. The more you do, the faster you learn.
  • See how far you can get with one uninterrupted line.
  • Feel free to leave things out – edit reality.
  • You can pause your pen and study what’s going on before continuing.

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  • If you accidentally lift – just keep going where you left off. Don’t be too strict.
  • Work left to right, leave negative shapes, break forms, join shapes, connect objects to the ground.
  • Use overlapping objects to move the line back and forth in space.
  • Have FUN with it!

Direct to Ink Exercise: Cinq-à-Sept Sketches (5-7 lines)

  • After a few rounds of Single Line Sketches, your drawing hand should feel more relaxed.
  • Now try a slightly larger drawing with more detail. 6×9″ or 8×10″.
  • Aim to get three drawings in 45 minutes.
  • Don’t lose the feeling of flowing lines and rapid observation.
  • This time: allow yourself 5 to 7 continuous lines. One line for each major object or passage in your drawing.

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  • The limit is meant to keep the drawing fresh. Don’t worry too much about the exact count.
  • Establish a central shape in a few lines, then do the background with another line or two. Save a couple of lines for people, cars, and small objects in the foreground.
  • Remember to weld shapes when possible, to reduce the number of objects. Feel free to leave out detail in areas away from the focus.
  • Reduce distant figures and street clutter to brush marks and floating squiggles.

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  • Save some time to go back and add darks with the brush pen.
  • These drawings will look great with color but don’t stop sketching yet. Paint them after you get three in 45 minutes.  Often I’ll paint in a café when I’m taking a break to eat.
  • If you are spending a day on location, see if you can get 8-10 sketches in an afternoon of sight-seeing.

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Arrived in Richmond!

April 16, 2015


Sketching event begins tomorrow. More on this later :)

24 Color “Full Spectrum” Paint Box

April 10, 2015

5x8 Paintbox.jpg

Just a quick shot of my ‘large’ paint box. Not really that large – only 5×8″ when open. But twice as many colors as my previous 3×5″ bijoux box. And much more mixing area with that flip out panel below.

I like to pack small, but upsizing was worth it for the mixing area alone. The smaller bijoux carries 14 colors, so that’s not the problem – it’s having only the small lid in which to mix that is limiting.

Some of the colors in this setup are on probation. I’m not totally sure I need that many blues. But this is  the setup I had in Florida – so it’s biased towards painting water right now.

This will be my ‘general purpose’ kit I use for trips to Virginia and Ohio – I might make further changes before Italy.

Let me know if you’d make any replacements to this mix. I’m always curious what other people are using!


Quebec Spring : Subzero Plein Air

April 9, 2015

Every year, around this time, a group of die-hard plein air painters gather in the town of Les Eboulements, about an hour east of Quebec city.

The paint-out has been going on for upwards of 40 years, bringing serious outdoor painters from all around Quebec and Ontario. This year I was fortunate to be invited, and jumped at the opportunity.

Artists in attendance included Catherine Young Bates, Helmut Langeder, J Allison Robichaud, and Stuart Main – among many others.

It was an honor to paint with these experienced artists, each of them demonstrating the hard earned skills of a lifetime of painting on location. A highlight of the event was the nightly rounds going from room to room seeing what each painter brought home from the day.

These artists bring with them a direct continuity with the region’s history – painters like Bruno Côté and René Richard who made Charlevoix famous.  I heard stories of ‘the good old days’ when there would be over 60 painters coming and going in this small Quebec town, from as early as January, working in weather as cold as -30.

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This week, there are still 10-15 foot snowdrifts in some areas, but the high was around 0c/32f. You can withstand that long enough to paint if you have some serious boots and thermal underclothes.  I had read Stapleton Kearns’ article on proper painting boots a while back. It’s good advice.

I knew however, that it would be impossible to paint with my usual watercolors. They simply won’t dry on the page at this temperature, making it hard to get sharp edges or deeper shadows. People have suggested the trick of painting with alcohol instead of water – but I can’t seem to make it work. So I reached back to something I tried out first in 2009. Painting on location with oils and a palette knife.

I think the watercolor concepts I rely on – working larger-to-smaller, seeing the large shapes of the design, and thinking about injecting color variation, translated well into oil paint.

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It was quite fun to layer on the rich pigment:) It’s the exact opposite of transparent watercolor. I’m not in the least bit sure why this is a ‘natural’ way for me to paint in oil, but it certainly feels right. Possibly it’s the pace at which you can work that feels similar. (About 90 minutes a painting). I’m starting with a 1″ knife for the under painting, stepping down to a ‘butter knife size’ and finishing with a needle pointed detail knife. Much like the #14>#6>#1 rounds that I might use normally.

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As much as I enjoy this technique, this was just a brief infidelity. I will be returning to watercolor for the summer. We have trips planned to Italy, Singapore and Cambodia and Prince Edward Island, and I think it’s simply too difficult to bring wet oil paintings back from these far flung locales. So the knives will go back into the drawer until next winter. Unless I get a chance to do some more with it in the studio. The oil is seductive. But I must be disciplined! There is only so much time to paint, and I have to stay in training for sketching workshops this summer :)

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Still. That is so juicy.  Tasty looking no? We’ll see what happens with this over the coming year!

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Sketching Jam

April 5, 2015


My friend Elissa suggested the Sunday afternoon Irish music jam session at McKibbins down on Bishop. Always a great way to un-wind the pen line – listening to some live music and sketching the players.

I’m posting these up for students in my Sketching People in Motion class.  These are slightly different from the course work. In the videos I demonstrate using pencil first, before refining in ink. That really is a valuable step for beginners. But, if you’re getting comfortable with your people drawing, I suggest going straight in with the pen, as I’ve done here.

Note how I’m keeping the color washes to the shadow shapes – leaving the lit areas white.  Crucial to save that untouched paper-white. Keeps the sketch fresh. Also note how I’ve accented shapes of base color with darker touches of richer color (in the faces and hair), in the exact same way as the brush pen accents the pen line.  It’s the same thinking – Large-to-Small / Light-to-Dark.

As well – online students will note –  pretty much no hatching at all in these. I just point that out to say – what you see in the video is a process that works – but you don’t have to use every element in every drawing. Take what you like, and use more or less of it.

Thanks! And see you guys in the comments on (Register at my everyday blog readers discount).

New page: Available Works

April 3, 2015

I just wanted to point you over to a page I’ve made, gathering all the available works for sale in one place. I’ll be adding and subtracting to this page over time, but you can always go here and see what original paintings are currently for sale. Please feel free to pass the link around :) Thanks. ~m

Sunset Pier (2)
Sailboats from Sunset Pier, Key West
5.5×7″ 140lb cotton rag paper: $125.00

Sunset Pier (3)

   KeyWestMini (2)KeyWestMini (3)
KeyWestMini (1)KeyWestMini (4)

Miniature Sketches from Sunset Pier, Key West
4×4″ 140lb cotton rag paper: $125.00

Potrait of the Pointe

April 2, 2015


This is something out of the ordinary for me. I don’t normally paint contemporary architecture. I can’t say I’m comfortable with the smooth surfaces and straight lines. But I’ve recently been invited to do a portrait of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum for the cover of the 2015/16 Educational calendar. I very much enjoyed the challenge of this modernist structure. Perhaps this small bit of experience will help out with painting in Singapore this summer.


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