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Illustrating the Archéologie du Québec

May 1, 2015


Here’s something a little out of the ordinary for this blog. I don’t usually show my commerical art work – but last year I did a project that was so interesting, I thought I’d share.

These are illustrations for Les Editions de L’Homme, working with the Pointe-à-Callière Museum on the scientific monograph AIR – Archéologie du Québec – Territoire et Peuplement.

It was a great pleasure to be using my drawing skills on a topic like this. I suppose this is similar to the design work I’ve done for video games, but somehow has more meaning to me – knowing these things might really have happened.


This first drawing shows Jack Cartier making contact with First Nation Indians near present day Gaspé Quebec.

There’s a lot of storytelling going on in this scene. From the little details of costumes, to the acting in the poses, and the use of each character’s gaze to navigate the reader through the image.


It’s tremendous fun to bring history to life with your drawings. You get the opportunity to sneak your opinions into the composition.

Here we have Cartier’s sailors in the distance erecting a ‘navigational marker’. So they can come back with trade goods. Yeaaah. That’s it. Trade goods. They actually did this. Can you believe the cheek on those explorers?

He is clearly claiming the territory, and it isn’t fooling the natives one bit. He gives a little speech to the gathered chieftains, which probably didn’t go over that well, as he ended up having to kidnap their leader’s sons and take them back to France.

I’m not sure of the logic there – to somehow use the hostages to prove that he had arrived in China? Cartier did leave us with the town of Lachine. Named as part of his proof of establishing trade routes with the far east. I’m a little fuzzy on the history there.


Going back a bit further in time we have Canada’s early caribou hunters. 17,000 years ago these Paleo-Indians would have been the first humans to enter the Americas. Having crossed the land bridge of Beringia as early as 50,000 years ago, but needing to wait until the Laurentide glaciers melted to get here. I know what they felt like, as we wait for spring in Montreal.



Originally I had sketched this family group of hunters to include a young girl getting hunting lessons from her father, as an older uncle moves out to the attack.

It seemed to me, we don’t really know what life was like – but if people are in a survival situation, then whoever is good at hunting, would do the hunting. Regardless of their gender. And regardless of that theory, if I had kids reading this textbook in school, I might want them to see a girl up front with a spear.

But, eventually it was decided we needed to replace her with a boy.

I wouldn’t have tried such a radical idea in the first place except that my method for this sort of thing is to sketch each character separately, and digitally collage them together into the final drawing. So, even though I expected I’d be switching her out later on, it was worth a try, as it’s easy enough to take her out of the history books. We’ve been doing that for centuries.


For those who are curious, the first round of drawings are done in pencil on tracing paper, in a big stack of sketches all taped together into the composition.  Then I make final ink drawings on drafting vellum, and transfer those to watercolor paper for painting (via a medium format printer). In this case I painted all the figures individually, then assembled them on top of a background – somewhat like an old-school animation cel. This guaranteed I’d have a second shot at the sky, if I needed it.

In the past I might have done this all digitally from start to finish – but I enjoy the effect I get, mixing pencils, dipping pens, and watercolor, with digital collage and color correction. You really can’t get the same natural effect of watercolor with any kind of digital art available today. I don’t imagine it makes any difference, you could work in any media, but the Pointe was generous enough to allow me to handle it any way I chose – so this was the approach that was the most fun for me.

That’s the perfect kind of illustration job! You don’t get too many like this.






Book Excerpt in Watercolor Artist Magazine

April 27, 2015


Just a quick note to say I have an article up in the current issue of Watercolor Artists magazine. It’s a thing North Light Books does with all their authors, where they reprint excerpts from our books. The June issue features part of chapter three of The Urban Sketcher, where I demo the approach I like to call Tea, Milk and Honey. Tinting a pencil drawing in three passes of watercolor, working from Large-to-Small, Light-to-Dark, and Wet-to-Dry.

Here’ s the images from the demo painting. You can get a good idea of the technique just looking at the sequence of images.

Malecon 01_Line

The drawing is the important first step. I give myself everything I need to know for later – sketching in the major blocks of color and the shadow shapes that will go on top.

Malecon 03_Tea

Malecon 04_Milk

Remember: Larger-to-Smaller, Lighter-to-Darker – using progressively ‘denser’ paint (more pigment, less water, each pass).You’re aiming for viscosity similar to the liquids Tea, Milk, and Honey.

Malecon 06_Honey

Of course, I encourage you to buy the book:) It’s part of how I support my activities on the blog here :) The book is a program to teach yourself the drawing skills leading up to this kind of sketch, so there’s lots of good background in there.

Of course I have plenty of free info on this blog if you just read back in time. Including a downloadable ‘cheat sheet’ handout on this technique – available here.

Draw Me a Mountain Opens Sat May 2

April 25, 2015

affichette dessine moi-ang

It’s almost time for the opening of Draw Me A Mountain! We have received a tremendous variety of art work, celebrating our love of Mont Royal. If you live near Montreal, I hope you’ll come out to see the show and participate in the public drawing event.

The Exhibition: Weekends, May 2 to 31, 2015

The exhibition Draw Me a Mountain will be on view as part of Mai 2015 – Mois du mont Royal, on Saturdays and Sundays throughout May, at Les amis de la montagne, in Smith House, in Mount Royal Parc. Public admission is free.

The Public Drawing Day: Sunday, May 24, 2015

You are invited to join Urban Sketchers Montréal for a day of drawing and painting on the Mountain on Sunday, May 24 – the anniversary of the creation of Mount Royal Park.

Head over to USK:MTL for a preview of works from the show.

Richmond Workshop: After Action Report

April 24, 2015


We are just back from the USK workshop in Richmond VA, held in conjunction with the exhibition on Urban Sketching at the Virginia Center for Architecture. Thanks to Jessie Chapman and Marshall Dreiling for organizing the weekend.

This was a fundraising event, with a portion of the proceeds split between VCA and USK.  While I was there, I took an extra day to do a solo sketchcrawl, and I’ve donated a few small watercolors to an auction that will happen around the end of the exhibit – which is up until July 5th. If you’re in the area, the exhibition is well worth a quick visit – and the Branch House (above) is a great sketching subject.



We had a great group from a variety of sketching backgrounds. It was the kind of team I love drawing with. Everyone was fully engaged – putting a lot of effort into the exercises, working to improve their sketching, but enjoying themselves at the same time. It’s always a lot of fun spending a few days drawing with people. I’m already looking forward to the next workshops in Italy and Singapore.

Direct-to-Ink Exercises: Part Three: Post and Rail Panorama

April 24, 2015

This is the one of three exercises from the Richmond workshop : 01 Single Line | 02 Tone Shapes | 03 Post and Rail Panoramas

Ok, I’ll admit this last exercise is less about your pen work – but it’s a good application of the previous two exercises. Plus, this is a very common situation when you’re travelling with a sketchbook. Don’t you always go to those tourist spots with an amazing view? And of course you want to get it all in. (Note: In fact, we did not do this exercise in Richmond. I wanted to do it, but I think I’d put too much on the timeline. Everyone got a worksheet with these notes, so they can try it when they get home. ~m)

Here’s one way to tackle a panorama without getting lost in the details. (And without spending all day at it).

Direct to Ink Exercise: Post and Rail Panorama

12Apr2Post and Rail Panorama (0)

  • Decide how wide you want to go. The wider the field of view, the ‘shorter’ your drawing will be compared to its length.
  • In a small book, this can make your drawing little more than bumps-on-a-horizon-line.
  • Choose how many pages in your drawing. Will you work across a double page spread? Or keep going as you flip the page? There are also accordion fold sketchbooks that offer plenty of length.
  • I prefer loose sheets as I like to start in the center, and work outward in both directions.

12Apr2Post and Rail Panorama (1)

  • To begin, choose a landmark that is the most important thing in your view. Something highly distinctive, a recognizable part of the skyline.
  • This is your first ‘post’.
  • The idea is to build your drawing like a fence. Placing posts, and joining them with rails.

12Apr2Post and Rail Panorama (2)

  • Each ‘rail’ is  a Single Line Sketch (see Exercise One).
  • If you want to make it a little easier, roughly sketch a few key posts in pencil first, and you have a chance to do some sight measuring before the ink.
  • Personally, I try not to be obsessive about accuracy, and often enjoy going straight to ink (or watercolor).
  • Then it’s simply a matter of squinting at the values and scribbling in Tone Shapes (Exercise Two), and adding color if you want.

12Apr2Post and Rail Panorama (3)

12Apr2Post and Rail Panorama (4)

Direct-to-Ink Exercises: Part Two: Tone Shapes

April 21, 2015

This is the one of three exercises from the Richmond workshop : 01 Single Line | 02 Tone Shapes | 03 Post and Rail Panoramas

Direct to Ink Exercise: Tone Shapes

  • Every scene can be thought of as three values: Light, Middle and Dark.
  • In this exercise, we will create the silhouette shapes you see, with masses of accumulated pen marks.
  • Think of it as simply scribbling in the dark shapes. working from left to right in a continuous ‘blob’.
  • This exercise will develop your ability to see the composition as a big shape.
  • You’ll find this skill invaluable as a painter. But even if you stay with drawing, you’ll benefit from a better sense of mass and volume.

15Apr02_ToneShpaes (1)

  • This time, do not outline. Instead, build values shapes from the inside out with passages of pen hatching.
  • Merge the shape of cast shadows into connected mid-tone shapes. High key passages can be left as negative space.
  • Foliage and trees, or dark rooftops can be seen as solid dark shapes.
  • Try to imply internal structure by varying your mark making.

15Apr02_ToneShpaes (2)

  • It’s ok to ‘color outside the lines’. Just approximate what you see – try to interpret reality into simple shapes.
  • Dark masses (windows, contact shadows) can be done with the brush pen.

15Apr02_ToneShpaes (3)

  • These tonal drawings should have more solidity and sense of three dimensions than the previous line drawings. Compare your linear sketches vs. your tonal ones at a distance. Stand back a few feet. See how the big tone shapes hold up?
  • This is why paintings work on the wall, and drawings work in a book. You read a drawing, you view a painting.

15Apr02_ToneShpaes (4)
15Apr02_ToneShpaes (5)
15Apr02_ToneShpaes (6)

  • When you’ve tried a few of these ‘shape only’ exercises – add back in the Single Line Drawing.
  • Use the line for detail, the tone shape for masses.

15Apr02_ToneShpaes (7)
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15Apr02_ToneShpaes (9)

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. This is the one of three exercises: 01 Single Line | 02 Tone Shapes | 03 Post and Rail Panoramas

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.

15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (4)

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

15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (1)

  • 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.

15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (2)
15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (3)

  • 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.

15Apr02_Cina-a-Sept (1)

  • 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.

15Apr02_Cina-a-Sept (2)

  • 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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