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Shari Blaukopf’s Sketching Landscapes in Pen, Ink and Watercolor

June 17, 2015

I just wanted to get the word out to any of my readers that my friend and painting buddy Shari Blaukopf has just launched a class. She’s given me her instructors discount code to pass on to you. Please feel free to share this link with anyone you know!

Use the link (below) and you will get a minimum of 30% off, possibly more. It varies depending on what is offering in your region. Enjoy the class! ~Marc

Click HERE to Register for: Shari Blaukopf’s Sketching Landscapes in Pen, Ink and Watercolor

Quick sketch from Cortona

June 12, 2015

MHolmes_Tuscany (3)

Updated with a proper scan now that we’re home. This is a typical street view in the old village of Cortona. You can’t help but make sun-drenched sketches in this town – it is after all the inspiration for Under The Tuscan Sun. (The novel, and the film).

Workshop in Cortona starts tomorrow!

June 7, 2015

We’ve been here a couple days, just looking around and enjoying the town. Lovely medieval achitecture, and spectacular views. Tomorrow we meet the drawing group.

This is going to be a great workshop – it’s a small group, which means lots of 1:1 feedback. The town is small enough we can get around on foot, and there are terrific drawing subjects everywhere you look.

I might not be posting for the next few days. We’ll see how busy it is.
Thanks ~ m



Video Review: James Gurney’s Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art

June 5, 2015


The other day, James and Jeannette Gurney were in town, for the Benjamin Constant show at the Beaux Arts and he happened to mention his new making-of video: Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art.

I’ve just received a free download from him – and am glad to give it a very positive review!

In this 40 min video, James takes you inside his studio – giving you an over-the-shoulder look at his painting process. He shows tools and materials, his painting methods – from the ideation and initial drawings, through the under painting in casein and eventually the finished effect in oils.

Here’s a great bit (below) where he selectively textures the surface with acrylic modelling paste, so the passages of color to follow can be worked in glazes and scumbles over top. A very efficient method of painting.


Much of the film is on ‘how to be an illustrator’ – more so than how to paint. He gives valuable tips on research and scientific extrapolation from living animals, shows his rough designs and color mockups, as well as the client’s feedback and his final choices. We get to see a plein air study done for authenticity – and even go with him to the client as he delivers the finished paintings. Something that is becoming a rare event in this world of digital art and email.

This kind of first hand career advice is great stuff for someone trying to figure out the profession of illustration.


But you’ll also find plenty of close up demonstrations of his painting method.

In the video he creates two paintings – showing bits of the work from start to finish. Jumping through time to give us the best parts – rather than long stretches of potentially repetitive ‘watch me paint’.

This is not a class for the raw beginner – he is making a real illustration, not taking time to simplify steps for students. So, besides some talk about materials and color choices, you are going right into the real deal.

While he will not explain every brush stroke for you – there is a lot to be learned from careful observation of his painting. It’s well worth watching multiple times. You’re seeing him work up close and personal. If you wanted to paint exactly like James Gurney – the method is here for you to learn from.

I’m always impressed with how efficient his paintings are. You can really see the weight of his experience. No stroke is wasted – every part builds on what went before to a rapid conclusion.


It’s impressive how well he directs himself – painting and shooting the film at the same time, he knows when to set up the cameras and get a great shot. My favorite part being a daring correction where he blithely paints out a finished dinosaur face to make a change he felt improved the storytelling.

His reasons are sound  – but it’s a bold change many artists would have shrugged and hand-waved over. A perfect example of what makes a great illustrator. Commitment to getting the story right – even if that means giving up a great bit of painting.


You can purchase the video – entirely shot and produced by James and his wife Jeanette – from his online distributors at Gumroad (credit card) or Selfy (paypal). It is well worth the moderate $15.00 fee. If you are a fan of his work, and would like to see more of the great content on his excellent blog – order your copy today!


Breaking news: Landmark victory for victims of the tobacco industry in Quebec!

June 2, 2015

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I made these sketches last winter, while observing the Blais-Létourneau tobacco trials here in Montreal. You may check back here and read about my experience as a first time court room reporter, and my initial impressions on the sides of the argument.

Yesterday afternoon Justice Brian Riordan (sketched above) published his 236 page ruling – coming down clearly against the tobacco companies. He says:

“Knowingly exposing people to the type of dangers that the Companies knew cigarettes represented without any precaution signals being sent is beyond irresponsible at any time of the Class Period. It is also intentionally negligent.”

So there it is. A straightforward conclusion that the tobacco companies knew they were poisoning people, that they intentionally hid the truth, and profited from those lies of omission.

Tobacco Trial_Guy Pratte_Collage
Guy Pratte speaking for Imperial Tobacco Ltd

What this actually means for the industry, and those who are seriously ill remains to be seen – but here’s the meat of the ruling:

Justice Riordan awarded $6.86 billion in moral damages to the almost 100,000 Quebec smokers whose serious illness makes them eligible to be members of this class. Once interest and other charges are added, the total could be $15.5 billion.

Those who have lung or throat cancer will receive $100,000 if they started smoking before 1976 and $80,000 if they started smoking after 1976. Those with emphysema will receive $30,000 if they started smoking before 1976 and $24,000 if after. Once interest is considered, these amounts could be doubled or more.

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Suzanne Côté, recently appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, (standing) 

I believe this means that it is the justice’s opinion, that the warning labels on the packages are insufficient defense – probably they came too late after knowing about the credible threat. (I have not read the report in detail, but this would be my guess as to why complying with labeling was rejected as a defense).

I must also assume that the ‘everyone knows smoking kills’ argument did not absolve the industry. Considering their knowledge that people could not overcome their addictions, despite the warnings and jokes about ‘cancer sticks’ and ‘coffin nails’, it’s not sufficient to say ‘don’t do this thing that I know you can’t resist doing and that I am so seductively advertising to you’.

And then there is the ‘well, motorcycles kill, and we still sell motorcycles’ defense – which apparently also did not hold water. I would imagine the logic is that motorcycles have the potential to be used safely, given proper precautions – whereas there is no safe use for cigarettes.

So damn! We kind of all knew this, but it’s rather incredible to see it happen in court.

I’m excited to see what comes next. Does this mean then that the sale of cigarettes will be banned in Quebec?  What will happen at the appeal? I will be watching with curiosity. I’m not sure I will have the opportunity to make any more drawings on the subject – but it was tremendous to be able to be there sketching on that historic occasion.

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Simon Potter representing Rothmans Benson and Hedges

1 Week : 100 People

June 2, 2015

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Way back when I was planning my class Sketching People in Motion, I gave myself a challenge to draw 100 people in a week. I carried a small book ( a 3×5″ Moleskine Cahier Journal) and two pens in my pocket everywhere I went for a week. (Platinum Carbon Fountain Pen, Super Fine and a Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen).

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If you commit yourself to sketching every time you see someone holding still for a few minutes – it’s actually fairly easy to get 100 drawings in 5 days.

I was getting the most out of riding the subway, but just going shopping or to a restaurant will give you good opportunities. Bookstores turn out to be great. People in there are usually moving slowly and distracted with their browsing. Perfect subjects!

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I used inexpensive little books, so I didn’t care if I messed up a page, or if the subject walked away in the middle of a drawing. I would say I had about a failure 1 out of 5 times – mostly from the person abruptly leaving – sometimes from overworking the drawing.

I think of these self assigned challenges as play time. Drawing as a sport. It’s like trying to beat your personal best time doing a marathon. Can I do this? How fast can I do it? If 100 was possible – could I get 500 in a week? That’s about 16 people an hour over a 6 hour day. It might be possible! I’d have to spend all day downtown for 5 full days – sticking to places with lots of people around. Maybe I could arrange a week in New York and do it in Times Square. I’d need to have enough paper and pens with me to never run out. I’d have to plan breaks in good sketching cafes. See? I’m already getting excited.

That’s a ridiculous example – but even if you failed, it would be a glorious failure.

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Why not try your own drawing challenge? Set a time/quantity goal – and use that to break through any obstacles of perfectionism or ‘sketchers block’. Make it something short – one week is a lot – and have fun even if you don’t reach the goal – it’s the doing that matters!

And – if you’ve been debating taking my Sketching People in Motion online course <<< that link there will give you approximately 50% off the registration!

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Lachine Painters Demo

May 31, 2015

15May27_Lachine Demo

The other day I was invited out to the Lachine Painters to do a watercolor demo. Thanks very much to Martha Markowsky for orchestrating this opportunity! I used a reference photo from one of my favorite sketching locations in Sao Paulo.  Here’s the original sketchbook version – done in 15 or 20 minutes on a whirlwind sketching day with Liz Steel before the USK workshop last year.


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The Lachine group had a great setup where the audience could see what I was doing in the mirror behind my head. Very useful. I didn’t have to talk looking back over my shoulder.

As well, Elaine (picture right) provided a simultaneous translation into French. I’m sure that’s quite hard to do – much beyond my ability. Thanks very much Elaine!

Lachine Snap (1)

It was a neat surprise to meet Terry Mosher (center, looking at my book!) – who has sketched political commentary under the pen name Aislin for as long as I can remember. I have always admired editorial sketching – I don’t even like to call it cartooning – but I suppose they have embraced the term.

I’ve never been informed enough to take it up as a practice myself. Perhaps it will be my next career? It’s on the list of ways to utilize my drawing skills :) We’ll see what life brings.



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