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Announcement: Free Watercolor Demonstration in Hudson QC, Wed 18th

March 12, 2015

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If you are in the Montreal area, you might be interested to come see me doing a 90 minute watercolor painting demonstration at the Hudson Artist’s Association.

Wednesday, March 18th
Ste-Mary’s Parish Hall 273, Main Road Hudson
Starting at 7:30pm

I’ll be showing some original paintings from recent trips to Rio and the Florida Keys, and will be demonstrating my current favorite method for field sketching in watercolor – a kind of ‘alla prima’ approach where I draw directly with brushes and build a painting out of bold silhouettes of rich color.

Hope to see you there!


Good Question of the Week: Desert Island Brush Choice

March 11, 2015

A person taking my People in Motion class recently asked a classic question in a creative way.

“Hi Marc. I’m enjoying your course and so great to see you demonstrating your techniques after following your blog. If I can please ask you. if I had only one brush (to take to a desert island) what size and kind would it be?”

Short Answer: This is a great question – and very hard to answer. But considering you are asking about travel – I’m going say it would be a #10 Da Vinci Maestro Series 1503 Travel Brush

The thing I love about a good sable brush – it has both a super sharp point, and at the same time, holds enough water to lay on it’s side and make a big shape. You can do an entire painting with this brush, from biggest shapes to smallest detail – (as long as it’s a smallish painting – 8×10 sort of size).

Plus, you can rely on the Da Vinci travel brush for their indestructible PVC self-enclosing body. You can take this brush anywhere. Throw it in a bag and leave it there for years. Even carry it in a jacket pocket. The only thing to know is, even though there is a tiny hole in the cap for air flow, you do have to open it up and let it air dry overnight (especially if you’re in a humid climate), so the ferrule doesn’t rust.

I will say, this brush is hard to find in shops, and is a bit pricey. So since I always use a brush case, I also have a #10 Maestro in the ordinary wooden handle.


Longer Answer: If I was allowed to add only a second brush it would be a Winsor and Newton Series 7 sable in a #2 long hair version. It is almost a rigger in length.

W&N also has a line called Artist’s Water Color Sable that is very good as well. Sort of a second tier of hair, that seems very nice, and comes in a similar long-hair style.

I use these for tiny linear details, such as tree branches, long hair, wrinkles in fabric, power lines, water ripples – whenever you are drawing something detailed and linear or dashed in nature.

So, one big brush, one tiny.

Bonus Answer:  I am loving having a dagger brush. Great for foliage, water and skies. Very expressive to draw with. I’m trying this new synthetic called Princeton Neptune. It seems fairly nice for a synthetic brush. Very soft-yet-whippy. But I haven’t had them long enough to really say much yet.

I am also carrying a Princeton Neptune Oval Wash (sort of a huge filbert shape) in a 3/4″ size – for skies and large foregrounds of grass or water.

Quest for the Perfect Sketching Bag : Timbuk2 Especial

March 6, 2015


Last summer’s painting season I found myself doing a fair number of panoramic diptychs. I’ve been using two 1/4 sheets of watercolor paper (11×15″) taped to 14×18″ coroplast boards to give me a wider landscape format. I expect I’ll be doing more of these this year.

I quite enjoy the panoramic feeling – and it’s super convenient to do it in two panels. Much like a big sketchbook, being able to ‘fold them up’ allows me to easily carry a big painting like this to pretty much any location.


Oddly, one piece of gear that becomes a huge part of this trick, is my new(ish) shoulder bag.

It seems like a minor detail, but it makes all the difference to have just the right bag. I like to be able to setup and take down quickly. Sometimes you simply won’t get the shot if you don’t throw down your gear and get started. But I also like to keep most of my gear still in the bag at my feet – in case I have to relocate quickly. Like that time we were painting on a not-actually-out-of-service train track.

Here it is. My ideal sketching bag, the: Timbuk2 Designs Especial Cycling Messenger Bag


This expandable beauty fits my 14×18″ drawing boards like it was custom tailored for them. I can carry a fat stack of six panels, and still fit my Sirui Tripod, palette, water bottles, and brush case. The magnetic assisted tie-down straps are speedy and secure – allowing me to reliably stuff it just a bit beyond its official capacity.

It has two well-positioned luggage handles on the short side, so on the subway or in a crowded restaurant, you can carry it briefcase style, and not bark anyone’s knees.

The shoulder strap is comfortable, and easily tightened to snug the bag to your body – and can even be re-positioned to change the angle on your back in case you’re a bit taller/shorter than average.


I particularly like the easily accessed side zip pockets (one on each side). These are designed to be reached without fully removing the bag from your shoulder. Great for your small sketchbook and pens, so you can instantly have a book out and drawing for those action shots. Or for your keys, so you can stumble through your door without having to dump your paintings on the doorstep.

So, there it is – a simple bit of kit, that makes it a little easier to do larger paintings out on location.


Biodome Redux : Big Ink!

March 3, 2015


Here’s my sketches from the recent USK:MTL day trip to the Biodome Naturalia taxidermy collection.

Considering we had just scouted the place the week before, I wanted to switch up my technique. Last time was pencil and watercolor in a sketchbook. This time, large format (14×22″) ink drawings with the dipping pen. This format was probably too big honestly. I think 12×16″ or 11×14″ might have been fine. But it does allow you to crazy with broad pen strokes.


My main goal for today was becoming completely comfortable drawing with a bottle of liquid ink.

This might sound silly, but the fear of spilling ink has been the main thing holding me back from drawing with dip pens on location. I do love fountain pens, and they are a great solution for travel. But I’d rather be drawing with these more flexible nibs.

5ml Ink Vial Thumb Grip.

After some tinkering around, this is my current solution: I carry the ink in (very small!) 5 ml HDPE (Nalgene) bottles, and hold the bottle in the same hand that supports my stack of coroplast drawing boards. The vial of ink is safely clamped in the crook of my thumb.  The bottom edge of the panel is tucked against my well cushioned body. It’s very stable while standing, even walking around while drawing. I think it’s pretty much spill-proof.  Plus – it’s only 5ml. So if you did spill the whole thing, it’s not the worst mess.

One can easily carry a couple of these vials of ink in a pocket, trusting to the indestructible Nalgene bottle, which makes it easy to switch up colors as you draw.

I know, I know! This is some tedious stuff here – all this bla bla about how to hold a bottle! Yet these are the kind of things that are endlessly fascinating to urban sketchers :)


Call For Entry : Draw me a Mountain : Exhibition and Art Day on Mount Royal

February 27, 2015

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(French to follow:)

Call for Artists: 

If you are a professional or an amateur artist and wish to take part in a collective exhibition to be presented on Mount Royal, Les amis de la montagne, in association with Urban Sketchers Montréal, invite you to submit your works to Draw-me a Mountain, an exhibition of drawings and watercolour works highlighting the beauty of Mount Royal and the talents of Montréal artists.

Send us photos or digital images of your paintings and drawings either showing views of and from mountain, or created on the mountain itself, by March 30, 2015, to smontigne(at)lemontroyal(dot)qc(dot)ca.

Technical specifications for submitting your works:

  • one image per email (maximum of 5 works per artist)
  • send digital files of 2 Mb (minimum) to10Mb (maximum) in size
  • for each image, indicate: surname, first name, title of work, year, medium, dimensions

Works selected for the exhibition will be confirmed at the beginning of April.

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.

Art Day: Sunday, May 24, 2015

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

Find out more about our respective missions and activities: Les amis de la montagne | Urban Sketchers Montréal

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Appel aux artistes

Vous êtes un artiste amateur ou professionnel et souhaitez participer à une exposition collective sur le mont Royal ? Les amis de la montagne, en collaboration avec Urban Sketchers Montréal, vous invitent à soumettre vos œuvres à Dessine-moi une montagne, une exposition de dessins et de peintures qui met en valeur les beautés du mont Royal et le talent des artistes de Montréal.

Si vous souhaitez participer à l’exposition envoyez-nous des photos ou numérisation de vos dessins ou peintures du mont Royal, des vues vers ou depuis le mont Royal, ainsi que des œuvres créées directement sur la montagne, au plus tard le 30 mars 2015 à smontigne(at)lemontroyal(dot)qc(dot)ca.

Données techniques pour la soumission d’œuvres :

  • une seule image par envoi (maximum de 5 œuvres par artiste)
  • taille du fichier numérique : minimum 2 Mb, maximum 10Mb
  • pour chaque image, indiquez : nom, prénom, titre de l’œuvre, année, médium utilisé, dimensions

Exposition – les week-ends du 2 au 31 mai 2015

L’exposition Dessine-moi une montagne sera présentée dans le cadre de Mai 2015 – Mois du mont Royal, les samedis et dimanches de mai chez Les amis de la montagne, à la maison Smith dans le parc du mont Royal. Entrée libre.

Journée de création – le dimanche 24 mai 2015

Nous vous invitons également à participer à la journée Dessins et aquarelles sur la montagne avec Urban Sketchers Montréal le dimanche 24 mai, à l’occasion de l’anniversaire de la création du parc du Mont-Royal.

Pour en savoir plus sur nos activités et nos missions : Les amis de la montagne | Urban Sketchers Montréal

Inside Smith and Barber Sculpture Atelier

February 25, 2015

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The other day my friend John Wright called up from Ottawa. His drawing group had lined up a fascinating opportunity. They were going to the Smith and Barber Sculpture Atelier. A local studio specializing in the ancient art of ornamental carving in stone.

Two hours drive to sketch in the workshop of these master craftsmen? Count me in! That, after all, is the whole point of location sketching. To get out and experience new things. To see the world through the lens of drawing.


Sure, I only managed a quick sketch. But at the same time, it was a chance to draw with the folks in Ottawa and meet Phillipe Smith, one of the two lead sculptors. He was more than generous with his time, hanging out as we pillaged his shop, regaling us with stories about his unusual art form. Everything from the dangers of silicosis to the origins of some of the irreplaceable blocks of stone they carve.

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I was excited to hear Smith and Barber are also founders of the Canadian Stone Carving Festival – coming up July 10, 11, 12th  2015 in Gatineau QC at the Museum of History. I hope to make it out for that, and get a chance to sketch craftsmen from around the world in action.

I’ve enjoyed sketching ornamental stone sculpture from so many different time periods and places – to now have the chance to step into one of those workshops, well, that’s something worth dropping everything and making happen.

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If you’ve had any great sketchbook adventures of your own, leave us a note in the comments. Let’s give people a tour of all the hidden places our pencils have taken us.

iPad sketching “Marvels of Orientalism” at MTL Beaux Arts

February 21, 2015


Right now through May 31st, at the Montreal Beaux Arts there is a major show on Orientalist painting (Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism), centered around Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902).

The primary attraction are Benjamin-Constant’s massive wall-sized travelogues of an idealized version of Marrakesh based on sketches and experiences from multiple trips to the near East. These are masterpieces of composition and brushwork, full of detail and some very clever texture and finishing effects. To me, Constant’s version of Orientalism is typified by flashy brushwork, almost overly reliant on special effects. But these are effects I love.

Bright metallic glints floating over dark grounds, hazy implied strokes making transparent gauze veils, ragged impasto textures conveying gold brocade and slashes of raking light.


As well, we see some fascinating smaller works, including a pair of mind-bending watercolors by Henri Regnault. These are not the stars of the show, but have special appeal to me. In some passages this is transparent watercolor – but I think they are worked over with a gouache/watercolor mix. It’s handled so delicately you can’t even detect how it’s done. Truly remarkable.

Henri_Regnault_Hassan_and Namouna_1870 Henri_Regnault_Harem Interior_1870

At a guess there’s about 150 works of art from a dozen artists. You’ll also see books and engravings of the period, and some related contemporary work by women artists discussing the cultural fallout from this mileu of languid harem girls and ferocious warriors-eunuchs.


So – I know I’ll be back for more – but here’s my sketches from our first visit. Since these paintings are all about color and richness, I didn’t want to simply do line drawings in the museum. I haven’t inquired after permission to bring my water media into the gallery, and I know opaque paints are completely out of the question. Somehow I don’t see getting much traction there. For now I chose to make sketches on the iPad mini. These allow me to work in light-over-dark color, in a nice clean way that won’t get me kicked out of the museum.


These are of course, purely studies. Despite its unlimited potential, I still feel clumsy painting on a digital tablet. But no matter – here I’m just meditating on this (to me) upside-down oil painting light-over-dark thing. So strange for a watercolorist. I’ve never made gouache work for me in this kind of way. I was inspired to try it after last year’s Sargent show – but to be honest, I haven’t delved in.

These sketches are in the iOS app Procreate, which I prefer over other iPad sketching tools I’ve tried, for its clever customizable brushes and an approach to layers that is very familiar to Photoshop users.




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