Monthly Archives: February 2012

Banff Railway Station Demo

This is the demo I did for my watercolour class last night.  It’s an easy painting but offers a few nice painting techniques including lettering a sign and adding people.  I like the out of focus character of the roof which I think accentuates the centre of interest.  The rhythmic pattern in the foreground likewise let’s us know where to look.

The one area that I think can be improved is the bright colours surrounding the figures.  They are indeed bright but I think they are a little simplistic.  They need to be broken up a little.  I find quite a lot that when you want a colour to really pop (whether a strong colour or the white of the paper), by taking away some of it what’s left works even harder.  An example of this is the large white shape towards the left of the painting.  By adding a light yellow wash to part of it the rest of the pure white seems even brighter.  Before I added the yellow, when that entire shape was white it seemed cut out or unreal.  It’s much more organized and effective now.  So I think that by making the area of almost straight from the tube cad red light a little smaller and adding more transition colours the image would be less simplistic and it would have more depth.

Currie Barracks Re-Imagined

I’m so pleased with this particular image or rather series of images (see the previous post).  I learned or came to understand something new about value and plein air painting.  I tried not too successfully in the last post to explain what this insight was and now I think it’s clearer to me.  Traditionally I would see the windows as an object and then the shadow over it as a separate thing.  What this study taught me is to see the shadow (including where the window melts into the shadow) as one shape.  A shadow shape.

The end result of seeing things this way is that there is a greater cohesiveness to the painting.

Also, compositionally, I thought that having a second wall intersecting would be more interesting than the straight wall from the previous image.

Currie Barracks Plein Air















I love the architecture of  the military base at Currie Barracks.  I think the buildings look great from the outside.  I like to go there frequently because I imagine they won’t be around too much longer.

In my painting lately I’ve spent a lot of time considering  the element of value in painting.  As I’ve mentioned before the book, Watercolor Solutions by Charles Reid has been quite an inspiration.  So each time I’ve gone plein air painting lately I’ve tried to judge the values before I start painting.  It has paid dividends as I think I’m getting better at it.  The  plein air sketch above is actually not bad except that I thought the main shadow areas were too light so after it was dry I added a  second wash over the all of the shadow and I don’t really like the look of that.

However, when I got home and had a chance to critique it I tried it again with a much stronger concept of what I wanted to do value-wise.  This time I actually thought of the shadows as just a large value shape and I painted the shadows in before I painted the windows and other details.  Traditionally I would do what Charles Reid advises against namely think of the various things as objects, this is a window etc.  He says see things as value areas that have a certain colour and a certain shape.

After saying all that I think I love this image.

Sibbald Trail – Another Pond

This is from a photo I took along Sibbald Trail a few months ago.  My concern was to get a good value pattern and to create some sense of the tree detail without actually painting a lot of trees.  This is a quick study but it has much to recommend it.  I like the directional feel of the reflections in the water.  I lifted out 5 of the main tree trunks after the painting was dry and they add a nice element.

I’ve included the 6 little thumbnails I did to get a composition that worked.  It’s interesting to me when I do these thumbnails for a new scene.  It takes me 3 or 4 before I can break away significantly from the actual scene.   During this initial stage I find that I make minor adjustments to the shapes and it’s not until I’ve worked on it a bit that I can take it in an original direction.  That happened only in the last sketch.

P.S.  After a day of looking at the painting I thought a few changes would make it better.  In the top image I added some touches of gouache bringing back some light.   I also added some details and like it much better.

Calgary Sketch Club Demo








Last Thursday I did a demo for the Calgary Sketch Club.  I had about 90 minutes of painting time and basically finished this image.  It is one I’ve done before but I feel this is one the better versions.  It’s nice to do well in the pressure situation of a demo.  The demo was very well received and a lot of people told me that they got a lot out of it.  A number of people also said that they were impressed that I could paint and at the same time keep up a running commentary of what I was doing and thinking.  That comment made me realized another aspect of my public school teaching career that I am grateful for.  The ability to establish and verbalize goals and to try to communicate clearly and simply.

I really enjoy teaching.  Actually it’s much deeper than enjoying it.  I  love it.

If you  are interested in having me do a  demo or a workshop with your group contact me.

Manchester Yard Plein Air


Again a very enjoyable hour spent in the Burnsland Cemetery looking at the Manchester Yards.  At this point I’m just trying to capture a good value pattern and try to use a certain amount of colour.  I always learn so much from these.  Mostly I learn that I want to be able to see more while I’m on location.  From my reading of the Charles Reid book I see how analytical he is when he addresses a new scene on location.  I’m starting to get it but it’s a work in progress.

Calgary Gothic Plein Air

Plein air yesterday afternoon.  I hour from the time I left the house till I got back.  Most of the time that timeline works for me.  Get that invaluable on location experience more frequently but for shorter periods of time.  The compromise is that I settle for often unspectacular scenes but almost any scene can offer exciting possibilities.  It is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

This is all just a long winded way to say that I enjoyed my hour out today and I learned something.

The bottom image is the plein air study, the middle image is a version I did as soon as I got home and the top one is trying to refine the idea developed in the middle one.

A Nita Engle Interpretation Of Elbow Falls

I discovered Nita Engle about 8 months ago and she has been hugely inspirational to me.  I think I’ve enjoyed her work because I discovered her at a time when I was getting a little tired of the way I was painting.  I needed to break away from the lines and go with the flow of the entire painting.  Her juicy washes were just the ticket.   My only real problem was with her extensive use of liquid mask.  Anyway, an image that I’ve painted many times of the small creek just at the top of Elbow Falls came to mind as one that would suit her style so I’m going to try it.  Right from stretching the paper to the use of the mask.  I’m going to try it just to see what it’s like.

These are three little compositional and value sketches done very quickly on photocopy paper.  I like these limited palette ‘quickies’ because with a very small out lay of time I can work out a good composition.  These are all quite similar which is what usually happens when I first attack a subject.  Here I’ve basically played a little bit with the positioning of the creek.  But with this small effort I feel pretty certain that there is a painting here.

Interpreting The Oregon Coast

Haystack Rock












This painting is from our trip along the Oregon Coast 3 years ago.  So atmospheric.  I just redid the image in preparation for my watercolour class.  I like replacing the moody grey sky with the sunset colours.  This image is made for watercolour.  It also really suits this long and lean format.  I think it will kind of ramp up the students use of colour.  Many students are attracted to this type of vibrant colour but it take quite a while before people feel the confidence to actually do it.  It’s actually very simple: to create vibrant colour in watercolour you need to use lots of pigment.

And of course adding people to a composition which I try to do as much as possible always adds another element to a landscape.

Haystack Rock
16″ X 7″

Dark Buildings & A Dramatic Sky

This is the image that I just painted in my latest video clip for my watercolour class.  It’s an image that I saw in a book and I loved it.  Practicing darks is a very useful exercise in watercolour.  It also forces us to be bold in the use and amount of pigment we use.  This image has a lovely feel of the dark foreboding sky at the top and the sunset type colours at the bottom of the sky.  Those brighter colours reflected off two of the buildings give this image a great sense of place and atmosphere.  You can see the entire painting process right here.