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2016 UQAM Life Drawing Intensive

October 27, 2016

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Sorry for long hiatus since posting! I’ve been very busy with sketching outdoors and digital art, and have been neglecting the figure painting side of things.

Now that winter of 2016 is approaching fast, I expect I’ll be getting back to figurative work.

So, what do we have here?

Twice a year (Spring and Fall) Local artist Lyne Paquette organizes a 5 day event at the Université du Québec à Montréal called the Atelier Intensifwhere you are offered the chance to draw or paint all day for five days straight.

I’ve done it twice before: 2014, and when we first came to town in 2010.  It’s such a great opportunity. I always regret if I can’t go. Besides the fact it’s very reasonably priced (yay, Montreal!) it’s just tremendous to get that much continuous time to paint.

You can do things on the fifth day that you can’t do on day one. Your instincts are honed by that steady practice.

I suppose that is exactly what I said about the Urban Sketchers symposium. But it’s really true. If you can carve yourself out a week to paint all day, every day – I think you’ll feel the difference it makes.

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I don’t mean to be discouraging to people who are only able to do an hour or two here and there. (Like myself on most weeks!) It *is* the only way to fit art into our busy lifestyles.

But maybe, if you think of it like taking a holiday, or going on a spiritual retreat, or some kind of luxury spa vacation, you’ll be able to justify that time.

I honestly think doing something like this can jump you months ahead in your artistic development.

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Looking back at this darker skinned male model – I realize now, this was exactly what I did when faced with the somber brick architecture in Manchester. Of course I had not thought of this sketch at that time – but this very solid, deeply saturated first wash, followed by shadow over top – it’s the same approach.

I’ve been taking about Tea, Milk and Honey layers for a long time. But I’m still learning my own tricks! The mantra: More Pigment Less Water keeps sounding better and better.

So there you go – evidence of what I always say. Figure drawing can teach you everything you need to know about painting.

(Well, ok, not perspective – but my stance is you don’t *really* need to know perspective).

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Take a minute to look at that pose. Look at that pose!

The alignment of weight bearing points on chin, elbow, and foot? and the repeating shapes of bent arm and knee? All that with a mood of melancholy – you are looking at one great model there.

That is not me inventing things – that is her putting it into the pose for us.

This class is ‘in the round’ (360 around the model stand) – I feel like I won the lottery being in the exactly right spot for this one.

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So I want you to click to enlarge this final image.

I think I had some good stuff this season. But the entire week really came down to this last sketch. It’s the one out of this set that I really think is a painting, rather than a tinted drawing.

There was a lot going on right about the time I took this course. I really wasn’t ‘up for it’ in some ways. (Just overworked for the last few months). In fact – I think I went backwards between 2014 and this year.

Actually I can tell you exactly the reason I think that. In 2014 I went with my friend Emily Leong, and she pursuaded me to leave my pencil behind. I’m addicted to drawing. If I have the damned thing, I’m going to draw with it. I can’t resist going for the sharp edged line. But then, after the fact I wish I’d been more subtle.

Regardless – it finally came together for me in this one. Which was the point really! Even though I didn’t have the time to take a workshop, I knew I needed this week as a break  – and a refresher course.

It might have taken five days, but this last sketch was worth the investment!

Called out by the Model

January 24, 2015

[Long pose session, these were half hour warmups. Watercolor, 12×16″]

I was at the daytime long pose session at George Vanier Cultural Centre, which is always a nice opportunity. It’s one hour longer than a standard life drawing workshop. Which is just fine by me. I like to get at least two watercolors out of a long pose – so that extra hour to warm up feels like a luxury.

I was happily sketching way – trying to to focus on a few things:

  • Draw directly with the brush (dropping my pencil drawing safety net),
  • Establish a silhouette with the first few strokes,
  • Work color variation into the shapes while wet, (charging in).
  • Don’t neglect the background tone. I’m often making figures on blank whiteness.

That was going well enough. But in the break our model called me out.

“I look like a 9 year old girl!” she says.

Rightly so. That was a weird mistake. Not sure how it happened. Her head had definitely gotten large and child like.

In the second half, I pushed to get a real likeness. I’ve been giving myself a free pass on likeness for so long (I mean, you have to start somewhere, and getting a nice figure is hard enough, I just say “Don’t worry if it doesn’t even look like them.  After the model is gone, who’s going to know?’). But the time has come that I have to be able to get both a painting and a portrait, hey? If I’m going to do this work professionally :)

I’ve only done a few commissioned portraits – and each and every one of them has been sweating bullets. Until this year. Magically – that practice stuff is starting to pay off.


I’m pretty happy with this one. In particular, the shape of her hair and cast shadows on the forehead. At the time her hair was throwing me off my stride – I only realized it after the fact – it’s because Afro-textured hair doesn’t reveal the shape of the skull like I’m used to in a Caucasian. Funny – It’s one of my own bon mots that a portrait is just a ‘Head Shape / Hair Shape’. Yet it took me a few tries to get it right on her.

I’m glad Sarah called me out. I needed that push. That right there is a hidden reason to work from life. You don’t get that collaboration from photo reference.

Brush-wise: In the future I have to focus on a few more things:

  • Make the shadow shapes melt a bit more into the light,
  • Same with the background – more lost edges – less cut out shapes,
  • Wet-on-dry gives you plenty of control – but it errs on the side of sharp edges,
  • I’m going to experiment with painting the figure in reverse silhouette next time – to allow better melting into the background.

The Weary Gladiator

January 22, 2015


[Figure drawing workshop, various 10, 15 and 20 minute poses, watercolor, working wet-on-dry]

The model for this session was an older gentleman, in great shape for a person of any age.  In his youth, he must have been a handsome beast.

I always give models a little code name in my head. This guy was ‘the weary gladiator’.

I don’t know if he’s been a life-long art model – but he clearly knows how to set a pose. One of the best I’ve seen in Montreal. You occasionally see models use a wooden pole for supporting a raised arm. But not many models use posing blocks. Simple cubes of wood that let you raise a hand or foot, or brace a neck.  It’s an old-school technique that really helps shape the body. In traditional ateliers you might even find block and tackle to allow hanging a model from the ceiling.




This was at UQAM at the Sunday afternoon quick pose session. It’s a good work environment, (tables, easels, benches), always with good models. If 5-20’s are your thing, I recommend checking it out. I will say, the spots by the door are back lit by the skylights at this time of year – so head to the back of the room unless you like silhouette shapes as much as I do.


Third Annual Edgar Allen PoeTrait

September 28, 2014


I recently came home to the latest issue of  The Artist’s Magazine waiting on my doorstep, which means I can finally show this sketch.

I have this background project – each year around October I’ll do a portrait of Edgar Allen Poe. This year I did it early, on request from the magazine, so it might come out in the October issue.

This is the second Mr. Poe watercolor. I’d done a few before in pencil. Perhaps next year I’ll be ready to do one in oil. I hope this will be a way of checking in with myself. To measure how my approach to painting is evolving.


Here’s 2013’s PoeTrait.

Attentive readers will know, around this time last year I was working more deliberately. Starting with a pencil drawing below the watercolor. Using the line as a guide, mapping out what was light, and what was shadow. I often found myself telling people “it’s like drawing yourself a coloring-book”. But I was never very comfortable with that analogy. It certainly works – and I still recommend it for beginners. But can you imagine trying to explain that to Mr. Sargent when you show up in artist heaven? The whole “coloring book” thing was always something I’ve been embarrassed about. Even while I was using it to make some of my personal favorite pieces.

The point is – these days I’m just going straight in. Simply drawing shapes with the brush on a blank white page without any planning beyond *looking*.

I’m really not sure if this is a great idea. It’s certainly the high risk approach. Perhaps I’m just an adrenaline junky.


You can see that in the first few minutes the portrait is already there. Bing Bang Boom, a few planes of the head, a few dark eyebrows, and it’s Mr. Poe. If the likeness had not worked out in the first few strokes, I’d have had to tear it up and start again.


I feel like I got lucky with this one. I got away with a reckless charge that might have left me muttering about wasting good paper. But these days, it’s the ones like this that get me excited.

UQAM Intesif 2014

September 11, 2014

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April 27, 2014


[Colored Ballpoint Pens, 3 Hr pose, Composite in Photoshop]


March 27, 2014