Jasper and the Parkway

Oh August, where have you gone?? It has been a super quick, action-packed summer. 

We went for a long weekend in Jasper, which was delightful for a number of reasons. Firstly, the views are incredible. I could spend three days just driving around and pulling over with a sketchbook. (Actually, I have done just that, and it was awesome. Although it gets chilly). 


But there's more than just great scenery. There's some epic hikes and some world-class restaurants. And because it's such a northern, outdoorsy little town, you can show up for dinner in your hikers and Icebreaker and no-one looks twice. 

Here's a peek into the sketchbook:

I've been using a new watercolor sketchbook, which is kind of a linen-bound version of a moleskin. It was a little on the pricier side, but the paper is super robust. Still working on paring down my supply kit when I hike up a mountain. For this trip I brought:

- 1 sketchbook (bringing only 1 was kind of a moral victory)

- 4 Molotow acrylic markers - I like these for the opacity but I didn't use very much, and the white one exploded on me :(

- Some micron pens (0.1 and 0.5) - however I just bought a fountain pen which I think will replace these in future. I just find felt-tip pens to be scratchy

- A small set of half pans. I managed to work up some pretty intense colors by rewetting the pans several times with a small spray bottle. High up in the alpine, the pans will dry back out, but if you keep them quite moist you can still dredge up some intense colors. 

I don't think I got any pix of the actual sketch kit, but here's a few action shots of me: 


I spent a couple of weeks in Newfoundland in July, visiting friends and just general sight-seeing. We went whale-watching, saw lots of cute villages, and pretty much ate our way through St. John's. (Picture a giant Pacman head. That's me.) 

I brought the art supply kit of course so I could soak in all the gorgeousness properly. There's nothing like a good beach for a drawing/ reading session followed by ice cream. 

I also had a lot of fun doing these panorama sketches. I used a couple of photo references to blend all of our fun activities into one long landscape. 

And although I do love sketching on location, it was nice to do these ones back home in the studio out of the wind. 

How about you, did you do any vacay- sketching this summer?

Backcountry Painting

I went backcountry camping a few weekends ago with a good friend of mine. We've done quite a few hiking trips together over the years since college, but grown-up life sometimes gets in the way. So we booked a campsite way back in the day (I wanna say March?) to make sure we would go. 

[the companion photo is redacted because the image of us from 2008 was too frightening to behold. Babies. We were babies.]

Well, the weather wasn't looking too great when the Park Service called and informed us our campsite had been closed temporarily due to bear activity. A pretty clever little grizzly female was getting close to the hanging food pole and had presumably already worked out how the food got there (read: colorfully dressed backpackers). 


We made some last minute shuffles and ended up hiking to Tombstone Lake in Peter Lougheed Park. Neither of us had ever been, but it ended up being delightful! Dare I say, even more so than Banff would have been - because Tombstone is not in a national park, you can have a campfire. They even supply the firewood and a hatchet. So - we brought s'mores. And had whisky. 


And of course, there was some art-making. Backcountry camping is a challenge for me because gear. I'm already usually carrying too much food and water and clothing, so I don't need to be putting more in the backpack. I usually need to be taking something out. 

I was forced to scale down my usual kit, so I went with a small travel watercolor set, a single sketchbook, and a pen. 

Totally worth it though! We hiked to the lakes, where I did these guys.

This was the view from our campsite - unreal.

I was not, however, fast enough for this sunset. Iphone pix had to do.

I may do some paintings from these later on - in my NEW sketchbook, since I finished the last few pages on this trip! It's got sketches from Yellowstone to Utah and now back to my own backyard. Sigh of happiness. 

Wasootch Ridge, Part II

I made it back to Wasootch, this time with a slightly bigger paint kit and some time to lounge at the top. (I also brought lounge equipment, i.e. one of those thermarest butt pads, which is exactly what it sounds like. Made sitting on a rock for an hour MUCH more comfortable.)

I even brought a friend! Lovely Julia took these pics of me with her fantastic camera (far superior to my little iPhone snaps). She knew that I wanted some time at the top so she came prepared with a book and we just enjoyed an hour at the summit in the sunshine. 

(You can just see the corner of the butt pad)


I finished things up in the studio (with access to a bit more drying time). Here it is completed:

 Wasootch Ridge, watercolor on paper (12x16 inches)

Wasootch Ridge, watercolor on paper (12x16 inches)

It was also right around this time that a writer for Travelettes.net reached out to me. Rose was writing an article about travel sketching and travel journals, and wanted to feature me along with some other artists she had discovered on Instagram. Really perfect timing actually that Julia had taken those pix! You can read the article here!

Subaru Studio

I wanted to do some more en plein air, so a few weeks ago I took the old Subaru for a scenic mountain drive. We wandered down Highway 40 into Kananaskis Country, so you might recognize a few of these peaks. 

I was a bit nervous about hiking solo (it is bear country, after all, and sitting quietly by yourself painting is probably a really great way to get startled by wildlife), so I didn't actually hike. I parked and popped the hatchback for a nice seated view. This car-set-up also worked well when the wind picked up. 

Here are a few:


Barrier Lake I, 12x16, watercolor and graphite on paper


Barrier Lake II, 12x12, watercolor and graphite on paper


Some experiments on more Yupo paper, which actually wasn't the greatest outside. It's a very smooth surface so will pick up any oils from your hands, and the water runs all over the place unless the surface is perfectly flat and still. Not so easy to do from a beach, or even in the hatchback. 


The line drawing isn't my typical style, but it was the end of the day and I was over it. I might try and rework this one in the studio a little bit longer with some more color. 

New Orleans

Mark Twain once said there are only four original American cities: Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco and San Antonio. I've been lucky enough to hit half of these in the last six months!

New Orleans was pretty special. I felt like I was walking around in "Interview with the Vampire" and at at any corner might see Brad Pitt talking to a young reporter on a darkened Gothic porch. It was also a city of contrasts, from walking merrily down Frenchman Street with an impromptu big jazz band, to thinking I might get shot when our Uber took an inadvertent detour and we got lost. 

We had cocktails (a recurring theme in our trips), we went to the Jazz Fest, we ate lots of carbs, and took the trolley at every opportunity. Bourbon Street was a bit of a disappointment, but Magazine Avenue was delightful, and Frenchman street was pure magic. I kind of can't imagine this place during Mardis Gras though. I think I would have a purely agoraphobia reaction to so many people at once. 


So, any art you ask? Well, a little bit. I did a little sketching en route to the jazz fest:


Here it is with the coloring added later: 


And a bit at the concert itself. When I held up the sketchbook to take this photo, the guy behind me yelled "Nailed it!" 

Mountaintop Sketches

We went for an early season hike last weekend and ended up on the top of Wasootch Ridge in Kananaskis. It's a great short hike that shoots up from the parking lot. Once you have a nice quad burn though you are on a ridgetop with some rolling terrain that feels much nicer on the legs. The views are pretty great too.

We got to our lunch spot in the sun (not quite the terminus, but good enough, we decided) and I ate my lunch under bluebird skies. But sure enough, as soon as I pulled out my sketchbook and paint set, it got socked in and the wind picked up. Goodbye sun. 

I had about 5 minutes to knock this off before my fingers got frigid. We could definitely see it snowing on some of the farther peaks off in the distance, so we skedaddled back down to the car. 

Kind of a shame, but I'm planning to do a lot more hiking + sketch sessions (can we call them sketch-peditions?) this summer. Fingers crossed for some nice sunny days. 

Skinny Paintings

A few years ago I received a Midori Travelers journal, which I LOVED because it was refillable. It's a beautiful leather flap which you can customize and they sell high quality paper inserts, including watercolor tear out pages. I wish I had this when I was young and backpacking around Europe and Asia, because I could have kept using the same notebook but with a new insert for every country or continent. So fun!

I did discover one slight flaw though, and that is the layout. It's long and narrow, which makes for some pretty skinny paintings. It's alright for landscapes though, which is probably what I paint most while traveling anyways. 

Here are a few of the paintings that I did when I was first getting into watercolor and en plein air:


 Nose Hill Park

Nose Hill Park

 Elk Lake hut

Elk Lake hut

 Shushwap, Salmon Arm

Shushwap, Salmon Arm

 Kokanee Glacier Lodge

Kokanee Glacier Lodge

 (me in situ at the lodge)

(me in situ at the lodge)

Cafe Characters

I take quite a few random photographs, particularly of strangers in picturesque scenarios. The photos are always skewed and at bad angles because I am trying to be sneaky about the fact that I'm taking their picture. Then it's a whole bunch of composing to get the people in the positions I want. Also editing out any details I don't feel like drawing. 

Right now I'm working on a few cafe sketches. These were done from pictures I took at a cafe in Houston, where we stopped for a quick road coffee. It was a cute little place, serving vegan food and a variety of fancy sounding lavender lemonaid soda water type thirst-quenchers. I was totally taken by the light streaming in the windows.

I know the advice is to carry a sketchbook everywhere I go, but honestly that doesn't work for me. I'm way too self-conscious, and plus I'm usually in a hurry! In this case, to get back on the I-10. So I don't have time to do much more than whip out a phone and take bad pictures like this:

First I did some sketching, and decided I didn't feel like drawing 11 chairs:

My favorite part was the light coming in through the windows, so I did a wash in yellow underneath. This is something I'm trying to get better at, but it's effing finicky. The paper speckles or bends or the color is patchy or it bleeds out or something. Somehow it never comes out quite the way I want it to. 


 Still wet - you can see the reflection 

Still wet - you can see the reflection 

 Women Reading, watercolor on paper (9x12)

Women Reading, watercolor on paper (9x12)


Someone sweet brought me flowers, so of course I had to paint them:

Of course annoyingly I dropped the brush which is why the carnation has that little dip of red outside the lines. Still it's a nice memento of a transient pleasure (aren't all pleasures transient?)

I'm not overwhelmingly in love with this painting, but I do like the little white flowers (anyone know what those are?) and their soft white greens. 


San Antonio

We had a mini-trip through San Antonio and the Texas hill country this past week. I had lots of chances to sketch (and also to visit breweries/ wineries/ distilleries), here is a sampler.

We saw the Alamo (of course):

Plus lots of churches:

(The same again, but with color and ink added)

My favorite part of San Antonio was definitely the waterfront, it's like a botanical garden that's been stretched out into a long pathway that goes forever. I definitely plan to do some paintings of all this greenery.


In fact, I did just that, painting from my iphone in the hotel room one night:

My favorite part though, was all of the breweries/ distilleries/ wineries/ cocktail bars that we visited. I don't know if I could live in hill country long term, at least my liver...

Ski Days

I love taking my sketchbook on adventure days, but it's pretty hard to stop or slow down sometimes to get your sketch fix in. (It might also be too cold to stop or slow down.)


Which is why I love daylodges! And cabins and rest shelters and basically anything that lets me sit down, warm up, and have a snack while I draw.  

In this case I also had to give my poor legs a rest. It was plus 2 and ski wax was doing NOTHING for my xc skis. It was pretty painful, especially the next day.  

Strange Props

I've been working my way through "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. It's a classic drawing text that I read as a teenager, but I must have skipped a bunch of stuff. 

I certainly don't remember ever walking around with a picture plane.


Have to say, if I can ever get used to the squinting it'd be a real help on larger proportions where I typically have trouble. For instance, I always underestimate how long a persons legs are (or I badly OVER estimate, either way for alien-looking results).


Above is a snapshot of all the random drawings. I just used printer paper and a set of pencils in varying hardness. 

The book is aimed at people who haven't drawn since childhood, and especially those who are convinced they CAN'T draw. I like drawing and do lots of it, so I wasn't expecting huge breakthroughs. But still I was pretty pleased with my profile portrait:

Reading Material

Is there anything better than a library? How about a library with a REALLY BIG art section?? The only problem is lugging them home. 

I always really enjoy flipping through art "how to" books. Even if I don't follow the steps, I get some new ideas and I love seeing the work-in-progress shots.

Here's what's on my reading shelf right now: 

(Also that plant is holding up remarkably well, for a creature whose existence is regularly forgotten for weeks at a time.)