Journey Around the World – Montmartre, Paris, France

Sketching, Travel Sketching

Visiting the Musee de Montmartre and Suzanne Valadon’s Studio                           May, 2017

One of the reasons that I went back to Paris was to learn about the life of some of my favorite artists. I wanted to know about the social fabric of the times, where they lived and worked, who their friends were, and also to try and get a sense of what it was like to be an artist back then.

Montmartre is a hill in the north of Paris that is known mainly for its artistic history towards the end of the 19th century. Many artists such as Picasso, Renoir, Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec  lived and worked there taking advantage of the low rent in the area.  While visiting the Musee de Montmartre I discovered an artist I knew very little about. Her name was Suzanne Valadon and she lived and worked on the property that is now part of the museum.

Walking into her studio is like going back in time.  The sketch I did at the top of this post  shows the working part of her studio. She was born in 1865 and grew up in poverty. When she was 16 she worked in the circus as an acrobat until she got hurt.  She then went on to be a model for Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and others.  During this time she learned how to paint by observing and learning their techniques while modeling. In the early 1890’s she befriended Edgar Degas who was impressed with her bold line drawings and bought a couple of her paintings.  She went on to paint for 40 years and became the first woman painter admitted to the Societe National des Beaux-Arts.

It all sounds great!  She has a beautiful studio in the artistic area of Paris and she has amazing artist friends that eclipse any education you would receive by going to art school. On the other hand her life was not easy, she was only 18 when she gave birth to her son Maurice. My understanding is that she was a single mother and her income at this time was from modeling.  Modeling was not so straight forward in those days.  Montmartre was a free loving kind of place during the “Belle Epoque” (1872-1914) and some artists expected or hoped for more from their models.  Being an artist back then was tough enough without being a female or being born into poverty.

As I sat in the lower garden behind the museum doing a sketch I imagined that many of the great artists such as Renoir had painted and sketched here.



Journey Around The World – Two Weeks in Paris, France

Travel Sketching

The Great Museums of Paris                                     The Louvre, May, 2017

This summer Lyn and I decided to go to Paris.  For Lyn this was a chance to go back to her old home in Maisons-Laffitte near Paris where she lived during her high school years.  For me, the last time I was in Paris was as a young art student traveling through Europe in search of the great masters of painting.  I wanted to see those paintings that I had studied in Art History class, and so together we went back in time 40 years to rediscover Paris and Lyn’s child hood.

When I was 20 years old and visiting the Louvre, I wasn’t that mature or self directed, and so there was a lot to see forty years later.  The sketch at the top of this post is from my sketch book in 1978.  If you compare this view with the same view today, you will see that I drew this a few years before the glass pyramid entrance way was to be built.

Now there are great line ups outside of the glass pyramid entrance to get into the Louvre. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum with over 35,000 objects on display.  It really doesn’t matter what day you go to the Louvre to visit, it is always busy except for the evenings. The average daily attendance is about 15,000 visitors per day.

Over our two weeks in Paris we went to the Louvre three times just to break it up a bit.  As much as I love art I could only handle three or four hours at a time. When you combine this with speaking french, walking the streets of Paris and all the other stimulus it made for big days.

For me I found that seeing the Louvre in sections allowed me to really savor and think about the artists represented there.  It allowed me to put some context around the art movements and where they fit into the bigger history of Paris, Europe and the world. Many people go to the Louvre with just a couple of hours available and so they rush around looking for the big three attractions; The Mona Lisa, The Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus De Milo. With that done, they are off to see other things.

The history of The Louvre goes back to the late 12th century and is a big part of the history of Paris and is worth reading about if you plan to visit.  My favorite little nugget of history about the Louvre was regarding the Nazi occupation of Paris, France in May 1940. In the fall of 1939 the French decided to hide all the great art works from the Louvre.  They were secretly dispersed to various locations around France and remained hidden until the liberation of France in 1945.

My favorite moment of discovery at the Louvre was around seeing the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world due in large part to the fact that she was stolen in 1911. After patiently working my way forward in a large room with about 300 people that were all determined to take selfies with Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), I took a blurred picture of her and left the room.  In the hallway in front of me was another masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci called The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne painted a few years earlier than the Mona Lisa.  Nobody was looking at this incredible painting. Maybe it is just me, but I thought to myself that the figure of Saint Anne looks exactly like Lisa del Giocondo (considered to be the model for the Mona Lisa).



Journey Around The World – Walking with Lions, Zimbabwe

Sketching, Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

Walking with Lions, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe                        August 16th, 2013

We had the opportunity to spend some time with two 18 month old lion sister cubs just outside of Victoria Falls.  Lion Encounter is a not for profit organization working to reintroduce lions back into the National Parks of Africa where the lion has become extinct.  There main goal is to increase the overall population of wild lions in Africa.

In the 1940’s according to National Geographic the estimated population of lions was approximately 450,000.  Today it is estimated that there are fewer than 20,000 animals in the wild.

We were somewhat cautious of being part of a lion program that could potentially sell the lions to a private game reserve that caters to hunters.  We were assured that this was not the case by the information and video that we watched that this was about reintroducing lions into the wild through a 4 stage program.  We were seeing the lions in stage one. In stages 2 and 3 they are part of a pride with no human contact. In stage 4 the off spring from the pride in stage 3 are released into the wild when they are old enough.

With that being said our experience with these lions was amazing.  We spent about an hour and a half walking and hanging out with them.  It is one thing to see a show on television about lions and it is another to see them up close.  Later on in our trip we saw wild lions in Etosha Pan from the safety of our truck.  Taking pictures while on the ground with lions allows you to get a lower perspective than if you are in a vehicle.

The pictures that Lyn and I took with our cameras were used later on for the watercolor painting at the top of this post.  Often when I am preparing to do a more formal watercolor such as this one I will do a series of sketches to become more familiar with the details.  One of the things that amazed me about lions was how there coloring blended perfectly into the surrounding bush.  With this in mind I used a limited selection of colors to suggest this in the picture.

As amazing as this experience was I realize that this is somewhat controversial. Our next encounter with African animals would be on the Chobe River in Chobe National Park in North West Botswana.


Journey Around The World – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, South Africa

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

An Afternoon at Victoria Falls                                 August 15th, 2013

After our flight from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg, South Africa we took a relatively short flight to Victoria Falls (only 1200 kilometers).  The next day we spent some time orienting ourselves to our new reality.  We were staying in a camp ground for a couple of days before heading out on a truck with Oasis Overland Tours.  Our trip would take us over land through Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and south to Cape Town, South Africa.

Painting streams, rivers and waterfalls are some of my favorite subjects and so a day exploring at Victoria Falls was an inspiring way to kick off a month in Southern  Africa. In the western section of the park is a monument to Dr. David Livingstone a Scottish pioneer, and missionary explorer.  The monument credits him to “discovering” Victoria Falls which is maybe a British Colonialist perspective when you consider that the locals who had probably lived there for hundreds of years called the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya.  So maybe he was the first European to see the falls.

We saw our first monkey’s in the park called Vervet monkey’s and as you would expect they do very well for themselves feeding on handouts from all the tourists.  We saw this in the Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador and with the Baboon’s at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  All along our trip I erred on the cautious side by keeping a safe distance from our monkey friends.

As a former white water raft guide I was very aware that just below Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River is one of the greatest rafting day trips on the planet. If you are an adrenaline junkie this is the trip for you.  Sadly I only had one day to do this and we decided that since I have done hundreds of rafting trips that we would go walking with lions as this would be a more unique experience. This will be my next blog story and was one of the great highlights of our trip to Southern Africa.

Journey Around The World – Cuenca, Ecuador

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

A Day in Cuenca                     June 21, 2013

After leaving Banos, we drove south through the Andes to Cuenca, which would be our last stop before arriving in Mancora, Peru.

Cuenca is a city of around 260,000 people that has become a very popular place to retire.  Our impression of Cuenca is that it  would be an easy place to live with plenty of cheap restaurants, beautiful colonial architecture, museums and a national park near by for hiking and exploring.

I managed to do some simple sketches while in Cuenca.  The sketches were all done in black pen and I gave them simple watercolor washes later on.  I don’t always find it easy to sketch in public but that is the nature of the beast.

Sometimes I meet local artists as a result of sketching out doors and so this can be a rewarding exchange of thoughts and experiences.  Once I settle in to the place I am sketching I tend to be too busy to notice or care about people looking over my shoulder. All of my out door sketching practice in South America would be a good  warm up for painting and drawing in India, but that is another story down the road a bit.


Journey Around The World – Banos. Ecuador

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Waterfalls and Hot Springs                         June 18, 2013

As we were leaving Tena we stopped along the way to go caving.  This was a mud filled adventure climbing up through a cave with very little light with a stream flowing through it and bats to keep us company.  We were covered in mud by the time we got back to the truck and so when we arrived at our camp site near Banos we were happy to have a warm shower.

Banos or Banos de Agua Santa (Spanish for Baths of Holy Water) is a tourist town in the mountains on the edge of the Amazon Jungle known for thermal hot springs located around town.  There are also over sixty waterfalls in the area.  We stayed here for a few days and explored the town site and hiked to Pailon del Diablo or Devil’s Cauldron which is an amazing waterfall worth visiting.

While on this trip we were looking for places that we would come back to and stay for an extended period of time.  Banos is like a tropical version of a mountain town and I would love to go back there and stay for a month or two.


Weed Painting Challenge

Plein-Air Painting, watercolour painting

I thought that this week I would take a break from posting about my journey around the world in 2013.  In real time I am working on new watercolor paintings everyday.  I decided to enter into another on line challenge about painting weeds in their outdoor location.  Painting outdoors is a very different experience compared to studio work.

In the studio I have the luxury of stopping whenever I need to.  I can use a hairdryer to dry my watercolor painting and most important I have a comfortable chair.  The biggest advantage to painting in the studio is that you can control every aspect and stage of the painting with in reason.

This painting challenge on face book is hosted by James Gurney, author, illustrator and an exceptionally talented artist.  His out door painting studies are an inspiration to many artists at different stages in their development. To see his blog and the Weed Painting Challenge you can go to and look for weed painting challenge in the index.

The title of my picture is Persicaria and Driftwood and was painted by the Fraser River in Richmond, BC. just a few miles from home.


Journey Around The World – Tena, Ecuador

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Visiting a Quechua Village near Tena.             June 16, 2013

After spending a week in Quito, Ecuador we loaded our gear into a truck that would be our home for the next couple of months and headed to Otavalo,  a city of 90,000 people that is a few hours north of Quito.

Otavalo has a large market that operates everyday.  The region is known for its handicrafts and so it is a good opportunity to buy locally made textiles, leather goods, wood carvings, fake shrunken heads etc.  We spent more time looking than buying.  Traveling around the world with a back pack limits you to purchasing only items that you really want as it means carrying it in your pack for the next seven months or shipping things home.

From Otavalo we drove south east to Tena, which is a small town on the edge of the Amazon rainforest region. Tena is a popular launching point for jungle kayaking and rafting tours.

Our day in Tena started with a drive to the Rio Napo which is a large tributary of the Amazon River. Once at the river our little group were given car tire inner tubes to float down the river on.  As a long time river guide used to being in a proper white water raft I felt a bit vulnerable to the elements as I didn’t really know what was in the water.

We were explicitly warned not to pee while in the river.  We were told that if you were to pee while in the river there was a good chance that a small fish called the “penis fish” would swim up your urethra and this would not be a good thing. Ok, point taken; I will not pee in the river.  I looked into this matter afterwards and found out that the “Candiru” is a species of parasitic fresh water catfish native to the Amazon Basin with one modern day recorded incident of this happening.

All went well and we stopped at a nondescript pull over on the river.  We walked through the forest for half a mile until we came to this little traditional Quechua Village that had one foot in the past and one foot in the present. I felt very fortunate to be a guest of the village and to experience a traditional meal of local fish wrapped in banana leaf and cooked over a fire.  We learned about many things that day including how this village makes its own special version of “Chicha” which they make with manioc root and plantains and ferment the mash in a large hollowed out log container.

In the watercolor sketch of the kitchen hut there is a log container filled with plantains that will be made into “Chicha”.

A Journey Around The World – Quito, Ecuador

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Waiting For Our Luggage in Quito, Ecuador               June 8th, 2013

Flying into Quito’s new international airport was a roller coaster type landing with a full on brake slam at the end for good measure.  There was an older lady from Quito sitting near us and I noticed she was making the sign of the cross as we were descending.  She said that this was a normal landing for Quito.

The fun was just beginning as our luggage never arrived and so sadly we headed into the big city with not so much as a tooth brush.  Our bags did show up, one bag at a time over the next five days.  There was nothing we could do about that and so we made good use of the time and explored the city.

Fortunately we had our cameras and I had my sketching gear. (More important than a toothbrush) The picture at the top of this blog entry is a watercolor and pencil sketch depicting a day of hiking in the hills above Quito. On one of our walkabout’s we came across a construction crew demolishing an old building.  All these men standing around looking at a back hoe seemed like a scene I might see back in Canada.  I guess construction culture is some what universal.

Quito was a good opportunity to acclimatize to the next two months of travel through South America and to start working on my Spanish.


A Journey Around The World – Leaving Yellowstone

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Driving To Badlands National Park, South Dakota           May 24, 2013

This morning we were camped at Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park.  It was very cold and so we didn’t waste any time packing up.  We still had a little more to see before heading east to South Dakota.

Our first stop driving along the Grand Loop was Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River heading towards the north east entrance.  It was near Tower Fall that we spotted the bear that I illustrated above.

The bear was on a mission to go some where and so I have tried to give this picture a sense of movement by using line, brush stroke and rhythm.

The watercolor painting of Upper Falls, Yellowstone River was a study done with only red, yellow and blue.  Mixing all of your colors from just three colors is a little more work but the resulting picture will have more harmony.  I am starting to paint more with a limited palette as I feel that this will improve my work.

As we headed east on Hwy 90 into Badlands National Park the landscape changed to this exotic mix of grass land with sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires.  The cattle grazing in this landscape make for an interesting composition in the third picture.  I added black pen to this watercolor as I felt the picture needed something to help with the starkness of the black cattle.