A Journey Around The World – Boston

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Boston. MA.                                         May 31, 2013

Arriving in Boston from Vancouver, Canada by car was the kick off point for our journey around the world.  We had a week to explore the Boston area before flying to Quito, Ecuador.  We stayed with family in Lincoln County which is very close to where the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War took place on April 19th, 1775.

Walking around Lincoln, Concord and Boston I couldn’t help but feel the presence of early American history.  After spending a day in Boston learning about the Freedom Trail we also visited Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau lived in a small cabin from 1845 to 1847.

There is now a replica of his cabin very close to the original site.  I have painted a small watercolor of this cabin with out the paved paths and roadway that is nearby.  I like to imagine that in his day this cabin was a little more secluded and so I have tried to paint it more in the spirit of what I think it may have been.

I also painted a watercolor of the Old State House which was built in 1713.  It is one of the oldest public buildings in the United States. It stands out in that it is surrounded by modern day high rise buildings and the contrast of this made for an interesting composition.  I added five birds to the picture in honor of the Boston Massacre which happened very close to this building in 1770.

I look forward to our return to Boston after our trip as there is so much more to see. Our next stop along the way is Quito, Ecuador.

A Journey Around The World – Revelstoke, BC, Canada

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Driving the Trans Canada Highway                    May 17, 2013

The first real day of travel took us from Richmond, BC. to Revelstoke, BC. along the Trans Canada Highway.  It felt a bit surreal leaving Richmond and traveling east knowing that if we continued to travel east we would be home again in Vancouver in eight months time.

After driving all morning we stopped in the afternoon at the town of Salmon Arm.  We visited the cemetery there to pay our respects to Lyn’s grandparents and great grandmother.  For us it seemed appropriate to start the trip by paying our respects and thanking them for setting the ground work for the life we lead today.

Our first night of the trip was spent camping in Revelstoke at the KOA camp ground.

A Journey Around the World – Day 2

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Richmond, BC., Canada                              May 16, 2013

Having left our mountain home in Squamish, BC. we drove down to Richmond, BC., just outside of Vancouver near the Frazer River.  We spent a couple of days here to make sure that we had everything we needed for the long trip ahead.

We had some time on our hands and so we took advantage of the opportunity to be tourists in our own back yard.  We went to the nearby fishing village of Steveston where I did some sketches of the water front. Steveston is known for its commercial fishing port and was historically a salmon canning port.

The Yin and Yang of Painting Portraits

Portrait Sketches


Most of the time I am painting landscapes from Canada and my travels.  The last couple of  weeks I have been focusing on watercolour portrait sketches as a way to practice accuracy.  I find doing these sketch book studies a lot of fun and at the same time challenging.  I think for the style of art that I do that drawing is foundational and always will be.  I believe it is really important to develop the spatial drawing skills that just comes from practice and close observation.

The Yin and Yang of painting portraits is for me a way of describing the relationship between accuracy to form and detail and at the same time keeping the pictures loose and allowing for the organic nature of watercolour.  I have heard it said of painting portraits that  “the soul is in the details”.  With that in mind I usually put more detail into the face and specifically the eyes.  While I am working carefully on the details of the face I am at the same time putting in loose washes in other parts of the picture.  It is a challenge to be loose and accurate at the same time. At the end of the day I am making a piece of art and so I am hoping to convey a little of the spirit of the person.

A Fresh Approach To My Watercolour Painting

Travel Sketching

When I am painting outdoors and time is limited, I will often sketch and paint in a different style than I would if I was in my studio.  The style that I use in my sketch books is often pen and ink with watercolour washes or pencil drawings with watercolour washes.  Its all fun either way and to approach a piece of paper as if it doesn’t matter about the outcome of the art work is liberating.

I think that the field sketches done while I am traveling are a big part of what I do and so I recently created a new gallery on my web site called “Travel Sketches” under the Painting Galleries section.  Not all of these sketches were created on location in some distant land but were recreated in the studio in this “lighter style”.  I have included a few examples from a trip to Nepal where my wife and I were hiking the Annapurna Circuit.  The picture at the top of this post is an example of one my studio paintings.

Travel Sketching

Travel Sketching

Travel sketching for me is a great opportunity to motivate and improve as an artist, as well as creating a visual diary of the places I go.

Two years ago I was fortunate in being able to travel for eight months to South America, Africa and Asia with my wife Lyn.  We visited fourteen countries on this trip and I sketched and painted as much as possible along the way.  At one point in Africa I no longer had a camera to back up my sketches and it was at this point that I really started to sketch in earnest as I had no other way to record visually what I was seeing.
This was an important moment of understanding for me in that it made me realize that I should approach all of my sketching moving forward as if I don’t have a camera and this is the only opportunity I would ever get to record what I was seeing.  This idea is a gentle reminder to me to do my very best while sketching on location and not to think that I can complete the picture later in the comfort of my studio.

When I look at the sketches I did on location on this trip I am transported back in my mind to that experience.  For me these drawings and paintings are very personal, in the same way a written diary can be.

Today I would like to show you some sketches from India and Nepal.  These two countries are enough to keep me busy producing watercolour paintings for a long time.

Painting with limited colours.

Plein-Air Painting, watercolour painting


Yesterday I painted a cemetery scene in watercolour in North Vancouver.BC. I was painting this picture in response to an on-line challenge by James Gurney, who is a great plein aire artist, author and illustrator. He is hosting a challenge to paint a cemetery in a restricted palette.  See his blog http://www.gurneyjourney.blogspot.com and look for Graveyard Challenge, October in the index.

Painting with limited colours forces you to work a little harder to mix your colours and the result is a more harmonious painting.  If you normally have 15 or so colours available to paint with it is easy to end up with a painting that lacks harmony when you start adding colours all over the place.

It is also more difficult to get contrast and deep colours when you are only using three colours to mix. The colours I used for this painting were cobalt blue, cadmium red and aureolin yellow.  I found this a great exercise for painting and will practise this more often. I also appreciate painting something I would not normally consider.  On line painting challenges are a great way to get out of your comfort zone.  Thanks for that James!

Finding a good subject to paint.

Plein-Air Painting

Sometimes I find that the best way to find a good subject to paint in the woods is to walk off the trail a few hundred feet and just stop and sit down.  Trying to find the perfect scene seldom works for me.  There is always something interesting to paint if I take the time to slow down and really look at what is around me in the forest.

On a recent hike to Mt. Seymour near Deep Cove, BC. I was looking for a stream to paint that would be cascading down through the woods. Normally this would be easy enough to find as there are dozens of streams in this area, but it has been a dry summer and so I wasn’t finding  what I was looking for. Ok; time for plan “B”.

Plan “B” in this situation for me is to just walk off the trail, sit down and start painting.  It sounds ridiculous but it works.  Finding subject matter to paint can be really difficult if you over think it. The water colour study I did that day I also made into a studio version.  I do this just to explore my visual ideas with out time restraints and mosquitos.  The painting below is the field study.

IMG_4002 (2)

Painting at Goldie Lake, Mount Seymour

Plein-Air Painting

The weather has been great for getting out on location and so I have been hiking and painting in several locations on Mt. Seymour.  The trails can be a little rough and so it’s helpful to take your time.  On my last two day trips to Mt. Seymour I managed to get temporarily lost one day and the next trip I sprained my ankle on the way home.  The trails here definitely demand respect.

The trail to Goldie Lake from the upper parking lot is short and relatively easy and made for a great day.  The lake is a little low on water but still beautiful.   The watercolour painting that I started here I finished at home in my studio.Goldie Lake, Mnt. Seymour

Painting on location in North Vancouver, BC

Plein-Air Painting

Looking North from Dog MountainMystery Lake, Mnt. SeymourIMG_3928 (2)Lynn Creek StudyFor the last couple of months I have been painting on location on the north shore of Vancouver, BC.  I enjoy getting out of my studio and capturing first impressions of the streams, trees, and mountains.

Some of these plein aire sketches were used to create studio paintings but I find that for me, painting outdoors is a great way to learn and improvise. Time and weather force you to keep the paintings simple. Most of the time I work outdoors using the easel that’s in the photograph of Lynn Creek.

I have included a few more examples of recent plein aire paintings.Stream Study, Mnt. Fromme

Lynn Creek Photo.