Plein-air pen and wash on paper

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The Vault

A heritage building in Nanaimo, referred to as ‘the Vault’, was originally a bank around 1900. It is now used as a very popular coffee shop operated by local entrepreneurs.

As most restaurants and coffee shops now have an outdoor seating area or patio, I took the liberty to sit down and sketch one of the the magnificant windows of this building.

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Last Monday‘s Paint-out

Last Monday we went to Pipers Lagoon park. The sky was clear but there was a cold wind blowing in from the ocean. I knew of a perfect spot on the beach on the lee-side of a rock bluff with a view of the beach to make a sketch.

Pipers Lagoon beach

In After lunch, I decided that I was on a roll and sat down at a bus stop on Front Street to sketch this view of Church Street. The white van parked on the sidewalk is a City service vehicle that stayed put long enough to get it in the drawing.

Intersection of Front and Church Streets.

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Melange is a restaurant on Commercial Street, operated by a french speaking owner or Quebecois. It is next door to “the Modern Café”, operated by a husband and wife team, also originating from Quebec. Both places serve excellent lunches and dinners.

Anyways, I sat on a chair across the street in front of Artzi Stuff, to make this sketch from the people enjoying their (late) lunch on the patio of Melange. What caught my attention was the reflection of the umbrellas in the store windows; an interesting repetition of blue shapes.

I looked up what melange stands for. The french dictionary returns the word “mixing”.Perhaps it alludes to the variety of dishes offered on the menu, or a blending of flavours?

Folks enjoying their lunch. Pen and ink sketch in my 7”x10” sketchbook.

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Labour Day Sketching

This morning we joined the Plein Air Nanaimo outdoor sketching group at the yacht-club for the second time this season at this location, as it was anticipated that the parks would be over crowded.

It was busy there as well, but we settled down anyways and started ‘labouring’.

View of the Maffeo-sutton park at the end of the seawall with some apartment buildings in the background. The tide is going out, which made for a convenient “lead-in” for my picture.

In the afternoon I decided to find a spot at the Swy-A-Lana Lagoon park to make a sketch of the lighthouse bistro.

7×10” sketch book.

This time I remembered to photograph the pen drawing before starting with the watercolours.

Drawing with my favorite fountain pen, TWSBI ECO, using platinum carbon waterproof ink.

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Summer is waning

It seems or feels like the temperature is dropping and the rainy season is returning. Time to enjoy some more outdoor sketching before it is too late. There are still a lot of visitors around town, judging by the licence plates on cars and people sitting on the patio of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. It gives the town a festive atmosphere.

This is particularly evident at the waterfront, such as Maffeo-sutton park, where I settled down the other day taking my time to do some sketching.

Maffeo-Sutton park. 7×10” sketch book from Fabriano (1264) using pen and ink plus watercolour with water brushes.

Yesterday I picked a spot on the crabbing pier to sketch the lighthouse bistro. Unfortunately, the sun hid behind the clouds soon after I started. It is a lot easier and more fun to work when the sun paints objects to provide colour and shadow shapes.

Lighthouse Bistro. 9×12” sketchbook, a Fabriano 1264 product that is now locally available at Iron Oxide.

Somehow the float plain ended up in a position where it looks like an extension of the ramp; a faux pas. Oh well, there is always next time. It started to rain by the time I got home.

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Parked in the Park.

The other day I found one of my old books “watercolour painting in ten lessons” by Joël Thézard, that has been sitting idle on my bookshelf for years. It was printed in the Netherlands in 1952, translated from french. It is quite unique in that the “method” is based on the premise to start watercolours with the dark areas first. This is contrary to the usual recommendations made in 9 out of 10 north American texts advocating to work from light to dark.

I have been reading Thézard‘s book lately and found it tempting enough to explore his approach again in pure watercolour. There is no pen and ink involved, just pencil marks to outline the shapes of objects and shadows. All pencil lines are erased at the end. One has to find or invent contrasting shapes (lights and darks) to define objects and to get some illusion of depth or three dimensional space.

I sat down in Maffeo Sutton park under a shade tree to try this out.

Structure in Maffeo Sutton Park.

A 7.5” x11” sketchbook and tiny brushes, (#5 and #8) were used, altogether somewhat small, which made it challenging but still entertaining enough to try more of this in the future. A larger sheet (quarter sheet) and a subject with a few simple shapes might be a better choice.

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Tourist Season

Artzi Stuff, who sells my 8.5” x 11” pictures, sometimes needs some new work that is representative of Nanaimo to offer to the many visitors that come into the store. One of the main attractions along the waterfront is the Bastion, an 18th century outpost of the Hudson Bay Company and the number one icon of Nanaimo.

People from the BC Interior and from the prairies converge on the West-coast since the travel gates have been opened again. Between May and October we get a fair share of visitors here in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, except for last year with the Covid 19 lockdown.

Lately, I have been busy in the studio producing facsimiles of Nanaimo scenery. It may be repetitive or somewhat boring but the space is air-conditioned and it is more efficient to turn out work than sitting outside in the heat. Yesterday, I made three pictures of the Bastion from different view points, using my own photographs with some tweaking here and there.

The Bastion viewed from Bastion Street.
The Bastion from the Pioneer Plaza side.
Bastion as can be seen from the Dorchester Hotel parking area.

These pictures are dated, as the weeping willow shown on the left hand side has been cut back significantly.

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Monday Morning Paint-out.

Today we went to the Colliery dam park in Harewood. The weather condition was perfect; actually starts to feel like fall already.

There is a lake, trees and sky, and spillway structures. To get a view of these for painting, one needs a boat. Failing that, there are some bits of concrete wall shown as in this picture with lots of forest.

Last week I sat down a few times in the downtown park along the waterfront to relax and do some sketching.

Permanent tent structure in the centre of Maffeo-Sutton park.

View of Newcastle Avenue.



The waterfront park in downtown Nanaimo is well used by visitors and locals alike at this time of the year. So it is busy but not crowded leaving adequate room for “social distancing”.

Usually, I take my little folding chair along to get the best choice for a spot to draw and paint. Yesterday I sketched the Lighthouse Bistro, another Nanaimo icon, possibly for the tenth time or so. There is a restaurant and bar in this building, and it serves as a floatplane terminal. This combination attracts a lot of attention from visitors.

8.5”x11”Fabriano, 140 lbs. hot press paper.

The building sits on wooden piles in the ocean. The concrete walkway is supported on concrete piers.

Today the sky was overcast and a much colder wind coming from the opposite direction made me decide to sit on the opposite side of the park. The yacht-club operates a sailing school for kids. This is fun to watch. Occasionally, one of these little sailing vessels tips over and it is amazing to see how quickly and efficiently these young sailors get their boat back in the upright position.

Incoming tide along the seawall.
8.5”x11”Fabriano, 140 lbs. hot press paper.

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Almost Summer

Today was perfect for taking my bike out of the storage room and explore he town, after being stuck at home for some time. My first stop was at the corner of Wallace and Fitzwilliam, across from New York Pizza where one can sit comfortably on a bench in a small park between the flowers. From here you can look across the valley with the old highway and Cliff Street at the bottom, and see the buildings on the other side. The view is partially blocked by a massive big-leaf maple tree.

About a hundred years ago, there was an inlet at the bottom of this valley, before it was backfilled with waste from coal mines.

Looking across the valley.

The next stop was at the University campus, which looks like a park at this time of the year, strangely enough deserted,except for some service trucks and security guards.

Here I sat down at a station dedicated for smokers, which is usually well occupied but not today. That provided me with the opportunity to settle in and make a sketch of the gymnasium, with the sciences building in the background.


The peculiar arch is a left-over from the original arch-shaped building, that was later modified to the square box as it appears today. The building behind it has the air plenums mounted on the exterior; an interesting architectural feature.