Plein-air pen and wash on paper

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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.



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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Two Paintings

During the days after Christmas (boxing day week) I bought a number of nice black frames on line and decided to make two new paintings to put on sale at Art10 Gallery.

Since it is still to cold to work outside I used photographs of scenery encountered in my neighbourhood during my morning walk when going for coffee.

One shows a train-barge with a tugboat. It sold within days of hanging it on the wall of the gallery.

The other one shows a heritage house , referred to as the Sullivan Residence in the City of Nanaimo Heritage Register, with an apartment building in the background that has a peculiar steeple on top, commonly found on Ukrainian churches.

Both are 11″x15″ in size on Arches 90lbs. cold-pressed paper, also purchased on line and on boxing day. I tried out one sheet of this paper that I had bought locally before investing in a whole roll of the same stuff, resulting in a 30% saving.

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Settling in at Port Drive

Saturday was a sunny day with a cold wind. Nevertheless, I have been looking at this structure for so many years now, time to try drawing it as the area was recently made accessible to the general public. It took me about an hour before it got too cold and I had to move again, after making my sketch and a snapshot with my ipad.

The drawing part was almost finished but the rendering had to be completed at home where it was warmer. The problem with that is that the enthusiasm is fading and it becomes an exercise of filling in of areas in dark and light values.

Also what is missing here are the railway cars, the tugboat and the barge, all of which have colours other than grey and black. On the upside, this train rail-to-barge transfer ramp is here to stay for a long time and only a few minutes walk from where I live. There will be other opportunities to give it another go.

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Port Drive

Port Drive is a large waterfront area close to downtown Nanaimo. It formed part of the main industrial area of the region that started with coal mining about 150 years ago. After the mines closed in the 1920’s or so, the forestry industry took over with sawmills which have now been removed, leaving large open spaces. A railway, connecting the harbour with the E&N railway and a rail-to-barge-transfer ramp is still operational, as are the docks and wharfs for ocean-going ships such as cruise ships and freighters.

The City of Nanaimo developed a Master Plan for the area which can be found on their website. This plan looks very promising and reflects input from various steak holders and the general public.

This summer the access was significantly improved with the removal of fences and the construction of a new road, bicycle trails and walkways. A work in progress.

Yesterday I walked over there to sit down and make this sketch looking back towards downtown through a forest of utility poles of all kinds on a worn-out asphalted parking lot. The choice of this spot was predicated by an old wooden chair leaning against a fence that somebody had left behind. It is very close to the location of the boat that I drew last week as shown in my previous post.

There are several interesting industrial facilities and features in this area; a lot of future potential sketching material.

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A Floating Parking Garage

For some time now, we see this huge ship coming and going to be moored at a dock that is visible from our living room. I read in the paper that it is here to unload luxury cars from Europe, store these cars and prepare them to meet Canadian standards before distribution to car dealerships along the west coast of B.C.

From where we are only the front is visible, or the bow as it is called, and I have been curious all along what the other side looks like and how they unload these things.

So last Saturday morning when we enjoyed nice weather I took out my bicycle to ride over there and have a first-hand look. I also made a sketch of the backside or stern, including our apartment building in the background. I tried to keep it simple using a 7×10 sketch book with cartridge paper and with a water brush that was almost empty; not as much fun to work with as watercolour paper with 100% cotton content and real paint brushes.

They have about a half a dozen drivers taking the cars down to the temporary holding facilities. A small bus takes the drivers back to the boat. The ship disappeared again before the day was over. I sometimes wonder how these things stay upright during a storm on the ocean, because of the huge broad side?

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Gabriola Ferry Terminal.

The Ferry terminal for Gabriola island is close to our apartment building. The other day I sat down in the grass along the walkway and sketched this maze of tubes, piles, struts, beams, railings and what have you. It took me a while and my back started to hurt from sitting so long (almost one hour or so) in the same position.


The grey wash was added while sitting at a desk using a photo.


Gabriola Ferry

The Gabriola ferry terminal is close to our apartment building. The ferry goes back and forth all day across the Northumberland Channel carrying cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians between downtown Nanaimo and Gabriola island in a one hour round trip more or less, including loading and disembarking of all traffic. The actual sailing time is only about 15 minutes.

The docks on either side are quite elaborate installations that I have been looking at for several years now and finally decided to draw from close up. After a half hour or so the ferry boat came in changing the whole scenery, but it did not stay put long enough for me to finish the drawing. It is fun to improvise and make things look right as nobody needs my drawings to build from.

That was a different story years ago when I was working for a Victoria engineering firm. I was involved with the design of the structural aspects of ferry terminals for additions, modifications and maintenance of the BC Ferry facilities around Nanaimo. An interesting diversion from buildings or bridge construction work. In those days, drawings or blue-prints had to be correct so that they could be used for tendering and construction of projects.

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Around Town

The hot weather of the last few days, makes a person look for a shady spot to do some sketching. It seems that I often end up in one of my favourite spots such as this one with a view of the Light House Bistro.


Or this one from the same spot showing Cameron Island where we live.


Pen and ink on 9” x 12” cartridge paper or pulp that is sold, very cheap, as watercolour paper.

Not as nice as the “real stuff”, but it takes away any inhibitions one might have about waisting expensive materials. The ink-pen glides nicely on this surface as well.


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Along the Nanaimo Waterfront

Today we enjoyed late summer weather to do some sketching along the waterfront.

I tried out another Fude pen with a bent nib, this one from Duke (a chinese brand) and filled it with blue watercolor ink. It works quite nice, but the converter or ink reservoir is too small; it will run empty after a half hour or so of drawing. This is a picture of a water feature which is part of the Swyalana lagoon, a park close to downtown.

In the afternoon I moved along to the end of the seawall to sketch some boats with Newcastle Island in the background.