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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Comox Valley

Last week we made a trip to Courtenay. It was a nice late summer day and I took the opportunity to sketch a sawmill. When I was still working, we had several projects in the Comox Valley, so I passed this site many times, but never had enough time to make a decent sketch.

This operation is the Thomson Bros. Lumber Co. Ltd. They have an interesting website:, explaining their services and history, which started in 1968. This happens to be the year in which I immigrated to Canada.

I took my time to make the first sketch while sitting across the road with my back to the sun.

Some of the timber structures of the sawmill along Cumberland Road.

After taking a break there was about one half hour time left for making another sketch; this one real quick. The colours where added after I got home.

The sawmill’s front office.

If it was up to me, this facility would be added to the local heritage register in the industrial heritage category.

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Recently we have been hiding in the studio as it is air-conditioned.

I use photographs or old paintings to make new (edited) pictures on 8.5”x11” watercolour paper.

Shacks from Shack Island.
Shacks from Shack Island
Shacks from Shack Island.

Over the years the shacks are slightly modified and sometimes repainted in different colours.

Steam Locomotive from the Forestry Museum.
A photograph of the signage with a description of the Locomotive.

Years ago when we took our grandchildren to this park, this impressive steam engine was still used to pull some passenger cars over the tracks that run around the site.

This thing was a lot of work to get properly copied from my photograph at the site. The background and the car with the lumber was just ‘fabricated’ by me using other photographs, to display the locomotive in context.

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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.


Steam Donkey

Today we joined the Plein Air Nanaimo, Monday morning outing, to the Transfer Beach Park in Ladysmith.

My favourite subject there is this piece of forestry heritage equipment that was used to pull logs to a central processing area in the woods. It is a large winch operated by a steam engine. It was mounted on two logs so that it could be hauled around on difficult terrain.

I started with a pen drawing on a 11” x 15” sketchbook on water colour paper.

pen and ink sketch.

As I had inadvertently omitted to pack my chair with side tray used for out door painting, the work was completed in our air conditioned studio using a series of photographs.

The Steam Donkey from Ladysmith, BC.

A photograph of the “real” thing.


Morden Mine on Crutches

The repairs to the Morden Mine structures are in progress. There is so much scaffolding to support the structures that the concrete columns and walls are hardly visible anymore.

A quick pen sketch with a Payne’s grey wash, while sitting in my car.

Here and there one can see the new concrete surfaces peaking through the scaffolding, replacing the old crumbling sections at this century old heritage site. Hopefully, there will be sufficient funds to complete this restoration work soon and remove the crutches.

Refer to for information on this heritage resource and the people associated with this project.

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Nanaimo Heritage

Heritage photos publicized by the local archives and the museum are currently drawing my attention and feeding my imagination. This started when the museum staff who invited people to produce photos and other two dimensional work for an exhibit at the museum.

Like many events, this was interrupted by the covid 19 pandemic, but is still alive, although the format changed a bit. So instead of sketching an existing heritage building, I started to collect photographs published on facebook. I don’t copy photos but try to take enough clues from them to experiment a bit. It started with several versions and I might use this one for the museum show.

Mining Village. 9”x13”, dip pen and ink on watercolour paper

The next one is a facsimile depicting a collection of houses along Fraser Street. This is very steep sloping street that used to go down to the waterfront of an inlet before it was filled with waste from the coal mines.

Looking down on Fraser Street at the beginning of the 19th century.

These pictures are all done inside as the weather has been cold and wet for the most part of this week. It is more exciting to sketch from the real world, but working at a desk allows for experimenting or simply playing around with new ideas. So I found this bamboo dip pen and started to draw with it using old heritage photos as a resource.

Coal Mine around the turn of the 18th to 19th century in Nanaimo.
Sketch on 7”x9” paper with India Ink and Bamboo dip pen.
11”x15” sketch on watercolour paper using Noodlers golden brown ink.

I did not realize that this ink washes out when applying watercolours. It starts out as a dark brown, almost black, and turns yellow when “washed”. I will try this again on hot pressed paper to see what happens.

For all of these sketches Chinese brushes were used that I found in my arsenal of paraphernalia. They hold a lot of water, and if used carefully have a fine point where the tip meets the paper, however, it takes some effort getting used to manipulating these things. Also they are “cheap” compared to the average watercolour brush; like $5 for a Chinese brush versus $30 for a #12 synthetic or $60 for a similar “Kolinsky Sable” brush. Go figure!


Last Week

Last week I went out a few times to park the car and make some sketches. Two were made on the day of the Super Bowl, when it looked like all of Canada likes to forget about politics and watch the American game. 2020.02.02 was the predictable outcome.

These were made at various residential areas around the centre of town, where the realtors refer to properties as character houses. The “infill” with watercolour was done at home.

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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.