Plein-air pen and wash on paper

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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.


City View

This week the Plein Air Nanaimo group ventured to a new location. It was an empty lot along Machleary Street, with a view over the downtown area and the Straight of Georgia in the background.

It used to be the site of The Malaspina Lodge, a landmark building from the 1920’s, but recently demolished. It took the owners about a year to get a development permit for a new facility at this location, to be used for seniors housing or assisted living, as it is sometimes referred too.

Years ago now, when I was still working at RJC, I had to make a structural assessment and report of the old concrete building; a strong and solid structure. However, the short spans, low ceilings and the reinforced concrete walls , floors etc, among other things, is what probably made it cost prohibitive for making structural alterations in trying to achieve large open spaces and other features meeting 21st century’s expectations.

Anyways, our meeting at the site was on a cold Monday morning, but I like this kind of view, so I made an effort to fill one page in my sketchbook notwithstanding weather conditions, cold hands and feet.

Partial view over downtown with some islands and the Straight of Georgia or Salish Sea in the background.

As with most of these sites, garbage is accumulating over time. Most notably four large (empty) oil drums, that I included in the foreground.

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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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Colliery Dam Park

Yesterday I got new glasses with progressive lenses and felt a need to try it out. It turned out to be a great improvement. It was a very nice day with a mixture of clouds and sunshine; ideal conditions for a bicycle trip.

I sat down on a bench in Colliery Dam Park to focus on a small section of forest across the lake and started doodling with the water colours on Fabriano 1264 paper. It was great to alternate between looking close-up on my sketch-block, with distant observations of the subject within a split second. Just like it should be.

Foliage at the edge of the lake.

Today it looks like the rain season is seriously considering to take over the summer weather that we enjoyed recently.

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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.


Departure Bay

This morning I had to run some errands, requiring the use of the car.

I used the opportunity to stop at Departure Bay to make two sketches. The first one was hurried as it looked like it was going to rain. Only two colours were used, sap green and dioxazine violet.

Houses along the beach at Departure Bay.

After a while I took a short break and the sun started to peak through the clouds, now and then, providing shade and colour to the scenery, which I find inspiring. Again sitting on a log on the beach, I sketched the houses cascading down the hillside, an area of town referred to as as Sherwood Forest with Sugarloaf Mountain at the top.

Sherwood Forest neighbourhood.

Both sketches were made in my new 7”x10” spiral bound sketchbook with the trade name Fabriano 1264. I really like this paper as the pen glides nicely across the surface and the paper (pulp) is sized to receive water colours very well. It is cheap, so nobody has to feel inhibited to try new things or to take some chances here and there.


Ladysmith BC

Today we visited the Arts show or market on the main street in Ladysmith where artists, artisans and craftspeople displayed and offered their work for sale. Before the pandemic it was referred to as Arts on the Avenue, a popular annual event.

Compared to previous years, it was reduced from three city blocks to one but nevertheless very interesting and well attended. I settled down to make some sketches. When I was almost finished with the first drawing, it turned out that my fountain pen was empty.

View from the corner of Roberts Street and 1st Avenue.

The nearby pharmacy was open for business, so I checked if they had pens for sale. Sure enough there was a small stationary section in the far corner where I found a permanent marker. The term permanent indicates that the ink is waterproof and will not wash out.

When I started to draw the market scene from the other end of the avenue, it turned out that this marker produced a much thicker line than what I was used to. Anyways, I carried on and finished my picture. I am always game for trying new things and will probably use this marker again in the future.

Same stage as the previous sketch but viewed from the opposite site on the avenue.

We concluded our visit with dinner or late lunch at the Spice Hut Indian Cuisine. This proved to be an excellent choice, except they did not serve draft beers, however, the bottled beer was effective in quenching the spicy food.