Plein-air pen and wash on paper

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Around Town

Every day this week the weather forecast predicted rain, so I decided to stay close to home and walk out instead of riding my bike, to make a sketch. But it has not rained yet; so much for the weather man’s credibility. Hopefully it stays that way because we have many visitors coming to Nanaimo for the dragon boat races this weekend, a major annual event.

This section of Front Street is visible from a bench that is located next to the Dorchester Hotel. It is often used by personnel from nearby businesses to have a cigarette break, or nowadays a vape(?), I think it is called. Anyways when I occupy this bench to sketch these buildings, they choose to sit on the steps about twenty feet away.

The sketch shows part of the Pacifica Apartment building and the Federal building.

Thursday night is market day on Commercial Street. I rushed to get this sketch in my book and finished before trucks and vans from the vendors would block my view. In the rush I missed the big sign on the wall, that says “Dakin Block”. This name can be found on the internet at City of Nanaimo Community Heritage Register, under “Hirst Block” (Dakin Block) at 93-99 Commercial Street. The big pick-up truck in front moved after I left.

The next drawing shows a peculiar building. When we first came to Nanaimo, more than 20 years ago, it was the credit union building until they moved out and was vacant for quite a few years after that. The tower would suggest that it was originally a firehall, as towers like that were needed to dry the hoses, but this is just conjecture on my behalf, as I don’t really know.

Today I sat down in a comfortable chair on the outside seating area of the Vault, a coffee shop at the intersection of Albert Street and Wallace. The building across the road from me appeared old and many times renovated to accommodate the various restaurants that occupied this establishment over the years. It looks like every time it changed owners, that the renovations were carried out by the chef himself instead of a contractor as it looks incoherent and messy, but that makes it an interesting subject for sketching. The Queen’s Hotel is in the background.

By the way, the rumour around town is that the Nana sushi and the Mambo pizza next door to it serve delicious meals, and that’s what counts. Compliments to the chef, just don’t give him a hammer!


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Canada Day

We started out today with a Plein Air Nanaimo outing at Pipers lagoon where I made a quick sketch and a watercolour of the lagoon on a quarter sheet of good paper.

The purpose of the sketch was to get a general feel for the scenery.

Then in the afternoon, we went to Maffeo-Sutton park at the waterfront, together with hundreds of other people, to enjoy the local Canada Day celebrations.

I found a spot in the shade to make some sketches while listening to the different bands that were playing music.

The second sketch shows the permanent canvas roof with the first-aid truck in the foreground. Originally I was going to draw a red firetruck, but shortly after I started the firemen left, leaving me with an outlook as shown in this picture.



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Nanaimo Sites

These dilapidated barns are located in Beban Park. Part of this area is the venue for the annual Vancouver Island Exhibition (, which is this year commemorating the 125th fair from August 23 to 25. It is an agricultural fair with an amusement park featuring spectacular rides and games, rock bands and generally a lot of fanfare.

It was very quiet on a Sunday afternoon when I made this sketch; nobody around in this neck of the woods. However, other areas at Beben such as the tennis courts, soccer fields, golf course, swimming pool and skating rink, BMX track, gardens and playground were all in use.

Another frequent stop on one of my favourite bicycle routes is Stone’s marina with the floating old boathouses that were built and maintained by different owners over many decades. The forested area of Newcastle island is the backdrop in this picture. Could have been or maybe should have been a bit darker, but there is always ‘next time’.

Both of these sketches were made on the same Sunday, about 2 weeks ago, when I only carried a very small tin box with only 4 pigments in it and a water brush, in my backpack.

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Aboriginal Day in the Park.

Once a year the people of the Snuneymuxw First Nation share their culture with the citizens of Nanaimo in Maffeo Sutton Park located along the waterfront close to downtown. Every time there is a huge turnout of the aboriginals and the general public.

There are several artisans displaying their artwork, there is traditional music and dance and activities for kids. But the most popular attraction is the salmon BBQ and bannock. Essentially the latter is dough fried in hot oil, and it is said that bread baked in this manner is a main staple of First Nations food. At this point, I want to mix up some cultures. In the Netherlands were we came from, a similarly baked bread is used as a treat on new years’s eve referred to as “oliebollen”.

I settled down in the shade of a tree with a view of the general area to make this quick sketch. I is impossible to find a spot that meets all your desires; shade, comfortable seating and a nice view with no obstructions. When starting out, I thought that the van would move eventually as it was unloading stuff but it didn’t, so it got included. It was still there when I left.


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.


The Malaspina College, VIU.

There are several comfortable benches on the campus of the Vancouver Island University (VIU) such as the one in front of the cafeteria with a view of the library building.

I settled in for a couple of hours to carefully draw the front of this building facade with all the frivolous architectural details.

Notice that above the lettering “Library” their is a faint picture of an arbutus tree that I tried to copy. This used to be the emblem of the Malaspina College, now referred to as the VIU. This institution appears to be ever expanding and is a real asset for the people of Nanaimo and the mid-island in general.

One has to be in good physical shape to attend school or work on this campus, as the stairs from the bottom to the top of the hill probably count close to 200 steps.

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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.