Plein-air pen and wash on paper

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This morning, the Plein Air Nanaimo group ventured out to Beachcomber Park in Nanoose, about a half hour ride from where we live.

I found a spot in the shade with a cool breeze coming of the ocean and started to make a watercolour sketch of some waterfront properties across the bay.

Beachfront in Nanoose on 8.5×11 Fabriano watercolour paper.

No pen and ink this time. I started about 10:30 with a pencil to rough-in the main elements in reasonable proportions and with some editing to decide where the darkest areas should to be placed. One should not forget that the sun will not stay put but will continually change the patterns of light and dark areas. So I committed to some dark shapes such as the tall fir trees in the back and kept going with that configuration in mind.

After some time I noticed people on the beach with binoculars that where pointing at the top of the trees behind me. Turns out there was a large eagle’s nest. These always draw the attention from locals and visitors alike. I did not let that disturb my focus on painting as I was having fun and wanted to limit my time to complete this watercolour at noon or so, in one go without stopping.


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Farmers Market

Every Saturday morning during the summer there is a farmer’s market on Pioneer plaza in downtown Nanaimo.

It is a pleasant event with live music provided by our local keyboard player, Marti, who plays a variety of melodies and rhythms that get your feet tapping along.

I bought a coffee and some oatmeal raison cookies, settled down in a corner and did some sketching of the happenings in front of me.

Farmer’s Market

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Scribbling and Bike-riding.

After suffering through a recent heat-wave, the weather has returned to normal summer conditions, a mixture of sun and clouds with 30% chance of showers. The latter is desirable, but did not happen.

I rode my bike to several places on various roads (sidewalks mostly) and trails, to end up at Colliery Dam park while stopping here and there to make some sketches or scribbles. Also took time out for more blackberries along the trail.

My first stop was at Buttertubs Bird Sanctuary. This is a marsh land or popular City Park with viewpoints, benches and a tower providing observation posts for birders. This facility provides a well used, level hiking trail, all the way around the marsh with mostly deciduous bushes and trees. It makes you feel like you are out of town, except for the parking lot, where a large apartment building is under construction.

Looking across Buttertubs marsh with the Morrel Sanctuary on the hill in the background.

When I arrived at the Colliery Dam park, there was almost nobody else around; very unusual for this time of the year. The lake behind the dam was originally used to wash coal for one of the several coal mining companies that started Nanaimo around the late 1800’s and early 19th century.

The lake is said to be very deep and is used for swimming and fishing trouts that are stocked up in the fall. Today there were only two boys sitting on a diving platform, that is floating in the lake.

I made two sketches from the same group of trees across the lake, one in pen and ink and the second one the same, except with water colour added. I really enjoy doing this.

Tree along the shore using pen and ink scribbling.

Tree along the shore with colours added.

Lately I favour my cheap little 6”x9” sketchbook from the dollar store. It has 70 lbs cartridge paper that is sized for pen work and handles light washes from a water-brush very well. You have to get used to it because it soaks up the water. The whole set-up travels light when walking or cycling.

Next effort was a watercolour starting with pencil in an effort to omit the pen and ink altogether.

Section of the Parkway Trail in watercolour.
After I got home, Gerda suggested that it needed some penwork to give it more definition. as shown here.

I want to try watercolour on itself more often, but with an easier subject that has well defined geometrical shapes, such as a house or building.

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Living Forest Campground

Once a year, the Plein Air Nanaimo group visits a campground located on Maki Road, along the Nanaimo River. It is a popular camping in a mature second growth forest. It is always busy or occupied to nearly full capacity, summer and winter.

When I was walking to my usual spot along the river, I noticed that many blackberries were ripe and could not resist foraging these delicious fruits. That was not a waist of time, but did take out of my sketching time.

Nanaimo River

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Duncan B.C.

Yesterday we visited Duncan just to have something different to do and to look at.

It has a pleasant downtown area and an open air museum called Forestry Discovery Centre. Years ago we took our grandsons over there quite often as it is a great place for kids of all ages. Unfortunately, teenagers are not likely to go on day-trips with grandparents anymore.

This is all about forestry, history and present day harvesting of timber. It has very interesting interior displays and a few hectares of forestry with walking trails to look at equipment used over a hundred years ago as well as more recent, say 50 years or so. A train ride around the site is included in the admission fee. This and a large playground with picnic areas makes it attractive for kids of all ages.

After lunch we went to the downtown area where I found a spot to settle down and make a sketch of the city hall before driving back home.

Duncan City Hall in 8” x 10” sketchbook

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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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Sebastian Beach

Today, the Plein Air Nanaimo group went to the Sebastian Beach in Lantzville. We got to enjoy another hot summer day. There is always a cool breeze along the ocean front to stay cool if you can also find a tree that provides shade as well. However, this morning the breeze was only a bit short of a storm but not strong enough to blow me of my little stool.

From my spot I looked at two houses in the distance against a continuous green wall of trees in the background, with a sandy beach in the foreground. Some creativity was necessary to vary the size, spacing etc. of the trees to keep it interesting.

Incoming tide at Sebastian Beach. Pen &ink with watercolour using a sheet of 8.5” x 11”, 90 lbs Fabriano paper.

The best part of the outing came at noon when we all met at the local pub for lunch. Pleasant atmosphere and great bar food.

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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

Today, I drove to the Morden Mine site and set down to sketch and photograph the renovated Structures.

What strikes you immediately is the look of a clean site with the chainlink fence removed and replaced with a cedar log fence. The head frame and tipple structures are standing proudly, their rigid geometric shapes form a stark contrast with the organic shapes of the tall fir trees.

I set down and started working immediately, but not for very long as both my fountain pens were empty. The drawing had to be finished with a pencil. Not my preference, but considered the other option of driving back to town as out of the question.

Pencil sketch of the structures. A few itinerant pen lines are still part of this drawing. To copy this arrangement of columns and beams is a time consuming puzzle, but can be done when you feel relaxed and have a coffee on the side.
Water colour facsimile of the current Morden Mine structure.

To finish the afternoon, I tried a partial pencil drawing from the same location.

Pencil drawing using various grades of graphite from 2B to 4B.

I missed my ink pens, and refilled them as soon as I got home.

A photo from the same location as the pencil drawing to complete the slide show

Photo shot around noon. The shadows were more interesting at 4:30 when I had to go home.
Photo of overall heritage structure in the late afternoon.