Ma grande aventure virtualle – savoring Najac, France


Arrived at Gare de Lyon Par-dieu, early enough to grab a coffee and a croissant at the cafe across the street.

My plan was to catch the first train leaving the station, to wherever it went. After a couple of stops and changes of trains in other cities I stumbled upon the enticing village of Najac in the South of France.

A pleasant wind of fate led me to a cheap room near city center, on a whim I took it. I think I will put ma grande aventure virtualle on hold for a bit and just savor the place, will let you know when the urge to move hits me – for now just keep sketching.

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ma grande aventure virtuelle – first three stops


Well, I am off on ma grande aventure virtuelle! First stop, headed back to Normandy in France, was last there three months ago, seems like so much longer.

The Château de Domfront was important enough to be attacked by William the Conquer in 1051. It was ordered demolished during the reign of Henry IV in 1608. Restoration work and a park were undertaken in 1984.

Thanks to the speed of virtual travel, after a morning at the chateau I headed for Le Bouquete, 267km away. Back to a restaurant we went to in March, one of the best dining experiences I have ever had, figured it was worth a repeat.

Le Bouquete is French for bar-b-cue. The restaurant is in a troglodyte cave. Underground, fire and coals blazing, and wonderful food and service. The last time I was here I had the andoulette – a course ground sausage not for the weak of stomach. Thanks to the ingredients of pork, chitterlings, pepper, wine, onion, and seasonings all stuffed into the intestine of a pig, it has quite a strong smell. It is not often found outside of France. The owner was reluctant to bring it to me, but I loved it. This time I think it is just pork for me though, I do like variety.

Done with lunch now I am headed for the train satiation in Lyon, with a stop off at the medieval village of Pèrouges a bit East of Lyon. It was a Gallic community founded in 1167, known for its linens, in 1601 it became French. Today it attracts tourist, easy to see why. From here I will head to the train station in Lyon.

Are you off on any adventures, virtual or otherwise? Let me know how they go.

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Two tickets, where would we go? Let’s take a trip!


If we had free tickets to anyplace in the world, where would we go? I have asked people that question all over the world, dreaming about une grande aventure has always been good for conversation, even more so as many of us are still in Le Confinement.

If I asked you that question where would we be off to? We leave this afternoon, where would we go? Leave your destination in a comment, it will be interesting.

Having proposed the question to hundreds of people, the most frequent answer is a bit surprising. I will let you guess for a few days before I reveal my unscientific survey results.

Thanks to Google Street View, imagination, and a sketchpad we can take trips without leaving our home. So I am off on un voyage. I will sketch the journey as I go and post it here and on instagram.

Where would you go? How about taking a virtual trip and sketching the sights? Post your sketches on Instagram and tag them #thetravelsketcher

This is a sketch of Paine Field, I was there and did it the day it opened, so it will be the starting point for my trip, watch for the first stop, and tell me yours.

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Another week, a glimpse of things opening


It was a good week. We did a couple of video chats with friends and family, there is a bit of talk about some things opening up, some of the COVID stats are looking better – I always look for bits of progress.

Sketching and painting this week was all over the place.

This was actually done on location, something that has not been all that frequent these last few week. It was good to see children playing at the beach and a couple of kites in the sky. It seemed like folks were observing safe practices as well.

One of the attractions of Sumi-e is that you get to creat your own worlds, a bit of escapism. I was particularly pleased with the white gouache bamboo on gray tinted paper.

Neville, notre chat, stole my chair, so I sketched it, if he denies it I have proof.

Then of course a lot of the week my mind wandered to France. If the microbes had not taken over the world we would be putting our house on the market about now, with plans to relocate in Normandy.

Sketching took me back to March, I was having un cafe at the base of these stairs to the Chateau de Blois. Which I could do that today.

Hope your week went well, would love to see your sketches! Keep on traveling even if it is only in your imagination.

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How to Travelsketch from Photos, and some recent sketches


One of the delights of being a Travelsketcher is being immersed in a place, soaking up the sights and sounds of the people going by, the breeze blowing, while your sketchpad and paints connect you to the environment, actually making you a part of the action. Sketching on location is the superior experience. Yet there are times when it is not practical, see this blog on 3 Times not to Travelsketch. There are times when sketching from a photo make a lot of sense. As I write this many of us are under Le Confinement longing for other scenes to capture beyond the view from a window.

There are many that eschew sketching from photos at all costs, and are non-supportive of those of us that do. Sketching live is best, yet I would rather sketch from a photo than not sketch. Are there special challenges? Bien sur !

It is important to avoid, get over, stop trying to copy the photo you are sketching from. Approach sketching from a photo the same way you would if you were physically present. You would think about composition, pick the focal point or central interest. Think about where the eyesight line will go on your page, avoiding placing it in the center – one-third of the way from top or bottom works well. Do the same things when sketching from a photo.

Identify the key object, building, tree, flower, mountain, etc. and position it for good effect. The rule of thirds usually works – the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines dividing the page/scene into thirds. I often use the cropping function on my iPad to compose, it works as a viewfinder, blocking out extraneous and distracting objects, and allows me to position the key elements.

If you were actually there you might leave leave things out, quite all right to do that from a photo, and there is no obligation to getting the colors to exactly match. Capture the moment, Erin Hill says she paints the colors she wants, not concerned about matching.

One advantage to drawing from a photo is that you can get the angles right, and the lines in right proportions. One day I must do a blog on proportional dividers, they are a real help.

Pay attention to the dark areas, remember they are what makes art work. It is all about the contrasts of darks and lights. If you don’t emphasize the darks, your sketch will look flat. You may have to exaggerate shade and shadows on the sketch to make it work. (Shade is the dark side of a tree or building, shadow is the dark image that happens on the ground because the tree blocks the light).

Having said all this remember, the most important thing to being a sketcher is to sketch, often. Like any other skill it is about eye-hand coordination, and retaining muscle memory, training you hands to do what your eyes are telling them to do. So sketch, live when you can, from photos when you can’t.

Here are a few sketches from the last week

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Harbour Pointe, but done with gouache


Here are two more gouache paintings of sketching the neighborhood. I am done with gouache for now. What I learned is that watercolor works better for what I do. Before I expand on that I will acknowledge that there are folks out there producing amazing work with gouache, and most likely if I worked at it longer I would get it as well, it is just that right now it does not seem worth the effort.

First off for the style of sketching I do gouache is too slow. Most of the sketches I have done in the last few days with gouache took about twice the length of time that it would take with watercolor.

Most of the time I do the ink first then add watercolor washes. Since Gouache is opaque it covers over the lines, so if I am going to use ink it must be added after the paint dries, so I am not able to approach a sketch in my most comfortable way. Also, I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems dried gouache is pretty rough, so I am concerned about it damaging pens.

Some gouache painters have commented that dried gouache reminds them of the finish of a pastel painting. I think pastels are amazing but it seems the dried gouache is just dull, photos of the sketch do look brighter, but the original does not.

What enticed me to gouache was that it was opaque, and it could be used a bit more like acrylic or oil as far as painting lights over darks, and yes, you can do that to a degree. Yet when I paint white, using Titanium White, it tends to just gray, not stand out as a highlight. I use white gouache with watercolor regularly, it works well with watercolor so I am sure it will continue to have a place in my kit.

I have used black gouache with watercolor to get intense blacks, I can see doing that in the future as well. Traditionalist watercolor painters dismiss white and black as not used by purists. However some of the greats in watercolor history have used both in their paintings, so that is just fine for me. Then there are those who say, “there is not ‘black’ in nature.” Well that may be true, but a lot of what us travel and urban sketchers are faced with do have black, so it is fine by me to use it.

One last thought, I do believe that any artist should try new things as it expands your vision and skills. So try new things, and then don’t feel guilty if you decide it is not for you.

Keep on traveling and sketching, even if you are just traveling around your house or neighborhood.

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The neighborhood journey and working with gouache continues


These sketching projects are proving to be entertaining and challenging, a good thing for art. After doing the sketch of Nic’s Barbershop with gouache I have decided to finish the “neighborhood journey” project all in gouache. As Marie of Expeditionary art says, “practice not perfection.” But with practice you do get better, so onward.

One of the small benefits of the shut down is that many are walking the cart paths at the golf course here in Harbour Pointe, which is just across the street. Last week I walked near a hole with an amazing view of Puget Sound, snapped a photo, here is the painting.

Gouache has a feel much more like the Acrylic paint I use on canvas, which I like. It takes longer than watercolor, not sure if that is me figuring things out more that come instinctively with watercolor, time will tell. I do like the process of working dark to light, again that is more like my acrylic painting. Like yesterday I used watercolor for the sky and the water. And did a touch of highlighting with a gel pen.

Oh, nobody has commented about the orange and black tool in the Nic’s Barbershop blog, any curiosity out there? It is something you might find helpful.

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Yesterday’s neighborhood journey sketch, some different techniques


This is fun, taking a closer look at things close to home. Yesterday I did my third location, all are listed at Instagram or my FB page. For this sketch i used some techniques that workshop alumni will find a bit different. On top of that I used gouache paint instead of watercolor, the more I use it the more I like it, even though it is taking a major rethink. So here is the sketch, step by step.

I began by using artist tape, peels without tearing (most of the time), to make a block in my Moleskine 5”x8” artist sketchbook. You will see the neat result in the finished painting. The paper in this is heavy, but technically not designed for watercolor, so the pages buckle a bit, that irritates some, but for me it shows the sketchbook is well loved.

Next I did a light wash for the sky area using a grayed Cerulean Blue. I did not have to be too concerned about the outline of the building against the sky as gouache is opaque so will cover over the watercolor. I find thay watercolor is easier for this type of sky wash.

Often when doing a building it is a good idea to do a pencil sketch to get the shapes correct, so I got out my tools. Yes, it is OK to use a ruler, Stephanie Bower recommends it in her book. What about that black and orange thing? Anyone know what it is? I plan to do a blog showing what and how in the near future.

Here is what it looked like when the pencil work was done – notice that it is the major shapes and angles, not the small details. In the finished piece there is a tree in front of the building, I left that out. If I was doing this in watercolor i would have sketched the tree in most likely, but with gouache the building was all I needed, knowing I could paint the tree in over the top; trees can be a bit more forgiving in how they come out.

Here is about half way through with the gouache paint. Using gouache is a bit more like acrylic or oil in that you often work from dark to light, the opposite of watercolor. At this point the windows have been painted dark, I will paint the white molding over them, one of the benefits of gouache. Many watercolor sketchers use a tube of white gouache with their watercolors to highlight at the end.

Here I have started using the white paint to build the windows and door frame.

The finished piece. Added a tree in the front, used a white gel pen for the lettering, highlighted and shaded a bit with a Micron pen.

My plan is to use gouache more, and hopefully get a bit better at it. It flows quite differently, easier in some way, harder in others. One attraction is that it has similarities with how I paint with acrylics. So I will do another today and see how it goes.

As always keep on traveling and sketching, even if it only in your neighborhood,

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Take a journey near to home, join me


Join me on a journey close to home, sketching along the way

Le Confinement has changed our travel habits,  Tolkien wrote 

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.

Since home is where we are traveling these days, lets explore it as a traveler would. Yesterday I started my journey, it’s not too late for you to join me, we can encourage and exchange experiences along the way.

We begin our journey with a map, identifying landmarks and key sights. Here is the map I drew of my neighborhood. My guideline was about a one mile maximum from home. I was inspired by an article in the NYT https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/26/travel/how-to-make-an-illustrated-map-in-8-steps.html?referringSource=articleShare

With the map completed, next I will do sketches of the key spots over the next few days, either from photos taken on my walks, or virtually from Google street view. When I am done it will be like a mini-guidebook to my neighborhood, right in my journal, also a memento of Le Confinement.

You can follow me here, and as I post on instagram and FB. Along the way I will offer up some tips on sketching from photos, some new tools to try, and general encouragement.

If this sounds like a enjoyable diversion during this time of staying-in, start by drawing your map. Post it on my FB page, theTravelsketcher, or tag it #thetravelsketcher on Instagram. Let me know how i can help. 

New and upcoming

Recently i proposed doing a virtual workshop, that is still an option, three people have so far expressed interest, let me know if there is more interest.

What would you think about a weekly sketch chat and troubleshooting time? On Zoom we connect and talk about what we have sketched and the challenges faced, then explore ways to overcome them. Or, what if every Tuesday we all sketch then at 2.00pm we met up on Zoom to show and chat? Let me know.

As always, keep traveling and sketching, even if it is near to home.

Posted in Tips for the Travel Sketcher, Travel journal | 4 Comments

Le Confinement, Livre 1


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