travel sketchbook – Oswald West State Park, Oregon


I’m just back from a great “camping” trip down on the Oregon Coast (not exactly camping, if it’s in a trailer, right?).

I spent a day down at Short Sand Beach, in Oswald West State Park, taking photos and painting little watercolour studies. After spending way too long on a larger, fussy painting the day before, I realised that if I just did littler versions, and focused on getting the general feeling of the place down, I might be able to loosen up a bit. The studies are 4 7/8″ x 3 3/8″.

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Sketchbook – Oregon Coast

Nye Beach, Oregon
(photo by Darren)

I went on vacation, a camping trip down the Oregon Coast. Because we were driving, and there was no packing for airplanes involved, I brought an oil kit down with me too. I’ve never done plein air oil painting before. The first attempt was not so successful as a painting, but successful as far as being a totally enjoyable process (and there were grey whales spouting not too far off the shore – I don’t get to see that when painting in the studio). I can’t wait to give it another go.

Beverly Beach, Oregon
Beverly Beach, Oregon
study, oil on board, 5″x7″

Although though we were down for 10 days, I didn’t manage to get as much time to paint as I hoped – time flew by and we moved around to a few different spots – Nehalam, Beverly Beach, Champoeg, & finished up in Portland (where we rounded out the trip with a comfy hotel room, some great food, and tasty cocktails). Now that we know what part of the coast we liked best, and we’re hoping to return again another time for a longer stretch in one location.

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Sketchbook – Kaua’i

At long last! A blog post! Work took over my life for a very long time but I managed a Hawaiian getaway in the middle of things (but didn’t completely get away from work while I was there). These are a few non-work related things I got up to:

Sketchbook ~ National Botanical Gardens 1

National Tropical Botanical Garden Gift Shop, Kaua’i | March, 2012 | watercolour in Hand•Book trav•e•logue journal, 140 lb, 3.5″x11″

I haven’t painted for ages and it felt like I was starting all over again, but I’ve still got 950 bad paintings in me so I’m not too worried at this point. It was just nice to finally get outside and have a break from creating stuff on screens.

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How to Procrastinate #1

Charlamange Postcard

Charlemange @ Notre Dame | watercolour, pencil, ink & pencil crayon | 4″ x 6″


1. When cleaning the studio become distracted by poorly executed, failed and abandoned sketches or paintings and make feeble attempt to resurrect or fix them.

(I had all sorts of grand plans to paint my own postcards while on my travels last summer. I managed to paint, write and post 2. I got caught in a rain shower with this one, the third, so it ended up a bit destroyed – paint flowed into carefully planned negative spaces, wouldn’t dry fast enough in the damp and smeared during transport, and an attempt to save it with an over-drawing in ink just made things worse.)

Charlemange @ Notre Dame | holga pinhole | fuji pro 400h


Charlemange is way off in the distance in the center. The busy square emptied out when the shower hit and everyone ran for cover. This is just afterward, when they started to come back.

Finished Painting ~ Orphir Bay, Orkney

Finished Painting ~ Orphir, Orkney

Orphir Bay, Orkney | oil on panel, 12″ x 15 1/2″


After spending most of the year not painting, this is a first getting back into it piece. It’s painted over an old oil sketch I did in college, on a badly primed piece of panel (that’s why the vertical lines). It’s meant as a bit of a *throwaway piece – something to do to get the feel back but not feel too precious about. The reference photo was taken in July during a trip to Orkney. I stayed with cousins on their farm in Orphir. Our room had a view of Scapa Flow, the church yard where the ruins of Earl’s Bu and the round church are, and the fields and fences seen in this painting.

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Sketchbook ~ Orkney

Orkney, in one word, fabulous.

Rounding the corner during the first 10 minutes on the island to see in the distance my cousin (once or twice removed – I can never get that straight)’s house in the distance topped with a Canadian flag that was barely hanging on in the typical Orkney wind was also fabulous.

Over the course of the next week we visited neolithic ruins (both above and below ground), dropped in on Stromness shopping week, explored the now decrepit but hopefully soon to be refurbished ruins of John Rae’s boyhood house, survived a gull-lead hedgehog carrion bombing and spent many a wonderful evening in the company of relatives I barely knew I had.

Orkney repaid my gushing admiration with a day of little wind but still pounding seas and I was able to do a little bit of painting of the cliffs at Yesnaby.

Yesnaby, Orkney Island, Scotland 1 | watercolour on arches cold press | 7″x10″

Yesnaby, Orkney Island, Scotland 2 | watercolour on arches cold press | 7″x10″

Alas, we never did see the Primula scotica but we did see a whole lot of other things.

Orkney, I miss you already.

painting at Yesnaby | photo by Darren

Sketchbook ~ Scotland (2)

The Boathouse, Kingennie Lodges, Dundee, Scotland | watercolour on arches hot press, 7″ x 10″

St. Andrews, Scotland | watercolour on arches cold press, 7″ x 10″ (private collection)

This was painted from the front seat of our rental car because it was way too windy to paint outside.

Painting in Scotland is an exercise in painting fast because the light changes so quickly from minute to minute. And in this case, the tide was also coming in and covering up some of the landscape…


St. Andrews, Scotland | watercolour on arches cold press, 7″ x 10″

Sketchbook ~ Scotland (1)

North Esk Road

North Esk Road, Montrose, Scotland | pen

Things have been very quiet on this blog for the past month as I’ve been away. I just got back today from a month in Scotland, Wales and Paris – and although the trip was fantastic, it is fabulous to be home. I did a few paintings/drawings on location while I was away. Here are a couple of them from the beginning of the trip. I’ve been up for almost 24 hours at this point so the rest of them will have to wait until another time.

Old and St Andrew's Church, Montrose

Old and St Andrew’s Church, Montrose, Scotland | watercolour on arches hot press, 7″x10″

Painting on Location ~ Todos Santos, Mexico

The Profesor Nestor Agundez Martinez Centro Cultural, Todos Santos, Mexico
Pencil & watercolour on Arches cold pressed, 140lb, 7″x 10″
August 2007

I spent an hour or so at the Centro Cultural in Todos Santos. It’s a real gem, this place. I wish I’d had more time to spend there.

Centro Cultural, Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico

The building that surrounds the courtyard is broken up into rooms that house the town’s museum. Some rooms are full of photographs of Todos Santos in the 1930’s, others are covered with artwork from past and contemporary Mexican and local artists. On open shelves and glass cases there are artifacts and objects from the town’s history – human and animal bones, early tools, old typewriters, masks, dolls, farm equipment…all accompanied by hand written descriptions.

Painting in Todos Santos
[Photo by Darren]

Two ponds at one side of the square reveal fish in the murky water. Chickens scratch in the dust around a small house behind the ponds.

When I first entered the building though the main entrance I thought that there was a live band playing Mexican music – but it was just the acoustics of the place, amplifying the sound system. The music soon changed to what I could only guess was the ‘Ghost’ soundtrack.

My thumb
[Photo by Darren]

I don’t like painting or drawing in front of people. I’ve never been able to do it – to the point where I often did nothing during class time while I was college student and waited until I could go home and work in my studio in peace with no fear of anyone looking over my shoulder. I had minor slivers of panic when I filled in for one of the life drawing instructors at the same college a few years ago and needed to give a demo to the students. I’ve avoided drawing and painting in public because it seems to be a natural magnet for curious people so I was initially disappointed when my sketching caught the attention of a young man with a large sack slung over his shoulder. He came over, extended his hand and shook mine. He beamed, pointed at my page and made a drawing gesture.

“It’s just scribbles right now”, I said.

He moved to my right so he could look over my shoulder and nodded and smiled. Then he motioned to his ears and shook his head, opened his mouth and pointed to his tongue and held his thumb and forefinger a little apart, then flattened his hand and rocked it side to side. He put down the sack and pointed to himself, then pantomimed sweeping, then pointed to the sack and made like he was lifting, then gestured around us to the buildings and plaza. He looked at my drawing again and smiled, pointed to the plaza in front of us. I pointed to the edge of the garden and the rusting white iron chairs in front. I picked up a piece of cardboard with a rectangle I’d cut out of it to isolate my composition. I held it up for him to look through – to show him the part of the garden I was drawing.

Centro Cultural, Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico

He nodded, smiled, pointed to me and then to his head and nodded, then to his own head and shook it, picked up the sack from the ground, slung it over his shoulder and continued down the steps onto the path, turning around every so often to smile, make drawing gestures, point to me, then his head and nod.

A little while later he came back, the empty sack slung over his shoulder. We had a further, silent conversation and I learned that he had a young daughter. He pointed to the invisible child he had indicated by placing his hand flat a waist height, then pantomimed exasperation. Then he smiled, waved and went back to work.

I wanted to ask him his name, and if he wouldn’t mind posing for a photograph. But I didn’t see him before I left.


Painting on Location ~ Waterton National Park

Waterton National Park
Watercolour and pencil on Arches hot pressed, 140lb 7″x 10″
June 13, 2007

Back in June, after completing the MS Bike Tour, we headed over to Waterton National Park for a few days of camping, hiking, sketching and cooking in the open air.

Both of us had managed to catch colds so our days tended toward the more relaxed of the activities. Our hikes were easy and took us along a winding river cut into bright red and orange rocks, painted with the most violently green lichens I’ve ever seen and up gentle mountainsides to alpine lakes, past nodding wildflowers.

Everywhere we looked it was beautiful – not pretty – breathtakingly beautiful.

Waterton is windy, making for exciting skies – huge bruised clouds sweep over the peaks and sunlight constantly changes on the slopes (reminiscent of our trip to Scotland). And then there’s the tent-wrenching gusts, tossing tent-pegs asunder and slashing through windbreak tarps.

I intended to sketch and paint a lot on this trip, but the wind just wouldn’t cooperate and neither would my cold.

Photo by Darren

I found one calm morning to do a small watercolour sketch in the meadow behind our campsite, close to where a cinnamon coloured black bear sow and her two blonde cubs had been the morning before. They appeared shortly after breakfast in a small hollow between two stands of trees. They stood up, looked around, saw us and disappeared down the bank again. We saw them a couple of days later, eating grass on the slope on the other side of the road from the turn-off to the campsite. My photos are quite crummy – it was a bit too dark out and they were a little too far in the distance for my lens (though still close for being bears and all).

Black Bear Sow
Pentax k1000 | Kodak Max 800

Black Bear Sow and Cub (those brown spots between the trees, above the bbq)
Pentax k1000 | Kodak Max 800

MS Bike Tour ~ We Did It!


I just got back from Calgary where I participated in the Rona MS Bike Tour with my boyfriend and his family. It’s a cause that’s very close to both of us – members of both our families have MS.

I hadn’t done a lot of biking prior to the ride and was a little worried about how I’d manage the 160km. Though I was more concerned with how bruised my bum was going to be after the first day than how sore and tired my muscles would be. And as it turned out, despite padded bike shorts and a padded bike seat cover, I’m still nursing what appears to be a bruised tailbone. Getting back on the bike on the second and final day of the ride was excruciating. However, I rode the entire thing. I even made it up all the hills. If one thinks ‘prairie’ means there is no hills, one would be wrong. The gently rolling landscape is all but gentle and rolling when on a bike.

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Playa Palmilla Pelicans

While down in Mexico I took a few photos of the pelicans that hang out at the beaches.

On this beach there is a large wooden table where the fishing charters cut up their catches. The pelicans flock there for the guts. On the day I took these photos, a fishing charter had brought in a marlin and a small shark. By the end of it, the pelicans were so full of chunks of meat they could only stand there, throats bulging, occasionally shifting the lumps around while trying to swallow.

Holga/ Lucky 100