Rossland and area sketches

Christmas this year was exactly what I needed.  We headed out to Rossland to spend the week with Frank’s family – longer than we’ve ever stayed out there.  I asked for an absolute ton of reference books for Christmas – I feel like I go through bouts of enjoying fiction but then shift into learning more about illustration or my other passion – life hacking.  Sounds like an odd category, but I have loved spending hours learning about creativity, finding your purpose, financial independence, minimalism, all of it.  I keep waiting for the day I want to explore religion further but it hasn’t happened yet.  I’m okay with it.  Everything in life in due time, no?


Snowboarding Selfie!

A little heavy for a blog post.  The lead in was really just to say in between reading new books, sleeping, trying SNOWBOARDING (loved it!) and yoga, I got out a few times to sketch on site.  Once in a coffee shop to gain some insight into people practice, and once to draw buildings.  Shari Blaukopf writes a lot about her car studio for winters in Montreal.  I’ve let winter be a hindrance before.  I did start sketching a little more on site last year, and it was a learning curve to be sure.  At first I was so nervous I would completely drop scale, then once I got over that I would overthink things.   I also had to get over feeling self conscious.  Then once it got cold it was the perfect excuse to stop…wasn’t it?  But the truth is, the more you do it, the more you want to.  There’s an unexplainable rush that comes from sketching on site once you get past that initial curve.


There are two cars in this image buried completely under snow.

This first sketch was done from the car in Rossland.  Frank and his family left a few minutes behind me, I went out on my own, pulled over at the first thing to catch my eye and I started sketching.  I know Shari has said she prefers to sit in the drivers seat with her paints and equipment in the cup holder at her right hand.  I’m left handed but found the first hump for me was actually trying to angle my sketchbook around the steering wheel.  It was uncomfortable – so instead I moved to the passenger seat.  Things went much more smoothly there, but I also found I was cold enough that I stopped at the base sketch, retreating to the warmth of the house to do later ink and watercolour.

The unexpected upside of this exercise though, is that it made me look more at all of my surroundings.  Things you’d normally dismiss or even find unattractive are suddenly calling to you.  A view down the road that you once would have said was way too much is all the sudden so appealing.  There’s a quote about this.

“How strange painting is, it delights us with representations of objects that are not pleasing in themselves” – Eugene Delacroix

Right he is.


my version of magic

This painting was my favourite.  I did have to do it  from a reference photo – it was the day we headed back to Calgary.  We stopped in at a friends house to drop off a package and I was sitting in the passenger seat of a very packed car, staring at the road in front of me.  It was magical.  The photo I took, when I went back to look two days later, was not.  But I could remember that feeling from before, and so I persevered.  I was really happy with the result.


my reference photo. slightly less magic, no?

And here’s my last bout of sketches from the trip.  To be honest this was from a mashup of photos I took of houses around Rossland.  Frank asked me once what I was looking for that would draw me to a house and I couldn’t give him a definitive answer.  I just know when I see it.  What I DO love about Rossland is that the houses are not uniform – there’s so much variety, clearly no architectural controls, and a lot of stuff is built into the side of the mountain so there is rarely a flat surface for any extended stretch of  the road.


The other big thing to point out – I just got over fear of painting snow in the last little while.  It was this mental block.  How do you paint a colour that isn’t there?  No idea.  My solution has been an exercise in fun and I can continue to tweak colours on it later, which I likely will.  But it’s to start with a wash of water and then to drop in purple and blue around the edges where I feel the weight of the snow would fall.

So that’s it for now!  Hope you enjoy it.




working on colour

color wheel

Practicing my colour wheel this morning, and mixing colours into greys. I have a lot to learn – and step one is memorizing that wheel.

You know when you start to get that feeling creeping up that you’ve been doing something all wrong?  I just realized I have been doing that with Pinterest.  I’ve been idly scanning my way through the main page for years, pinning things as they came to me.  Last night I decided to scroll through my own pins in a moment of boredom.  And stumbled on an article about tricks with watercolour, which led me to an entire blog about architectural rendering in watercolour.  Oh.  Look at that.  I even had the foresight (go me!) to have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to Illustration References.  What do you think that board was doing?  Aside from collecting internet dust it has an absolute ton of tutorials for me, just waiting there.


I asked for a number of books for Christmas and the one I’m currently puzzling through is Betty Edwards “Colour: A course in mastering the art of mixing colours”.  It’s a good one.  I actually remember using her first big book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” in high school.  It’s a really well written book, as is the new colour book.  It is fascinating to learn new things as an adult.  But I have to keep taking breaks to let it sink into my brain, and to do some experimenting with my own paints as she more or less insists on.  And the insights I’ve gained so far  - wow!  Just this morning I mixed two colors that have already been sitting in my palette all this time.  I can safely remove the pre-mixed ones to make room for other colours I’ve been missing.  I also washed and reorganized my palette – see?

old palette

I really believed in my ‘Make Messy’ mantra last year.

I laughed out loud at myself doing this.  I didn’t want to use soap because I don’t want to affect my painting area – it drives me crazy when colours pool but won’t spread.  I used Q-tips to get into the corners of the mixing area where old colours were stored.  Normally I leave my mixed colours on my palette, allowing them to dry there for later re-use.  I suspect I’ll keep this habit up as I feel it lends consistency to my paintings.

I don’t think I ever changed it out of the order it came in.  Then last year I met a very nice dude named Ernest in our one sketching encounter together and he was very kind to give me a small palette of 8 artists grade watercolours. Cue #2 on what i was missing out on.  Other than my travel palette I have not bought new paints for myself ever, really.  I’m using tubes my mom gave me as a Christmas gift when I was 17.  Yes, they’ve lasted half my lifetime.  But they must have been student grade paints – artists grade, I have learned, pack the pigment much looser so it takes a lot less water to wake up the colours in the palette.  I’m still learning my way through this though – the first time I tried using just the artists grade colours, the brightness damn near scared me away :)  I was juggling two palettes for a few months, which did not fit comfortably at all into my travel kit, but finally had the insight to combine both palettes.  Lightbulb moment, I tell you…

new palette

Feels a little naked in here!

But back to that palette reorg.  Before they were more or less just plugged in where I thought they fit.  Now I’m trying to follow the colour wheel while making sure that complementary colours are across from each other.  Let yellow fade to browns, purple into reds, and make sure purple is across from yellow.   There were a few duplicate colours I took out, although side note – Burnt Sienna is very different across brands, and in this case I actually really prefer my Windsor & Newton one!  I’ve added in a proper violet as well as Prussian blue, and there is a blank yellow pan waiting for Naples Yellow.   I have seen other artists use it and really love it’s warmth.

cleaning out

Cleaning out (read: agonizing over) blues and reds. Note those brown boxes in the bottom – the two on the RIGHT are actually the same colour!


I really want to integrate more colour theory into my works this year.  I found one image on this guy’s blog – check out those tree trunks.  They’re mostly yellow fading into purple, no brown or grey in sight.  Amazing what our brains are just hard wired to see after awhile, huh?

Akers rendering

Illustration by James Akers. This guy knows a lot more than I do.


As a side note, Frank had a good laugh at my expense this morning.  One of the other books I asked for this Christmas was the Marie Kondo book “The Life Changing method of Tidying up”.  I went on a three day house purge following that and I still feel refreshed and lightened from it.  Yet, here I was this morning, just agonizing over removing one of my four shades of red to replace it with purple.  Frank said it was almost tweet-worthy that I could throw out half of my clothing without second thought – but remove one red from a colour palette and I was just frozen.  I guess it does let me know where my priorities are these days. :)





my Christmas Card


I wasn’t sure if I’d get one finished this year – after working on those Calendar months to finish up the 2017 DBSL Calendar my eye was tuned to look for more complicated scenes.  The past few weeks have run along at a pretty insane clip if I am to be honest.  In any event, I came home last Tuesday and gave myself an hour on the couch to relax.  I was looking up at a set of older paintings from 2014 that are hanging on our living room wall and thought of one of them, I could re-do that one in a Christmas theme.  So that’s exactly what I did.  It was a nice small piece to get me back to sketching again too.

I’m about to start my last week of work for the year.  This Friday we head to Rossland to be with Frank’s family for Christmas.  I’m looking forward to the time away, for the change in routine and time to work on hobbies.  I asked for several new sketching books for Christmas and have visions of hours tucked in reading through new books and working on new sketches.

I have a few goals for my art in place for 2017 – hopefully there will be some fat pockets of time to start exploring some of them in the coming weeks.

Happy holidays, I hope for anyone reading that you have some slower periods these next few weeks to enjoy some time to yourself!

2017 Calendars are here!


Hello everyone!

After hours of painting and then even more hours in Photoshop and InDesign, I am thrilled to announce that the 2017 Calendar is now LIVE in my Etsy store!  This is the fifth year of production, which I cannot believe.  There are probably a thousand quotes applicable to this moment, but to try to summarize succinctly I’ll go with this:

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it.  The time will pass anyway.”    - Earl Nightingale

Five years have gone by since I started Design by Streetlight?  Wow.

The link to my store is at the top of the site or right here.  We’ve got the Classic 8×10″ Calendar stocked and ready to go, AND this year we are introducing a new size!  Full sheets at 11×17″, with a proper full month calendar below to write in appointments, track events and note down schedules as needed.  This idea came to me last year as I was searching for a calendar for our kitchen.  There was an absolutely beautiful calendar sitting in Indigo, but it didn’t have proper calendar months.  I reluctantly returned it to the shelf but thought to myself, I should change this on my calendar for next year!  So there it is.


I hope your year has been fabulous and that as it winds down you can find moments of peace against the chaos that is the holidays.  For me, I’m feeling the wave of accomplishment as we send the 2017 Calendar off to the presses.  I can clear my desk both literally and figuratively and dive back into drawing again!

Merry Christmas!



1st Urban Sketchers Calgary meetup


Back in July I joined up with a few other people for our first Calgary Urban Sketchers meetup!  It was fantastic.  I stumbled onto the community about a year ago and wondered how I could have possibly missed out on it all this time.  Calgary didn’t have a group set up at that time, and I debated on getting something started by myself, but the decision was taken off my hands when another wonderful individual decided to go ahead and get the ball rolling.  His name is Ernest and you can see his work here.  There were four of us for this first meet up and it was fantastic!  I was in the company of total strangers and we had so much to talk about!

We met for coffee at Higher Ground in Kensington, then found a set of benches to sit together and sketch on.  We were together for about two hours.  We talked about our processes, and I got to learn more about fountain pens – something I’ve been debating on purchasing for myself but hadn’t done any research on yet.

What was great about the Urban Sketch meet up was the support and the company.  It helped me stick to what I was drawing.  For someone newer just starting out who might be a little less confident, it was great to have other people there that you could discuss approach with.  We all had different takes on how to work on our drawings too.

Here’s a shot of the outcomes of our first session together: IMG_5449


We wandered Kensington together for a bit afterward, and then I settled onto the benches looking out over the 10th Street bridge into downtown.  I’d just finished reading Gabi Campanario’s Urban Sketcher’s Guide to Architecture and Cities, and wanted to try framing in a scene while sitting on site.

It came out like this:


Not too shabby I thought!  Less heavy on paint than normal but for an early sketch I was pretty pleased with it.  I do want to get more practice with overall cityscapes and I’m finding it’s that balance of too much to too little detail on all the buildings that I need to play with.

Thanks for stopping in!