Christmas Cards 2017 - Part 2

The finished cards. Top ones are double, bottom ones single.

Yes, my lettering is amateurish, I'm just not good at that but I'm brave and I do it anyway. At least, give me credit for matching the message to the colours of the illustrations...  Some day I will take a calligraphy class, I promise!

I like how the envelopes turned out.

I save nice boxes for reusing. This box was particularly pretty with its pink/magenta bottom. I covered the top with the same wrapping paper from the dollar store. The paper matches the bottom perfectly.

I make cookies every year, to give away as presents. The box will be perfect for that.


Christmas Cards 2017, Part 1

I've been wondering if I should talk about my new creative passion, bookbinding, here.

I probably will, because one of my main projects is a sort of portfolio of my favourite watercolours, or parts thereof, in the form of a handmade book.

For years I've been collecting every piece I've painted, even though sometimes only a small section of it is satisfactory. Well, I don't know where I got the idea, but why not just cut those sections away and dispose of the rest?

I decided to test this idea this year in the making of my holiday greeting cards.

Here's how I proceeded.

First, I created a viewfinder of the size that I needed.

I then cut out the chosen sections.

Separately, I had used a watercolour sketchpad to make some cards, and some wrapping paper from the dollar store to create some custom envelopes.

For the envelopes, I used the design I learned at a conference I attended this summer, which took place at Au Papier Japonais, in Montreal. I found a video on YouTube too:

After adjusting the measurements to the size of my cards, I made a template on card stock and just traced it on the back of the wrapping paper.


Goodbye Sketchwalk

This summer I joined the Fredericton (NB) Urban Sketchers. I could only attend the summer meets because I live an hour away and can't drive after dark, which excludes all the months with short days.

Yesterday was my last visit of the year, and perhaps of all time, because I'm in the process of moving to Montreal. I will miss them, they're nice people.

While the other members settled on a building to sketch, I went looking for something more to my taste. After having a go at some very complicated sculptural details inside the cathedral, I decided to do some blind contour drawings*. I was inspired by the old Mexican sketchbook I was using, where I found some life models I had done in it about 20 years ago. Then I remembered a video I saw a few days ago of the famous Lapin of Barcelona, who said his warming up exercises included doing some blind contours of peoples' faces.

Looks like a van, doesn't it?

Cathedral side entrance

Giant maple tree

No comment necessary, I think!

I realize I was not following the rules of "real" urban sketching, but my idea was to have fun, and I did.


* Wikipedia entry for blind contour drawing:


The Christmas Card Project, Part 2

This is the finished card. (See Part I here.)

New Directions

I've had a lot of fun on classes these last few months.

These days I'm doing a six-week creativity class called "Creative Bootcamp", taught by Lisa Congdon, one of my favourite artists and instructors.

This week - the 2nd in the series - the assignment consisted of making our own coloured paper, then using it in a collage.

Painting the paper took a whole day! I used some full-size sheets of multimedia paper cut into four. That inexpensive paper took the washes really well -- I must replenish my supply.

And instead of being boring, covering sheets and sheets with those pretty watercolours was strangely satisfying. I loved the resulting textures. (If you click on the pictures you can see what I mean.)

After making the set, I had to choose only six colours for my project.

This is the "paper rainbow" that I produced:

These are the paints that I used (clockwise beginning with the violet):

  • Amethyst Genuine (Daniel Smith)
  • Prussian Blue (Holbein)
  • Cobalt Teal Blue (Daniel Smith)*
  • Cobalt Teal Blue - more dilute (Daniel Smith)*
  • Prussian Blue with various additions to make dark green (Holbein etc.)*
  • Viridian (Winsor & Newton)
  • Sap Green (M. Graham) plus Aureolin (Winsor & Newton)*
  • Aureolin (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep  (Da Vinci)*
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep - less dilute (Da Vinci)*
  • Brown Madder (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Scarlet - one thin coat and one thick coat (Winsor & Newton)*
  • Rose Madder (Holbein)*
  • Rose Madder Genuine (Winsor & Newton)
  • Off to the side: Payne's Grey (Maimeri)

Colours with an asterisk are the ones I used for the assignment. 

Using only those papers, I made this collage:

As I wrote in my description in the course Gallery, next time I will spend more time planning the different layers, but for a first real collage painting, I am rather satisfied about how it came out. I believe I achieved a good composition and colour balance, which were the main items to look out for.

Now I look forward to the next lesson!


The Christmas Card Project, Part I

It's been at least three years since I gave up my subscription to Jackie Lawson's elegant Ecards. At $14 (Canadian) per year, the three or four cards I was sending had become kind of expensive.

Nowadays, most of my personal contacts are content to send and receive holiday greetings by email, and the only paper cards I get are from places I buy stuff from.

It was the fact that my cousin Nicole still bothers not only to send cards, but to make them herself that made me realize it was time to revive my mother's legacy. Every year she would buy plain cards and envelopes, and paint Christmas cards with red and green ink. The ink bottles had a glass stick which served as a pen, and she would draw green holly leaves with red berries, christmas trees with red balls and other simple Holiday themes.

I admired the swift confidence with which she would create the holly leaves. Up to the left, down to the right, and up the centre for a vein. Three leaves, of different sizes. Three red berries. It was quite magical to me! Then she would write "Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année". Sometimes she would put some glue on parts of the drawing and sprinkle glitter on it. I never tired of watching her.

As is my nature, my own Christmas card project was far more complicated than that. First, I searched Creativebug for a class on card making and wouldn't you know it, they had one. Of course, they also had a class on making envelopes.

I watched both (I have a monthly membership), and took something from each one.

1. My first consideration was the envelopes. No card envelopes around here - the nearest city is an hour away -, and my vast supply of materials had no paper large enough to make my own. That left only letter-size envelopes from the dollar store, of which I had an ample supply.

Luckily, I had learned from Courtney Cerruti's class that you can make a lining for your envelopes.

2. The cards were going to be flat, of a size that fit inside those envelopes. I had just the perfect paper: some bargain 300-lb watercolour paper I purchased years ago. It's so bad for painting that Curry's don't carry it any more. (300 lbs is the thickest watercolour paper made. It's very stiff. And when I say "bargain", I'm not kidding. The good stuff costs over $20 per sheet; this was around $5.)

3. I decided to use a vintage photo or image from the internet. I downloaded a dozen images that I liked, and finally settled on this one:

I wanted to follow Courtney's suggestion of glueing it to coloured paper to create a frame, and settled on the blue of the harlequin doll. In fact, blue was going to be my theme for the whole project.

I turned the studio inside out, but no, I did not have any paper of that colour, so I had to make my own. (Didn't I tell you that I like to make things complicated?)

I happened to have exactly the right kind of paper for the job: some Strathmore Aquarius paper. It's thin, yet it doesn't buckle if you wet it. Pretty neat! I just covered a couple of sheets with Prussian blue, using the largest brush I own. The result was a somewhat irregular coverage, which gave it just the right look.

4. After counting the number of people I wanted to send it to -- 25 or so -- I realized I needed a tutorial on how to create a repeat pattern with Photoshop, and I found the perfect one:

Short, and to the point. I created this letter-size sheet, and printed it three times:

5. Finding a font that I liked and could reproduce by hand was another matter. I searched and searched and finally decided on a variation of the same old one. I have no idea what it is or where I got it, but it's the kind of font that makes me smile.

I fiddled around a bit and came up with the layout on the left.

6. Another consideration was the kind of pen I would use to write on that weird textured paper. Not all pens can take the roughness, and not all inks are waterproof. This test was pretty conclusive: even though the writing looks a bit wobbly due to the texture, and the paper's high absorbency, the Sharpie was the best fit for the job.(It does bleed right after you use it, but becomes waterproof with time.)

7. It took far more time and experimenting to find the right brush for painting the single snowflake on each card. I tried about a dozen, and the only one that would hold enough paint for a whole snowflake, and had a point fine enough for the lines, was my No. 8 Escoda Perla Joseph Zbukvic that I bought in Barcelona, where they are manufactured, in 2012. According to this review, I couldn't have made a better choice.

8. The next step was to produce a sheet of snowflakes to print out for making the envelope linings. A small detail which I hoped the card recipients would appreciate, though if they did notice it they would probably think the envelopes came like that instead of being painstakinly hand-lined one by one.

I painted an 11 x 14" page of different snowflakes, dots and so on, then I scanned a section of it for the linings, and printed 12 copies -- I needed half a page per envelope.

At this point, I was ready to mass-produce my very own Christmas cards.



As I drove down the street during our previous blizzard, I saw a woman brushing snow off her car and I thought to myself, now that's the perfect Canadian winter scene.

The perfect picture to paint.

I tried drawing it from memory - no luck.

Google to the rescue! The photo I found, and copied in watercolour,  was very similar to the scene I saw, except that my model was wearing a big tuque with a fluffy pompom. The lady in the photo was using her umbrella to knock off the snow. I turned it into a red brush. I like the pop of colour.

Here is my full painting:

And here it is, cropped differently, as a square format.

I can't decide which I like best.

I titled it simply "Winter".