Montreal Chinatown Dépanneur (in 8 Steps)

Due to a crazy influx of job offers, I’ve been a little stretched at the edges lately. I’ve quit the call centre, started a new job teaching online ESL, and am trying to get back on track with all the things I’ve been letting slide *cough*blogging*cough*.

Things have mostly settled down now, which is a relief, but I’ve been absolutely anxiety ridden over Brexit and what it means for Ricky and I’s future, as well as having been struck down by a very poorly timed case of laryngitis which has been thoroughly exhausting to recover from.

So Monday, officially saying goodbye and clearing out my desk at the call centre, I decided to take some time to stay in the city and chill.

Since Hastings, I haven’t broken out my watercolour pencils to do any plein air sketching (perhaps a little out of the heartbreak of not being there anymore). But I decided to rectify that situation. I’m definitely a little rusty, and the end result wasn’t my favourite, but it was an interesting study all the same.

So here is a dépanneur (convenience store) in Montreal’s Chinatown in 8 steps.

Step #1: Scout a Location

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Step #1: Scout a location.

Sometimes this is the most difficult thing – because you’re going to be committing to looking at the same thing for the next couple of hours no matter how numb your butt gets. Luckily I was already set on drawing something from Chinatown (nostalgia and all…sometimes it’s the only place I feel like home, despite my somewhat embittered departure from Asia). So from there, I just needed to find a good scene and vantage point (aka a place to sit since I don’t carry my own folding chair like some other plein air artists). When I came upon a dépanneur with an interesting storefront and conveniently located bench, I settled myself down.

Step #2: Set Up

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Step #2: Set Up

Step #1 might be the most difficult, but Step #2 is the most important: set up your materials. You probably won’t have a desk to work on unless you bring your own table, so find a way that works for you to lay out all the stuff you’re going to need to access quickly. Not only does this save time by making the whole process more efficient, but it makes your work better too as you’re able to focus on the piece rather than finding the right size pen in a chaotic case. Plus you’re going to be sitting there long enough – why not streamline the process before you’re crippled from hunching so long?

Step #3: Block It In

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Step #3: Block It In

Whether you’re using ink like me or prefer to outline the areas of the piece in a less obtrusive pencil, it’s still important to get a sense of proportion for your piece before you start painting. You don’t want to begin and then find out you got the scale wrong. In my case, I used a Staedtler 0.1 pen as per preference, but went a bit detail happy. Note: don’t be like me. Always good to keep it minimalist and continue to add on later so it doesn’t feel too cluttered which tends to flatten and confuse the image.

Step #4: Shadows and Values

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Step #4: Shadows and Values.

Once you’ve got a set image to start painting, go ahead and start adding depth to the piece. I went a bit shadow happy because it was a rainy day and the scene in front of me was quite gray – hence my working with that as my primary palette. You want to be careful to only add the darker values to the places where it truly needs it: watercolours should be worked with on a light to dark basis. So start with your light colours and add darker values as you go. I used this as a study to see if I could get away with doing it the other way around, and although it looked fine in a black and white scene, the colours ended up being muddied when I later added them. This is because watercolours are a completely transparent medium and thus completely unforgiving to mistakes.

Step #5: Add in Colour

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Step #5: Add In Colour

I guess technically speaking this isn’t a separate step: in most cases, you should be starting with colour. Still, in this painting I wanted to choose a few shades to really pop. Namely, the reds. I actually wanted to see if I could get away with just having a black, white, red painting…but decided against it once I started. It still looked too flat in my opinion and felt it wanted for other shades going on.

Step #6: Adjust Colour Values

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Step #6: Adjust Colour Values

Once I started working in the other colours, I was happy to see it all coming together. It was at this point, however, that I began to regret working in the black values from Step #4. None of the colours were as vibrant as I wanted them to be, and even though it was a rainy day, it just flattened the image. That said, I knew I could fix it up once I got home and had access to gouache and acrylic whites, which are the life-saving mixed media cheats of watercolour paintings.

Step #7: Admire Your Painting in the Wild

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Step #7: Admire Your Painting in the Wild

Pretty self explanatory step, but if you have the opportunity to take a picture of your piece against the backdrop, do it. Yes, you’re a hipster. Yes, you’re being a little vain and self indulgent. But it’s still nice to have a memory of this 2-3 hour block of time for you to look back on and show others later. You might also have the happy outcome like mine which makes it look as though your sketchbook has sprouted three pairs of legs on its own like a scurrying insect.

Step #8: Touch Ups

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Step #8: Touch Ups

Back to the gouache/acrylic cheats: I got home and managed to give greater contrast to my painting by adding brighter whites and darker blacks. It’s still a bit muddied and overwhelmed by detail, but it pops a lot more. To tone down my ink-happy line work, I went over a lot of the details in gouache so they faded, and then outlined the more important lines with my refilled calligraphy pen. The gouache with the calligraphy ink work wonders together. And so another finished painting with a lot of learning was had.

I’m really glad I broke the ice and started painting again. Makes me miss Hastings more than ever, but at the same time helps me to appreciate Montreal while I’m here. I’m so excited to get out there and do some more work on this most beautiful city – so much so that I’m going this very afternoon with a friend of mine. Hopefully there’ll be another post like this soon!

Until next time.


2 thoughts on “Montreal Chinatown Dépanneur (in 8 Steps)

  1. This is such a quintessential piece of Montreal iconography. The choice of DEPANNEUR is so well suited as is your watercolour of the waterfront of Hastings’ harbour. I’m certain that your work can be sold as a street vendor, or in a book format, perhaps to celebrate Montreal’s 350th anniversary in 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

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