From our trip to Flagstaff this summer. Below is the original photo, to show the color and the actual image. I think it might be behind the Hotel Monte Vista, from the parking lot, but I don’t remember. Anyway, some artistic license. I actually was planning to do the entire photo, but once I started my sketch, from the top left building, it soon became apparent that my proportions were totally off, and ended up with the upper part. However, I think the fire escapes are actually pretty interesting, and are a strong point in the drawing, as are all the lines of the pipes and landings and stairs.
I had a brainstorm the other day: Why not use vacation photos for drawing and watercolor subjects? I certainly do have a bucket load of photos. And, last summer we went to a lot of historical and beautiful places as we wandered through parts of the western U.S. Here, a view from a cliff in Mesa Verde National Park.
Colors include indanthrene blue, quinacridone yellow, organic vermilion, burnt sienna, cobalt blue, phthalo green and Carbon Ink in a Pentalic watercolor book.
I have been playing with iron gall ink, in this case McCaffery’s. Iron gall ink is easy to make and is the traditional ink over the centuries. It is waterproof, but with age turns the sepia so often affiliated with old manuscripts and drawings. I was playing with my goose quill pen, and a steel nib pen as well, working on calligraphy, when I decided to try it in a sketchbook. Given how busy I was this weekend, this is all I could accomplish, but I will say that the ink held up beautifully as the watercolors were added after the drawing.
I have picked up watercolor on a serious level, along with drawing and sketching. I have neglected that side of myself for a long time, but have attempted to reconnect with that part of myself off and on. Truthfully, it has been more off than on, but when I do delve into painting, it is such a pleasure. Over the years, I have purchased video classes or viewed videos from a variety of people. Today, I sat down and went through some of my notebooks and watercolor pads, and decided to scan what I have done to see if there is anything of value.
One person I have admired and enjoyed for a long time is Charles Reid. I love his loose, wet, messiness in watercolor. It works. I have watched his videos and read his books, attempting to catch what he does – learning from the teacher by doing. I have had some success, but I still tend to overwork and create muddy colors.
Another artist I have learned from is Birgit O’Connor. Her approach is very different than Reid’s – not splashy, but controlled, thought out, and very disciplined. The results are completely different, but valuable in that self-discipline and forethought are necessary to achieve results. Reid’s discipline is from years of knowledge, such as how to paint negative spaces and create contrast. O’Connor uses masking in varying forms, such as with contact paper and frisket to help preserve white space and create texture.
From both Reid and O’Connor, I have learned a lot . . . but without daily practice, it all is forgotten. Besides needing to remember how to paint, how to manage color, I have also forgotten how to sketch. Craftsy classes have proven to be helpful, with ones from Shari Blaukopf, Mark Taro Holmes, David Brody, and Kateri Ewing. These classes range from urban sketching to an extensive, classical drawing class. Each of these has proved, and is proving, to be very valuable. Videos are some of the best learning tools when it comes to finding time to do and to learn. Books with encyclopedic samples on how to do things are also great, such as Claudia Nice’s books on ink, pen, and watercolor, as seen below.
On YouTube, I have subscribed to multiple channels. These range from using dip pens to lessons from extremely talented watercolorists and sketchers. Of late, I have been working on negative painting – painting around things, rather than directly painting things. This is in the hopes of learning to manage white space better.
It’s easy to use lines to compensate for a lack of contrast to define light areas in negative space. The flowers are rather disastrous, but a lesson on YouTube (sorry, I don’t recall the video the trees are from, but it was fantastic!) was very helpful. The key to that video was to paint from the foreground back, unlike in traditional watercolor, you paint from the sky down for the most part.
In addition to videos, books are an excellent resource. I have a lot of books. The ugly truth is that art books are damned attractive, but how many of them have I actually sat down with and gone through, step by step? Not many. In fact, none at all . . . until I came across a book by Jenna Rainey: Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days. Rainey’s painting style is not what I see myself doing, but what I do like is the “daily” approach and the short, structured lessons. Thus far, I am up to Day 11, and have been really enjoying myself. I’ve let go that nasty inner critic that expects perfection out of the gate, and have been loosening up, and doing some things that I like.
More than anything, I am happy to see I am not lacking ability – only self-discipline to work on painting and drawing when I have time. Looking at what I have done is inspiring me to continue, despite frustrations and time. Nothing like a retrospective to see what and where I have been, what I am doing now, and looking forward to what I might yet do.
Ahhh. Frustration. Nothing like it to make you feel like crap! Or to push you past your comfort zone.
Comfort zone: Ink, watercolor washes.
Sort of comfort zone: pencil drawing.
Disaster! Warning! Alarm zone: Watercolors! We won’t even consider these at present.
There are times when a good book helps you out a lot. These are studies copied from a book by Claudia Nice. What is good about these kinds of studies is that there is detail, but not a desire to be so realistic you are going to scream, if super realism is not your thing. (It’s not mine.) Here, you will fine stippling and hatching, and cross-hatching. Each of these brings dimension and texture. Add some watercolor washes, and it can really make things pop out.
Sort of Comfort Zone
I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I have never really done any formal consideration of pencil drawing. To me it seems counter-intuitive to think about pencil drawings beyond pencil drawings of a casual quality, like the scribbles and doodles students turn in with their work. Rather, I looked at a drawing book from the library and had a deeper appreciation for the textures pencils can make. As with pen and ink, stippling and hatching are at work – but so are circles and lines in varying directions, along with lines which depict texture, such as the little hook-shaped lines at the very bottom.
Today, I filled up a palette with watercolor pigments. Now, I am slowly studying washes and wet-into-wet. I am also using a whole slough of pigments I have never used and dropping some of my old standbys. I am feeling like crap. But, perseverance. Onward.
Deciding to take the bull by the proverbial horns, I enrolled in a few of the online classes on Craftsy. I have used them for a number of other courses, such as sewing or photography, and really enjoy their format. Demonstrations which are practical, well presented, and make sense are worthwhile. Online streaming format, without limitation (once bought), is another advantage – you can watch, play, replay, go away, and revisit. I really like Craftsy for this one reason. So, I enrolled in a drawing class called See Better, Draw Better: Exercises for Beginners by Kateri Ewing, and a couple by Shari Blaukopf on Sketching with Pen and Ink – one for landscapes, and one for cityscapes.
I am alternating between the drawing class and the sketching landscape classes. I have my chrome book, pens, paper, ink, water, coffee, and watercolors, and who knows what else. I am using one notebook – it’s a standard sketchbook, so the paper is thin – and taking notes and playing with the exercises as we move along. I have also been doing some sketching while listening to an audiobook. The watercolor studies are essentially play – not serious – because I do things as Blaukopf moves along in her class. I want to see her class almost completely before I really do anything on watercolor paper, whereas the drawing class is easier to play and do some “serious” stuff as it moves along.
I’ve doodled with drawing throughout the years, but never really focused on drawing in the way Ewing presents it. She uses 3 pencils – 6H, 4B, and HB. She also explains the differences between willow and vine charcoal, which I never thought of. As well, she discusses hatching, cross-hatching, broken lines, stippling, and other techniques for texture. I never thought of drawing in the direction of the shape of an object. She has you begin with gestural drawings and them move onto the shading techniques and so on. I’m surprised at what I have been able to do – as you can see below!
From the gestural drawings, she moves into shape and shadow to give volume – light and dark.
And then, I’ve been sketching in between.
As I said, I am moving through the watercolor / pen / ink classes differently. I want to focus more on listening, and observing, and hoping that the drawing class will help with my ongoing issue of contrast and value and tone. The pencil pictures are helping a lot already, but the real key will be painting. Below are some sketches made from the landscape class and done on non-watercolor paper, just to show some of the stuff I’ve been playing with.
My problem is a lack of time. Work and life get in the way. Still, it’s wonderful to feel the focus of drawing and painting and thinking I just might, just might, be able to do something worthwhile!
I am an unabashed Charles Reid fan when it comes to instruction books and videos and style in watercolor. I love his loose style and the way his colors flow in and out of each other without getting muddy. Honestly, I am really a novice when it comes to watercolor painting – and mud is my usual result. Somewhere in the past 6 months a part of me just quit worrying about what I produce, and this gave me the freedom from self-criticism (and condemnation) about what results I get. I don’t care anymore, and this freedom is opening up doors which have been slammed shut by my unrealistic and unrelenting worrying. It’s a great feeling!
Having a bunch of watercolors and supplies on hand, I dug out some water brushes and my traveling palette. Out on the patio, with earphones on to listen to a spy novel, a bunch of paper towels and some water, I pulled out Reid’s book. My watercolor pads came along with me, as did my coffee, water bottle, drawing pencils and who knows what else. The verbal distractions of the audiobook keep me from getting too emotional about my practice pages. I propped up Flower Painting in Watercolor and got to work, reading captions and color suggestions, drew some rough sketches from Reid’s exercises, and got to work.
I think one of the hardest things to do is to leave white paper. I just want to paint it all up. And I also want to just keep going on – and this creates mud – without pause for paper to dry and paint to settle. Rush, rush!
Well, I did succeed somewhat. The crocuses above are one of Reid’s studies, and I was pretty pleased with it. In reality, it doesn’t look half as good as the photo, but then it is on a piece of messy paper with scribbles on it and test swatches of color.
This was a quick study, more white space being left open. I went back after I finished this study to use my pencil to add some shape to the white flowers. I like lines – and it is a problem I find with my own sense of a “successful” painting – I need lines to define things. Sometimes lines work – sometimes they don’t – but I do love the Renaissance ink studies I’ve seen, and lines have always held my eye. Lines are expressive – but so are shapes of color.
Here, simply color shapes to imply a flower or a leaf. My experience in sumi-e brush painting makes my understanding of controlling a brush – even an inexpensive water brush with nylon bristles – much easier.
One thing Reid pulls out is shapes without definition – just implication of form. This is great practice for my line addiction!
Another issue I find is contrast and value. It’s hard for me to really get these right in a painting. Reid mentions he makes his dark not super dark – not black – but installs a medium dark early on to establish value. I struggle with this but with more practice I think I will get better at this.
And here is the last one . . . not the best, but one which does have some good areas of contrast, and black lines from an India-ink pigmented pen. Sketchy, painterly, and totally fun to do!
Quality paper is a must-have. I have some tablets that I bought which I absolutely hate because of the texture and sizing in the paper. However, I used them up and ordered more of the Canson’s Montval paper, in a spiral booklet form, 9×12 with 20 pages. It’s a good working size – and it’s good paper, with a nice texture and sizing which doesn’t blotch up and look horrible. It’s also very reasonably priced. The Schmincke paint box may have Schmincke paints in them – or not. My paint supplies include Schmincke, Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Holbein, and M. Graham professional-grade watercolors.
I’m glad I sat down to paint – it’s such a wonderful feeling and one which gives me satisfaction. Did I produce anything worthy of framing? Not at all. But working with my hands, seeing some success, is something which cannot be described – only experienced. You know what I mean! It’s like love!
I am not quite sure what hit me the other day, but I wandered off to the local library to look at kids’ books.
Where I live, we are fortunate to have a well-run, financially sound (so it seems) library system. There are about 130 K people here, and only two libraries to serve the population, but both libraries are well-designed, light, airy, and busy. Busy meaning there are kids and teenagers and adults, as well as scheduled activities, such as lectures and movies.
The children’s section of the library is separate from the adult. There are sections for young adult, for research, for youngish readers (8-12?), and for non-readers and beginners. The shelves are the right height for kids, and topped with books and displays to catch the eye.
Okay, so what does this have to do with drawing? A lot! Good illustrations add so much to a story, for both children and adults. Textbooks without illustrations are unattractive. Color adds more. And children’s books need pictures – just like Alice said, “What is the use of a book if there are no pictures?”
Yeah, there is a lot of use for pictureless books – but they are even more useful with illustrations.
So, here I am, wandering through the children’s section, looking at this book and that. Most books had written words with pictures to illustrate them. And then I came across Clown by Quentin Blake. Blake is the illustrator for many of Roald Dahl’s books (you know, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Clown is a story without words, only pictures. I had a few good laughs as I “read” the book, and totally enjoyed the illustrations.
Blake is the master of light mood, caught with pen and watercolor. A loose style that, nonetheless, is filled with details. When the clown wriggles out of the garbage can, you have to look to see it happening – but you do! When I looked again and again, so many things showed up.
Then I looked at more of his books. Cockatoos had me laughing out loud. Illustrations and story worked so well together – I loved to see all the cockatoos hiding, and I loved the last line in the story.
I blither about art, and drawing, and writing, a lot. The mental arguments are strange and annoying. I put up barriers and fill time with meaningless twaddle when I could be out doing something. I have fought with myself over and over again about my “style” in the painted, colored, drawn world. It was never technically accurate or realistic enough. I am confident about my writing style – academically, I can crank out papers at an appalling rate – but with drawing, I drag my feet, tormenting myself with my perceived failures and inabilities.
The light bulb went on with Clown. I love that loose, fun style. Is it “art”? Probably not – but why should that matter? If it brings pleasure and communicates, I guess that is definition enough.
Yesterday, I took out my own pen and ink and began to doodle. I didn’t care what I drew. My imagine was allowed to play without rules.
How I love paper and pencil and ink!