Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nadia's Tomatoes & My New Flickr Page

I have been doing a daily sketch to keep in practice and here is one I want to share.  My friend Nadia posted a photo onto Facebook of her small balcony tomato garden and I thought it'd be a great subject for today's sketch.  Yes, it is November and tomatoes are growing in Tucson (I love a warm climate)!  Before I sketched I envisioned rich juicy watercolors, and I think I got near my vision.  For the background I dropped in French Ultramarine into each pre-wet area and let the color flow.  I dropped in some Lunar Black as well.  The tomatoes are painted with Holbein colors.  Holbein has a color I just love, Permanent Rose (PR60), but I had stopped using it when I read in that that pigment is fugitive.  I should use it more, though, since I love it!  I think it's okay to use it for sketching anyway, don't ya think?

So I have long wanted to be more active in the sketching communities on Flickr, but I was hesitant because I didn't want to mix up my sketching activities with my photography activities.  After all, not all of my photography contacts care to see my sketching photostream, contacts, favorites, etc, and vis versa.  So I decided to create a separate Flickr account for just art, called (of course) "Stacy Creates":

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Find the beauty in the mundane

Inspired by Pete Scully and Larry Marshall, who turn ordinary fire hydrants into amazing works of art, I walked myself kitty-corner across the street to our nearest fire hydrant and sketched it!  It was great fun, so simple yet complex enough to be interesting.  Try it!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Another outing with my sketch-mobile...

Cortaro Bridge over the Santa Cruz river
Tucson and neighboring Marana are doing really great for developing urban bike paths throughout the city, particularly along the major washes and rivers.  Within an easy bike ride from my home is a wonderful bike path along the Santa Cruz river, which actually has water running through it most times of the year!  This morning I hopped on my bike with my sketch kit and sketch stool in a day-pack and rode to a location I had noticed on a previous outing, offering a great view of the Santa Cruz flowing under the bridge at Cortaro Road.  And this is my sketch!

As I was putting the finishing touches on my sketch a man who had been jogging along the path informed me that he spotted a 5-foot rattlesnake a little ways up the path, if I cared to go check it out.  So after I packed up my stuff and I rode to the area he indicated, but the snake apparently had left.  Oh well.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Trouble in Preradise

Like any newbie sketcher (or perhaps some veterans, too!) I cannot resist trying out different art supplies.  Especially pens!  People wrote about sketching with this fountain pen or that, and I was so curious to try different pens.  I started with the Lamy Safari, widely regarded as a "reliable, dependable workhorse", but that has not been my experience at all with it (I've tried two of them!).  I then discovered the Platinum Carbon Desk Pen and I thought my search was done, I loved it!

But then curiosity rose again, and I bought a Noodler's Flex Konrad (what are those flex pens about anyway?).  It was okay, but the line was too thick for my taste.  Then I encountered a blog post from Quebec sketcher Larry Marshall about the Pilot Prera.  I began dreaming about the Prera as a pen that would make up for any deficiencies I perceived in my reigning favorite pen, the Carbon Pen (strange long shape, cap not post-able; I'm aware that I can saw the body shorter but such things are irreversible and what if I don't like the way it handles then?). The Prera looked sturdy, wrote fine, the cap posted, etc.  People seem to like it.  So I bought one (now my most expensive pen!) and I was in Prera-dise.  For awhile...

Now that I've had some experience sketching with the Prera I have found myself growing increasingly frustrated with this pen on the papers I am sketching on these days (Strathmore 400 CP, Aquabee Superdeluxe).  Sometimes the ink just stops flowing and I have to get out a scratch sheet of paper to get it going again, and sometimes even then I would fight the pen.  Yesterday as I used it to draw the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson, I was fighting with the pen again, and I said to myself, "That's it!  This pen is not working for me!  The Carbon Pen has never failed me so it's time to go back to that!".

But before I purchased a second Carbon Pen (one to keep on my desk, one to keep in my traveling sketch kit), I needed to make sure it was the pen what was the problem and not the ink.  So I flushed my Carbon Pen, installed a Platinum converter that I bought awhile back and never used, and filled the pen with Noodler's Lexington Gray ink, the ink I had been using in my Prera.  It worked wonderfully, as I thought it might.  Nice ink flow, no skipping, even on the relatively rough cold press watercolor paper.  I did a test page on the Strathmore CP watercolor paper and I was convinced the problem was in the Prera, not the Lexington Gray ink.

So made a JetPens order for another Carbon Pen this morning.  That should do me!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Everyday Matters

Sometimes when I want to sketch something, I'm indecisive about what to sketch.  There are so many options (or sometimes nothing seems "right")!  It helps to have guidelines and the Everyday Matters (EDM) challenge list is an excellent source of sketch subject ideas, the best I know of.  I've been aware of it for awhile but have never used it.  The first item, EDM #1, is "Draw a shoe", and while I have already as a matter of course drawn three pairs of shoes, I thought I'd sketch another pair I haven't drawn yet and "officially" start the challenge.

I'm not going to push myself to do one a day, I want to feel free to sketch whatever.  But I can use this list when I feel stuck, indecisive, or uninspired.  I'm not sure if I'll get through the whole thing (likely not, the list is now huge and overwhelming at 328 items and counting), but that's...okay.  It'll always be there when I need it.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Maiden voyage on my sketch-mobile!

Inspired by the Danny Gregory film "Red Hook" featuring Tommy Kane where he rides his bicycle to sketch the Red Hook bar, I've been recently getting my bicycle in working order (fixing both flat tires, fixing the shifter, tuning the gears, lubing the chain) so I too can have a "sketch-mobile". This morning was my maiden voyage to our local library. It was fun, and I want to do more of it!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Learning from other artists

Saguaro at Picacho Peak
I have been scouring the Internet, studying the drawing techniques of some of my favorite artists (Pete Scully, Tommy Kane, Steven B. Reddy, France Belleville-VanStone (aka "Wagonized"), and Paul Heaston).  They all create beautiful drawings, and most of them incorporate watercolor too, as I do.  One thing they all seem to have in common is that their works of art are very drawing intensive, even to the point of adding great detail with their lines, and using hatching or stippling to create darker values.  Though most indeed use watercolor, it's more as an enhancement to their drawing and not for creating the details so much.  I have felt that in my style of watercolor painting, where I prefer to work wet-into-wet and drop in colors, is not very conducive to creating detail and so I've always felt I've struggled with the details.  Well, these wonderful artists have provided me an alternative...create these details in ink!  So as I take my baby steps in this directions, I share with you an early attempt to do such.  See the detail in the saguaro?  I drew those lines and dots in their with my fountain pen!  This is not something I would have done before, but I really like the result!  I even did a bit of hatching in the distant trees, and the distant hills, for the dark areas.  Fun!  I love this style, and I think it solves some artistic problems I've been having with watercolor painting.

This sketch is from a photo I took at Picacho Peak State Park near Tucson, Arizona in March 2005.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sketching in the High Sierras

I recently spent a week in the Eastern Sierras of California hiking, camping, backpacking, and rock climbing.  Of course, I took what opportunities I could for sketching too!  For the hiking/car-camping portion of the trip I brought my regular sketch kit in my Eagle Creek Pack-it Sac, and got a few sketches in:

Many were done while the men (my husband and a friend) were otherwise occupied (hiking to the summit of Mt Starr while I lingered at Summit Lake and Mono Pass, in one case; I sketched a boulder while they were bouldering in another case).  In a quiet moment at Whitney Portals I also was able to sit by the lake and sketch the store.

From Whitney Portals we backpacked up to Iceberg Lake (12,600 ft) at the base of Mt. Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States (at 14,505 ft).  From there we rock climbed one day up to the top of Mt. Whitney, and on another day up a neighboring peak, Mt. Russell (14,094 ft).  On those climbing days, there wasn't much time to sketch, but on the day we arrived, I did manage to sketch our tent amongst the granite buttresses adjoining Mt. Whitney with my ultra-minimalist sketch kit:

Because I would be camping at 12,600 ft I decided not to bring any of my fountain pens (I thought they might be a bit leaky at high altitude), buy instead brought my Pigma Micron pen.  The sketchbook is one of the single-signature booklets I recently made, containing Aquarius II watercolor paper.  And my watercolor kit is a set of 5 half-pans in a mini-altoids tin containing New Gamboge, DV Red Rose Deep, DV French Ultramarine, Phthalo Green, and Burnt Sienna.  Oh, and to round out the kit is a Pentel Aquash fine-tipped waterbrush.  All contained in a quart-sized zip-lock bag!

So much inspiration in the High Sierras for that I am home I'm enjoying sketching from my photos of the trip.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hand-bound Mini Watercolor Sketchbooks

I am about 2/3rd the way through the mini coptic-bound sketchbook I made for my travel watercolor kit, and I've learned that I think I'd like a thinner book for this purpose.  The coptic binding is a bit loosey-goosey, and it just seems kind of thick to use.  Also, I kind of get tired of the cover before I get through it.  I have to wait longer before I get the pleasure of starting a new sketchbook!  So I decided to make some single-signature watercolor sketchbooks and see if I prefer that.  Here are a couple I made.  The insides are 8 pages (4 signature folios, folded in half) of Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper, a nice thin high-quality watercolor paper.  The cover for the one on the left is my experiment in decoupage.  I used Modge Podge to attach and seal torn scraps of wrapping and tissue paper onto a piece of 67lb cover paper.  The one on the right has a fabric cover I sewed together.  I used embroidery floss to bind the decoupaged-cover book and cotton crochet thread to bind the fabric-covered book.  For both I hand-sewed using a backstitch.  Here are the specifics:

First the paper.  Awhile ago I bought a 10-pack of Strathmore Aquarius II because I wanted to try a quality thin paper for journal-making and this looked like the ticket.  I was also able to read about this paper on Roz Stendahl's blog, and was convinced to try it.  I like it!  It's nice and bright, very tough, and doesn't buckle.  So for my little mini-books I cut/tear into 5x7" folios using this tear diagram:

Tear Diagram for mini-sketchbook
It's important to note that the dashed line indicates the fold line (so the book is 3.5" wide when folded), and the folds are with the grain of the paper.  I use an X-acto blade to cut every 5", then I tear the 1" excess off then at every 7" (I tear because I like a rough edge to my paper).  When I have my 5x7 folios, I fold them in half, using a blunt tool (I used a handy spoon rest since I was working on the kitchen counter) to crease the fold.

In constructing the book, I roughly follow this excellent tutorial.  However, since I am binding a book with watercolor paper I cannot use as many sheets of paper or the book wouldn't fold well.  For my books I use 4 folio sheets of Aquarius watercolor paper.  Also, her tutorial talks about rounding the corners, which I don't do, and using closely-spaced stitches (to simulate the binding on the Moleskine); my stitch holes are 7/8" apart.

Next is the hole-punching session.  I marked up a guide out of card stock paper to help me know where to punch the holes that will be used when I sew the book together.  Like I said, the holes for my books are 7/8" apart.  Use an awl and a phone book cradle to punch my holes.

Then it's time to get creative for your cover!  At first I used attractive but boring plain-color card stock paper, cut to a size of 5.25x7.5".  To prepare the covers I folded them in half (now 3.25x5.25") then I used my hold punch guide (centering the guide, which is the size the watercolor paper inserts and therefore smaller than the cover, onto the cover paper along the fold) to punch holes in the cover  for the binding.  But wouldn't it be more fun to have a pretty cover?  This is where I explored decoupage and sewn fabric covers.  I like the decoupaged one fine, but I really love the fabric one because I just love batik fabric!  

I should give a bit of the process I used to make the fabric covers:  I measured out a rectangle of 5.75x8" (1/4" seam allowance) onto two pieces of fabric.  Right sides together, sew the side, top, and side seams.  Trim corners and turn right side out and iron.  I also iron down 1/4" the circumference of the un-sewn bottom edge.  Mark with a marking pencil where the fold will be and top-stitch along this mark.  I also top-stitched 1/8" along each sewn edge.  I now have two "pockets" to insert a stiffening material.  I used a piece of my crappy Canson XL 140lb watercolor paper in each pocket as a cover-stiffening insert (this paper is not good for much else!).  To fit into the pockets I cut them to 3.25x4.5" in size.  After inserting the "cover stiffeners" I top-stitched 1/8" along the bottom to close.

Next I bind the books using a simple back stitch.  Here is a photo of one in process:

I used my biggest sewing needle, and I did run the crochet threat (or embroidery floss) through beeswax before sewing.

Done!  I think I'm going to really like these small thin books for keeping in my purse or in my travel sketch kit.  They are cute, handle easily, hold 8 pages (or 16, if you paint on both sides, which I do), and I should be through one book before I get bored with its cover!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Valuing Value Studies

Final sketch after doing a value study

While sitting in the Moab library on our recent road trip, I perused Charles Reid's Watercolor Solutions, and it made me realize that I so often don't pay enough attention to values in my subject or scene when I sketch.  Sure, I have often seen the adage "Color gets all the credit, but value does all the work" but I often get so enamoured with color that I forget value.  Well, reading Charles Reid's book inspired me to focus on value, and actually do value studies using one color of paint.

I took a photo of a fruit-laden prickly pear in our neighborhood and converted it to black and white to help me see the values in my subject better:

B&W photo of my subject
Then after sketching the cactus I used sepia paint to do a couple of value studies.  I do have a tube of  Payne's Gray on order and I will want to use that for monochrome paintings as well:

Monochrome value studies
Doing such studies may not be practical when working out in the field, but at home I think it can be a good exercise, if not an essential intermediary step, in painting a subject.  

I am also a nature photographer, and as a photographer I tend to avoid photographing in bright sunlight (between the hours of 8am and 5pm, typically) because most things don't photograph at their best in that harsh light.  The light is not "golden", and the dynamic range of the camera is not enough to capture detail in the highlights and shadows.  However, I am learning that when doing watercolors, brighter light, and lots of contrast, highlights, and shadows, can make for some really cool and interesting paintings.  To make the most of this interesting light situation, I feel motivated to use value studies as a tool to focus on the range of light and shadow.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Back from a month-long road trip (and blog catch-up)!

I knew I've neglected this blog but I didn't realize how badly!  I apologize to myself and my followers.  Since I last posted, I did indeed complete Brenda Swenson's 75-Day Sketch Challenge (yay!) and she kindly sent me my Artistic License.  It was such a beneficial experience, I can't tell you how much more confident I feel about drawing now (and more forgiving of my results than before!).

Though I still continued to draw and sketch after the Challenge, I didn't do it quite as much.  My focus shifted a bit again towards photography as I got a new compact camera to replace my damaged one, and I created a new photography blog to talk about my photography doings.  I also went on a fun backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon (where I did indeed do some sketching) and decided to write a trip report about it on another new blog I created.

I recently got back from a great month-long road trip through Utah and Wyoming where we camped every night (in various campgrounds or BLM land), did lots of rock climbing, and also took in the sights.  I fortunately had lots of spare time to photograph and sketch!  I took my compact watercolor sketch kit and made it a point to do at least one sketch from each camp sight.

The first page was while at my mother-in-law's home in Flagstaff, drawing from images from a nature calendar she had.  After visiting with her awhile, we commenced our road trip and our first stop was in Zion NP, where I did this sketch from our camp site.

We moved on towards Maple Canyon in Utah (southeast of Provo) via Yuba Lake SP.  The water of this lake was so green in the bright sun!  Maple Canyon, where we spent 4 days rock climbing, has high cliffs made up of a conglomerate of rounded river stones, pretty bizarre to see and to climb.  From there we proceeded towards Ten Sleep, Wyoming via Scofield SP in Utah, where our campsite was bordered by lovely aspen trees, my favorite type of tree.

On our way to Ten Sleep we also camped at Dinosaur NM in the northeast corner of Utah, right by the Green River.  I had a chance to sketch the river the next morning.  Once in Ten Sleep we stayed 8 nights and that afforded me lots of free time to sketch.  Fortunately, it was around the peak time for wildflowers around our campsite and I enjoyed sketching and photographing them.  Our campsite was right along Ten Sleep Creek, and I took the opportunity to sketch my view of the creek from the picnic table.

After leaving Ten Sleep we went to Yellowstone NP, where surprisingly we were so busy touring the sites and trying to spot critters that I didn't have any time to sketch.  I did a lot of photography though!  After 3 days in Yellowstone we started heading back south to spend some time in one of our favorite places, Moab, Utah.  We did a little rock climbing there (not very much since it was so hot!) and enjoyed the sights in Canyonlands, Arches, and along the Colorado River.  I was able to get several sketches in during this portion of the trip.

I came home with a revitalized enthusiasm for sketching!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sailing the Sea of Cortez

We recently returned from a 6-day trip sailing the Sea of Cortez!  Mark and I were invited by an old friend to come to his home in San Carlos, Mexico and take a cruise on his sailboat across the Sea of Cortez to the Baja side and explore the area.  Seas and winds were generally calm, but we finally did have enough wind to sail back to the Mexican mainland on our last day.

Of course I got some watercolor sketching in, but mostly this was a trip where I was able to take some very satisfying photos.  I have a gallery of my photos from this trip at

It's wildflower season in Tucson!

The first flowers to bloom here in southern Arizona are the brittlebrush and the Mexican poppies.  I recently found a treasure trove of poppies and lupines on a recent hike in the Tucson Mountains.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Current Project -- Europe 2011 Trip Retrospective Journal

I had started a Retrospective Trip Journal in January, and was making good progress through it (I got through ten years, to 1994!) when I decided to put that project in hibernation and work on our most recent trip, our month-long whirl-wind trip through Europe!  I was feeling the pull to jump to that trip since it was our most recent trip, therefore the most fresh in my mind, and certainly deserving of its own sketchbook.  I decided to use a Fabriano Studio sketchbook I bought recently on sale, and this has 12 sheets of cold press watercolor paper (for a total of 24 pages).  So I constructed a "budget" of how many pages I could allot to a particular place.  In total, we visited 14 places in Europe, so for some places I could only allot 1 page to that place.

Fortunately I took lots of photos on our trip so I have many references to sketch from.  Also, as I remember eating certain delicious foods in Europe, like baguettes, cheese, chocolate, and gelato, I am able to find photos online for reference too.  I also thought I'd include logo sketches, like Trenitalia logo, or the sign for Mary's Hotel in Paris where we stayed at, all easily found online.

For the cover of the book I had photoshopped a line of our train travel route on a map of Europe and pasted it onto the cover:

So we started our trip in Paris, and I ended up using 3 pages for that place, which will force me to reduce to one page for another place:

We next rode to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland and had a wonderful two days there:

I am currently working on finishing up our time at the Cinque Terre region of Italy (one of my favorite places of the trip!):

This project has been a lot of fun, and a great way to reminisce on a truly wonderful trip!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Zentangle Birthday Card

I love color, but there is something about the black and white chaos of the Zentangle that intrigues me.  I find them aesthetic.  They are fun to create, too.  So with a friend's birthday coming up, I decided to make a birthday card using the Zentangle concept.  I also have been working on learning calligraphy.  I mentioned in my previous post that I recently purchased a Brause calligraphy set, and I thought this birthday card would be a great way to put the set to use.  I found online what I thought was an apt quote for birthdays, and used the Uncials lettering style for the words:
I like how it turned out, my first time with the Uncials style!  Of course, I didn't do it cold, I practiced a few times in my practice book:
I also traced some letters in the Versals lettering style onto the envelope and filled in the letters with colored pencils.  Meghan often wears lime green, which is why I picked that color scheme:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Masking Fluid + Calligraphy Nibs Leads to Batik-style Painting

I love the look of either white or black lines in watecolor sketches and paintings.  I have in the past played around with masking fluid to preserve white lines, sometimes with a liner brush and sometimes with a ruling pen, not always with good results.  One of the keys to success is a good-flowing masking fluid, and after trying several brands, including Masquepen, I find that I like Pebeo Drawing Gum the best.  But the other key is a good tool that enables me to draw fine lines with the fluid, and I have a new tool that works pretty good.  I recently bought a Brause Calligraphy dip pen set from Goulet Pen Co., and I found the idea online of using calligraphy nibs to write in masking fluid.  Oh, I had to try that.  So I got the bigger round nib in the set, the Pfannen nib, and gave it a go.  With the disadvantage of using masking fluid that is already coagulating in the bottle (it must have been sitting on the store shelf for awhile, usually a brand new bottle is nice and homogeneous with no clumps), I was able to get the pen to work pretty well and draw smooth lines (for the most part).  You do have to keep on top of making sure your nib is filled with the fluid, and do the usual things like pre-dip the nib into soapy water and clean the nib often in the soapy water and wipe clean.  But with patience, and practice, I think this could be a good combination.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Recent Daily Sketches

I am 59 days into my 75-day sketch challenge and I am finding myself growing a lot more comfortable with the sketching and painting process!  I really do feel freer with it, and I find myself loosening up about it.  And that is wonderful!  I no longer stress as much about being accurate or perfect, but try to have fun with it.  That is the main thing.  I still wonder each day what I am going to sketch, and find a little anxiety about that.  I try to keep it relevant to the day, but that is kinda hard when days get routine.  I do have a big stash of reference photos I can sketch from, though, as I did one recent day:
The reference photos are from one of my Pbase photo galleries, here and here.  I have been very much into nature photography from 2005 through current day, though in recent times my photography has been more for trips only.  And now that I want to incorporate travel sketching into my trips, I am not sure how much photography I'll be doing since I'll want to sketch too!

But I do try and sketch from life when I can, even mundane stuff like running shoes.
 This sketch was one that actually required maybe the most concentration of all I have done so far...all those twisting laces!

Sketching our little Christmas cactus was actually easier than I'd have thought, given all the little pad segments:

So now that I am growing more comfortable with both drawing and painting, I hope to incorporate into my "schema" the ability to use more artistic license in my use of color in my sketches.  It's been difficult to pin down and articulate what I want to grow into, but I have come to understand that it's about choosing personal color rather than local color.  There is a great thread on Wet Canvas started by Virgil Carter on this topic, and I think Virgil's work is a wonderful (if especially vibrant) example of the use of color I'd love to incorporate into my art.  I've seen it before, in the work of John Nieto, Sinclair Stratton, Patrice Federspiel, Jo Lynch, Harriet Peck Taylor, and many others...artists who are not enslaved by local or realistic color, but freely incorporate vibrant and wonderful colors into their work.  I'd love to do that!

Mini Sketch Kit Ready To Go

Next month we are embarking on a long road trip from Arizona to Washington D.C. and even beyond to New York City!  So naturally I want to take along a watercolor sketch kit to do some trip journal-keeping, and I need to keep it small so I can always have it with me when I walk around these cities.  So here is the kit I am going to try, all contained in the Eagle Creek XS Pack-It-Sac.

First is the watercolor sketchbook itself, which I recent made using coptic binding and Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.  The size of the journal is 3 1/2 x 5", which opens nice and flat to a 5 x 7" 2-page spread.  This will be the first time I've worked with this paper, but I chose it because it is nice and thin.  I made the book using four signatures, and each signature has four folios (i.e. 8 pages) each.  So this little sketchbook has  32 pages, comparable to a pocket watercolor Moleskine.  The cover is made with leather scraps, with the holes reinforced by 140lb watercolor paper I glued to the leather.

The watercolor palette comprises 5 half-pans of paint glued using rubber cement to the inside of an Altoids Smalls tin.  The colors I have in the palette are based on the "artist's primaries" palette on  Daniel Smith New Gamboge, DaVinci Red Rose Deep, DaVinci French Ultramarine, Daniel Smith Phthalo Green YS, and Daniel Smith Burnt Sienna.  I used rubber cement to adhere a cut-to-fit piece of a yogurt container to the top of the tin for mixing.

To round out the kit I have a Mini mister spray bottle, a large Niji waterbrush, a Platinum Carbon fountain pen filled with platinum carbon ink, a cuff to an old sock to wipe the waterbrush, a slide holder to help me frame my sketches, and a piece of Yupo paper cut to the size of my sketchbook to use as a color mixing palette.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ahh...Pen Satisfaction

I received my JetPens order yesterday and I was anxious to try out my new Platinum Carbon Desk Pen to see if I have a smooth-writing, fine-line, black-ink drawing tool, and I sure do!  I am very happy so far with this pen, it is a pleasure to hold in my hand and a pleasure to draw with.  It is very light-weight, the smooth rounded neck is comfortable to hold, and the balance is nice.  I certainly don't fight making lines with this pen, even on watercolor paper.  I guess if this had been my first fountain pen to try, I might not be singing it's praises so much, but since my difficulties with getting the Lamy Safari EF pen to write smoothly, this pen gives me a sigh of, well, satisfaction.

The pen is advertised as a desk pen, presumably because of the extra-long body, but I don't see why I will need to limit its use to a desk.  It is just shy of the length of my Niji waterbrush, and fits nicely into the pouch of my traveling sketch kit (I use an Eagle Creek Pack-It-Sac X-Small).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My First Foray Into Coptic Binding

Like many who keep an artist's journal I find myself in search of the "perfect" journal.  Currently I am working in a 5x7" Pentalic Nature Sketch, which is fine in that it has lots of sheets in a book and the 130 lb. paper holds up okay enough to a watercolor wash.  However, I am finding I am not caring for the spiral binding as it gets in the way when I am working on the left-hand page.   Another disadvantage of spiral binding is that it's difficult to work across a 2-page spread.   A solution filtered into my consciousness when I was reading a Sketchbook Challenge blog profile of Kim Rae Nugent who said she prefers to bind her own journals using a coptic stitch.  She said, "I prefer the coptic stitch for it's beauty and the sketchbooks ability to lie open flat."  That sounded I began my research into bookbinding and coptic stitch on the internet where there a wealth of information on this topic to learn from.

I found several written descriptions of binding using coptic stitch, the clearest one for me on torta gialla's blog.  She had great photos for making book covers that I essentially followed for my first journal.  But to really understand how to do the coptic stitch, I learned more easily and quickly watching YouTube videos.  The best video I found was posted by DaphLife.  Once you get past the cutsie introduction, she launches into a very clear demonstration of binding a book with the coptic stitch, from start to finish.  There's even catchy music to accompany the demonstration, and I found myself humming this tune as I sewed my own journal together.

So I started planning and gathering materials to make my first journal.  First the paper--something inexpensive just in case I flubbed this up.  Certainly not the Arches 140 lb cold press I have stashed in my closet.  Besides, Arches paper is not recommended by Roz Stendahl because it tends to crack when folded.  No, my choice for this project was Strathmore 400 140 lb cold press.  I actually quite like this paper, and I was able to get a 5-sheet pack at my local Michaels at a discount using a 40% off coupon.  Kate Johnson has said that this is one of the papers she uses in her home-bound journals.

Next I needed to decide on size and format.  Roz Stendahl wrote up an article for Strathmore on using their Aquarius II paper for bookbinding, and in this article she provides great information that helps with size and format decisions.  All paper has grain, and it is very important to know the direction of the grain of your paper because all folds in a book need to be along the direction of the grain.  She also provides a couple of "tear diagrams" for tearing up and folding a standard full sheet of watercolor paper where the grain direction is along the longest (30") side.  For my journal I decided the 5 1/2 x 7 1/2" portrait format would be a perfect size and format for me.  Opened up, I could work in a 7 1/2 x 11" 2-page spread if I so desire.  Fortunately, after testing a sheet of my Strathmore 400 paper, the grain direction was along the 30" side like the Aquarius II paper (some papers, like Fabriano, may have the grain direction along the 22" side, so you have to test your paper by starting to fold in each direction and noting the resistance).   I measured, marked, cut, and folded my paper to size.  I cut up two full sheets of paper, yielding 8 "folios" (a folio is one folded piece of paper cut to size) per sheet.  Given the thickness of 140 lb watercolor paper, I saw recommendations of using only 2 or 3 folios per signature.  For my first journal I thought I'd try 2 folios per signature, and 7 signatures in the book.  In the end, this gives me a 28-page book (4 pages/signature x 7 signatures).

What about a pretty cover?  Well that is where an artist's creativity can really shine.  You can use anything from painted aluminum foil, paste paper, fabric, decorative paper, collage, leather, to anything you can imagine.  Myself, I absolutely love batik fabric, so I went to my local Hancock Fabrics (with 40% off coupon in hand!) and purchased 1/4yd of a batik cotton fabric that caught my eye.  I cut the fabric to size as demonstrated by torta gialla and glued that to a stiff non-corrogated cardboard cut to the size of my folded paper.  Since I am frugal, I did not buy the recommended book-boards but cut out my stiff cardboard paper from a Quaker Oats cereal box.  For the inside cover paper I used decorative cardstock paper purchased at Michael's.  I used regular white glue to glue both the fabric and the inside cover paper to the cardboard.

The next step is punching holes, and this requires a punch guide.  For this I took a piece of cardstock paper, cut to match the height of my journal paper, and marked both where the cover punch holes should be, and where I would use an awl to punch the sewing holes in the watercolor paper.  A phone book makes a great cradle for punching the sewing holes with that awl.  I used an 1/8" hole punch for my covers.

So once the watercolor paper is cut and folded, and the covers are created, all the holes are punched, it's time to sew together the journal using the coptic stitch.  I used brown embroidery floss, passed through the beeswax a couple of times.  A curved needle does help in the sewing process, but a straight needle can be used too.  Again, that video from DaphLife was essential to helping me do the actual sewing.  I'd follow along, pausing the video when I needed to execute a particular sewing step.

Here is a pictures of all the tools I used in the creation of the journal, and some photos of my journal!

I am excited to finish using my Pentalic sketchbook and start using this journal!  I am so pleased with how this journal turned out, and how easy it is to actually construct, that I am going to make a smaller journal for my travel sketch kit.  For this, I decided I will try the Strathmore Aquarius II paper that Roz Stendahl is so fond of.  I've never even touched this paper, let alone painted on it, but it sounds great.  This paper is thinner (80 lbs in weight), which would really be an asset for making a smaller travel journal, but formulated to withstand watercolor washes with little or no buckling.  I ordered a 10-sheet pack from Cheap Joes and I am looking forward to receiving it and trying it out.  I've already made a punch guide and tear diagram for this next book, which will be 3 1/2 x 5" in size (5x7" opened 2-page spread).  I have some leather scraps and I think I will try making the covers with it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Major Blog Catch-up

I've been keeping up with the 75-Day Sketch Challenge and on Day 46 now!  I try to sketch from life, like this barrel cactus trio in our backyard, but sometimes I find it handier (and warmer) to sketch from my large reserve of photos (since I spent many years intensely interested in nature photography!).

I'm not usually a fan of drawing buildings, but I did our newly-constructed LA Fitness gym as a handy subject while I waited for my husband to do an extended workout:

On weekends I often join my husband and his friend rock climbing, and that is a wonderful opportunity for some plein air sketching:

I've really been on a fountain pen kick lately (more on that later), and one thing I've been exploring is pen & wash techniques with water-soluble ink:

And finally, yesterday's sketch is one from a photo I took at the local Butterfly Magic exhibit in February 2006.  I really enjoyed painting this butterfly and will likely do more from the photos I took that day:

So as I've said, I've been on a fountain pen kick lately.  I really love the ink & watercolor style, and since I draw in ink before adding watercolor washes I need a waterproof ink.  I have typically used the Pigma Micron 01 pens, and the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens (S being my favorite), but I feel a desire to explore refillable fountain pens.  I am not completely new to the fountain pen realm, having bought a Sheaffer cartridge fountain pen and a Sheaffer No Nonsense pen (with 3 italic nibs) back in the 1980's.  I dug those old pens out, re-constituted the dried out ink in the cartridges, and played with those for a while.  I looked to see what other artists use, and I admit, I was primarily influenced by the wonderfully-talented Nina Johansson when I ordered a Lamy Safari EF from Goulet Pens and a big 4.5-oz bottle of Lexington Gray ink (that included a free Platinum Preppy eyedropper pen!).  But I have to admit, that pen did not work for me.  I first loaded the converter up with the Lexington Gray and I found the lines in both writing and drawing, on both regular and watercolor paper, to be too anemic and broken up.  The ink flow was just not there, and the gray went on too lightly for my taste.  So I flushed the Lexington Gray out of the Safari Converter and I refilled with some of the sample of Noodler's Bulletproof Black.  At first I thought this might be a happy match, because even though the pen was "dry", that seemed to be a good thing, because that ink may not bond to the paper (and thus be waterproof) if it's put on too thickly.  However, with further drawing experience with the Lamy Safari and the Noodler's Black ink, I found I was just fighting the pen too much.  I'd have to re-trace over lines I had just drawn because they were either too light or in most cases broken or with no ink flow at all.  It became frustrating--drawing is hard enough when you don't have to fight your tools!  I wanted to like this pen, but it's just not working for me and I'm sending it back to Goulet.

Edited on 1/30/12 to add that Goulet Pens received my return of the Lamy Safari EF pen wrote me an email to inform me that they have refunded me the full amount, and that actually the nib was defective, so it was no surprise that I did not like the pen.  This is good to know!  They did assure me that the Lamy Safari is a great pen and I ought to give it another try sometime.

It didn't help that I really liked how the free Platinum Preppy was working for me!  I filled that pen up with Lexington Gray ink and though a bit more scratchy than the Lamy, it writes a smooth line, never breaks up, so easily!  I don't have to fight this pen!  So it's hard to justify keeping the Lamy when the Preppy suits me just fine.

But I am not done...I recently made an order from JetPens for a Platinum Carbon Pen---Platinum Carbon ink is purported to be very black and very waterproof, and I want to give it a try.  Many caution that this ink can clog regular fountain pens if not maintained properly and used regularly, so I thought I'd try the pen that is designed to use this ink.  We'll see, the order is on it's way!  I also ordered two more Platinum Preppys and a Platinum converter because I want to be able to keep a Preppy in my purse (and not eyedropper'd -- too risky!).  

Well, gotta go play tennis, but I have more to catch-up on in a following post, including my experiences with Coptic Binding and further progress on my Retrospective Trip Journal...