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!