Thursday, November 14, 2013

Settling in on a Favorite Sketch Subject

On November 9th, 2011 I purchased my first watercolor sketchbook, embarking on a wonderful adventure of keeping a daily artist's journal.  The experience of doing this for the past two years has taught me so much!  I've gained so much more confidence in my drawing skills, thanks in no small part to Brenda Swenson's 75-Day Sketch Challenge, but also to the fact that I've kept up with daily drawing for all the time since.  I've joined up with wonderful online groups on Facebook, and even became a part of our local artist group, the Sketchbook Artistry Guild, which is wonderful.

My sketch subjects have run the gamut of all possibility, from natural to man-made.  I've danced with the Everyday Matters movement started by Danny Gregory, as well as the Urban Sketchers movement started by Gabriel Campanario, both hugely popular and growing.  I've relaxed in the nurturing warmth of Cathy Johnson's warm and welcoming Artist Journal Workshop community, where any sketch subject or sketching method is enthusiastically supported.  It is all fun and wonderful.  I love to sketch all the subjects, from the band-aids I have to use as a result of my skin cancer surgery to the vast scenic landscapes I encounter in my travels, it's all good.

However, I have recently come to the realization that of all the subjects I have tackled in the last two years, I
find I get the most satisfaction from my sketches of living creatures.  It took me about a year to have the confidence to approach such subjects, but when I look back on my sketches, these are the ones I feel the most proud of.  I love animals, fascinated with them, really, and in trying to draw and sketch them I love to try and capture their character and color.  They are just enough of a challenge to make them an interesting and fun subject.

So knowing this about myself, that I get a special pleasure from sketching animals, I feel kind of settled and free to pursue it more!  I can channel my focus in this direction, and hopefully get better at it!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Painting Animal Portraits from Photographs

In one of the Facebook artist groups I belong to they asked anyone who is experienced in drawing and painting live creatures to write an article about their process.  As I have some experience photographing and painting pet portraits, I answered the call with this article:  Painting Animal Portraits from Photographs.pdf.  I hope you find it useful!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Keeping Motivated for a Daily Art Practice

What keeps you motivated for a daily art practice?  Do you keep a daily Artist's Journal?  I love to keep one where I sketch in pen and watercolor, and it's a great place to paint what inspires you for that day, try out new subjects or techniques, record what you see during an outing...the possibilities are endless!  It's your journal!

For instance, on the day I sketched this dragonfly, I had revisited the old deck of Medicine Cards I hadn't seen in years and blindly selected the Dragonfly card.  Oh, I've always been intending on drawing a dragonfly and that day was as good a day as any!

Many times I am inspired because I have seen a particular subject or technique from an artist online that I want to try.  On my favorite Facebook artist groups I saw a couple folks posting a technique of painting a watercolor wash first, then drawing over the wash in pen.  How fun!  I thought I'd give it a try.  It's a very nice technique for when the subject is rather colorless.  Even ordinary household items suddenly look artistic!

One recent morning I noticed beautiful morning light streaming into the kitchen counter so I grabbed some berries from the refrigerator and took some photos of them in that light (because I knew the light would be gone before I could paint it).  The berries cast wonderfully long shadows.  I wanted to play with painting shadows in watercolor, and this gave me the opportunity.

If it's lovely outside I will step out with my sketch kit and find something that draws my eye to sketch, whether it be a grand landscape or urban scene or the detail of a plant. Of course, if the day involves any kind of errand or outing, it's a prime opportunity to sketch something!  A recent meeting of the Southern Arizona Climber's Coalition at our local Barrio Brewery provided one such opportunity to capture the lovely stained glass faux balcony doors in the room, and get some practice quick-sketching people too!

And if I'm at a loss, I search out my own collection of photos, or I look online at places like morgueFile,  Paint My Photo, or Wikimedia Commons (to avoid copyright infringement) for photos that tweak my interest and sketch those.

It helps to have on-going projects. I am working on some "retrospective" trip journals, sketching photos from past trips I did before I got into sketching. It's a great way to reminisce about wonderful trips you've taken.

I also am in an Artist Trading Card exchange project with fellow artists, and I use my Artist's Journal to explore certain ideas first.

There are so many ways you can keep motivated for a daily art practice, whether in you Artist's Journal or in other journals and art projects too!  I hope you have some ideas and inspiration for your own daily art practice!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Flower Emblems of Australia

 On our trip to Australia nine months ago I was fortunate to almost fill a Stillman & Birn Alpha Series Sketchbook with fun sketches.  Almost  filled, but not quite.  Since our trip I've been slowly filling those remaining blank pages with many things Australian, drawing and painting mostly from my trip photos.  I recently had the idea to sketch all of the flower emblems of Australia in this book!

It was fun to learn a little bit about each of the flowers as I discovered which belonged to which state.  Some of these flowers are really unique!

All of the source photos for these sketches were from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ellipse Exercise

Drawing ellipses in correct perspective is one of my difficulties, and where I could use a lot of practice.  I was flipping through my copy of Bert Dodson's Keys to Drawing and I ran across an exercise in Chapter 5 that gives me just that opportunity to get some of that practice.  He has you gather at least five items of varying heights and widths that contain plenty of ellipses in their shapes and draw a still life of these items.

So what you see here is my attempt at this exercise.  After gathering my items, setting up the still life on a large sheet of white paper, I begun drawing the ellipses in these items, lightly in pencil.  Bert Dodson has you "draw through" each ellipse, meaning, even though the ellipses may be partially hidden by the inherent opacity of the object, or by another object, draw the complete ellipse anyway.

Make sure the shape of the ellipse is correct, as it will vary according to your perspective.  Near eye level, ellipses flatten; below (or above) eye level they begin to round out closer to a circle.  So in my case, the top ellipses (the top rims of the beer glass, beer bottle, and mortar, etc.) are flatter than the bottom ellipses of these objects.

Though he doesn't specifically say to, I also drew a vertical line through each object indicating the central axis so that my ellipses align.

Once I was satisfied with my ellipses, I drew the shapes in ink, using the ellipses as guidelines.  I did not bother erasing the penciled-in axis and ellipse lines, as I wanted to remember the process I went through to create this.  I painted the objects and cast shadows with watercolors.

I should do this more's a good exercise!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Traveling Sketchbook -- My Part is Complete!

In my last post I showed the trial run of my contribution to the Traveling Sketchbook...well now I bit the bullet and did the real thing!  I like it.

So the Traveling Sketchbook moves on to the next person!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Traveling Sketchbook Project -- Prep Work

Trial run first in my own sketchbook!
Our Tucson Sketchbook Artistry Guild is doing a Traveling Sketchbook Project, where we each contribute 2 pages of our own sketching into a sketchbook, then pass it on to the next artist.  When the book is filled, we plan to auction it off at a future art show.

The theme of this sketchbook is "Flight", and when I learned of that I immediately envisioned sketching from a photo I took at Puerto Pinasco in December 2006 of some seagulls soaring above us.  We got their attention because my husband was tossing up bits of dog food, and they would catch it mid-air and gobble it down.

I am actually the first to sketch in this book, and I feel a little nervous about it.  So of course, I first did a trial run in my own sketchbook (image above).  This allows me to work out the process and see if the color schemes I have planned will work.  I could then use it as reference when I do the real thing.

To do this trial run in my own sketchbook (which is 5.5x8.5", yielding a 8.5x11" double-page spread), I drew the birds first in pencil into my sketchbook using the grid method.  Basically, I printed out a copy of my photo on an 8.5x11" sheet of paper, slipped it into a clear plastic sheet protector, and drew a 1" square grid directly onto the plastic sheet protector using a Sharpie marker.  Then I drew the same 1" square grid lightly in pencil in my sketchbook, then drew the birds lightly in pencil.  After a few erasures and corrections, I inked in the lines of the front bird in pen when I was satisfied with the drawing.  I also wrote the word "flight" first in pencil, then in pen.  I erased pencil lines where I drew over in ink, but left the pencil grid lines (they don't show up in the scan), and the pencil lines of the second bird.  I used masking fluid to protect the "flight" lettering.

Then it's time to paint.  I first wanted to do a light underpainting of the birds in soft grays, but I wanted the pigments that make up the gray to separate into warm and cool tones.  I normally would have mixed Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna for my grays, but this time I wanted to try something new.  After some deliberation, I discovered I also like the grays resulting from a mix of Daniel Smith Pyrrol Orange and Daniel Smith Cobalt Teal Blue, with a touch of Cerulean Blue.  I like how soft the resulting grays are, and there is just the amount of warm and cool tone separation I was looking for.  For the sky I used clear water where the soft clouds were to be located, then while the paper was wet I painted in Cerulean Blue (with a touch of Ultramarine and Violet mixed in) for the blue sky areas.  When the underpainting of the birds was dry, I layered in with the Ultramarine + Burnt Sienna mixes.  I quite like how it turned out!

Next I will be working in the actual traveling sketchbook!  It sure helps my confidence to have already done a trial run of it in my own sketchbook.

The actual traveling sketchbook is quite a bit larger than my own sketchbook--11x14" opening to a 14x22" double-page spread.  Wow!  I can't recall when I've ever worked that big before.  To reduce risk in the drawing aspects of it, I taped together two 11x14" sheets of sketching paper, and drew an enlarged version of the drawing using the grid method.  I am now experienced in the grid method, so this is not so difficult.  The key for expanding to the needed size is to measure the grid out to the expanded dimensions.  In this case I used a 1.75" grid size (expanded from the 1" grid size).

So that is where I'm at now...  Next I will overlay my sketch paper drawing onto the double-page spread of the actual sketchbook and use transfer paper to transfer the drawing onto the sketchbook page (thus avoiding having a pencil line grid in the sketchbook).  Then I will ink & paint, like I did in in the trial run.  Wish me luck!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Materials for Ink and Watercolor Sketching

I will be hosting a series of days next month where our sketching group will be following along with Brenda Swenson's DVD on Sketching Techniques with Watercolor.  Brenda is a very talented watercolor artist and sketcher, and is also the author of the book Keeping a Watercolor Sketchbook.  I love her work, and she has great advice we can all benefit from in her DVD and book on sketching with ink and watercolor.

After starting out learning to paint watercolors traditionally, with light pencil lines and paint, I have recently discovered I prefer the combination ink lines and watercolor.  I like that the edges of objects are clearly defined with the ink lines, emphasizing the drawing as the "bones" of a sketch.  Then the watercolor provides the "flesh"--the range of values and color.   I find that after making as precise and careful drawing as I can, it frees me up to splash and play with the color, which I love.

In this post I will go through my thoughts and relate my experience with all the various materials used in ink and watercolor sketching, including:  sketchbooks, waterproof ink pens, water-soluble ink pens, watercolor brushes, watercolor paints, and watercolor palettes.


When deciding on a sketchbook, there are three aspects to consider:  paper, size, and binding.  Watercolor, being a wet medium, puts special requirements on the paper so that it won't disintegrate, pucker, or buckle too badly when wet, leading to frustration.  Many watercolorists say that the paper is THE most important decision to make, and the place where you shouldn't skimp on expense.  Perhaps so.  However, if you want to draw your subjects with an ink pen first, this puts additional requirements on the paper.  The textured surface of some traditional watercolor papers can make it difficult to move the ink pen across it, which can also be frustrating.  So for ink & watercolor sketching, we are looking for paper that is smooth enough for pen-work, but can handle watercolors well.  Later I will suggest specific brands of paper and sketchbooks that I find meet these criteria well enough.

The size of your sketchbook is more of a personal preference (as is binding), but generally it should be large enough to comfortably work in, but not so large that you will hesitate to take it with you when you go out.  The idea is to USE your sketchbook, and if it's too cumbersome for you to carry for on-location sketching, you probably won't use it as much!  I have tried various sizes, from 3x5" to 9x12", and I find that I have settled on the 5.5x8.5" size range.  This size fits easily in my purse, yet provides enough room for me to work.  If in portrait format (the binding along the longer side), the book opens up to a nice 8.5x11" double-page spread.

There are two basic types of binding, hard-bound or spiral-bound, and deciding on which is also a matter of personal preference.  I prefer hard-bound because when I want to work a double-page spread, I don't have a spiral binding dividing it up down the middle.  Others prefer the ability to fold back a page in a spiral-bound book, and this is particularly nice if you decide on a larger-size sketchbook (9x12 or greater).

Sketchbooks I have enjoyed for ink & watercolor sketching:

1.  Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Hardbound.  I am only three pages into my first one of these and I already love it.  This is a relatively new release from Strathmore (mid-2012) and it is now showing up in all the art stores, including Michaels.  I appreciate so many things about this book.  The paper seems to fit just the right balance of smoothness for pen-work, but just enough texture and sizing and thickness to handle watercolors beautifully.  The binding is sewn so it is durable and the pages lie flat and make painting across the gutter (the seam in the middle of a double-page spread) easy.  The book itself is nice and compact and fits well into my purse.  I choose the 5.5x8.5" size, but larger sizes (8.5x11" and 11x14") are also available.

2.  Stillman & Birn sketchbooks (multiple paper options).  Another top-quality line of sketchbooks I highly recommend, available at Sarnoff's, Posner's, and various online sources.  A true watercolor connoisseur would opt for the thicker papers (Beta, Delta, or Zeta), but I find the thinner papers (Alpha and Gamma) to be just fine, and more cost-effective.  This company offers sewn hardbound or spiral-bound books.  They come in a variety of sizes.

3.  Strathmore Visual Journal (140 lb watercolor or 90 lb mixed media).  These books, available for sure at Arizona Art Supply, and probably Sarnoff's and Posner's (?) are spiral-bound and come in a variety of sizes.  The 140 lb watercolor paper, because it's more like traditional cold press paper, makes pen-work a little challenge sometimes, but it's still good watercolor sketching paper.  The 90 lb mixed media paper is the same 500 series paper in that hardbound book I recommend above.

4.  Moleskine Watercolor Notebook.  These books are hardbound with a sewn binding.  The paper is thinner than traditional watercolor paper, but handles watercolors very well, and though somewhat textured, it's not so much that pen-work is a pain.  They are quality-made books.  The rub with these is that the binding is on the short side, so a 5x8.5" book folds open to an awkward 5x17" size.  Nice for panorama sketches, though.

5.  Home-made coptic-bound.  You can make your own with whatever paper you desire!  Coptic binding is a sewn binding technique that allows the book to lie flat when opened.  It's actually easy to do yourself.  I have made two books for myself this way, one with traditional watercolor paper (Strathmore 400 cold press) and one with Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.  The Aquarius II paper is great for this because it is thinner than regular watercolor paper (it is 80 lb paper) but is engineered to not buckle with wet media.  There is a light amount of texture, but not so much that pen-work is a pain.  I do not recommend Arches Cold Press watercolor paper (the most commonly recommended paper to watercolor students) for two reasons:  the paper is too rough for pen-work, and when folded it tends to crack.  Other people have had great luck binding their own books with other papers, including hot press, which is nice and smooth for pen-work (but a challenge to paint on!).

6.  Home-made spiral-bound.  Again, you can have your own books made with your favorite paper.  Just cut or tear to your preferred size, and take it to an office supply store to have them bind them with a spiral binding.  Brenda Swenson has used this method a lot.

7.  Global Arts Hand*Book Travelogue [Added November 2015].  This is now my top choice sketchbook for keeping a travel journal.  It is hardbound, durable, and relatively compact for easy stowage while traveling.  The pages are thin and plentiful, yet can handle watercolor paints very well.  In this book, because there are so many pages, I feel free to do a lot of writing in addition to quick sketches to journal my travel experiences.

Waterproof Ink Pens

Since I like to draw with ink pens first, then overlay watercolors on top of that, I need ink pens that contain ink that will not bleed when I touch watercolors to the lines.  There are actually several options, including:  technical pens, fountain pens, dip pens, and ballpoint pens.

1.  Technical pens.  I define technical pens as those ones with a tiny felt, nylon, or metal tip at the tip of a long tiny metal tube, and can be disposible or refillable.  For your very first waterproof pen, I can recommend a few disposible technical pens, including:  Sharpie Pen (not Marker, which bleeds to the other side of the paper), Sakura Pigma Micron, and Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen.  The Sharpie pen is the cheapest and is available at stores like Walmart and Office Max, but the black ink maybe isn't quite as dark as with the Micron and PITT pens, and it only comes in one tip size (Fine).  The Micron and PITT pens are a bit more expensive, come in multiple tip sizes, and advertise "archival" ink.  Between the two, I think I like the PITT better because I think the tips last longer and they don't dry out as quickly.  And, it is possible to refill a PITT pen by removing the butt cap with pliers and adding drops of India ink to the internal foam core.

When you start looking at refillable technical pens, the expense gets higher, and I have read complaints about how easily the tips clog.  I have no experience with refillable technical pens, but these include Copic Multiliner, Koh-i-noor Rapidograph, Koh-i-noor Rapidosketch, and Rotring Rapidograph.

While providing a precise and consistent line, one disadvantage to the technical pens in my experience is that the ink doesn't flow as well if you hold the pen at an angle to the paper (rather than straight up).

2.  Fountain pens.  After using disposable technical pens for awhile, I noticed several sketchers I admire used fountain pens for their ink lines, so I tried it and I am now quite attached to using fountain pens.  One advantage is that there is very little to dispose of--you keep the pen and keep refilling it with ink, and the tip never wears out.  Another advantage is that when you have the right combination of pen, ink, and paper, the flow of the pen on the paper is so smooth, and is quite a pleasure.  Also, the pen can be held at a variety of angles and the pen works.

So when going the fountain pen route you have to select both the pen and the ink.  One important note:  never use India or acrylic ink in fountain pens.  That ink will destroy them.  Use fountain pen ink.

There are actually very few fountain pen inks that are waterproof, but there are two I use and can recommend:  Platinum Carbon Black and Noodler's Lexington Gray.  I know of another sketcher that uses Noodler's Polar Black with great success with watercolors.  The Platinum Carbon Black, however, is a pigmented ink (which means there are tiny particles in the ink to create the color), and this can be a problem with some pens.  I have a hypothesis that pens that are not sealed well (therefore the ink tends to evaporate in the pen) are not good matches for Platinum Carbon Black, as the ink tends to clog in the pen and make it difficult to clean.  But there is one pen that is designed specifically for this ink, is relatively inexpensive, and I have enjoyed:  the Platinum Carbon Desk Pen.  It's a bit of an awkward shape for traveling with (but a saw will shorten it right up) and has a super-fine tip (and may be too fine for your tastes).  Another pen that works well with Platinum Carbon Black in my experience, my current favorite pen, is the TWSBI mini.  This pen uses o-ring seals so there is very little ink evaporation.  I love many other things about this pen:  it starts right up every time, it feels great in my hand and is high quality, easy to refill because it is a piston fill pen, and has a nice compact size.  The TWSBI mini comes in a variety of tip sizes, I use the extra fine (EF).

If you use Noodler's Lexington Gray, a more "pen-friendly" ink, you have many more fountain pen choices.  The cheapest pen you can get is the Platinum Preppy.  It is a cartridge pen, but empty cartridges can be refilled with the ink of your choice using a blunt syringe.  The disadvantage of the Preppy is that the plastic is brittle and the cap tends to crack.  But they are very inexpensive pens and allow you a trial into the fountain pen world.  Up a bit in price, I have a Nooder's pen (Konrad model) that I enjoy, and the nib is designed to flex, providing variable line width.  I have Lexington Gray in my Noodler's Konrad, and I regard it as my second-favorite pen-ink combo.

3.  Dip pens.  This is the "old school" way of putting ink lines to paper.  One advantage of the dip pen is that the selection of waterproof inks opens much wider (because you can completely clean the nib after each use, so there is no clogging).  There are several india and acrylic inks available for dip pens, in all different colors.  Another advantage to dip pens is that, depending on how flexible is the nib, you can get varying line widths, lending a more expressive quality to your drawing.  Of course, dip pens have the overhead of daily cleanup, and are not very practical for on-location sketching.

4.  Ballpoint pens.  Surprisingly, many ballpoint pen inks do not bleed with water.  Ballpoint pens are also cheap and readily available.  However, the line tends to not be as bold as you might like, with one exception, the Uniball Vision.  These create a bold black line (actually too bold for me), and some sketchers like this pen.

Water-soluble ink pens

Sometimes you might prefer to have a pen that does bleed when you touch it with watercolors.  This can create a "loose" feel to your sketch.  Brenda Swenson addresses this style in her DVD, and her favorite pen is a Tombow Dual Brush Pen in Burnt Sienna (#947).  Another fan of this style is Tucson artist Kath Macaulay (, who uses a Pilot Razor Point felt pen.  It seems many Pilot pens work for this technique, as the ink bleeds into lovely shades of gray.  Another disposable pen that has water-soluble ink is the Papermate Flair pen.

If you go the fountain pen route, most fountain pen inks bleed when wettened.  It's a matter of deciding what colors you like!  Two fountain pen inks that I use are Private Reserve Velvet Black (which dissolves into lovely shades of red, purple, and green) and Noodler's Walnut (in which the black component is water-resistant but the golden brown component dissolves nicely).

Watercolor Brushes

Again there are a few decisions to make regarding watercolor brushes.  The first one, which has significant financial impact, is whether to get synthetic or natural (sable) bristles.  Of course, the sable brushes are far more expensive than the synthetics.  Whether they are worth it is a matter of debate.  Personally, I have one sable brush and I don't care for it that much.  Sable tends to hold more water than synthetics, which some like, but I find it difficult to control my water-paint balance.  I go for synthetics.  Modern synthetics have been designed to rival sable in water- and pigment-holding capacity (particularly those designed with multiple filament sizes), and are far cheaper.  Note that some brushes are a blend of sable and synthetic, which you may find you prefer.

The next decision is shape.  The round brush is the classic, versatile, all-around shape.  The next one typically used is the flat wash.  Then after that, they get more specialty, such as the angular and filbert.  Most art teachers recommend getting one round and one flat (3/4") to begin with.  I personally don't use a flat brush that much.

Then size is the next decision.  This is a mixture of personal preference, the size of the sketchbook you are working in, and how well the brush keeps a point.  A brush that keeps a tiny tight point can be used for small areas, no matter how big the main body of the brush is.  The most commonly recommended round brush size is 8 or 10, and I concur with that.  I use a size 10 the most, but I also like to have a size 6 to get into the tighter spots or to drop in colors into my damp wash (without having to clean my #10 brush first).  I also have tiny round brushes for the super fine details (like around the eyes of an animal).

Finally, consider portability.  If you want to do a lot of sketching on location, you will need a good way to protect your bristles from possible damage in transport.  There are two brush types that are designed for on-location painting:  travel brushes and water brushes.  The travel brush has a handle that screws or pulls off and can be used as a cap over your bristles.  There are three brushes I am aware of that do this:  da Vinci Travel brush (series 1573 is synthetic, series 1503 is sable), Escoda 1214 sable, and Dynasty Black Gold.  I have the da Vinci 1573 in size 10 and I love it so much I ordered a size 5 just the other day. [Added November 2015:] Since writing this article I found my top choice travel brush and that is the Silver Black Velvet Voyage brush.  The bristles contain a blend of synthetic and natural bristles to offer me a perfect balance of affordability and brush handling characteristics.  I find a fully synthetic brush (like the daVinci 1573) will tend to "plop" paint onto my paper immediately on contact, whereas the Black Velvet brush has just enough paint retention in the brush to give me the control I need.

One portable brush that does not require a water container, but keeps the water in the handle of the brush, is the water brush.  These are extremely convenient for on-location painting!  The down side is that the largest available is still fairly small, and the bristles of the brush are not quite the caliber of regular traditional brushes.  They take some getting used to, also.  There are a few brands, Pentel Aquash and Niji Waterbrush being at the top of the quality spectrum.  I have tried both and prefer the Pentel Aquash because they are easier to refill, and I've had clogging issues with my Niji.  Note that you keep water in the handle, not paint.  You use the brush as you would any paint brush, dipping it into your paint.  When you need more water, for a more watery wash or to clean your waterbrush, you gently squeeze the handle to increase the flow of water through the bristles.

Specific Recommendations:

1.  Traditional Round Brush.  For synthetic brushes, but I am finding I like the Loew-Cornell 7020 series Ultra Round (black with a red stripe near the brushes ferrule) the best.  This is the brand Brenda Swenson uses too.  Based on my experience with the da Vinci 1573 travel brush I think the Cosmotop Spin (same bristles) would also be a good brush.  For blended synthetic-sable brushes, the Winsor Newton Sceptre Gold II is nice (I have a size 8), but there is also the Robert Simmons Sapphire, too.  I had a #10 of the Sapphire, but it's since lost its point.

2.  Flat wash brush.  As I've said, I don't use this type too much, but I do have a few.  One that I recently got because Brenda Swenson recommends it is a da Vinci Cosmotop Spin Series 5080, size 20.  It's about 3/4" wide, and holds a lot of water.  It's so small and cute, too.

3.  Portable brush.  If you want convenience, try a Pentel Aquash waterbrush, probably a large.  If you want to continue to work with traditional brushes, I really like my new da Vinci 1573 brush.  For a portable water container, I recently got a Sea to Summit X-Cup, and I really like that.

Watercolor Paints

Whoa, big subject!  I will try to keep it simple, but a free super in-depth source of information about watercolor paints is at  I used to study that site for hours!

Choosing paints is such a personal preference, gained only from experience, and it's so tempting to buy tubes and tubes of paints when you're a beginner.  I think the reason why I ended up with so many tubes of paints was because I see an artist I admire and find out what they use on their palette, and I thought if I just had their paints I could paint like them!  (Not true, btw!).

If I were a total beginner again, the first kit I would get for myself is the Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Sketcher's box.  Even though the paints in them are student-grade (as opposed to artist-grade, which I recommend ending up with ASAP), the quality of the paints are pretty good, have a good range of colors (even though some bemoan the lack of black), and includes a cute little travel brush.  And it's not expensive.  Most of all, it can become a portable palette you can use for the rest of your painting life!  It's made of plastic so it will never rust, the size is so compact you can take it anywhere, it has a good surface for mixing in the lid, and most of all, you can squeeze in your choice of artist-grade tube paints into the pans when you want or need.  They will "set up" like pan paints.

If you want to go right away to artist-grade tube paints, the 3 brands I have experience in and recommend are Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, and Holbein.  These happen to be generally in order of pricing, too (with W&N being the more expensive).  The only caveat I have is that Holbein likes to put out multi-pigment paints.  If you read through the Handprint site, you'll see that the author recommends getting single-pigment paints generally.  I don't quite remember why, but it may have to do with avoiding "mud" when mixing.  Even so, I find I might be returning to Holbein for certain paints because they are less expensive, and they seem to not dry out as badly, particularly in our hot, dry climate.

As far as what colors to get, I'd say the absolute bare minimum palette has four paints:  yellow, rose (red), ultramarine (blue), and burnt sienna.  With these four paints, and a working knowledge of color theory, you can mix up a lot of colors.  In discussing which specific yellow, rose, blue, it is important to refer to them by their pigment name/numbers, since different brands call the same pigment by different names.  One of my staple yellows is Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow which contains the pigment PY97.  Another similar pigment is found in Winsor Yellow (PY154).  Ultramarine, no matter the brand, is usually PB29.  Burnt Sienna is usually from the pigment PBr7.  Red pigments often suffer loss of color from UV damage, but one that does not is PV19, present in Daniel Smith Quinacridone Rose and Winsor & Newton Permanent Rose.  There are a couple other red pigments that are also light-fast, but I do not have experience with them.  So here I have listed what specific paints I recommend for the bare bones minimal palette, which allows you to mix many of the basic colors.

From there, many artists (including myself) follow the idea of having a "warm" and a "cool" version of each of the primary colors (yellow, red, blue), plus some "earth" and "convenience" colors.  I tend towards choosing transparent paints over semi-transparent or opaque.  Here are the paints I have chosen for my 18-well palette right now (in spectrum order):

1.  Cool Yellow:  Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97).
2.  Warm Yellow:  Daniel Smith New Gamboge (PY153).
3.  Warm Red:  Daniel Smith Organic Vermillion (PR188)
4.  Cool Red:  Daniel Smith Quinacridone Rose (PV19).
5.  Even Cooler Red:  Daniel Smith Quinacridone Violet (PV19).
6.  Violet:  Winsor & Newton Winsor Violet (PV23).
7.  Warm Blue:  Holbein Ultramarine Deep (PB29).
8.  Cool Blue:  Winsor & Newton Winsor Blue Red Shade (PB15:1)
9.  Cool Blue, not as intense:  Holbein Manganese Blue Nova (PB15) or W&N Cerulean Blue (PB35)
10.  Convenience Green, warm:  Daniel Smith Sap Green (PO49, PG7).
11.  Convenience Green, cool:  Winsor & Newton Winsor Green (PG7).
12.  Convenience Dark:  Winsor & Newton Payne's Gray (PB15, PV19, PBk6)
13.  Granulating black:  Daniel Smith Lunar Black (PBk11).
14:  Earth Yellow:  Daniel Smith Yellow Ochre (PY43).
15:  Earth Gold:  Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold (PO49).
16.  Earth Orange:  Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange (PO48).
17.  Earth Red-Orange:  Winsor & Newton Burnt Sienna (PBr7).
18.  Earth Red:  Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206).

These are just my choices, yours may be different!  Each artist's is different.

Watercolor Palettes

If you go for tube paints, you will need a palette with separate paint wells to squeeze the paint into.  There are many out there, in all varying sizes, and you can even make your own!  I've tried many of them, including ones I've put together from Altoids and Altoids Smalls tins.  Here is what I recommend in order of portability:

1.  Tiny, extremely portable.  Like I said, I have made my own palettes using Altoids and Altoids Smalls tins.  My method is to buy empty full pans and half pans to squeeze my paints into, and use rubber cement to adhere the pans into the tin.  An Altoids Smalls tin will fit 5 half pans, and a regular Altoids tin will fit 14 half pans.

2.  Compact, very portable.  Again, that Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Sketcher's Box is very small and cute.  Another very compact set is the metal Whiskey Painter's Palette.  A word of caution about metal, though, is that there is a risk of rust.

3.  Portable.  A inexpensive well-made plastic palette I use for my on-location sketching is the Masters 20-well folding palette.  It fits 20 paints, has plenty of mixing area, and isn't any larger than my 5.5x8.5" sketchbook.  Very convenient.

4.  Portable (depending on the capacity of your sketch bag).  A palette that Brenda Swenson uses, and I just recently acquired, is the Heritage Folding Palette (aka Mijello Air-tight Leak-Proof Palette).  Being 10.5" long it kind of stretches the limit of portability, but if your sketch bag can accommodate it, this is the one to get.  It is inexpensive, well-made, and seals around the edge to help keep the paints more moist.  My sketch bag doesn't accommodate this palette, but it is the one I use at home.

I hope this rather long write-up has helped you in your consideration of what materials to get for ink and watercolor sketching!

Friday, May 31, 2013

EDiM #30: Draw the inside of your closet

When we were evaluating this house to buy back in 2001, one of the many things I was impressed with was the huge walk-in closet with built-in shoe shelves.  What luxury!

And yes, my husband does have a bright orange shirt in his wardrobe.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

EDiM #29: Draw something from a pet's point of view

Though we are currently "without dog", which is sad but necessary, we have shared our home with Great Danes since we got our first in 1987.  Since they are so tall, and can consume a lot of food and water, they need big bowls elevated to their level.

For today's EDiM assignment, I dug out their bowls and the plant stands we put them on, and crouched my camera down to their eye level for my reference.

I was intimidated at painting the metal bowls, but it worked out pretty good!  I used mixes of Permanent Orange and Cobalt Blue for the various warm and cool gray tones.

It made me miss our dogs...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A break from into the neighborhood to sketch!

I was "free" from Every Day in May today because I did a "two-fer" yesterday, so I used my time to stroll to the entrance of our neighborhood and finally sketch one of the cute little decorative kiosks there.  I found a shady spot under the shade of a palo verde tree, set up my sketch stool, and enjoyed a nice hour of sketching.

While there, I witnessed a motorcycle officer from Pima County Sheriff pull over a speeder.  Too many cars do indeed go too fast on 35 mph Wade Road.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

EDiM #26: Draw a screw

Not content to draw just one screw, I decided to look at multiple screw concepts...

Since these are essentially mechanical drawings that require a modicum of precision, I drew these in pencil first, then inked it in, then watercolor.

EDiM #25: Draw a tote bag

I don't have many tote bags, never really saw the utility of them because there was a huge gaping hole at the top where all my stuff could fall out of if I should drop it.  So this particular bag was my first, bought many years ago, and it actually used to have a functioning zipper at the top to prevent such mishaps.  I also loved this bag because I loved the colors--it looked to me like a watercolor painting (and this was before I even thought of trying to do watercolor painting!).

Green inktense pencil was used to outline the leave shapes in the interior, then wet with a small brush to "set" the lines so they wouldn't bleed when I added watercolor.

Friday, May 24, 2013

EDiM #24: Draw something that makes you laugh

Though my husband is not a "funny man" nor a jokester, his sense of humor (which is often self-deprecating, as depicted here with these crazy sunglasses he found on the ground) has often made me laugh.

This is a big milestone for me, doing a human portrait. This is my first attempt since trying the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain 6 years ago, which was awful and I never attempted it again...until today. I did the whole bit, first drawing guidelines, then the features in pencil, then in pen, then in watercolor. I am really pleased with how this turned out, and I can breathe again.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

EDiM #23: Draw a summer joy

Of course I find great joy in the warm temperatures, road trips and camping that have been a feature of my summers.  But what I love most of all about summers in Arizona are the monsoons storms that happen during July and August here.  I find the buildup of beautiful cumulus clouds, the lightning and thunder, and the short-lived torrential rain exciting and a welcome break from the summer heat.

I love to try and photograph lightning, too, and this drawing is a result of a conglomerate of two photographs.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

EDiM #22: Draw a map (and EDiM #21 from yesterday)

Today's assignment gave me an excuse to do something I've long wanted to do but haven't gotten to, a map with patches of color separated by white borders.

I did this on a regular 1/8th sheet of Arches cold press, penciling in the borders.  For each state I wet the paper (trying to keep a straight line that stood off from the penciled-in border, and dropped in watercolor paints.  In choosing colors, I tried to keep in mind the natural features of that region and apply color that made sense to me.  Of course, the interior of Australia is hot and dry, so warm colors made sense to me.  The far north is very vegetated and the southern extremes get quite cool.  To pay tribute to the Great Barrier Reef, I painted that coast with cobalt teal blue to represent the beautiful waters there.

Paints used:  hansa yellow, new gamboge, organic vermillion, quinacridone rose, quinacridone violet, winsor violet, winsor blue red shade, and winsor green blue shade.

I quite like it and I think I might frame it!  It will be a nice reminder of our recent trip to Australia.

I see I forgot to post EDiM #21 from yesterday, draw the last thing you bought.  Well, it may not be technically the last thing I bought, but these was certainly the last FUN things I bought.  I ordered the TWSBI mini EF fountain pen in "classic" color (black cap, clear body) a few weeks ago and I love this pen. It is my primary sketching pen now, and filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink.  The build quality of this pen is very solid, it's been totally dependable, it feels great in my hand, and I think it looks cute.

The Noodler's Walnut Ink I purchased more recently and am just getting acquainted with it.  I filled my Noodler's Konrad Flex pen with it.  My first impression is that the ink looks almost black until you begin to fill a page and look at it sideways.  My understanding is that it is partially composed of Noodler's Bulletproof Black, which makes sense to me, given how dark it is, but also how this ink handles under a wash.  The water releases gorgeous golden brown and burnt sienna tones, while a blackish line remains.  It's really cool.  Here is an example of my very first explorations with this ink:

Monday, May 20, 2013

EDiM #20: Draw your favorite drink

When I am camping I love a mug of this particular brand of hot cocoa in the morning.  No other brand will do, as this one is not as sweet as the typical hot chocolate.  Unless, of course, someone offers me hot chocolate like I had in and chocolatey, that was!

This is my first sketch using Noodler's Walnut ink, followed by watercolor washes.  It worked great for this image, adding a new dimension of golden browns to the dark browns I mixed with burnt umber and ultramarine.  A bit of spatter completes the chocolatey mess.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

EDiM #19: Draw something that belongs to someone else

Rental DVDs, belonging to Netflix.  I was supposed to mail off the bottom one on Saturday but missed the mailman, and we finished the second one last night.  What are we going to watch tonight?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

EDiM #18: Draw the palm of your left hand

Definitely a handy subject, don't have to go far to set it up!

Drawn with TWSBI mini with Platinum Carbon Black for the outline of the hand, Pilot Prera with Lexington Gray for the lines and wrinkles.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A few days in Northern Arizona

Mark and I spent a few days up in Flagstaff visiting Mark's mother and brother, and as a bonus we drove up to the Grand Canyon!  This was an opportunity to finally work in the 5x8 watercolor Moleskine I bought a year and a half ago, before I discovered the joys of Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.  I struggled with this book, not really wanting to commit to using it as my everyday Artist's Journal, because of its odd shape.  Then I had the brilliant idea to reserve it for times where can really shine:  the panoramic format.  I had a blast tackling a part of the Grand Canyon here while my husband and his brother and elderly mother enjoyed the sight.  The mid-day light was not optimal, but the shapes and colors are still fantastic.  I was told that many children were curious about what I was doing.

I also kept up with the Every Day in May assignments, and it was serendipity in many cases as my mother-in-law has lots of stuff, lots of potential sketch subjects that fit in with each day's topic.  I am also working in a new sketchbook, a Stillman & Birn Epsilon.  It is fun to use, though certainly quite different than regular watercolor paper!

EDiM #13:  Draw a Pillow

I chose the most colorful pillow to draw, and just propped it up against the arm of the loveseat in the morning light.

EDiM #14:  Draw a figurine

Mark's mother is the queen of knick knacks, and must have over 100 figurines of varying sizes and subjects all over the house.  It could be the reason why we only have one in our house (my husband had overload growing up).  I found a fun one to draw.

EDiM #15:  Draw a pencil

I cheated a bit here and sketched the most interesting pens I found in Julie's house for this days assignment.  Her pencils were rather ordinary.

EDiM #16:  Draw something that scares you

I wanted to draw an illustration of an impending collision with an on-coming car, but didn't have any adequate reference material on hand (or life-study material, thank goodness!) for that.

So I did something simpler to draw, yet also scary for me.  As a child growing up in southern California and learning the scary power of waves to keep you underwater when you don't want to be, I still retain into middle age a fear of waves.

EDiM #17:  Draw something from your first aid kit

This for me was a no-brainer.  I had to have skin cancer scraped off my back a week ago and I am currently in the daily regimen of cleaning and re-bandaging the wound.  These are the supplies I took with me to Flagstaff to perform the wound care.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

EDiM #12: Draw the oldest thing in your refrigerator

I am getting a jump on tomorrow's EDiM assignment since I'll be traveling and incommunicado for a few days.

The oldest thing in our refrigerator is a big bottle of mustard.  Ever since my husband started calculating his sodium intake, the mustard just sits in our refrigerator, getting unused.

This last drawing completes my batik cover self-bound sketchbook, which was filled with Strathmore Aquarius II paper.  Some things I like about this paper, some things I don't.  I like how thin and pliable it is.  Since plastic is used in part to allow this thin paper to take watercolor washes without warping and buckling, there isn't a bunch of sizing making the paper so stiff.  However, the paint does seem to get absorbed more than I'd like; it's hard to describe, but paints look a little to matte-like on this surface for my taste.

Next I will be working in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon book!  There's nothing "matte-like" about that smooth surface!  It will be my first time working on this paper and I look forward to giving it a good workout!

EDiM #11: Draw some gloves

I wear many types of gloves in the course of my daily life.  In the winter I put on hand-knit gloves or mitts to keep my hands warmer; when I chop up chili peppers I use nitrile gloves so I don't forever have capsaicin on my hands (or else I am in big trouble if I touch my eyes!); when I work outside I wear work gloves (particularly helpful when handling mesquite and cactus); and when I belay my husband during rock climbing I have some leather gloves I use.

But the gloves I've worn by far the most in my life are weightlifting gloves.  My husband and I have been weight training as a part of our exercise routines for what must have been 26 years.  I've always worn gloves, and it's been handy for keeping the callouses down.

I put on my left glove for this drawing, and rather than hold the weight up for the time to draw and paint it, I let it rest on the table.  My bicep thanks me.

Friday, May 10, 2013

EDiM #10: Draw something creepy

One day it was disconcerting to turn around and notice one of these on the kitchen floor!  Evidently, it had hitched a ride into the house on my husband's pant leg.

Not this one, though...I photographed it in our backyard June 2006.  It's always exciting to see a tarantula, but I wouldn't want one on me!

Paints used for background:  quinacridone gold, quinacridone burnt scarlet, winsor violet.

Paints used for tarantula:  quinacridone violet and phthalo green blue shade, with a bit of brown from q. gold + winsor violet thrown in.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

EDiM #9: Draw a lock

I was considering a couple options for "draw a lock", among them the clusters of locks on fences that we saw while visiting Paris (why do people do that?), or the lock-bar we use on our car's steering wheel.

But I ran across this photo in MorgueFile from krosseel, and I really like the "story" this image shows.  Sometimes one lock is not enough.

I had a busy art day.  In addition to keeping up with my EDiM assignment, I also met with my fellow Tucson Sketchbook Brigade ladies, and we spent a couple hours sketching the Manning House in downtown Tucson.  I guess it's like 106 years old.  I was surprised to see a "For Sale" sign on it, I remember having Christmas lunch there for work.

Aside from the gardener nearby with his leaf-blower running, it was such a pleasant morning, with a great group of ladies to sketch with.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

EDiM #8: Draw a coffeepot

For today's assignment we were to draw a coffeepot.  Well, my husband and I stopped drinking coffee many years ago, so I knew I would need to rely on a photo for this one.

I poured through the REI website, looking for photos of coffee makers for camping, and nothing really resonated.  I considered looking for photos of fancy espresso machines, or even those cute faceted little stove-top espresso makers.

But the idea struck me, since I live in Arizona and love the beautiful red rock of Sedona...Coffee Pot Rock!  Of course.

Paints used:  yellow ochre, quinacridone gold, quinacridone burnt orange, sap green, winsor violet, manganese blue nova, cerulean blue.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

EDiM #7: Draw something you got for free

I'd say winning something qualifies as "something you got for free", even though it was my husband doing the winning.  But since we are a "unit" I feel like I won it too.

Anyway, rock climbing shoes are unique and interesting to draw.

I got to use some colors I don't often use:  pyrrol orange, cerulean blue, and indigo for the shoes; Monte Amiata natural sienna and burnt umber for the background.

I used my new TWSBI mini pen (I love this pen!) filled with Platinum Carbon ink to do the drawing, with the shoes hanging by a carabiner from my keyboard stand.

Monday, May 6, 2013

EDiM #6: Draw a scented product

A long time ago a friend created this jar of potpourri as a gift to me. I painted it in this morning's sunshine.

It's lost its fragrance by now, but it's beauty and sentimental value remains.

Paints used:  yellow ochre, organic vermillion, quinacridone violet, winsor violet, ultramarine, phthalo green blue shade, burnt sienna, payne's gray.

EDiM #5: Draw a pine or fir tree or eucalyptus

Given the option of 3 types of tree to draw, I chose eucalyptus--after our visit to Australia I became quite fond of eucalyptus trees.

The bark of a eucalyptus is very interesting as it peels away in spots, creating interesting subtle color and texture variations.  But the really interesting color is in the leaves, if you look at them up close.  I tried to convey that in this drawing.

Paints used:  cobalt teal blue, new gamboge, sap green, phthalo blue red shade, quinacridone burnt scarlet, burnt sienna.

EDiM #4: Draw your socks

The May 4th assignment was to draw your socks, and I wanted to do a little twist by drawing a sock in progress.  I used to be an avid knitter, but I've really dropped off knitting lately in favor of drawing and painting.

That's okay, I have more socks than I need now anyway.

Friday, May 3, 2013

EDiM #3: Draw something that represents joy.

As with these macaws, being a part of a bonded pairing brings me great joy.

I photographed these macaws at our local Reid Park Zoo back in 2006.  At that time, I avidly followed the photographer's photo-sharing website Nature Photographer's Network, and I submitted this photo under the Weekly Challenge called "Joy".  It got selected!