Monday, April 29, 2013

Zeroing in on a style...maybe?

 I seem to be zeroing in on a style lately, or at least a subject.  I am such a big fan of color, and painting flowers is a natural way to immerse myself in color!  And, why not do some wet-into-wet backgrounds to play with color some more?  These four paintings have been a joy to create...and a joy for me to look at.

Is it okay to admit it when you like your own creations?

(I know I certainly let myself know it when I don't!)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fun with Stillman & Birn Sample Sheets

Stillman & Birn ( is a company that not only makes what is likely the best sketchbooks out there, but their customer service is a pleasure to deal with too.  They know the papers they bind into their sketchbooks are top-grade and speak for themselves, and it seems for that reason they provide to any who ask, free of charge, a packet of sample papers containing each of the papers in their sketchbook lines (4x6").  I recently requested and received a sample packet, and I want to share with you my ink & watercolor drawings I made on each of the papers I received.

The paper types they have are Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Epsilon, and now Zeta.  Alpha, Gamma, and Epsilon are their lighter-weight papers, but differ in color (Alpha and Epsilon are white, Gamma is Ivory) and surface (Alpha and Gamma are vellum, and Epsilon is smooth, like hot press watercolor paper).  The heavier-weight papers are Beta (white cold press), Delta (Ivory cold press), and Zeta (white smooth, like hot press).


I was already familiar with their Alpha paper because I purchased an Alpha 5.5x8.5 hardbound sketchbook to use on my trip to Australia, but I went ahead and painted on the sample for completeness (blueberry drawing above).  I loved this paper, I loved the sketchbook!  It was rugged, the paper held up to all my watercolor washes, and yet was smooth enough to be a pleasure to draw on.  Yes, there is a bit of waviness to the paper after the watercolor washes, but I don't find that to be a problem at all.  I can absolutely use both sides of the paper; there is not one iota of bleed-through, and I really can't even see the painting from the backside unless I hold it up against a light.  Another thing I love about the Alpha book is that it has so many pages!  Because with the Alpha you've opting for thinner paper, you get more sheets, so this is really a cost-effective sketchbook.  For such great quality of paper and construction, this is a great value.  I plan to use Alpha sketchbooks again in the future, but I was curious about the other papers...


When I got the sample packet, the first paper I tried was the Beta (a thicker version of the Alpha).  The first
thing I noticed as I drew the image of the butterfly with my fountain pen was what a pleasure it was to draw on Stillman & Birn paper (since I returned from Australia I had been working in a homemade sketchbook with Strathmore Aquarius II paper, and that paper is not as pen-friendly).  I didn't want to stop drawing!

But the Beta paper is renowned for handling wet media and alas it was finally time to put the pen down and paint.  Wow, can it take the watercolors!  I look now on the other side of my sample sheet and I see virtually no evidence there is a painting on the other side.  As the painting was drying the paper did curl, but now that it's completely dry, it's very flat.  In a sketchbook I expect the paper to especially be flat.

I really liked my experience sketching on the Beta paper, and I think I will indeed splurge on Beta someday.  It's more expensive per page than an Alpha, but it may well be worth it.


Zeta is the newest paper in the Stillman & Birn lineup, and I was particularly curious about this one.  I don't have much experience painting on hot press paper, but I do enjoy painting on yupo tremendously, so I thought I might like the Epsilon and Zeta papers.

Well, if I thought drawing on the Beta paper was a treat, drawing on the Zeta paper was especially smooth.  What little experience I had drawing with a fountain pen on hot press paper, and now the Zeta paper, I find it almost changes my drawing style into something more precise, more careful.  I am not as sloppy with my drawing, and I like that.

Painting on this paper is especially fun because the paint sits on the surface longer, so it's easier to move around.  I'm not a fan of uniform flat washes, and it's a good thing because I can't imagine it would be too easy on this paper.  But really, I love the kind of textures you can get on this paper with the paint, and I love how vibrant the paint is (because the paper is so white and the paint doesn't soak into the paper as much, and get dull).

If I'm in a splurging mood, I can see myself alternating between Beta and Zeta sketchbooks.


I would have liked to try this paper, but it was missing in my sample packet!  I informed S&B via email that it was missing, and they said they would send a replacement packet, but it's been long enough, I think they forgot about me.  Ah well, it's a treat to even try some of their papers for free.  I thought I might like this one because it combines the advantages of the thinner paper (more pages in a book!) with the smooth, hot-press like finish.  I guess I might have to buy an Epsilon sketchbook someday to find out.

Gamma & Delta

I was the least interested in the Gamma and Delta papers because I am not so much a fan of toned papers.  I love bright colors, and I am more likely to get them with bright white paper.  For these papers I chose subjects that were colored on the warm side to see if they might be enhanced by the ivory tone of the paper.

I enjoyed drawing and sketching on these papers as much as I did all the other ones.  It was still a joy to feel the fountain pen glide effortlessly over the surface, and a joy to mop in all my watercolors.  I love the little back-run textures I got on the Gamma paper in this painting.  I loved how robust and sturdy the Delta paper felt as I layered in thick background washes.

So yes, I'm sold on Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.  The papers are all wonderful, and no matter which ones I decide to work in at any one time, I will be guaranteed a pleasurable art journaling experience.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Portrait of Georgia

I wanted to gift a pet portrait to a new friend who is moving away soon.  I know she has a horse so I went looking in her Facebook page for any good reference photos of her horse.  As I went through her photos, I encountered an adorable photo of her dog, Georgia.  The sad part is that it was posted because Georgia had just died.  As I went deeper in her timeline, I saw that she and Georgia had been partners for some time, and it must have indeed been very sad to lose her.  I know what it's like to love and lose dogs, I've experienced that with several dog-friends myself.  At the risk of touching on the sadness and grief, I decided to go ahead and paint a portrait of Georgia.  She has received it now and has expressed to me that she is very touched by this.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Joshua Tree National Park

Mark and I just got back from an extended weekend of camping, rock climbing, and sketching (!) with a great group of people.  This was our first trip since we've gotten home from our 3-month-long trip to Australia and I was raring to go!

In this first sketch, done from Ryan Campground, are the Saddle Rocks by Ryan Mountain.  There are actually a few rock climbing routes on these rocks, the longest in the Park, including the ever-popular Walk On The Wild Side (5.8).  Mark and I did that climb last time we were in J-tree.

 On our second day climbing, we started at the "Hall of Horrors" area.  Mark and Scotty immediately got on a pumpy sport route called Jane's Addiction, and at 5.11b, was harder than I wanted to get on!  I used the time to sketch and take photos.  Here are a couple sketches from these photos:

On the third climbing day, I actually got some climbing in, but in the afternoon I took the time to do a study of a visiting bird, a Joshua Tree, and a Number 3 Camalot.

Once I got home I was able to go through the photos I took, and draw and paint some of my favorites, including this of a blooming beavertail cactus:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Alaskan Fireweed

I normally work in my sketchbook, which currently consists of Strathmore Aquarius II paper, but I've been wondering about how hot press watercolor paper is to draw and paint on.  Many artists who do ink and watercolor paintings enjoy hot press because pens glide much more smoothly on it than cold press paper.  Years ago I bought a block of Fabriano Artistico 140 lb hot press (9x12) but only tried it once then for some reason put it away.  I got it out again, and indeed, it is a fun surface to work on!

My Platinum Carbon desk pen was a joy to use on this paper, and I found myself wanting to draw as precisely and neatly as I could, as I studied my reference photo of Alaskan fireweed from our 2009 trip to Alaska.  But I didn't want a "tight" painting, so when it came time to use watercolors, I strove for a loose and lush color.  Breaking "archival rules", I went ahead and used Holbein Opera in a mix with Cobalt for my flower petals.  A bit of Pyrrol Orange brought a touch of warmth to the nearer blooms.  My photo had plenty of medium-to-dark green bokeh for the background, but I aimed for more spring-like, brighter shades of green for this background.  I don't make a habit to finish with spatter, but I love it when other artists do this, so I incorporated some spatter here with my bristle (stencil) brush.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why not try Virtual Paintout?

Ink & Watercolor of Ravadinovo Castle, Bulgaria
One of the blogs I follow is by Jana Bouc (, and it was a recent post of hers that made me aware of The Virtual Paintout.  This is a blog for "virtual paintouts using Google Street View as a resource for traveling the world to find interesting locations and subjects to paint."  This blog and project is hosted by Bill Guffey.  Anyone who wishes can submit artwork to this site for display.  The only rule is that you must use a view from Google Street View as your reference.  Other than that, have fun!  Every month Mr. Guffey selects a new location, and this month (April 2013), it is Bulgaria.

I've never been to Bulgaria (I have an ex-half-brother-in-law from Bulgaria, though!), but after cruising around virtually via Google Street View, I almost feel like I visited part of the country this morning.  It's kinda tough to figure out how to find interesting subjects; it helps to do Google searches on things like "Bulgaria attractions" then try to find a view of a resulting interesting place or subject via Google Street View.

It didn't take me too long to find an attraction I wanted to paint--Ravadinovo Castle.  It took me a little longer to find the darn place using Google Street View.  A Google Maps search didn't yield much except one hotel that purported to be 6 km away from the castle.  It helped to read reviews of the castle in Trip Advisor, as those who visited provided better clues to its location.  I "cruised" the main street of the small town of Ravadavino until I saw it, then found a perspective of it I liked well enough.  Save the link in GSV, and start sketching!

I recommend participating in this fun exercise.  The images you get from Google Street View has its issues (distortion, non-optimal lighting or weather conditions), but the artwork can be freely done without worry of copyright issues.  And it's fun to virtually visit a place you've never been before!

Google Street View of Ravadinovo Castle