Hello and welcome back for Watercolor Paper Testing – Part 2! My last post I had done some small tests to get started, and explained about the fall I had. Well I’m pretty much healed from that and getting back on track.
First I want to say, if you just go by what I say worked for me, it might help you decide on a paper you’d like to use, BUT WAIT! I highly recommend doing some testing of your own, you can follow my example or try new things on your own. I made a list of the techniques I was most likely to use and then did a simple, similar picture on all of them. I used 11 different papers, all ordered from Jackson’s Art Supply, my test sizes varied from about 5″x6″ to 3″x 6″, so they were small. It took me several days, of sitting down when I could, to work on each test criteria.
1.First label all your test peices of paper with what the paper is, the weight, type etc. One nice thing I ordered was the St. Cuthbert’s Mill sample pack of seven different papers; it only cost .50p and the peices were large enough to really play around with. Each of them was fully labeled too.
2.Make a list of the techniques you want to test on notebook paper; I will include my criteria list below. I decided to do one character (snail) on each and a simple dirt path, green bushy background and a sky with clouds. The sky allowed me to do a big simple graded wash, drop water in for clouds, and test by lifting with clean wet brush.
3.Do one technique at a time on each one in succession. This way you’ve got the same colors mixed, and can use the same brushes to compare how they go on each paper. Write down what you thought after each thing you test or you’ll forget. I did this on note paper then after I was all done I wrote them down on the back of each paper test. So years from now you can dig around and find them you’ll know what’s what.
OK, here’s my list of criteria I tested: (all done on dry, unstretched paper)
Can you trace through the paper using a black ink line drawing underneath? I traced different snails on each one.
Does pencil erase easily?
Wash layers- do they stay or lift too easy when new layers go on? Tested in bush areas, ground and sky (I wet paper with a brush first for this one).
Lifting- do dry watercolors lift off when you rub/lift using damp brush and paper towel? On each I lifted a tree shape, like “stems” in the green bushes. Then on most I also lifted some of the dry blue sky.
Dry brush technique. Mostly the bushes and some ground areas on each.
Draw with dip nib and ink. I drew each snail with dip ink and nib, going over the pencil lines I traced.
Scratch wet paint areas to see if dark lines appear. You’ll see some thin lines of color in the bushes, these were made by scratching into the wet paper where paint was laid down.
Color pencil on dry watercolor areas, how do they go on? I mostly did this in the bushes around the snail, some on the ground using dark browns.
Permanent ink pen, ease of drawing on paper? Used to outline each snail and some details on the ground.
Clouds on damp blue sky, drop clear water on and some lifting with paper towel.
In general how does paper take the paint?
(other things you may want to test that I did not: using masking fluid, scraping off dry layers of paper with sharp knife, dropping salt on wet paint, whatever you may usually do when painting)
Please click each picture to see it enlarged.
Testing ability to trace through the paper from my drawing.
This is my simple set up for tracing I used on this project, (sorry for the dark picture) it’s a clear plastic flat “scrapbooking” type container. I like using these containers to hold my illustrations and lately have been using one as an easel/drawing table. I put a peice of rubber shelf liner underneath it, and can tuck reference photos and drawing stuff inside. I hold the top up with different sizes of masonite or plexiglas depending on the angle I want; here I used plexiglas so it lets more light through. I put a strong little lamp behind it on the table and set my drawing that I’ve inked in black on top. Next you lay your watercolor paper on top and trace! *Note- I taped a carpenters pencil along the bottom to keep papers and boards from sliding off, it works pretty good for now. *Note 2- you can also trace using a bright window; tape your inked drawing up and then your watercolor paper on top. Use light pencil lines, don’t score into the paper, you’ll want to erase most of your lines anyways so draw light!
Now I’ll post pictures of each sample and tell what paper it was along with what I thought about it. Prices listed were at the time I bought them. Click on pictures to see larger.
Beginning sample for watercolor paper test.
This sample has no number because it’s a scrap peice of watercolor paper I grabbed and for each technique I gave it a go on here 1st as a warm up! If you’re worried about messing up your paper don’t be afraid to loosen up on some scraps first! this helped me to think of what techniques I wanted to try.
#1 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Millford, 140lb, CP (NOT) White
#1 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Millford, 140lb, CP (NOT) White. 22″x30″ sheet = £ 4.10, 9″x12″ cut peice = .82p. (all papers with blue type on them are from the St. Cuthbert’s Mill sample pack) 1. Traced through well enough, a bit rough. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes went on great, no hard edges. 4. Lifting dry color- this paper worked well. You can see the little ‘tree’ stem area in the green bushes, that was done by lifting, and at the top in the sky. 5. Dry brush was good, rough areas in bushes. 6. Ink and Nib- went on well, a bit rough but good. 7. Scratch test-worked but wasn’t very strong, may need to try more. 8. Color pencil- great, bit of texture. 9. Permanent ink pen- ok, a bit rough for long drawn curved lines (snail shell). 10. Clouds- worked well, soft edges. 11. Paper took the paint really well, nice texture on ground edges, blue sky washes even.
#2 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Bockingford, 140lb, HP White
#2 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Bockingford, 140lb, HPWhite. 22″x30″ sheet = £ 2.10, 9″x12″ cut peice = .42p. 1. Traced through very well, smooth. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- went on blotchy or patchy, layers hard edged. 4. Lifting dry color- worked well, see ‘tree’ shape and tiny cloud at top. 5. Dry brush-ok, not bad but a bit blah because of paper smoothness. 6. Ink and Nib- went on well, smooth. 7. Scratch test- worked. 8. Color pencil-good. 9. Permanent ink pen- very easy to draw with, smooth. 10. Clouds-Interesting, with water dropped in it formed harder dark edges, which I could have softened with lifting, but it was neat. 11. Was harder to float washes, paint colors got patchy.
#3 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Bockingford, 140lb, CP (NOT) White
#3 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Bockingford, 140lb, CP (NOT) White. 22″x30″ sheet = £ 2.10, 9″x12″ cut peice = .42p. 1. Traces well, tiny bit rough. 2. Erases easy. 3. Washes- great, easy to add water to. 4. Lifting dry color- did well. 5. Dry brush- worked really well. 6. Ink and Nib- worked ok, tiny bit rough. 7. Scratch test- worked ok. 8. Color pencil-good. 9. Permanent ink pen- good, a bit bumpy for drawing. 10. Clouds-excellent! Soft edges were perfect and harder edges on bottom edges looked good. 11. Paper took paint nicely.
#4 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Bockingford, 140lb, Rough White
#4 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Bockingford, 140lb, Rough White 22″x30″ sheet = £ 2.10, 9″x12″ cut peice = .42p. 1. Traced through well enough, a bit rough. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- layered well. 4. Lifting dry color- worked rather well. 5. Dry brush- pretty good, rough areas in bushes and ground. 6. Ink and Nib- worked ok, a bit rough. 7. Scratch test-worked, a bit pale. 8. Color pencil- not as good, a bit too rough for me. 9. Permanent ink pen- well, a bit rough. 10. Clouds- worked well, wash went on nice, made clouds really well. 11. Paper took the paint really well, nice textures too.
#5 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Saunders Waterford, 140lb, HP High White
#5 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Saunders Waterford, 140lb, HP High White 22″x30″ sheet = £ 3.60, 9″x12″ cut peice = .72p. 1. Traced through well. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- went on nicely. 4. Lifting dry color- ok, not as easy as others, lifting small patch on blue sky was bad. 5. Dry brush- worked great, rough areas above bushes. 6. Ink and Nib- worked ok, a bit bleedy. 7. Scratch test-worked really well. 8. Color pencil- worked well easy to draw on to paper. 9. Permanent ink pen- great. 10. Clouds- worked well, I put clouds on with a bit too much water. 11. Paper took the paint well.
#6 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Saunders Waterford, 140lb, CP (NOT) White
#6 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Saunders Waterford, 140lb, CP (NOT) White 22″x30″ sheet = £ 3.60, 9″x12″ cut peice = .72p. 1. Trace through-a bit rough, not as thin, can trace but not as easy. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- went on really well. 4. Lifting dry color- not so good, soft edges. 5. Dry brush- worked great, rough areas in bushes and ground. 6. Ink and Nib- worked ok, not too bad. 7. Scratch test-worked ok. 8. Color pencil- worked well, especially for rough textures. 9. Permanent ink pen- very well. 10. Clouds- worked well, nice and soft, blue wash went on really well. 11. Paper took the paint really well.
#7 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Saunders Waterford, 140lb, Rough White
#7 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Saunders Waterford, 140lb, Rough White 22″x30″ sheet = £ 3.60, 9″x12″ cut peice = .72p. 1. Traces through well-a bit rough. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- very good. 4. Lifting dry color- worked well but not with sky color. 5. Dry brush- worked great, rough areas in bushes and ground. 6. Ink and Nib- worked ok, a bit rough. 7. Scratch test-worked ok. 8. Color pencil- worked well, especially for rough textures. 9. Permanent ink pen- well but can be bumpy. 10. Clouds- blue wash went on well, clouds did really well. 11. Paper took the paint really well.
#8 Canson, Moulin du Roy, HP
#8 Canson, Moulin du Roy, HP 22″x30″ sheet = £ 3.10, 9″x12″ cut peice = .62p. 1. Traces through really well, feels thinner. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- beaded up a lot, wouldn’t go on in some areas! 4. Lifting dry color- worked very well, even on the sky patch. 5. Dry brush- worked ok to good. 6. Ink and Nib- draws well. 7. Scratch test-not great. 8. Color pencil- worked well. 9. Permanent ink pen- nice, easy to draw. 10. Clouds- worked well, don’t get too wet, it gets blotchy. Paper towel lifts easily because color doesn’t soak in too fast. 11. Paint beaded up at first then was ok.
#9 St. Cuthbert’s Botanical Ultra Smooth, 140lb
#9 St. Cuthbert’s Botanical Ultra Smooth, 140lb full sheet = £ 2.20 (slightly smaller than the others), 9″x12″ cut peice = .55p. 1. Traces through really well, smooth. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- a bit patchy in areas. 4. Lifting dry color- worked well. 5. Dry brush- worked well. 6. Ink and Nib- ok, a bit bleedy. 7. Scratch test-ok to pretty good. 8. Color pencil- worked very well. 9. Permanent ink pen- nice, easy to draw. 10. Clouds- worked well, color lifted well, clouds a bit hard edged. 11. Paper takes paint ok to well.
#10 Royal Botanical Society 140lb, HP
#10 Royal Botanical Society 140lb, HP 22″x30″ sheet = £ 4.70, 9″x12″ cut peice = .94p. 1. Traces through well, smooth. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- went on nice. 4. Lifting dry color- worked well, a bit pale on sky patch. 5. Dry brush- worked well. 6. Ink and Nib- works fine. 7. Scratch test-worked well. 8. Color pencil- worked well. 9. Permanent ink pen- great, easy to draw. 10. Clouds- blue color went on nice, clouds went on very well. 11. Paper takes paint very well.
#11 Arches Aquarelle, 140lb, HP
#11 Arches Aquarelle, 140lb, HP 22″x30″ sheet = £ 5.40, 9″x12″ cut peice = £ 1.08. 1. Traces through very well, smooth. 2. Erases well. 3. Washes- went on well. 4. Lifting dry color- worked really well. 5. Dry brush- worked well. 6. Ink and Nib- worked ok to good. 7. Scratch test-worked well. 8. Color pencil- worked very well. 9. Permanent ink pen- very good, easy to draw. 10. Clouds- blue wash went on well, clouds lifted with brush and paper towel. 11. Paper takes paint nicely.
That was the last one! Whew! You can see this kept me busy for awhile. A few of the papers didn’t take the paint nicely at first, they beaded up or skipped areas. For those papers I think I would try wetting the paper first and stretch it, then see how they act. Or just take a larger peice and really wet it then play around on it. After I did the tests I wrote the price per full sheet on the backside, then figured out how much one cut 9″ x 12″ peice would be, depending on how many you could get out of a full sheet.
So what’s my verdict you’re wondering? I have to admit it’s still hard to say! For the price and how they performed for me, I have four I want to explore further.
Saunder’s Waterford HP High White- seems to work well, price moderate but a bit more than the others I liked.
Bockingford CP (NOT) white- worked well, rougher than what I’m used to, very affordable
St. Cuthbert’s Botanical Ultra Smooth- love the smoothness, low price, worked well but sometimes patchy, need further testing.
Moulin du Roy- I want to test some more, because it beaded up, but I like the feel of it and the price.
On the ones I liked I draw a little star and fill it in with really bright golden yellow, so it’s easy to spot when I’m digging in my folders.
PLEASE DO leave some comments about the paper you use and why you like it!! It would be great for everyone to share some ideas and papers that work for them here.
Happy Spring everyone, springtime posts coming soon!
Happy Spring from our village in Northumberland, England!
Since moving to England I’ve had to look elsewhere when it comes to buying my art supplies. Back in Clarence Center N.Y., I had lots of local choices for supplies, and I really miss being able to go look at and ‘feel’ things in person. Nothing beats feeling the spring of a brush on your hand or the roughness of a sheet of paper. Of course I ordered supplies online too, if you ordered enough it was cheaper, but it always helps to see it in person first and maybe test it out.
Where we live now there’s nothing close by, you have to drive to Newcastle for choice; so shopping online is more convenient. Last year I ordered some watercolor paper from Jackson’s (jacksonsart.com) online and was happy with the price and it came pretty quickly. I meant to write a post about my tests but alas never got the time, maybe I’ll post those simple tests later. This time around I ordered seven different papers but two I didn’t bother to test yet, they aren’t anything I would use for my illustration but I couldn’t know that until I saw them in person! I also ordered a sample pack of papers that are big enough to do tests on, I’ll include them in my next round of testing.
Here are the five I started testing:
1. Canson Moulin de Roy HP
2. St. Cuthbert’s Botanical Ultra Smooth 140
3. Royal Watercolour Society HP 140
4. Saunders Waterford HP 140 High White
5. Arches Aquarelle HP 140
The Arches is the most expensive, but it’s the one I picked from my last testing, as working best for my illustrations. I’m hoping some of these cheaper options will be just as good so I can make it my ‘go to’ paper and get really familiar with it!
When my new full size sheets of paper come they mostly measure 22″ x 30″ or 56cm x 76cm each. I then lay them out stacked up on my cutting board and figure out the best way to cut them up to get the most sheets. I’ll draw a little thumbnail on scrap paper to figure it out, then mark the watercolor paper for cutting. So I cut the sheets, leaving a big chunk uncut, and some small strips.
(click on pictures to see larger)
Test strips being worked on and my tiny field palette (lid is partly closed, those aren’t my paints!).
For this post I’m just showing you the little bit of testing I’ve done so far. I have long strips from each paper on which I did small quick sketches/tests. Next I will use bigger peices and do a small study to get a feel for the paper with my inks and color pencils added.
All 5 test strips together.
Above shows all 5 strips laid out on my scanner, they were only 1″ to 1 1/2″ wide so you can imagine how small the bunnies and owls were! The strips are numbered L to R 5,4,3,2,1.
5 Little Owls
For the owls I did light pencil sketch then drew with Sepia Pitt “S” permanent ink pen, then watercolor on dry paper, then some color pencil last. The color pencil was brown or black and used for shading areas. They all were just great for using the ink pen and color pencil showed up on the tooth of the paper. Good so far!
5 Little Bunnies in a row.
It’s always good to practice bunnies! Isn’t it funny how each one looks like a different personality? For these I did a light pencil sketch then watercolor for all the color. Then I used various brown colored pencils for shading and some outlineing and at the end, a touch of black Pitt permanent ink “XS” pen. Doing the tiny washes showed me I will definitely need to do washes on larger paper to really see how it behaves. I want to see if layers lift too easily or does it get blotchy?
On the owls and bunnies I was also trying out different color pencils, my familiar Prismacolors, Derwent Coloursoft and some new Derwent “Studio” pencils. The “Studio” pencils are harder than the pencils I’m used to, so they will hold their point longer but not sure if I’ll like them yet!
Back side of test strips, dip nib testing.
On the backside of the strips I did a quick wash, let it dry then painted some Bracken leaves. When they were dry I used my dip ink nibs to try out some new inks I ordered, I’m very excited about them so far! I tested “Magic Colour – Grecian Olive” and “Vallejo – Umber”, both are acrylic permanent ink and the Magic Colour is made in England (yay! or should I say hoorah!) I did get some special empty markers that you can fill with this type of ink, but need to play around with that more. What I need to test here is, how well do my nibs work on the papers? They were all smooth enough that I cuoldn’t see much difference, next time I’ll try them on semi damp paper for bleeding.
Test of lifting and color pencils.
For the test above I did a simple wash of green and brown then while it was damp lifted color using a clean damp brush. Repeatedly wiping and cleaning the brush and dabbing the paper with paper towel, to help lift moisture and color. Then when it was dry I used color pencil to pick out the marks. The green area was just a quick area to try lifing color after it had dried. All did ok, the St. Cuthbert’s Botanical and Canson Moulin du Roy lifted the cleanest and brightest; though this might not be a good thing when adding washes, we’ll see when I do larger studies.
One Happy Bunny!
PS. Just wanted to mention on a more personal note, one of the reasons I did tiny strips was because I injured myself and sitting in the chair to work just kills me right now. I fell and cracked a rib or two and definitely injured the muscles in my back! But what’s so unbelieveable is that I could do that in a muddy sheep field! I was walking alone along a very old line of trees in a muddy field. I thought, I need a stick so I won’t slip so much….I broke a long stick off a big dead branch on the ground then tried to break it again with my foot on the bottom. Well it still had quite a bit of spring in it and as it resisted I slipped and the branch kind of sprung and I got thrown back against the base of this huge old tree! AY CARUMBA IT HURT! The tree had huge rounded burly roots and that’s exactly what I slammed my side into. Wish I had fallen in the mud! So once I sat up, avoided crying and took inventory of what was working, I had to get up and walk 1.25 miles home. This included climbing over two or three slippery farm gates, muddy fields and a steep road home. I guess there’s not much you can do for cracked ribs but take pain killers and I hate doing that. So I have but avoid overdoing it and now am not taking much. It’s gettiing better and you’d think, “ah, I can’t walk much but at least I can sit and work in the studio”, well no, I can’t concentrate on anything other than small stuff! So, now you’re caught up on me, don’t worry I’m pretty healthy so I should heal quickly (she says!)
I’ll try to work on more testing of these papers and update you on that as I go.
I wrote this post way back in July, when it was sunny and warm, now here we are at the end of October! I still have new drawings and paintings to share, it’s just been more hectic than I expected! I’m still settling into this new life, trying to learn how to drive standard (badly!), finding a new accountant, and not being able to find some of my supplies because many things are still packed and stacked in plastic bins! But what has been most excellent is our walks near our home and a few trips to the Lake District. The greatest joy Gary and I share is our love of walking in the countryside. I’m overwhelmed with subject matter, it’s just finding time to sit and work.
So, on to my July post! Please click on the pictures to see them enlarged and clearer, enjoy!
(July 2015) I’m very lucky to have an ancient castle near where I live. I can go visit the site and walk around it, or view it from the fields.
Brown ink drawing of Edlingham Castle done in the field in April 2015.
I did this drawing in brown ink (Faber Castell Pitt pen) while standing in the field where only local villagers usually go, way back in April. It’s great to switch your mediums once in awhile when out painting. I think it’s great ‘brain training’ as you have to approach it in different ways, seeing shapes, values, lines, textures and measurements; and thinking what you will use to capture that.
As I am settling into my new studio space here in England, I am still re-organizing my ‘stuff’ and wanting to play with materials I’ve had packed for ages. One of those is charcoal, I haven’t really used it in a long time so lately I’ve been rediscovering it. Below I’ll show you how I did another small drawing of the castle en Plein Air or sitting in a field with my art kit.
Sometimes I set my stuff out on the ground, this is charcoal drawing supplies.
This shows my small backpack, a big lawn + leaf type garbage bag, Altoids tin with loose charcoal sticks and one plastic box with charcoal pencils, tortillions, brushes, sandpaper and eraser. I almost always stand when I work but today I had a small folding camp stool to sit on. The garbage bag is great for when you want to throw your backpack or kit on the ground and it’s all damp OR use it for sitting on.
Here’s part of my field kit for charcoals, good ‘ol Altoids tin.
And the ever popular ‘Altoids tin’, once used by me for watercolors but now I put my charcoal sticks in here. The rubber bands on the lid are holding a piece of paper towel and some cotton balls in place.
Here it is open and ready to use; I put the messy hard and soft sticks in here.
The base holds an assortment of soft vine and compressed charcoal sticks also a piece of chamois for blending and shading.
You can use the ‘messy’ charcoal powder in the tin to draw with a brush.
When I sharpen points on sandpaper I let the powder fall into this tin and then it’s great to pick up with brushes for shading. A great way to start your sketch with soft blocked in areas of value, using soft or stiff brushes.
Work in progress, my support is just the cardboard back of a sketchpad.
Above here it is almost finished, just a few touch ups and strengthening of darks and details to do.
Charcoal drawing of Edlingham Castle, July 2, 2015.
And it’s finished! I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my kit and how I worked. I’ll try to post more of those sketches I’ve done! Leave me comments below, I love to hear from you all.
This is a little (5 x 7″) oil painting I did “en plein air”, or translation… “while standing in the snowy field freezing my fingers off”! What I wanted to do was study the colors in oil and not get too caught up in the finished look of a painting. It was a good exercise in study of color for me, it would not have been as successful if I did it from a photograph.
My oil field kit, closed.
I rigged up a little field kit for oil painting, just for taking out on hikes. Here’s a picture of the kit closed, it’s a plastic case you can buy at an office supply department. I’ve only used it this once but hope to work with it more and ‘tweek’ it. The main objective was to keep it as light as possible.
Here it is open to show you the metal pencil case and use of 'sticky tack'.
This shows the kit open with two areas of gessoed canvas ready to use. Notice the four dots of ‘sticky tack’ on the left, they’ll hold the lid of the metal pencil case when I want to paint, using the lid for mixing. I used tape to make loops to hold brushes; just put tape sticky sides together to make it ‘not’ sticky in the middle.
I created a loop of tape to slide my medium cup into.
I used the tape in the same way here, keeping it sticky on the ends but not in the middle, I created a loop that my medium cup would slot onto. At the angle I would hold the kit, the cup would not come off! It was then held from behind with a dab of ‘sticky tack’.
Here is my field kit in action!
I held the homemade kit in one hand, using my arm for support, and painted with my right hand. It’s all in my reach and I brought no tubes of paint. Notice my fingers are holding one brush at the ready and the other ‘dirty’ or ‘in use’ brushes are kept on the left of the hinge, clean ones to the right in the loop.
Of course Ginger was along for the adventure and waits patiently to continue with our walk!
I put a squeeze of my colors in a metal pencil case and put some in a pill box from the pharmacy before I left the house. The pill box was an experiment and I wasn’t really satisfied with it, it gets too messy on the lids and doesn’t keep the paint really airtight. Since then I’ve moved to using contact lens cases that screw shut…we’ll see how the paint lasts in them as they’re all back in England and I won’t see them until spring!
This shows you my view of the field as I worked.
The above picture shows you the view I had as I worked, it also illustrates how dull the colors look on a photograph and how I perceived the colors with my eyes to be a bit more vivid. This is why working in the field is so important whether you are oil painting, using watercolors, pastels…etc.
When I came back home, I stuck the little study up on a wood post in my living room using ‘Loctite” sticky tack. I hung there for ages and I enjoyed looking at it whenever I walked by. It wasn’t until I found a great frame and laid it on top that it popped out and said “HEY…I’m a good little painting!” hahah…yes sometimes my paintings talk to me…don’t yours? It also told me to stop ignoring it and get it framed so it could have a proper place on the wall! Yes…yes, the voice of guilt, this painting actually was done last year (12/31/10) and since I traveled to England it got sort of forgotten!
This moth is a little watercolor painting I did on coffee stained paper (click it to see it larger and clearer). Using instant coffee to stain your paper is something I taught in my Creative Journaling class. It’s great to use lightly on your paper to make it look antique or like parchment. Here I just played with it like watercolor and brushed it around, then splattered water drops into it. Let it dry totally then you can draw or paint on top of it as I did. I have a few small sheets that I did at the same sitting, so I can grab one when I’m in the mood and use it. I lightly sketched with pencil first then just used burnt umber, burnt sienna, black and a touch of white for highlight. This was from a “Yellow Underwing” moth I photographed last year.
I have always loved the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and it’s the works he did using mostly brown colors that inspired me to work with brown tones alone. Click on any of the illustrations to see cards or gifts I created in my shop! There’s more items coming in the category Vintage Illustrations.
Flippant Fairies Floating Freely
Just look at how gorgeous this painting is!! Sigh…I love his work. (Sorry I don’t have a bigger copy to view) The background is just subtle tone, there’s a hint of tree tops below and then the sparrows come into view as they nonchalantly go about their business of preening. The branch is laid out as a perfect design element reaching across the paper and reaching up to lead your eye but not take you totally away from the subject of the fairies. Yes, those fairies, painted lighter than the rest to really make them stand out, aren’t they wonderful? Not having pointy ears, pointy eyes, pointy hair, sexy clothes and striped socks. Good God some of the awful modern day interpretations of what a fairy is is shocking! Just plain tacky and awful!
Oh but this is one of my favorites!
This is one of my favourites! SIGH….that’s how I feel when I look at work by another artist I revere. I love her dress, the attention to it’s detail but it doesn’t take over the attention of the piece, do you notice how the lower part blends into the tone of the ground and the skirt is the same as the background? It’s all married together, floating but on the same ground, do you know what I mean? Just like the tree roots coming from nowhere out of the paper and growing up into this tree that is alive. I love how he combined just enough elements that say man and tree at the same time, the fabric hanging adds a touch of color that picks up in her cheeks and it’s form adds a floating liveliness to the painting; movement. Not to mention the tenderness of the way they clasp hands….sigh.
Subtle tones means less distraction
In “The Man in the Wilderness” above, I love the way he draws his trees to be just like people, look at the ‘arms’ of the one in the background reaching up to the sky. For a child (or adult) reading the story this illustration would be something to pause over, study and discover. They’d see the obvious girl and elf and think about what they are doing but then they’d look at the trees and realize with delight they have faces and arms! Here again I like how he’s used such simple color to make this illustration, just a simple bit of red and gold on the elf to show the main subject. I can’t wait to use the card in my shop (click picture to see) as an invitation or birthday card, “Can we meet for tea?” “May your day be full of discovery”. Oh, how about a funny one for your friend…”I know you’re kind of different….but I like you all the same!” haha
The Queen floats in as if on air
This illustration shows use of line at it’s best, do you notice how in some places it’s thicker and heavy then it gets thin and light? This is very important in drawing, good drawing. This one is definitely more of a drawing than a painting, hardly any range of values used, quite flat. It’s all about the lines and what lines!, all swirling and curling, sweeping like there is a magical breeze blowing just her skirts and delicate lace veil. To give some depth and interest I like how he put the pale leaves and branches at the top then used a light similar design on her skirt in just the front.
I have wanted to do drawings and paintings starting with a freely painted base of brown or parchment colored paper for ages. The moth is my first one I guess, though I’ve done paintings before that are monochrome browns, (Autumn watercolor, Etain oil, Twilight oil) they were never started on a freely tinted paper. By that I mean a piece of paper where you just play with the color and use water drops and salt to add interest and you end up with something that in itself looks good. I’ve played with coffee staining before (as you can see on this post) but never got around to painting on them. So I’m hoping to do some more starting with small studies like this moth. Hope you enjoyed my discussion on using browns and the great Arthur Rackham! (more sighs) Oh, and I found an excellent, though old, article written about a show of his works in London in 2002 here on the “Telegraph”.
Below are a few items I designed with the Moth painting on it, please click the picture to see them in my shop. Enjoy and let me know if you’d like it on another item!
Try these stickers out, they’re glossy and I love ’em!
Trees at Nancy's - Inktense 'Ink Black' watercolor pencil
(Please click on the pictures to see them clearer, use the back button to return)
I had a chance to visit with my friend Nancy the other day and we sat on her back deck to do some sketching. We had a nice view; just behind her place is a small pond with trees on the other side. I was showing her how to do something simple by just using one watercolor pencil, the Inktense “Ink Black” by Derwent Pencils. I keep one in my kit always because sometimes it’s nice to just do a sketch with a waterbrush using this one pencil. The nice thing is you can go back over your black and white study with color after, the Inktense pencils will not lift off like watercolor can. It IS a VERY intense pencil, go very lightly at first and see what it does when you wet it. I started with the simple border as kind of a warm up, just draw a line around your page then use your waterbrush to wet it. To get it to look like mine, keep your brush ‘inside’ the line with the tip always touching and rubbing the line, letting the color run into the wetness left behind from the brush.
Sketch your scene lightly, trying to do most of it before you wet it. Once you wet the paper you’ll have a hard time adding more lines because they will be very dark and intense! If you need to just touch your waterbrush to the tip of the pencil to pick up more ink, then use your brush to add it to the sketch. Test how dark it is on a piece of scrap paper before you touch your sketch, this will help you avoid mistakes. I really like the look of this, sort of like an old antique picture.
Sketch of Cullernose Point from the south
Here’s a sketch I did in England last year, along the coast of Northumberland, of Cullernose Point as viewed from the south. I had my sketch journal with me (OF COURSE!!) and because we wanted to keep walking, just sitting a bit and doing a sketch with no color worked well. I used my waterbrush and especially like how the clouds came out.
Alnmouth, Northumberland -water soluble graphite
Now I thought I’d add this one too just to show how nice it can be to do non color studies. This was done with water soluble graphite, not the colored type, just plain old graphite color! We were at Alnmouth, Northumberland England; a beautiful coastal spot! I did it in my tiny sketch journal which was so much fun to use! It was a wonderful experience to stand on the hill at the coast and capture the scene forever in my memory. Please read my post about it here to see the wonderful photos I took that day! I loved being there and can’t wait to go back for more! I love, love, love England!
I hope you enjoyed my little ‘non color’ sketches, as I said they’re a great way to capture a scene without the worry and time of adding color. And thanks to my friend Nancy for a nice visit! (ps. I photographed lots of dragonflies at her place and two of them were new for me!) I created a really nice print and greeting cards in my shop, see the links below! I love the dark grey background with it.
Crocus Geometer Moth full page from my sketchbook journal
In the morning when I let Ginger (my dog) out the back door for her morning wee, I always survey the screen porch to see if any visitors of the mothy type, have overstayed their visit. I used to leave the screen door open so I could be lazy and Ginger would just run right out, but stopped when too many flies were coming in! But I did get all kinds of moths in there! Well even with the door shut, some do sneak in and that’s how I found this little guy. Well sad to tell you it wasn’t alive, but laying on the floor in perfect condition. So I gently, gently picked it up and put it in my “Crisco” container for study.
Above is a full sketchpage from my journal, I did a life size study in the lower left corner and an enlarged size in the middle. I had fun with the border by just using my waterbrush with a matching color and added little ‘butterfly’ heads.
My set up when I sketched the moth
You can see in my picture that I lay the moth on the lid of the “Crisco” container and that way I was able to move it around as I worked. My watercolor pan is under it and the sketchbook is on my little table top easel box. (you can see my last page from the lady bug post!)
Drawing a study at the same size first
Now here I’m showing how nice it was to sketch the same size study by having the moth on the plastic lid. Using my pencil I did comparative measurements to compare the width to the height of the moth. Do you see those lines on the page? I put them just as a teaching tool, to show you that I found the measurement from inside wing to outside tip was the same measurement as the bottom of the wing to the top, his head I think it was. I always use comparative measurements when drawing!
Such a gorgeous colored subject!
Isn’t this a beautiful moth? His antennae were really elegant and graceful, very hard for me to paint with watercolor! The more I studied him under a magnifying glass the more I saw and appreciated it’s beauty.
This is how my larger sketch looked at first.
(Above) Now I’ll show you the steps I took to do the large painting of this Crocus Geometer Moth, mostly how I drew it. Do you see how boring and technical it looks? I know, but if you don’t start with a clear drawing done in PROPER PROPORTION it will never look right! Sorry, I”m not shouting, but it is REALLY important! If you do anything, learn how to draw well!
So I used my pencil to compare the width of the wings tip to tip to the measurement of the moth top to bottom. I put light lines on the paper then drew an arc as close to the shape of the ‘real’ moth subject as I could. Then I decided where the wings ended in the centre, keeping in mind that they overlap.
The second stage is lightly sketching the placement of shapes, wings, body, head.
Above you see a lot more drawn here; I drew an arc lightly for the bottom wings too, then decided where the two wings met and overlapped then drew them. I found the wing tips were half way between the head (top) and bottom wing edge, can you see how there’s a little ‘t’ at the tips?; that’s centre from top to bottom.
It’s really fun when you get into a drawing and start to find things that are the same measurement so you can check other parts of your drawing by comparing them! That’s why it’s called Comparative Measurements! (This is something I teach my students first!)
Then I clean up the lines and decide how the outline will look.
Look back and forth at the subject and drawing, look for areas that might be out of line and fix it now. After you feel your measurements are right, you clean up the light lines and decide on the lines you leave. Keep your final line clean and neat. Use your kneaded rubber eraser now to dab repeatedly at the line to lighten it as much as you can, just enough so you can still see it but you can do watercolor over it and not have it show.
Laying in some washes with watercolor and adding some details.
Here I put the first washes of color on and then started to add where the dark markings are and light wing ‘ruffles’.
Larger study of the moth finished.
And here it is finished! I just kept adding the tiny spots and built up the larger dark markings. Sometimes it dries and just doesn’t look as colorful because watercolor can look lighter and duller after it dries. So I go back and add some light washes when needed to perk it up, I added bright yellow and more browns on this one. (ps. I did have trouble with the antennae! I need to practice how to do such tiny detail with watercolor!)
I’ve created some really pretty note cards and other things in my shop using this page from my journal, please have a look! Please forward my shop (or this post) to your friends to help me spread the word.
Two new beetle studies to share, the Milkweed Borer Beetle and the Rhubarb Curculio. Sometimes I print out 4×6″ photos of my bugs and then as I have time I can sit and do studies in my sketch journals. I’ve been working on lots of bug studies as you’ve noticed lately, but plan to work on a series of small insect paintings soon.
Milkweed Borer Beetle
I love the Milkweed Beetle because of it’s black and red coloring and nice black curved antennae. With the black legs it looks rather coordinated in a fashion sense of the word! I’ve always been partial to red and black clothes or designs!
Milkweed Borer Beetle and Rhubarb Curculio
Then just below I decided to add a little study of the Rhubarb Curculio Beetle. I photographed it in my garden in early spring, it wasn’t ‘on’ my Rhubarb but I bet it was soon to be! I liked the rusty, powdery appearance of it and it’s unusual ‘snout’, typical of a weevil type insect.
My set up while painting
I tried to take some pictures, with my tiny camera, of some of the stages while I painted the Milkweed Beetle. I like to try and show the steps a bit because there are so many ways to approach how to do a painting.
(side note- you see on the page a bunch of dots of color, I was playing around with color mixing with my watercolor crayons and it had nothing to do with these bug paintings)
Laying green 'spots' on top of first light green layer
I missed taking a picture of the first stage but here (above) you can see that I put a very light green wash all over the leaf around the beetle first. I did this before I painted any of the bug, I used a bigger brush and just washed it on quickly but still tried to stay neat around the bug outline.
Then I started to paint the beetle; I used a water brush to wet the paper only where I was going to paint. The water brush was very handy to use instead of dipping my brush in water and wiping. I tested the red out on a piece of scrap paper then added a little at a time. The dampened paper was a nice way to keep the shading soft. Start with the overall color or the ‘background’ color first, then the darker values of red will be layered over it after it dries. I was careful not to paint red to the edges because it would ruin the 3d effect and also he had a powdery look that I wanted to imitate.
To make the leaf veined pattern, I thought I’d try just adding these little green ‘spots’ in a sort of organized pattern. By organized I mean that I would put them next to my pencil lines that indicated where a light vein would be, just arranging them along it was enough to indicate a vein.
Green 'spots' layer is finished
I’ve finished the green spots layer and you can see now how the bugs legs don’t look as dark? That’s relative to the new value of color around it and now will need to be darkened some more. That’s usually the way as you work on a detailed watercolor, it’s many layers to push things darker and bring out detail.
My set up today on an easel to give my neck relief!
Here’s a picture just showing you my set up as I worked at this stage. Before I had it flat on the table but that starts to hurt your neck after awhile, so best to prop it up somehow, this is a basic wooden paint box that you use on the table and the lid serves as an easel. I just stick the photo to it with “Blue Tack” or “Sticky Tack” and then I put my field palette of watercolors on a small box in front of it (so it’s raised up closer). This table easel a great little box because I keep ALL of my color pencils in it, separated by colors with rubberbands. I used to always use color pencil on my watercolors to add details at the end, but find I haven’t done that in ages!
Milkweed Borer Beetle finished and edited
I took a wet brush and gently wet the spots and rubbed very lightly to blend them a bit, then I washed some blue faintly over areas of the leaf to tone down the yellow green a bit. The picture above is of the Milkweed Borer Beetle all finished and cleaned up (the edges) on the computer so I could use it in my shop on note cards. (if you click on it, it will take you to see Note Cards in my shop). Now I wanted to comment here that if I was making this as a finished painting to frame and sell I would have worked on it more. I would have washed over more of the pattern here to ‘push it back’ and not make it so spotty looking, though I don’t mind it much. And the area right in front of his face I would have tidied up a bit more but that’s it for now, I consider him a good study for a better painting someday!
Thanks for stopping by, leave me a comment if you like, I LOVE reading them and replying! And I hope I encouraged you to stop and look a little closer at the bugs in your garden, you may be surprised at how interesting they are! If I could encourage one more thing, it would be to get you to leave some areas of your yard go wild with local weeds and wildflowers. I have some huge Bull Thistles growing now and have discovered many interesting bugs living on them all summer. It’s like a highrise building in a city, some live at the bottom, some at the top and they climb up and down the main stem all day long! The other day I saw a Ruby Throated Hummingbird stop at the huge pink bloom of the thistle and soon the Goldfinches will be using the down from it for nesting and in fall they will eat the seeds.
There are many other ‘weeds’ growing around my yard besides the thistle, more because I have trouble keeping it neat with my neck and back giving me trouble. BUT I have also noticed new bugs almost every single time I walk around the perimeter of my yard and STOP to look. If you stop, stand still and just watch awhile, you’ll see so much. Here’s a little rhyming quote from me:
“When you stop, study and sketch, a fine image you will catch. Study even longer, your drawing will be stronger!” Mary McAndrew
OK, go have some fun now looking for bugs! (and please get your children to look with you!)
I thought I’d include a post about my photography equipment, that is my cameras, and then later I can expand a bit by giving tips about how I use them. Mostly how I use them in the field for reference photos but maybe some of my tips may help someone out and that’s a good thing! When I do a post that includes something useful about photography, I’ll link it to the category on the right under “Lessons + how to’s > Photography”.
I consider photography to be a hobby, though I sell lots of note cards and gifts with my photos on them (see my Photography page here), I still like to take pictures just because I love doing it. I love traipsing through a field following behind a flitting butterfly, or capturing a bird up on a branch (not blurry while hand holding my camera) or wading around in water studying frog eggs and frogs, all while smacking at mosquitoes, black flies etc and sometimes balancing my sketch book! I LOVE IT!
I have learned to put picture files into different folders on my computer under Reference photos. Wow my collection of reference photos has grown and I could use it for painting for quite some time! I say it’s best to study from life, but take pictures too if you can, to study later, they are loaded with information.
Here’s a few pictures of my simple cameras I use right now when I go in the field to sketch or just shoot pics for references and study. I have a long lens and tripod I’ll get pictures of later to include.
my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
I just love this camera! It’s lightweight but takes great shots. I put a different strap on it using one from some other bag that’s nice and long. I wear it across my body, not hanging from my neck; this way it stays relatively out of the way and doesn’t strain my neck. I put special little rings on the clips from a binocular strap I got, it allows more movement of the strap without stress on the clip. Do you see how I put clear tape on the clip too, that’s to keep the clip from slipping off the tiny rings.
My Lumix is pretty lightweight and not too bulky
You can see it fits in my hand and sometimes I hold it up to take pictures of myself working, a little awkward but it works. It has automatic settings and manual, I use both. Most of the time I use the “Landscape” mode because it has super zoom capacity (that’s as far as my tech talk goes!) on that setting. From there I select manual only when having difficulty getting the auto focus to ‘see’ what I want it to focus on. That’s a lot tougher to use! More about that another time.
My tiny Olympus FE-220 7.1 megapixal
This little camera deserves a gold star! I’ve had it years and years, use it all year round and never fails me! My favorite thing to use this camera for is close-ups. It has a Macro and Super Macro, I always use the Super Macro. There is no zooming on this setting you just get as close as it allows you and snap. It’s just great for bugs and for peeking under mushrooms where a larger camera can’t go (or you just can’t get your head under with it!) I’ll show you why I have the super long lanyard on the handle later.
The backside of the tiny Olympus.
This is the backside, small, easy, compact. I put some of that special ‘stuff’ on the viewing area, ahm…bought it in an office supply store, I’ll have to look up what it’s called. I put it on all my cameras.
Then there's always the cell phone camera in a pinch!
And then there’s always your cell phone in a pinch. They take better pictures than ever, but it’s hard to see what you’re shooting when outside, but sometimes it’s fun to take a picture and upload it to facebook immediately so your friends can see what kind of trouble your getting up to! (or just wish they could be there with you walking in the fields!).
I also have a Cannon 20D that is just a beautiful camera and takes marvelous pictures, but I don’t use it anymore. I have given up the extra weight so I can carry my art kit, I have to be careful how much weight I carry because I get trouble with my neck and back if I don’t.
What did you think I’d be doing on Mother’s Day? It was gorgeous outside and I had the day to myself until later when my son comes over, so off I went for a walk with my sketch journal!
female bluebird I met along the way
Along the way I captured this shot of a female Bluebird, I’m so happy it came out. I didn’t use my long lens today, so the camera was actually easier to hand hold. (click to see as Note Card where you can see up close)
My watercolor crayons in a vinyl case so I can scatter them as I worked.
I was thrilled to find that the land on one side of the field was actually sort of dry. I mean I’ve been wading through water for weeks now, so any dry grass was pretty great. Before walking at all I decided to sit right down and have a go with my kit. I knew something would strike me. Above you can see something new I tried that worked great; I brought this empty vinyl case along and when I was ready just opened it and put it on the ground. I took my watercolor crayons and set the box right inside it, as I used colors I could just plop them in front and find them easier as I worked. This would be good to use for the watercolor pencils too, as they get lost easily in the grass.
Putting color down around a round plastic shape.
I wrote some notes at the top of my paper as I sat, not even caring about painting, just enjoying the great weather. Then I decided I’d try to put a landscape but leave a circle in the foreground to fill with something. I have a piece of plastic I cut from a plastic milk carton and just filled in green watercolor crayon around it.
Blocking on more green for grass, sky has been painted a bit.
As I decided where my horizon line would be I colored blue in the sky, leaving the clouds just blank paper. (lately I’ve been doing them with white wax to ‘block’ them out using a resist method, this time it’s just bare paper) I then brought the green up as far as I thought it should go, then wet my paper with the big brush to blend all and used a brown crayon to put trees in on the wet paper. I like how sharp the trees can look if you put them on wet paper; if you draw them dry first and then wet them, they can get fuzzy looking.
My set up on the grass, balancing my sketch journal on my knee.
Here’s my set up, as I sat on my piece of vinyl and kept everything in easy reach. I actually leaned on one elbow to do most of this sketch, and quite smartly tucked an empty sandwich bag under my elbow. By the time I was done, my elbow would have been soaked!
The real scene behind my sketchbook, the clouds have already floated by.
So here’s the sketch with the ‘real’ scene behind it, I don’t really like the greens of the watercolor crayons, but more practice will help. Sometimes I admit I could do a better job but when working in the field either the weather is too cold or my back hurts then I just want to hurry up. So I try to work fast, I can always touch up later if I want, or leave it as a study.
This is the page as I finished it in the field, dandelions and all.
This is my study finished in the field, I decided to put dandelions in the small circle as they were everywhere. First I lightly sketched in pencil then went over it with a brown Windsor Newton Permanent ink with a dip nib pen. Then I colored them in by touching the brush tip (a finer one) to the crayons then painting. I colored the letters the same way using a blue crayon. I really want to go back and tone down that green on that grass! Yikes!
Field sketch after touching it up back at home.
Well here’s the sketch after I got home and touched up the greens and added the yellow dandelions.
On our way after that sketch, I kept seeing Leopard Frogs. If I stood still I would start to pick them out of their hiding places.
I was really getting good at it! As you walk by they get scared into the water…then if you stop a few steps away, they would seem to appear everywhere. I imagined a funny cartoon of a photographer stopping to look for frogs, the way in front of her clear, but behind her all these little heads popped up in the water! haha, well it’s me of course!
mystery water bug
This was really cool, I noticed as I stood watching for frogs without moving, a little something moving in the water below me. I swore they were just catkins from the tree floating along the bottom, but it’s a standing pool of water and instinct told me otherwise. I bent over and kept watching them and remembered reading about larvae that formed cases by ‘gluing’ stuff around them. I got this great shot of it actually poking out of the case a bit! I am not sure yet what it is, have to look it up.
Long Lane green and lush.
Here’s Long Lane on the way back home. It’s green and lush in this very wet spring we’re having. It’s a bounty for the frogs but that means soon will come the mosquitoes too!
I hope you enjoyed this springtime walk with me and my sketching. I hope you go out and capture some nature the way I did, just stop and stand or sit still and you’ll be amazed at what you notice.
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