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Watercolor Paper Testing - Part 2

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.

Hello there!

Hello there!

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)

  1. Can you trace through the paper using a black ink line drawing underneath? I traced different snails on each one.
  2. Does pencil erase easily?
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Dry brush technique. Mostly the bushes and some ground areas on each.
  6. Draw with dip nib and ink. I drew each snail with dip ink and nib, going over the pencil lines I traced.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Permanent ink pen, ease of drawing on paper? Used to outline each snail and some details on the ground.
  10. Clouds on damp blue sky, drop clear water on and some lifting with paper towel.
  11. In general how does paper take the paint?
  12. (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.

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.

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

#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, HP White

#2 St. Cuthbert’s Mill, Bockingford, 140lb, HP White. 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

#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

#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

#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

#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

#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

#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

#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

#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

#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!

Happy Spring from our village in Northumberland, England!

Visit with a Friend (black and white studies)

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

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.

Make your own card at Zazzle

When you see this print in my shop (below) don’t be scared by the price! It shows you the huggest size but can be ordered as a 16×11 for only $11.20 too!

Crocus Geometer Moth

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.

I love this tee shirt!

Two July Beetles

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!

Here’s some more items with this painting on it:

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!)

“Mother’s Day Field Sketching” 2011

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.

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 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.

Leopard Frog

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.

Leopard Frog

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.

Watercolor Crayon / Lesson 1 - Color Practice

I thought I’d add a series of posts that introduce my new watercolor crayons, a few old ones, and how to start using them in hopes that some of what I do may help someone else.

When I first bought watercolor (or water soluble) crayons I tried them and didn’t like them at all! I thought the colors garish and harsh. I thought “what a lot of money for these little things and I’m not going to use them!”. Well I’ve only recently pulled them back out and have been playing with them. I’ve learned from using watercolor pencils, go lightly at first until you know just what your colors will do when you wet them.

Please click on pictures to see them bigger.

Water soluble crayons in a tin

Here’s the set of colors I started with, Caran D’Ache Neo colors and one or two Derwent Watercolor crayons.  I also show a “crayola wax crayon” and explained in another post (below) how I used it. I cut them in half (oh heavens yes I did!) to make them lighter to carry in my sketch bag and I could fit more; here I show them in an “Altoids” mint tin.  The other halves go into a baggy for later or to carry in another kit.

I took them out into the field and did some small landscape studies using these few crayons. There are links at the end of my post you can click on to read about them. After doing them I was feeling more enthused about my crayons, I think it’s time to look for more colors!

New Tin of Watercolor Crayons, Staedtler "Karat Aquarell" Neocolor II

More colors in other brands…landscape colors hopefully. I thought I’d try these Staedtler “Karat Aquarell” neo color II, they were reasonably priced online. Because I’ve been desperate for sunshine this spring, it was gorgeous that evening so I sat on my front steps to do my color charts.

New Watercolor Crayons, wow look at all those colors!

Here’s the crayons! Woohoo….they look nice! I’m hopeful that some of those greens might be what I was looking for.

Getting ready to wet the colors and have some fun!

First I want to stress that before you do any paintings with ANY media, watercolors, color pencils, oils etc, you should ALWAYS do some color charts of all your colors. This will help you to get to know the colors as they really look on paper (or canvas) and get familiar with how to handle them.

In my sketch journal, I rubbed a small spot of color and wrote in permanent ink pen the colors name next to it. It helps to also put an initial for the name brand too or label it at the top as I did.  Prepare one row and do the wash before you color the next set of spots, just so you don’t run out of room. Keep it neat because you can refer back to these charts again and again as you get to know your colors.

Color Charts of two brands of Watercolor Crayons

After you make your dry spots of color take a waterbrush or regular watercolor brush and water, wet the bristles and touch it to the color spot. Notice how as you ‘rub’ the color it releases and becomes like watercolor. If you rub a lot you can blend the spot right out for an even tone, but leave some intense color there, drag your brush as you rub back and forth, to one side to pull color away. Then lift your brush to stop, don’t rub too far out, keep ’em neat. Now your ready to put on any more spots you may need to and wet them; leave room for labeling them. After wetting a color rinse your brush and wipe or rub on a paper towel to make sure all color is cleaned off it.

As you can see, I did my new crayons on the left, my original crayons on the right so I can compare them.

Color Charts with my comparing colors close together in the centre.

Now to have some more fun, it’s time to compare colors from different sets so I can decide which ones are too similar to carry around with me. This is a ‘getting to know you’ exercise now and VERY important! The more you play with your colors the better your choices will be when you’re painting. Sometimes when I haven’t painted in a certain media in awhile, I’ll go through and do color charts just like this.  So you can see the middle is a riot of colors!! I grouped the blues, then greens then browns and goldie colors, all good for landscapes. Label, label, label!!

( I really like how this page looks with all the color swatches, I decided to make note cards and t-shirts of it!! See the links at the end of this post 😉 )

More color play to further test some out.

Ok, then the page adjoining that one had to be used for more testing, wow, am I going to use all these pinks?

My Watercolor Crayons + Waterbrush

After all this playing I ended up with a pile of cut crayons (yes I cut my new crayons in half too! Yikes how awful!) So I searched through my favorite shelf of odds n ends, containers etc for my field kits, and found a plastic case from I think, a small first aid kit. I love that it’s plastic = lightweight! This is a picture from my previous blog post where I used the big flat water brush.

Here are the blog posts I’ve done so far using the crayons, in order of date posted:

And here are some links for FUN things with my color charts printed on them! (you can change text on them)

I hope showing you how I work helped you out! Please leave comments if you have any questions.

“Wind in the Willows” – Clouds and Crayons

April 14, 2011

(if viewing this in an email subscription, please go to the website to see the video clip and pictures better)

Clouds Over Fox Lane

Above, this is the first view Ginger and I got when we started out on our walk; clouds, gorgeous clouds stretching as far as the eye could see! I love the way the old pasture fence looks here along “Fox Lane”.

“Wind in the Willows”

I’ll show you right away what I ended up sketching after we walked all the way out on the property. (At the end of my post I have links to note cards and gifts using this image!) I had a page in my journal with the first verse of the song from “The Wind in the Willows”, the popular children’s tv show, written in permanent ink. I knew eventually I’d do some kind of painting over it of trees.  I just love the song from this show, I posted a link below so you could have a listen too!

Theme Song from “Wind in the Willows”

My Watercolor Crayons + Waterbrush

To explain a little how I did the sketch, as I stood in about 8″ of water on a particularly wet path, I held my sketch journal and balanced the little box of crayons on it. I have taken all my water soluble crayons and cut them in half so I could carry more in a smaller space and less weight! I put it on a peice of paper towel to protect a little watercolor I’ve got on that page, and I put a piece of paper towel (Viva) next to the box for wiping my brush on. I used one flat water brush, a favorite of mine when I want to do very quick washes and scrubbing. This particular brand releases water quite fast, at first I didn’t like that but now it’s also why I DO use it!

First thing I did was to scribble with white crayola wax crayon where I wanted to show white clouds. It doesn’t really show up until you color around it, but if you tip your paper a tiny bit you can see it. Then I colored very quickly with two different blue water soluble crayons all around; I found that I could shade right over the white wax and it didn’t really disturb it, cool! Then very quick scrubbing with the waterbrush to wet and move the color around. I grabbed the paper towel and sometimes blotted off the white cloud and it helped soften the look. Using the grey crayon ‘under’ each cloud really helped to pull them out and make them look real.

The trees were drawn on with a brown wc crayon from Derwent, using the hard edge to make branches. It works really great on damp paper, the lines are very vivid. I must say, it’s the scribbley look of the painting that I like so much! I could go back and soften the bottom of the moon, but it was a field sketch and I think I’ll just leave it as is. It was hard to get the look in such a tiny thing while hand holding my journal.

View I painted from while standing in water!

This is a photo from the spot I was standing, can you see the tiny moon in the middle?

A close up of the moon

Sometimes when you’re outside in the middle of the day, if you look for it you’ll see the moon amongst the clouds. I always think it’s a nice surprise.

Ginger all wet!

Yes, Miss Ginger is wet but doesn’t mind. This is the lane I stood in to do my sketch.

An old nest left from last year

I spotted some old nests as I walked, this one was out near “The North Pole”, the furthest part of my land. It’s amazing how many nests are at our eye level but we don’t see them when the bushes are in full leaf.

Clouds in Spring Over the Lane

I’ll leave you with one more pretty picture. I just love the colors in this, the blues contrasting with the golden colors of the dried grasses, the reds in the tips of the bushes and trees and the purpley colors under the clouds.

I hope you enjoyed our walk again out on “Long Lane Farm” at Springtime. Please enjoy the pictures links shown below, they go to prints, note cards, tee shirts and a magnet using my “Wind in the Willows” field sketch painting, in my shop. I can’t wait to order a tee shirt for myself!

Visit my SHOP to see many beautiful note cards with photos of the new Spring flowers, bees, landscapes etc!

Creative Journaling Class - April 2011

Drawing a window and creative borders on my journal page in Alnwick, England

Meeting on Saturday’s – April 2 through 30, no classes on April 23, 10 am – 12 noon

Our adventure continues! This class includes students who took the first Creative Journaling class and we welcome all new comers!

Creative Journaling class 1- Making our journals

Creative Journaling class 1- Making our journals

Get Creative with Journaling! A class for all ages. We’ll combine sketching, painting and writing with experienced guidance from our instructor to create a journal of experiences and special days. Learn drawing skills, how to add decorative borders, creative designs and lettering to your journal. Learn creative writing tips; dabble in poetry writing and techniques for creating a very personal record. You’ll also be introduced to the use of watercolor pencils, watercolors, permanent ink pens, and water brushes to create images and illustrations to share. We’ll even make our own journal! Creative Journaling or Art Journaling is becoming increasingly popular; it complements internet blogs or conventional diaries and provides a highly visual and descriptive book to treasure for years to come.

Creative Journaling - playing with creative text.

Creative Journaling - playing with creative text.

$75 for 4 classes, a $3 materials fee payable to the instructor the first day covers the water brush you keep.

•Following this class (after a lunch break) is “Nature Sketching”, a two-hour class that ties in beautifully with Creative Journaling. Sign up for both and save $5 on both classes!
•A complete materials list will be emailed to you after registering. Contact Mary with any questions.
•Read more on my blog about my sketching adventures in England and New York, just click links in the right hand column. You can sign your email to receive automatic updates when there are new posts.

Creative  Journaling class 3 - drawing landscape behind a shape

Creative Journaling class 3 - drawing landscape behind a shape

To register for class go to to download form.

Phone: 716-677-4843  or

Learn how to make colorful Creative Borders

Learn how to make colorful Creative Borders

Please sign your email in the “Subscribe” box on the right to be notified when I put up new posts.

Nature Journaling Class - April 2011

Girls study a bug with a magnifying glass

Girls study a bug with a magnifying glass

Four Saturdays in April  (2nd, 9th, 16th, 30th, no class on the 23rd) Time: 1 – 3 pm

At the Burchfield Nature and Art Center in West Seneca, NY.

Explore nature as we work indoors and out when the weather is nice, from real subjects and photos. Share my field sketchbooks from England and New York. Learn how to make your own easy field sketch journal! Learn ‘drawing from life’ techniques that will help you next time you are out in nature and want to capture something on paper. Work in your  field sketchbook using real nature objects as we learn how to draw and paint them. Learn how to use pencil, watercolor pencil and watercolor in creative ways to embellish your sketchbook pages. Adults and mature young students are welcome. We will sketch and learn in the park if weather permits.

"Springtime Path in the Maze" watercolor crayon + wax crayon

"Springtime Path in the Maze" watercolor crayon + wax crayon

$75 for 4 classes, a $6 materials fee payable to the instructor the first day covers the cost of various papers and a water brush to keep.
•This class follows the Creative Journaling class also offered on Saturdays. Both would compliment each other.  If taken together get a $5 discount on each.
•A complete materials list will be emailed to you after registering. Contact me with any questions. For your convenience several varieties of water brushes will be available in class to purchase.
•Read more about my sketching adventures in England and New York here on the blog, click on categories in right column. You can sign your email to receive automatic updates when there are new posts.

Me drawing and writing in my journal along the coast of England

To register for class go to to download form.

Phone: 716-677-4843  or

Painting an "Angle Shades" moth from life

Adult student comparing sketch to a flower.

Studies of Grey Heron

Studies of Grey Heron

I hope you join us, it’s going to be great fun!

Oil Paint Color Studies

Tints made from some earthy colors.

I always advise students when they are starting out painting with watercolors or oils, to take each color they have and do color studies.  If you keep them small, they are great (especially for beginners) to carry with you while you work to check what color’s would be good choices to use. It’s a little different for oils than watercolors as you want to add white to make tints of a color.  Sometimes when you mix a color and it’s dark, you can tell a lot about it by adding a bit of white to some of it, it helps you ‘read’ the color better.

Here’s a few definitions for you:

  • “Tint” is a color with white added.
  • “Shade” is a color with black added.
  • “Chroma” is the brightness or dullness of a color.
  • “Value” is the lightness or darkness of a color.
  • “Hue” is the color name, as in red, blue, yellow etc.

Now though I’ve been oil painting for years, I still find it helpful, when I’m away from it for a time, to do color studies to warm up and re-familiarize myself with the colors and their properties. (I get involved with my watercolors and set the oils aside sometimes for too long!) It’s also advisable to do when you purchase new colors.

Color tint chart

The first thing you’ll want to do is make color tints with white. Take some canvas paper and try to plan out how you’ll group your colors together, probably blues, greens, reds, yellows, browns and black.  This one is on a scrap piece of canvas paper; I started then added a few I forgot, so it’s not perfectly arranged. I created this one when I was in England and didn’t have many of my paints around.

Just use your brush to put a bit of one color down in a rectangle shape then pick up some white and add it to the color leaving some alone at the end. Wipe your brush off and pick up more white and dab it on, mixing it in leaving the area you just did alone, basically your adding more white progressively to lighten it. OR you can mix it on your palette using a palette knife and adding white to a bit of color, then take a dab of that new tint and start a ‘new’ mix and add more white to it; you’ll get progressively whiter mixes.

Clean your brush well between colors, when switching to a new color group (reds to greens etc.) use a new brush.

New colors and tints of them.

I added a few new ones to the back last night, I also ALWAYS label the color and an initial if you want, of the brand name.

Now that you have color tints, lay them aside to dry for several days and get some more canvas paper to play with color mixes. Here are pictures of studies I did at two different times.

A sample of color mixing practice

This one is a little helter skelter as I didn’t plan out too much! I abbreviated the color names so I could understand what they were. I tried typical mixes, taking one color and adding different kinds of yellows to it, or blues etc. My main goal was to eliminate colors in my field kit that were similar or could be gotten easily by mixing. I always try to keep my backpack as light as I can.

Playing with my reds and blues

Here I took two different reds, Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Red, which I added Ultramarine Blue and then Cobalt Blue to, in varying amounts, then added white to really show the differences in them.

Playing with Greens and Yellows

I did the same with three greens, Cad. Green, Prussian Green and Sap Green, to which I added Cad. Yellow and Yellow Ochre.

A variety of color mixes being tested

On this scrap piece of canvas paper I was mixing Sap Green with blues and also Raw Sienna; and excited to play around with my Green Umber, a darker, duller green but lovely!  I also tested the Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna with some blues, because the sienna’s are a orangy color, they yeild various greys with the blues.

A closeup of the green and blue mixes, so subtle.

Well get your oils out and get busy! Sometimes playing around with color mixes is a great thing to do in between paintings, when you don’t have time or inclination (inspiration) to work on a piece.