Evolution of a Painting

A few months back I did a quick gouache sketch in a small journal of a beautiful grove of old oak trees in our neighbourhood.

It wasn’t much of a painting but had possibilities, so I decided to use this as inspiration for a larger painting to go into a group exhibition themed “Silhouette”, starting later this month. After watching a video by Ann Blockley on experimental techniques in watercolour, I wanted to try some different ideas combining watercolour, ink, gouache and watercolour pencil. I really enjoyed the process, switching back and forth between the various mediums, leading to quite a different result.

Here is the photo I took of the trees. The painting ended up quite a departure from the original image and I’m pretty happy with the result. Maybe I should do more in this style.


Travel Sketches

Earlier this year we did a caravan trip along the south coast of WA. Whenever we travel I like to keep a little travel journal because I love flipping back through them at a later date and reliving the memories. This was my primary reason initially to start watercolour sketching, but it has since developed into exploring art in many different media.

All of the following sketches are watercolour in a small handmade journal with Fabriano Artistico paper, apart from the last sketch which was on Strathmore toned tan paper with ink and watercolour.

Toned paper sketches

I love using toned paper for sketching. There is less glare off the paper, a problem I encounter when using white paper in sunshine, and a sketch can come together pretty quickly as the mid tone is already there.

By adding a few darks and lights this sketch of a lonely miners hut came together pretty quick. Of course I can’t forgo adding colour in some way so I added a bit of watercolour, and the whites were done with both white gouache and white gel pen. This was done on Strathmore Toned tan paper, which although it is only 118gsm (80lb), can take light washes of watercolor or gouache but be prepared for the paper to buckle.

The following sketch was done on Kraft paper which is a much cheaper alternative and not a very durable surface, but good for quick sketches and I love the look of them on this colour. It is really only suitable for dry media so I stuck with ink and watercolour pencils. However I decided to use a light grey Tombow marker over the blue grey background which dissolved into a watercolour-like wash. Interesting possibilities with this technique.

Growing the sketch

Here’s a little watercolour sketch done on site while out with my local Plein Air Group, where I tried a different approach. I started with a few lines on the window, then grew the sketch outwards, mainly with colour and a waterbrush, adding a few ink lines at the end. I see now where I need a bit more work but as this is all done on site I might leave it as is.

It’s an interesting way to sketch, starting with the focal point and working out from there, and it doesn’t really matter at what point to stop, leaving the sides unfinished works as a vignette. You can always keep working to complete the sheet but as a sketch it shows what I focused on.

Figure Sketching Challenge

Most of my recent work has been plein air sketches and paintings but sometimes I need to try something different.

I decided to take part in the World Watercolour month challenge in July, where a daily prompt is given as motivation to do a watercolour painting each day. My idea was to use this as a personal challenge to practise a quick figure sketch using the prompts. Unfortunately or predictably, I ran out of motivation before finishing the list. My excuse was that I started late and finished early, and too much time was searching for a suitable image for each prompt.

Here is my collection, not necessarily in order, but I’m pretty happy I was able to complete 19 for the month. All images were sourced from free image sites such as Pixabay, Unsplash and Pexels.

Car Easel

Last Thursday’s weather was pretty awful for Plein air painting but that doesn’t stop some us from getting out there, even if it means we are confined to our car. This week I trialled my lap easel sitting in the passenger side of the car.

This is really a small table easel where I removed the partitions in the drawer. It sits comfortably on my lap, I can fit my palette and water, and I am able to adjust the angle of the board. This is a much better solution than using the steering wheel to prop the board on a fixed angle, and having all the other stuff on the passenger seat. This was a real pain being a right handed painter in a right wheel drive car.

As the day was grey and overcast I used limited colours, Raw Sienna and Ultramarine with a touch of Burnt Sienna for the darker areas. Unfortunately I forgot my brushes but had a waterbrush in my pencil case so I had to manage with that.

My tip this week comes from advice I’ve learned from several artists – is not try to complete the painting completely. Take it to about 75% completion then reevaluate at home. Often, away from all the details on site you find you maybe don’t need to add any more.

I stop when I don’t know what else to add or I get too cold. Sometimes I add more at home but in this case I decided that I’d leave it as is.

Squint like Clint

Last weeks sketch wasn’t easy due to the grey and overcast conditions, but it was my regular Plein Air day and I can’t miss that. Despite the conditions I was quite happily painting in a local shop carpark, until it was too wet to continue. I did a fair bit of squinting to try differentiate the tonal values as there was not a lot of light and shadow.

Why squint when painting or drawing?

Squinting removes details by taking the subject out of focus. It also reduces the amount of light entering the eye eliminating much of the color. Seeing fewer details makes it easier for the artist to identify essential shapes and values, as well as the hard and soft edges.

Squint your eyes until they’re almost closed, to the point of seeing through your eyelashes, just like Clint 😉

Here I’ve used last weeks photo as an example. Firstly by blurring the image to eliminate details, then removing the colour to reduce it to tonal values only.

300 New Sketching Journal

For some time I have been wanting a sketchbook of a reasonable size that folded back on itself to make it easier to handle while sketching, so I recently made my own, with a bunch of different papers of unknown variety that would have otherwise remained unused.

I covered it with faux leather made from a brown paper shopping bag and trimmed with a suede like fabric to strengthen the spine and corners. It is definitely not a professional or precious journal which takes away the trepidation I have when working in more expensive journals.

This week I trialled it while out with my Plein Air Group in town. Here it is supported on my easel, but it is comfortable enough to hold on my lap while sketching.

Here is the finished sketch – on A4 180g cartridge paper…. I think 😊

The White of the Paper

Retaining the white of the paper in watercolour painting is always my goal. The most desirable way of achieving white is to plan ahead, and save those areas by leaving them unpainted. Sometimes that’s difficult but there are other ways to gain those light areas.

Masking fluid can be applied beforehand, but allow it to dry thoroughly before painting over that area. In this little painting the masking fluid was applied to depict the sunlight on the water, allowing me to easily paint the water in one simple wash.

If you need to regain a white area an easy way to remove unwanted paint from your paper is with a Magic Eraser Sponge. This method is useful for creating white masts or roofs against an already painted background. Painting around white areas is the best approach, but this method is useful when a white area is needed after the painting has been completed. It works like very fine sandpaper and removes the surface of the paper.

When the painting is completely dry, mask around the area to be “cleaned” with masking tape, making sure that the tape edges are snug against the paper.
Next, dip the Magic Eraser in water and squeeze it out so it is damp. Then gently rub over the area to be whitened.
Dry the area. If it’s not white enough, repeat the process until you are satisfied. Then simply remove the tape.

I used an old sketch here to demonstrate on just to show the effect, not necessarily to improve the sketch. 😉

Scratching with a sharp blade is also another way to regain some white sparkles in the painting. Once again the paper must be completely dry and a firm scraping action is needed. It’s probably best to practise on a failed painting before attempting this on something precious. Here I used this method to gain some light and movement in the water.