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Sunday

Three Day Sketching Retreat


Last week, I had an opportunity to spend a few days at a sketching retreat at the Holy Cross Monastery along the Hudson River. I'd long admired the monastery when painting across the river at the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde park. When my friend Melissa Fischer organized a sketching retreat there, I jumped at the chance to go and explore the grounds, and immerse myself in my sketchbook. I had just hung a big solo show, which had taken me away from sketching for awhile. It felt great to get out there in the chilly fall air, amidst some beautiful colors and scenes. 

I made this sketchbook specifically for the retreat. It's made out of a single full sheet of watercolor paper, cut into thirds and then folded. I figured it would give me just the right number of pages to fill in a few days. I had just one page left in it when I returned, so it worked out perfectly! This is Fabriano Artistico Cold Press 140 lb paper. Most of the sketches are watercolor. There is one monochrome gouache sketch across a three-page spread, and a pencil sketch of an old oak tree that became a sort of Rite of Passage for all the sketchers there! 

Tuesday



Gouache, across a two page spread in a gray-toned sketchbook.

My friend Mary came over one day to sketch. We sat on the little dock in my back yard and I did this gouache painting of the brook. I added the quote later. I've put quotes into all the sketches in this book, but sometimes it takes awhile to find the right quote for a particular scene! Below is an image of my scene with the sketch and my setup.


Monday

Last of the Rose of Sharon


You know the summer season is winding down when your very last Rose of Sharon bush has nearly finished blooming. I'm trying to make the most of the few blossoms that are left. This is across a two page spread in a Stillman & Birn Alpha Softcover sketchbook.

Wednesday

Wow, it's been nearly four years since I've posted my sketches! I've been doing a lot of them in the past couple of years, so perhaps it's time for me to resume my sketches blog and ruminating about art materials.

For those in the Hudson Valley area, I have a solo show opening coming up, and will bring a few of my sketchbooks to the opening reception for people who want to be able to look through them in person. The opening is Sunday, September 30 from 3-5pm, at the Hendrick Hudson Library, 185 Kings Ferry Road, Montrose NY. If you cannot make it to the opening, you can see the show until October 28 during regular library hours. It's a wonderful space with over 80 linear feet of hanging space! You can click here for library hours and directions.

I'm currently working mostly in two sketchbooks. One is a gray-toned Stillman & Birn Nova. It's become a book of sketches with quotes. I started it with just gray scale gouache sketches, and added quotes as I found them that represented my thoughts and feelings about the scene and my state of mind. These are all gouache.




Friday

Sketching from the Window


Today I did a monochrome tree sketch in acrylic, using the 14x22" spread provided by my Stillman & Birn 11x14" Alpha sketchbook. While I feel I could have worked on this much longer, I met my goals with it and also ran out of time. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I don't have to treat a sketch as if it's a finished painting! I have so many "sketches" in my books that I later wished I'd done on canvas or a piece of paper not bound into a book.



I use the Golden Heavy Body Neutral Gray acrylics when I do these. I keep them in a plastic container that has a waterproof seal. They last for years this way. I just add more paint as I run low. Having the values premixed means I don't need a palette, and I also don't need to spend time mixing.  I can just dip in and paint. The heavy bodied paints dry so fast that I can close the sketchbook pretty soon after I finish. The book is clipped to an 18x24" board, so it stays open easily. I rest the top on the window sill and the bottom on my lap as I paint. It's a very comfortable way to work if you have a really deep window ledge!

I don't do any pencil drawing when I work this way. I sketch in a few lines with light, diluted paint --- just enough to know where my basic forms will lie. Then I start blocking in the large shapes, initially working back to front, and then back and forth pushing layers and adding details as needed. I'll likely do some journaling on the left side of the page that I left blank. The S&B Alpha paper is so strong that there is no problem with painting acrylics on both sides of a page.

Tuesday

Let's Change the Subject


Watercolor in a Stillman & Birn Zeta hardbound book

It's that time of year when change happens. The days are getting much shorter. They are about to get shorter still when we go off Daylight Savings Time this coming weekend. The weather is getting colder. The leaves are falling off the trees. Most of them are down now, and I expect the rain that comes in a couple of days will remove most of what's left. Winter won't be far behind.

As a painter, this combination of events has many repercussions. I'm touching up plein air pieces that have been done over the past three seasons and not yet quite finished, picking out the bugs and blades of grass and bits of sand and dirt, and getting them ready for holiday sales. I'm varnishing and framing a lot of paintings (just varnished 21 pieces a few days ago), and getting them to the galleries for the holiday shows. I'm preparing for The Big Move into the studio for the winter.

I actually look forward to this annual change. It gives me a chance to dive into other subject matter that I love, but don't have time for during the seasons of better weather. I have an opportunity to listen to great music while I work in the studio, tackle some larger pieces, and do my commission work. I can get back to open studio figure drawing and painting, portraiture, and mix it up with a bit of still life. I experiment with materials, new color combinations, and explore style.

I anticipate it won't be long before our plein air group starts our regular winter portrait sketch-a-thons. We gather in somebody's house and take turns doing 20 minute portrait sittings for one another. It's great fun, and we don't have to pay a model! I like to do some sketches from photos as a warmup for the seasonal change. This week I've been focusing on eyes. I'd like to improve my ability to capture expression this year, and a lot of that happens in the eyes. I'm not doing any underdrawing, and just going in directly with a brush and watercolors.



After doing the first few, I got frustrated with my palette, added some colors and swapped out others. I'm finding I need a slightly different selection of pigments for portrait work. Mainly I really missed my cadmium red and cadmium orange. I'm also liking ultramarine violet, and sometimes cobalt violet. I took out the phthalo blue, kept cerulean and ultramarine, and added cobalt.

I'm trying to do a quick portrait sketch after dinner at night, again without any preliminary drawing and just jumping in --- sink or swim. They're a bit fast and rough, but I'm rusty. They'll get better as the season moves along. I'm looking for photos that have good eye images, since that's my focus for now. I went straight in with color on a pre-toned surface again. (The streaky blue and red below are part of that toning process.)


Getting back to my winter fare feels good. I'm looking forward to diving in more as the weather gets colder. I feel inspired by the change. My pet birds, Mango and Coconut, will be happy to have me back in the studio. The dogs' beds are already under my work table. Bring it on!

Sunday

Palette Perceptions


I'm continuing with some palette ideas I started last winter and spring. You can see a couple more of them in this post from May. I'm interested in exploring how our perception of a scene changes with a warm or a cool palette, and the way a limited color range serves to harmonize a painting. This study was done 11x17" across a two page spread in a 8.5x11" Stillman and Birn Epsilon Hardbound sketchbook. I know it's not designed for wet media, but it works great. Their books will open completely flat if you break them in before you start using them, which makes it ideal for working across the spread. I used the new Golden High Flow acrylics, and just a bit of water instead of medium. I'm trying to arrange a setup that's easy to work with in the field at the same time, and hope to test drive that out on location tomorrow. I used six colors for this one. I'm very close to being happy with the selections, but I'm going to make a couple of palette changes today and try again.

Wednesday

Importance of Composition and Color Studies en Plein Air


I don't always do compositional sketches before embarking on a painting. When working out on location, the time to paint is always too short as it is. However, sometimes there are many elements we plan to move around or change. The sketches above are about 4.5x6", done in my Stillman & Birn hardbound sketchbook. The top one is acrylic over a pencil sketch, and the bottom one is watercolor over pencil.

In the top sketch, there was actually no pathway at all going into the field. I felt the scene needed a way to draw the viewer into the composition. I did the sketch in pencil to test drive my ideas. After setting up to paint applying some color over my pencil sketch gave me a chance to try out some color mixes too. When I stepped in to do the actual painting (in acrylic), which was 15x20, I'd resolved many potential problems before I even lifted my brush. This is the finished painting, which will be going up on my Hudson Valley Painter blog soon.



Based on the sketch I'd done, I made further changes when doing the painting. The sketch gave me a chance to consider more options.

The sketch of Croton Gorge Dam was done because the scene was so complex. I wasn't planning to make changes as much as I was trying to wrap my head around what would go where in the confusing mass of shapes, textures and perspective. It took three sketches before I had something I felt I could work with. The first two failures made me extremely grateful that I hadn't just jumped in on my 16x20" painting. Once I did this third sketch of the gorge, waterfall, dam, and bridge, I took out my watercolors and splashed some color on just to get a better idea of what it would look like. I felt I finally had a good working design, and broke out the larger panel for my painting and my acrylics.


This one still needs a few studio tweaks, but I don't think I could have captured this scene effectively if I hadn't taken the time to do the sketches. In this case, the sketches were more complicated and took a lot more time than usual. That proved to me how much I needed to do them, and how far off the mark my painting would have been if I'd neglected that step. It would have ended up as poorly designed as my first sketch of the day (which was so bad that I actually erased it even though it was in my sketchbook!)

The moral of my story to myself is that sometimes it is well worth the time and effort to Sketch Before You Paint. It's the artist's equivalent to Think Before You Speak, and Look Before You Leap!

A Day at the Farm

11x17" (across the spread) in a Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbook
Background monoprinted in several layers with a Gelli Printing Plate

My plein air group went to Green Chimneys today, which is a residential facility for children. Their philosophy is that children benefit greatly from caring for and interacting with animals. They have a wonderful farm on the campus. Many of the animals here have been rescued and are in the rehabilitation process, not so unlike the children that reside here.

It was over 90 degrees today, and you'd never know we were into September. Due to the heat and my love of the animals, I decided to spend the few hours there sketching instead of working on a single painting. Of course the animals were in constant motion, so the sketches were gestures, done as they moved about. The sketch above (which you can click on to enlarge it), was actually the last one of the day. It was done across a two page spread of an 8.5x11" Stillman and Birn Zeta hardbound book, which gave me a full 11x17" work area. This is extremely heavyweight paper (180lb) and is fabulous for multi-media work. I've been using a large Gelli Printing Plate to print textured layers of color across the pages. I've done it in both Zeta and Epsilon books. I love having a toned, textured ground to sketch against, especially when working in monochrome. I sketched with a Faber Castell Pitt Calligraphy Pen. I wished I'd brought a bunch of Pitt Brush Pens with me, but alas, I did not.


Above is a two page spread in a smaller Zeta book, without a toned ground. The book is 5.5x8.5", which gives me a letter-size space when working across the spread. When we first arrived at the location, we gathered near a small pond filled with several different types of ducks, geese, and some beautiful swans. They were all highly entertaining! I started out with the little watercolor thumbnail sketch of the pond scene, then did some gesture sketches of the geese and swans, using the same Walnut Brown Calligraphy Pen, and a little watercolor.



I got tired of the brown and wanted to work with a brush, so for the sketch above, I pulled out a Pentel Aquash Grey (or maybe Light Black?) brush pen, plus my Kuretake brush pen, which was filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink. I added orange gouache for the beaks and cerulean blue watercolor for the shadows. I liked these two gestures. The goose on the left kept ducking his head down into the water to drink, then would raise it way up. Every time he stretched his neck and head up, I put in a few more lines!


11x17" across the spread, Stillman & Birn Zeta Hardbound book
Golden Fluid Acrylics background, printed with a Gelli Plate
Sketch done with Golden High Flow Acrylics

My friend Bea called me over to the other side of the pond to witness some swan antics. One kept swimming back and forth in front of me. I found this page that I'd printed using paper doilies on the printing plate to keep some clear areas, and decided to put the swans there. I worked on several views at once, changing from one to the other as he changed direction, swimming around in a circle. I mixed a violet out of some of the new Golden High Flow Acrylics, using Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red, and did the sketches directly with a watercolor brush. The orange is Pyrrole Orange, a color I am becoming quite addicted to!


Saturday

Just Splashing Around


Every once in awhile, we need to just throw paint. That's what I was in the mood for when I did these two acrylic sketches! They were done from life, from potted plants in my studio. I let the paint spatter and drip, painted into it, made some drips, and just kept doing that until I had enough! This two page spread is about 14x10" in my homemade blue Pescia journal. It was painted with the same Golden Airbrush paints described in my previous post, as well as some Golden Fluid Acrylics for a bit more body to the paint.

I still have two blank pages to fill in this journal. I think my "Kinda Blue" theme played itself out. I was ready to be cheerful by the time I got to the paint-slinging phase here! I will definitely finish it up though as soon as the desire to sketch on something blue surfaces.

Thank you for following along through this journal. This week I'll be posting my review of the new Golden High Flow acrylics.

Friday

Birthday Flowers on Blue Pescia Paper

10x8", Noodlers Luxury Blue ink in  my Pescia light blue journal

A good friend sent me flowers for my birthday during the time I was working my way through this journal. In sticking with my "Kinda Blue" theme, I did a blue-on-blue sketch of some of the flowers, using Noodlers Luxury Blue ink in a Lamy Safari fountain pen. When I was finished, I took a fairly stiff brush to the flowers to brush out some shading color from the lines. This ink is fairly waterproof, but you can get a little color to move on it, which I find useful, especially when working in monochrome. I was continually impressed by how well this printmaking paper handled assorted media. In spite of little sizing, the ink did not bleed nor feather, and painted pages dried flat. Now that I've gotten into monoprinting, I've been doing some prints on it too. Great stuff! I didn't think I'd like blue paper as much as a warmer color, but it surprised me.

Thursday

Three Page Hudson River Vista


This is a 10x22" spread across three pages in my blue Pescia journal. You can click on it to enlarge the image. (Here is a link to how I made this fabulous 16-page journal from a single sheet, in case you missed it.) It's a scene from Dennings Point Park facing downriver through the Hudson Highlands, with Bannerman Island showing on the right side, just in front of the mountains. I had been wanting to paint this for so long, and will probably do a larger version to frame and hang in the near future.

This painting was done with traditional brushes, but I used the Golden Airbrush paints to do it. That line of acrylic paints has been reformulated, and has just hit the market as the new Golden High Flow line. I ordered some as soon as they became available, and was delighted to see the color range expanded to include some colors that I sorely missed in the Airbrush line. I have the new paints here now, and will be posting a review of them next week.

Wednesday

Silverpoint in a Sketchbook



One of the things I experimented with in this blue Pescia book was silverpoint. Doesn't silverpoint have to be done on a hard surface with extensive preparation? Not anymore! Golden makes a Silverpoint Ground that I decided to test drive. I taped the edges of the page and gave it a couple of coats of the Silverpoint Ground. My daughter posed for me, and I sketched this in 20 minutes or so, using a silver stylus. I was really surprised by how well this technique worked out in a sketchbook! The page is 8x10", and the silverpoint sketch portion is about 8x6.5".

One of the problems with silverpoint is that there is no going back. You go right in with the silver stylus, and there is no pre-drawing nor erasing. What you put down stays there, mistakes and all. Initially, the drawing looks very light, like this one. However, over time the silver tarnishes. As it darkens and develops a beautiful patina, the contrast of the drawing increases. I wish there were a way to speed it along! One tip I can give you is that although you cannot erase, you can cover mistakes by painting on more Silverpoint Ground, waiting for it to dry, and then drawing over it. Not that I would do that. Ever. (I can't even type that with a straight face.) But in this case, I did not correct anything and it was sketched start to finish in one short sitting. Here is an image of just the sketch:




Here's a little video that's on the Golden website, which explains more about using Silverpoint Ground:


 Try it. You'll like it!

Monday

A Three Page Spread of Collage


This three page spread is about 10x22". I didn't take photos of the individual pages, but you can click the image to get a much wider, clearer view of it. It was done around Valentine's Day, hence the hearts on the left. Those started out as red paper heart doilies. I cut out parts of them, painted them with blue acyrlic, and decorated with a gold leafing pen. The paper snowflake on the right was cut out from blue patterned origami paper, which I then added to with gold paint. It was a memory of Sandy Hook and all the paper snowflakes that I made to send there. In the center of the three page spread is a poem about snowflakes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I copied it over and then painted over it with some glittery Mod Podge stuff, just to see what it would look like since I'd never used it. I kind of like it! I'm thinking I might paint over the cover of this sketchbook with it, since it's a polymer that would also protect the book.

This is the blue Pescia, 16-page journal that I discussed in yesterday's post.