Snowflakes for Sandy Hook

These are snowflakes I made today for Sandy Hook, to decorate the barren middle school building that is being refurbished for the surviving elementary school children come January. I made them out of paper and decorated them with mostly Golden Fluid Iridescent Acrylics. They are cheerful and sparkly, and I hope will help brighten up the school along with all the others being made and sent there. If you'd like to contribute to this project, you can see this blog post for where to send them. They only take a few minutes to make. If you Google "paper snowflakes" you'll come away with tons of ideas!


The Snowflake Project --- Art project for Sandy Hook Elementary School

Artist friends and families with children: Anybody who wishes to make paper snowflakes to help decorate the unused, barren middle school that is being refurbished for the Sandy Hook Elementary School children, can do so and send them to the address below. Make them glittery and bright! Be sure you don't write anything on them. The text below is written for schools and teachers, but individual artists, families, or businesses are welcome to contribute too. The deadline for receiving the snowflakes is January 12. Here is the information Bonny posted:

A building has been designated to house the students from Sandy Hook Elementary School. They are in the process of transporting desks, chairs, supplies and so forth to this location.
My neighbor is the president of the Newtown PTA and we met tonight discussing what we can do to make these children feel comforted upon their return
to school.
Please join us in "The Snowflake Project".
We are asking your students to make and decorate a snowflake. We will hang them in the hallways at the stark, new building where the Sandy Hook students will be returning. PLEASE NO WORDS! We want just a cheerful, happy (glitter and sparkle) environment for the students entering the new building.
Please pass on to any teachers you think may want to participate.
When you send your snowflakes, please include a note to tell us where they are from (your school, class, town, etc) to display along with your snowflakes. You can send them to:
Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, Conn. 06514


Lightfastness Test Results on Noodlers Eternal Inks, pigmented and iron gall inks, and more

Last year, I began some lightfastness testing on the full line of Noodler's Eternal Inks, as well as pigmented and iron gall inks by other brands (Sailor, Rohrer & Klingner, Diamine, and Platinum). This was done in collaboration with Brian Goulet of the Goulet Pen Company. Brian was interested in providing information to his customers, and I was interested in learning which inks would be best to use for assorted art applications. You can click here to see how I set up the test sheets.

It is now many months later, and the results are in! I tested 41 eternal, pigmented, and iron gall inks. There are another 45 or so inks that I tested at the same time, which do not fall into those categories, and I will discuss those briefly here as well. Before I go into the results, it is important to note that terminology varies between fountain pen folks and artists. No fountain pen ink is expected to live up to archival standards in art materials terms. These inks are not designed to be lightfast when exposed to UV light. Brian and I both faced this test with low expectations, which were, for the most part, confirmed. That being said, there were some inks that held up better than expected, and others that did surprisingly terrible in their class. Also, ink manufacturers sometimes make changes in color or composition of their inks between batches, so the results you get may be different from mine. For example, Noodler's Lexington Gray performed much better this time than a sample of it that I'd tested a couple of years ago.

After five months, there were no inks that looked exactly the same as their control samples. However, some did extremely well, and changed very little. Those changes might not even be visible in the photos. The inks that were in this top tier are:
  • Noodler's Black
  • Noodler's Blackerase Waterase (big surprise for me!)
  • Noodler's Kung Te-Cheng
  • Noodlers La Reine Mauve
  • Platinum Carbon Black
  • Platinum Pigmented Blue
  • Sailor Nano Black
  • Sailor Blue Black

The second tier lists the inks that had a color shift greater than the inks above, but they didn't shift or fade very much. Those inks are:
  • Noodlers Heart of Darkness
  • Noodlers Polar Black
  • Noodlers X-feather
  • Noodlers Lexington Gray
  • Noodlers Bad Blue Heron
  • Noodlers Luxury Blue
  • Noodlers Polar Blue
The third tier is basically everything else. These inks either had a huge color shift, faded a lot, or in some cases, nearly vanished. Below are the photos, so you can have a look for yourselves.

I gave a preliminary report last February about how the inks changed after the first six weeks. The samples then went back into the window for another three and a half months. Some changed little in the first six weeks and then nearly vanished! Others changed quite a bit in the first six, and not too much more after that. I attribute that to different ingredients and dyes in the inks, some of which are responding to the UV light faster or slower than others. Because of this interesting difference in the time frames, I am going to post both the six week and five month samples one below the other. Only the Noodlers Eternal Inks have six-week results, since I put those tests into the window first. The others have only the five-month images. (They went into the window later and came out later.)

Artists who are interested in knowing which inks can create a wash, and the color of the wash, will be able to see that in the samples. That washed area is generally where changes first appear, since there is a thinner application of the ink there. The six week and five month photos were taken with different cameras and different light sources, but you can still do the comparisons on each page. You can click images for a larger, clearer view. One thing you will notice is that due to the optical brighteners in the paper, the UV light caused the paper to yellow a bit by the five month mark, even though it is archival paper.

The control side is on the left, which was kept inside a sketchbook. The right side of each page was in the window. I then taped the pages back together to photograph them. It's much easier to make the comparisons with the sides together this way.

If you have a favorite ink in this test group, be sure you look at both the six week and five month samples! Remember that some inks that showed little change in six weeks had huge changes just a few weeks later. All images are clickable for a larger, clearer view.

Sheet 1, Six week sample:

Sheet 1, after five months:

Sheet 2, six week sample:

Sheet 2, five month sample:

Sheet 3, six week sample:

Sheet 3, five month sample:

Sheet 4, six week sample:

Sheet 4, five month sample:

Sheet 5, six week samples:

Sheet 5, five month samples:

Sheet 6, six week samples:

Sheet 6, five month samples:

Sheet 7, six week samples:

Sheet 7, five month samples:

Below are tests of the following inks that were included in the study, but not photographed at the six week mark. These were also in the window for five months:

  • Platinum Carbon Black
  • Platinum Pigmented Rose Red
  • Platinum Pigmented Sepia
  • Platinum Pigmented Blue
  • Sailor Sei-Boku Blue Black
  • Sailor Kiwa-Gura Nano Black
  • Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa
  • Rohrer & Klingner Salix
  • Diamine Registrar's Blue-Black

Sheet 8, five month samples:

Sheet 9, five month samples:

That was it for the Eternal, iron gall, and pigmented ink samples I had for testing. If you found some of those results discouraging, you'll feel better about them once you look at inks that don't fall into those categories. I didn't even photograph most of those, because for the most part, they nearly vanished. Below are two examples.

Sheet 10 after five months:

Sheet 11 after 5 months:

Thank you all for your patience in waiting for these results. It took a long time to get these all done and photographed, adjusted, and posted. I hope it was worth the wait for you, and that you find this information useful. It's been interesting for me to see how some of my personal favorites have fared, and as an artist, I now know more about which inks I'd use for what applications. 

I previously tested many other fountain pen inks and put the results up on my blog with images. You can see those on these links:
Lightfastness Results
More Ink Lightfastness Test Results
Lightfastness Results of 15 More Ink Samples
Eleven More Lightfastness Tests Revealed


New Product Review --- Introducing Stillman and Birn Zeta

If you're a fountain pen aficionado, sketch with ink and dip pens, love Pitt Brush pens, or the coverage you get with colored pencils on smooth paper, or mixed media on a plate-like surface of extra heavy-weight paper, you're going to adore this new Zeta paper from Stillman & Birn. Think of their fabulous Epsilon surface in a thicker, more opaque version, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this paper is all about. When I first tried the Epsilon paper, I loved it so much that I wanted an even thicker version. Now it's here! Many thanks to Stillman & Birn for making my dream come true.

I was sent some 8.5x11" sheets of the Zeta by Stillman & Birn when it first came in from the mill in France. When I first saw and felt the Zeta paper, there seemed to be such a world of possibilities for media that would work well on it, that I didn't know where to begin. I wanted to do a sketch that would showcase the potential of this smooth, slick surface. I did a few sketches in watercolor and ink of flowers, pitchers, vases and fruit, and played with assorted inks and washes. Then I decided to sketch some of the materials I'd like to use on this paper, which became the inspiration for this particular sketch. I tossed some of my favorite pens, brushes, markers, crayons and pencils into a brightly colored little pot that I normally use for my painting water, and set out some paint tubes as foreground elements.I felt the colors in the setup were strong enough to carry a strongly colored ink. Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses is one of my favorites. It is not lightfast. It is not waterproof. But there is something magical about the color, so I keep a wonderful Sheaffer 100 loaded with this ink, and it is always with me. I like the way this ink weaves the color harmony of the sketch together. I started this sketch with a few pencil lines, then went right in with ink and did the drawing, working mostly front to back. I used a wet brush to create some wash effects with the ink in shadow areas, followed by the watercolor. The last step was putting in small ink details, like some of the writing on the paint tubes, which would have run if I'd done it earlier in the process. I accidentally did this sketch on the reverse side of my sheet of dark ink test swatches, which proved to be a testament to the high opacity of this paper; no ink lines showed through at all!

The way the internal and external sizing of the paper permits the paint pigment to lie on top of the page yields a wonderful brightness in the color. The pigment does not spread out and mix together like with traditional watercolor paper, so it does take some getting used to and adapting. I'm really looking forward to breaking out my gouache on this paper. I think it will be a great match. The sketch below was done with transparent watercolor and just a bit of white gouache toward the end for the lights. But actually, the sizing allows for pretty easy lifting of pigment, so I probably could have reclaimed those lights without adding white. This sketch is 8.5x11.

I also did a sketch with an ink that I know to generally be very waterproof. Since waterproof fountain pen inks are at least partially challenged by heavy sizing, I wanted to find out if Noodler's Kung Te-Cheng would run when I added watercolor. It's one of my favorite inks, and I wanted to be sure it would stay put on this paper, no matter what else I did to it. Well, as you can see, the ink did not run at all. The sketch below was done while visiting with my friend Gingie at RiverWinds Gallery in Beacon. They have so many beautiful displays there that it's a fun place to break out a sketchbook! This one is also 8.5x11"on the Zeta paper, using a Kaweco fountain pen with a broad nib and transparent watercolor.

There is so much more to explore with this paper. I can't wait to have it in sketchbook form. Finally there is an ink-friendly paper that does not show through to the other side at all, so there will be no ghosting of images when working front and back on the pages. If you enjoy working on smooth paper, this is definitely one to check out. I know I'll be going through a lot of it. If you would like to also read another artist's review of this paper, check out this post by Jeanne Powers-Forsyth.


Design Sketches for Palisade Memories

Click image for a larger, clearer view
Watercolor and acrylic on paper
(9x12" Stillman & Birn Beta Wirebound sketchbook)

This sheet of sketches was done to work out the major issues for an 8x16" painting of the Hudson River and Palisades. When I'm out painting on location, I don't usually have the time to plan to this degree. In my studio, however, time is on my side. I'm not having to drive long distances to locations and then try to make time stand still while the sun races across the sky and shadows change. Going through these planning stages yields a better painting in terms of composition, color, and overall design.

I began with the four tiny thumbnail sketches at the bottom of the page. Each is 1x2". I did them with black ink and a fountain pen, trying different places for the horizon, and scoping out where I wanted the boats to go. I sketched in a barge and tug for these thumbnails, but in doing so, I decided they detracted too much from the Palisades, which I wanted to keep as the main point of interest. When I went to do the larger study, I put in a small fleet of sailboats instead. They provide interest and break up the horizon line without stealing the show. Once I finished deciding what would go where, I pulled out some watercolors and played with color on the thumbnails. Then I did the larger study in acrylic, which would also be my medium for the finished painting.

Although I'd gone through all these stages, I still wasn't completely satisfied. I decided that when it came time to do the final painting, I'd shorten the foreground space so that the water and cliffs wouldn't mirror each other as much. I also wanted to scale back the tree on the left, so that it would break the horizon line, but not extend beyond the upper edge of the cliffs. You can click here to see the finished painting I did, based on this series of sketches.


Kaaterskill Falls from the Top

8.5x11" across a two page spread of a 5.5x8.5"
Stillman & Birn Beta Hardbound Sketchbook
Ink and Watercolor

On the way back from the Inspiration Point hike that I posted about yesterday, we detoured to the top of Kaaterskill Falls, where you can sit alongside Lake Creek just where it plunges over the 270 foot waterfall. There are dramatic distant vistas of the mountains from up there, plus beautiful rock outcroppings and intimate cascades. It was one of the favorite spots of the Hudson River School artists, and it's one of my favorites as well! They have done quite a bit of trail work there recently and the footing is vastly improved from the top of the mountain down to the top of the falls.


Hike to Inspiration Point

8.5x11" across a two page spread in a 5.5x8.5"
Stillman & Birn Beta hardbound sketchbook
Ink and Watercolor

I went to Inspiration Point several times this past summer and fall. For some reason, it has beckoned me this year! The twisted birch tree on the left seems to end up being my sketching subject on the trips more often than not. I love the contrast in the trunk, and the way the backlit leaves light up against the mass of Kaaterskill High Peak behind them. The ink and watercolor were done on location. Once home, I added the border and lettering with a Pitt Big Brush Pen


Four Design Studies

Design Studies 3-6
Acrylics in a 9x12" Stillman & Birn Beta Wirebound Sketchbook

I'm going back to basics for awhile to revamp some things about my painting process. I've noticed some bad habits creeping into my paintings, and I'm really excited about correcting them and moving forward to make more of an artistic statement in my work. In order to accomplish these goals, I've dedicated this Stillman & Birn 9x12" wirebound sketchbook to the process, though I might do some of them on other supports too. This paper holds up really well to anything I throw at it, so here goes!

I'm planning to do at least one of these studies a day --- sometimes a full page, and sometimes just a portion of a page --- in addition to my regular paintings. Yesterday, I taped up a couple of pages into quarters so that I could do more of them faster. I'll do some of them in monochrome, but most in color. I may test drive different palettes too. The emphasis will be on design, and experimenting with how value, color, and composition work together in creating a painting that impacts the viewer.

These four studies were done with acrylics, using just Naphthol Crimson, Cadmium Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White, and Carbon Black. I reverted to a red-yellow-blue simple palette in the interest of keeping my color clean and simplifying the process. (I usually do not use any Naphthol reds, but it's what I happened to have on hand, and whadaya know..... It worked!) I'm using acrylics because it dries quickly, doesn't lift, is opaque, and can be painted on paper. I'll probably do some of them in gouache and other water based mediums too, depending on what is convenient at the time.

In contrast to much of my work over the past few years, which builds on transparent layers, I am planning to work more directly with opaque paint on these. I'll work from life when I can, but I'll also work from photos. The two on the top of this page were done yesterday at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York. The bottom two were painted today from photos. The study on the bottom left was done from a photo taken during my recent Adirondack trip. The lower right is from a photo taken at my property in the Catskills.

I started out this series working the full 9x12 pages, but after the first two, I saw problems which would be more quickly resolved by working smaller and faster, and then bumping the size back up again once I've worked through the issues that I'm seeing. I'll do at least a few more quartered pages before I go larger again with these.


From a hike to Palenville Overlook

Stillman & Birn Beta hardbound sketchbook
Noodler's Luxury Blue Ink
Lamy Safari with EF nib

Sketched during our lunch break on a hike to Palenville Overlook with friends.


Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Stillman & Birn 5.5x8.5" hardbound Beta sketchbook
Lamy Safari with EF nib and Noodler's Luxury Blue
Pitt Big Brush Pen (for page border only)

We took the easier route to the fire tower by riding the chair lift up to the Colonel's Chair, and then hiking the two miles uphill to the tower from there. The views from the tower were spectacular, though beter for experiencing than for painting. We were grateful for having made the decision to bring sweatshirts along! They were certainly needed on the chair lift ride up in the morning, as well as up on the tower, where the wind was brisk and chilly.

Once back down on firm ground, we sat on some rocks by the ranger's cabin and had peanut butter sandwiches, and I pulled out my paints to sketch the scene. The top of the tower was blocked off. We couldn't figure out why they would do that, but perhaps they were trying to discourage people from spending the night up there or making a mess.

As usual, the trip down was a lot easier than it was going up!


Helderberg Escarpment at Thacher Park

Golden Airbrush Paints
(painted with a regular synthetic brush)
Stillman & Birn Beta Hardbound Sketchbook

This sketch was done from one of the overlooks from the Helderberg Escarpment at Thacher Park. It's truly an amazing place, with a path along the escarpment's edge that runs for about two miles. There are many cleared vistas along the way, complete with rock outcroppings, beautiful foreground foliage, and views that span several states. 

I love painting with these Golden Airbrush Paints. They are very versatile, but a bit cumbersome to travel with. I have some ideas brewing to make cleanup on location go a bit smoother and faster. 

Siuslaw Forest Preserve -- Golden Airbrush Acrylics and Silverpoint Ground

Golden Airbrush Acrylics
Golden Silverpoint Ground
Stillman & Birn 8.5x11" Beta 180lb Hardbound sketchbook

I've still got so many August sketches to post. My vacation is now over, and although I didn't get any oil paintings done in my wanderings with my husband, I did take a sketchbook and some sort of paints/pens everywhere with me. Now I need to start photographing the more recent ones, which have been patiently waiting for my new camera to arrive. I got a Samsung NX1000 while on my break time. That was a good time to get a new camera, since I had some down time to actually go out and take photos and get through a chunk of the manual. I'm hoping it will result in improved accuracy, better color, and crisper detail in reproducing my sketches and paintings.


Hiking the Old Stage Road

7.5x15" across a two page spread in a
custom Arches 140# Rough sketchbook

These sketches were painted during another one of the hikes I took with my husband this summer. We've always wanted to hike the old stage road up to the Catskill Mountain House site. It's a strenuous walk up the steep slope of the eastern escarpment of the mountains. We thought we'd be smart and leave one car at the bottom, drive up to the top where there's a parking lot, and walk the road downhill instead of uphill! We walked down leisurely, figuring we had all the time in the world before meeting friends later for dinner. As we arrived at the bottom, I realized that I'd left my car key locked in my husband's car at the top of the mountain! We had no choice but to turn around and walk all the way back up to his car. Needless to say, I don't think I'll ever make that mistake again when hiking point to point!


Windham High Peak --- Sketching and hiking

My husband and I hiked up Windham High Peak. It was a long way to cart art supplies, but I packed light, bringing just my Arches 140# Rough custom hardbound sketchbook and a watercolor pan set. I had pre-taped the page borders to speed the process along, and did the writing (shown below) after returning home.


Golden Airbrush Paints and Silverpoint Ground --- Who knew!

Golden Airbrush Acrylics on Silverpoint Ground
8.5x11 across a two page spread in a Stillman & Birn Beta (180 lb) hardbound sketchbook

A few weeks ago I went to the Golden Artist Colors factory for the day. In addition to other things, I was able to spend a few hours with tech staff to discuss some things I've been trying to achieve with acrylic paints, and possible alternative solutions to my mission. One of the things I was able to play with that day were the Golden Airbrush Paints and Silverpoint Ground. When one thinks of painting with brushes, Golden Airbrush Paints are not what come to mind! (Neither does painting on Silverpoint Ground, or using Silverpoint Ground to reclaim whites in a painting.)

Well, I was smitten with the possibilities of these paints! First of all, they are very highly pigmented, yet already in an ink-like consistency. This gives me an ideal solution to achieve watercolor-like pigmentation without the pigment disappearing on me. Furthermore, the Airbrush Paints have something that the Golden Fluids do not: retarder! Yep, the retarder is already added to the paint, so it stays workable longer on the paper, and can be lifted before it sets if you work quickly.

The down side to working with these has been finding an easy way to use them on location while out hiking. I've been experimenting with a few different ideas as I've carted them around. This sketch of Kaaterskill Falls was done on location in about 40 minutes. The pages were prepared in advance with Golden Silverpoint Ground. I applied two coats, drying with a hair dryer in between. The idea was that by sealing the surface, it would be easier for me to make use of the lifting capabilities of the Airbrush Paints. On location, I coated the entire sketch area with Transparent Red Oxide mixed with some Airbrush Medium. Then I used a piece of paper towel, sometimes dipped in water, to pull out my lights, as if I were doing an underpainting in oils. I continued to work transparently for awhile, adding darks and pulling out lights, then used more opaque paint toward the end. I used a little Silverpoint Ground for some highlights and light, opaque color mixtures. It has a very heavy Titanium Dioxide content and worked great! I'd put about 5ml into a small empty vial from an ink sample.

Transporting paints in a watery consistency has issues for sure. For one thing, I can't use the same palette that I can for oils or acrylics, nor any flat or disposable palette, for that matter. I ended up using two small, rectangular watercolor palettes that I taped together on one end so it could fold in half. I put velcro on the outside to affix it to my lap board with the sketchbook. That's worked out pretty well so far. I bring several of the small airbrush bottles of color with me, and pour them into the palette on location. Cleanup is a serious mess, and remains the biggest problem for me to resolve when out on location.

Here's a photo of the scene with my sketch. Unfortunately the sketch was in shadow and the scene in light, so it's a bit hard to see the sketch.


Experimenting with Grounds --- Watercolor on varnished paper

Watercolor on varnished paper
Stillman & Birn 5.5x8.5" Hardbound Sketchbook (180lb paper!)

I decided to use one of the brand new Stillman & Birn extra heavy weight Beta hardbound sketchbooks to experiment with various grounds and mediums. The size makes it easy to travel with, so I've prepared a bunch of pages in advance and I take the book out hiking with me. Since I have very little time to sketch on the hike outings, they serve double duty by allowing me to do my media experiments simultaneously.

For this page spread, I used two coats of Golden Polymer  UVLS Varnish  (Gloss), rubbing it in with a paper towel to make as smooth a surface as possible, and drying the paper between coats with a hair dryer. Then, off to Olana I went to do a rather monochromatic, tonal sketch of a sunset overlooking the Hudson River. I used four tubes of watercolor: Winsor Newton Burnt Sienna, Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet, Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold, and Holbein Permanent White (gouache). The idea was to use the watercolor the way I'd use oil paint, since the varnished surface would allow me to pull out my lights right down to the paper, and enable me to use the paints in both transparent and opaque ways. Landscape painter David Dunlop sketches this way a lot and does it very effectively!

It turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought it would be. The paint had to be used full strength because any water added caused it to bead up on the surface. It dried very quickly and was hard to lift without adding water, yet when the water was added, it all beaded up and came off immediately, right down to the white of the paper. I think this will have great potential for me as a sketching method --- it was fast to work with, and not having to carry solvents nor worry about the paint drying out on the brushes makes it ideal for travel. It also lets me use the same techniques I use in oils. However, I'm going to have to try to find some kind of medium that can thin the paints yet doesn't bead up. I'm open to suggestions! It also has to be able to dry quickly enough so that I can close the book and put it back into my backpack without worrying about sticking. I'm looking forward to experimenting more with this idea.


Summertime at the Beach

11x17" across a two page spread of a Stillman & Birn Beta Hardbound sketchbook
Golden Fluid Acrylics

I think this is one of the busiest summers I've ever had. In addition to lots of painting and taking a one week workshop, I've been having such a great time with my husband while he's been on vacation that it's been hard for me to keep up with photographing images and writing posts. I've been sketching like a madwoman, so I've got a lot of catching up to do!

This was sketched on location at North Lake Beach while out painting with my friend Nancy. Sometimes I just don't want the pressure of feeling like I need to turn out a "finished painting", so I relax and play in my sketchbook. This was one of those occasions when in spite of wanting to work larger, I knew I wouldn't have time to complete a large painting. I couldn't stand the thought of yet another large, unfinished painting hanging around in my studio, and I didn't want to work small. It was just what the doctor ordered for this summer day by the water. I'm liking this scene a lot and will probably go back and do a painting from here sometime soon.

I'm loving working in these Stillman & Birn Beta Hardbound sketchbooks. The 180 pound paper doesn't buckle at all, and it's possible to experiment with all sorts of grounds and surface preparation, as well as any medium. I have an 8.5x11", and also recently started a 5.5x8.5" version for when I'm out hiking and can't carry such a large book with me.


House Portrait Sketch

About 6x8", across the spread of a Stillman & Birn Epsilon hardbound book
Caran d'Ache Supracolor Soft Ivory Black

This is a first compositional sketch for a house portrait commission. The client wants a painting that varies pretty significantly from the photos I was sent. In these situations, I like to be sure I'm on the same page with the client, so I do some preliminary sketches and color studies to find out if this is the direction the client wants for the piece. It always results in a very happy ending to work this way!

I really love working with these Supracolor Soft pencils for studies like this. I haven't pulled any of them out for quite some time, and I forgot how much fun they are! The S&B Epsilon surface is such a friendly support for pencil work. A wet brush with these pencils unifies the darks, and they wash beautifully. They don't erase well, but for preliminary work, I don't mind some stray lines here and there. For a more finished piece, I'd have made my initial marks in graphite, then switched over to the Supracolor when my lines were secure.

If you're concerned about lightfastness when using colored pencils/watercolor pencils (as I am), you can check out this PDF brochure, which contains lightfastness information for the individual pencils, and select ones from open stock with excellent ratings (***).


Sketching the Pinta in Acrylics

11x17" across a two page spread in a prototype Stillman & Birn Beta hardbound book
Golden Fluid Acrylics
Writing done with Pitt Big Brush Pen
Image can be clicked to enlarge it

It's so much fun to have these large pages that open flat to be able to spread out and sketch across a large expanse of paper. Since I have this extra heavyweight (180lb.) prototype book, I've been doing some sketches in acrylic too. Why be limited?!

The Nina and Pinta replica ships docked in Newburgh, and a number of us from Lower Hudson Valley Plein Air Painters went to sketch them. To our dismay, they were way out on a private marina dock, almost completely blocked from view by yachts in front of them. A restaurant next to the marina, Bill Joe's Ribworks, came to our rescue and allowed us to paint and sketch from their beautiful property, which had a perfect view of the Pinta. Bonus: We all treated ourselves to a fabulous lunch there! Be sure to check it out if you ever find yourself along the Hudson Riverfront in Newburgh.

When I closed the book, the paint in the gutter of the book was still a little damp, which is why it stuck together a bit as you can see in the center of the sketch. This book is really amazing for multi-media work and wet washes. It doesn't move at all!


Expansion of the Hudson River School Art Trail

8.5x11" across a two page spread of a Stillman & Birn Alpha Hardbound sketchbook
Platinum Black Carbon Ink and Watercolor
Image can be clicked to enlarge

On June 2, the official announcement was made about the expansion of the Hudson River School Art Trail to include many new sites. Kevin Avery, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gave a wonderful lecture at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site about these official Art Trail locations as well as other spots where the Hudson River School Artists did some of their most famous work and their plein air studies. (Of course I couldn't resist sketching during the lecture.) Click here to read more about the Hudson River School Art Trail. You can download maps and information on the website.


Lihit Lab Teffa Pen Case and Ohto Comfort Sharp Lead Holders Reviews

This classy-looking pouch is the Lihit Lab Teffa Pen Case. I've filled it with watercolor supplies to serve as a medium size watercolor sketch kit.

Most of you have probably seen my recent review of the Nomadic PE-07 Pencil Pouch, which I use as a very lightweight sketch/watercolor kit. That one lives in my pocketbook and I do love it. It's perfect for those unexpected sketch opportunities that come along while waiting for someone or something.

But I do miss my real brushes, as well as my slightly larger palette for those real brushes. I wanted an additional kit to take hiking and plein air painting, that can work with my custom Arches Rough sketchbook, as well as with the larger 8.5x11" Stillman & Birn books. Those books require the ability to lay down more paint with larger brushes, at least half-pan size paint reservoirs, and larger mixing areas. I ordered this Lihit Lab case to serve that purpose.

As you can see, the front of the case does a great job of holding my brushes, pencils and pens. I considered putting a small piece of Velcro in the center of the upper strip to hold the brushes in place better. The Velcro would give the brushes more security, but would take up space and reduce the number I could fit in there. I decided to try it the way it is first, and it worked just fine.

The brushes were a bit too long and needed help to fit in there. I measured how long they could be, cut them down with a hacksaw, and sharpened the ends with a pencil sharpener so they could be used to scratch out twigs, branches, etc. Then I dipped the sharpened ends in Golden GAC100 to seal the wood. I used old sables and synthetics, since I didn't want to butcher any fabulous brushes that also might get lost out in the field while hiking.

On the left in the above image, you can see my latest favorite pencil lead holders. I've always loved 2mm leads, but the ordeal with trying to keep them sharpened made them difficult to use when convenience is a factor. Well, have I got great news for you! These lead holders come with a sharpener in the end. Yep, problem solved! They are only $3.30 each (and come with a lead) at Jetpens.

I have 2mm leads in many grades of hard/soft, so I made up some labels on a label-maker, and put a different lead into each of the four that I got. Here's a closeup shot of the top of the pencils so you can see where the sharpener is:

Turning over the center divider, you can see how I organized the back of this kit:

My palette and a Mini Mister slide right into the pocket together at the back of the case, and there's room above them for double clip-on oil painting palette cups to hold my water. By keeping one water cup for warm colors and one for cool, I can get by with very little water. As hikers know, water is both precious and heavy to carry! Opposite those are small web pocktes that I use for holding a mini scrubber (from the pharmacy, for brushing gums/teeth), a little vial of Pro White (in place of white tubed gouache), a kneaded eraser, and a metal binder clip.

The palette has velcro on the back of it, and gets affixed to a 9x12 piece of Coroplast (a very lightweight, corrugated plastic), which I've prepared with the other side of the velcro. The palette cups clip onto the bottom of the board, like this:

The empty side of the board then slides into the sketchbook to help keep it secure. You could use rubber bands around the board and page for additional security if you wish or use a large metal binder clip. I can sit very comfortably with everything on my lap this way, and have both hands free.

This little, light setup enables me to paint 11x17 without even having to cart an easel around with me! I put a weightless closed cell foam gardening cushion in my backpack and I can sit almost anywhere in comfort.

So, how did this work out in practice? It worked great! I've taken it out three or four times now, and have come away with a few conclusions:

  1. The Lihit Pen Case is the perfect size for this kit. If it were any bigger, I'd be cramming it with more stuff that would be heavy and unnecessary for watercolor sketching. It fits the palette and exactly what I need to go with the palette. No more, no less.
  2. I desperately need a squirrel mop brush for this kit, since this setup enables me to go large enough to make use of it. I'll have to buy one or two inexpensive ones to cut down because I am NOT butchering my Rekabs!
  3. About half of the brushes I do have in here I won't need. I'm going to whittle down the assortment before I go out again.
  4. Keeping the kneaded eraser in a plastic case is a pain in the neck and wastes time. I'm going to remove it from the case and stick it in with the brushes.


Just Doodling

Just Doodling, 8.5x11" (across the spread)
with a 2.4mm Pilot Parallel fountain pen
in a Stillman & Birn Alpha Hardbound book, 5.5x8.5"

Sometimes I really like to draw nothing at all. Drawing nothing is especially fun with a fountain pen, total exhaustion, and the TV on. Mindless mark-making is one of my favorite ways to relax at night when I'm too tired to do anything else! I'm wishing I'd used waterproof ink so that I could go back with red transparent watercolor and color in the boxes for the DOODLING letters. Too late now!