Lightfastness Tests -- Faber Castell Polychromos Pastels

Faber Castell Polychromos Pastels have been a go-to pastel for artists because they are individually rated for lightfastness, and provide a wide range of colors among the harder brands of soft pastels. Having a lightfastness rating does not mean that a color will never fade; it just means that the company is telling you the degree to which the color is lightfast, compared with other colors.

For these tests, I assumed that the earth colors and grays are about as lightfast as you can get, so I didn't test the entire line of Polychromos. Instead, I pulled out 74 colors from the full set that I thought would be most inclined to fade or shift color. The samples have been in my south-facing studio window in the northeastern US for at least a few hours a day for the past five years. The


Megasketch Monday -- The Long, Meandering Mural Sketch (13x44")

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink, 13x44" mural drawing

Here's a fun challenge for you Megasketchers. One day, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to draw. I felt like working from nature, or nature references. I wanted to do something creative, and not just copy a reference. I wanted to force myself to go right in with high contrast and ink, and for the sketch to be able to evolve.


Rewetting Gouache -- Tips and Tricks

A couple of my gouache (left) and watercolor (right) palettes with some little sketches.
The small, airtight plastic container has titanium white gouache in it.
Lately, many people are saying online that you cannot or should not rewet gouache after it has dried. But I've been rewetting gouache forever. That's why I love gouache as a travel medium. If you don't mind traveling with tubes of paint, and taking the time on location to set up your gouache palette, then just keep doing what you're doing and ignore this post! Personally, I want the advantages of oil or acrylic if I'm going the wet paint route. Gouache offers me portability and compact simplification when those are a priority, such as when out on location or working in a sketchbook. It does not have the feel of that luscious, smooth, wet paint out of the tube, but it serves my purposes.

(Note: "Acryla Gouache" is acrylic paint, not gouache. It cannot be rewet. This post applies only to gouache, which is opaque watercolor, and remains water soluble even after it has dried.)

If you've been struggling with rewetting your gouache, or the appearance of the rewet gouache on your painting, I have a few tips that may be helpful for you:


Thursday Thoughts -- A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish

Although people generally start their New Years Resolutions on January 1, that's one of the worst days for me to begin new challenges and goals. At that time, I'm still inside the holiday whirlwind of activity. It's not until at least a week later that I'm able to begin tuning back into my regularly scheduled life.

That's one of the reasons why a couple of weeks ago, I shared my quote for this year,  "A year from now, you'll wish you had begun today." It's all about renewal on a daily/weekly/monthy/quarterly as well as annual basis. It doesn't have to happen only on January 1.

Starting a challenge or a new personal goal takes more than just thinking about it and coming up with


Megasketch Monday -- Practice Does Not Make Perfect

As a musician, one of the things we learn early on is that practice does not make pefect; rather, perfect practice makes perfect. If you play the same phrase over and over, with the same mistakes, you're teaching yourself to make those errors every time. The more ingrained they get, the harder it becomes to correct them. I think this holds true for how we practice and see things in art too. This is one of the reasons why it's harder to see issues in our own work than in the work of others. Mistakes that we make again and again become invisible to us. When we play back a recording of ourselves playing a piece, or look at our art in the mirror, we get a new perspective on what we've done. Mistakes jump out like a sore thumb.

When I was practicing circles and ellipses, I was concerned that I'd develop faulty muscle memory if I drew a lot of them that weren't exactly symmetrical. I was afraid that I'd stop seeing the symmetry if I got it wrong. (See my previous post, "Lines, Ellipses, Perspective, Cross Contours," if you haven't already.)  Apparently, this concerned somebody else too. I searched around the internet and

A Few Words for the New Year

Every year, I choose a quote for the year, and write it into my planner. This year, my quote is:

A year from now, you'll wish you had begun today.

As we close out 2019, it's an opportunity to look backward and forward simultaneously, take stock of where we are and where we want to be, express gratitude, and make positive changes in our lives. Many of us make a list of New Years Resolutions. But this quote reminds me that every day should be like that -- reflecting, trying to become a better person, implementing new strategies for success in all areas of our lives, and making better choices. We don't have to wait for a new year in order to take action, begin again, or start something new. 

Whether your goals are art-related, work-related, health-related, in the area of personal development, or spiritual, there's no time like the present. Any day can be a new beginning, and this year we get an extra day!

Happy New Year, everybody. I'll be back to my regular posts next week.



Megasketch Monday -- Silhouette Power

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen with Platinum Carbon Black ink

If you open up the Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to the Birds, the first thing you see is a two page spread of bird silhouettes. What always surprises me is that each bird is so identifiable from its silhouette alone. Their poses are also perfectly in character, sitting on wires, standing on a fence post, walking along the ground, or looking up and chirping. Silhouettes seem simple, yet they can tell a


Twenty White Gouache and White Watercolor Brand Comparisons

When I want a bright white highlight on a sketch, I often count on white gouache to do the job. All whites are created equal, right? Wrong. In fact, even all Titanium Whites are not created equal. On my sketches, I've noticed if a brand of white gouache isn't a brilliant white, or isn't opaque enough, or has an annoying sheen to it. Whether this is due to different brands of the pigment itself, or differences in the color of the binders, the whites are not the same. Consistency, texture, ease of application, and sheen also vary, which affect their use and appearance.

Over the years, as I accumulated and used new gouache and watercolor whites, I made swatches of them on gray paper to see how they measured up against one another. Today, I noticed that there were 20 swatches on the sheet, so I thought it was time for a little Reveal Party.


Megasketch Monday -- Drawing Trees

Gouache on black paper
Painted from life in Trish's back yard

For landscape painters, being able to capture the character of a tree, or the silhouette of a distant tree line, is an important aspect of making a successful painting. Project Megasketch gifted me with ample time to study many different ways of drawing and painting these beautiful and graceful living structures. Toward the end of the project, I combined what I'd practiced with some experimental approaches. I hope this post inspires you to push forward with a favorite subject of your own to develop skills and style. It doesn't have to be trees!

Ink and wash, from one of my own photos

Some I sketched from my own reference photos, like the unique tree (above) that resides at the Bronx Zoo. I tried to keep in mind what I'd learned about tree contours in the time I'd spent with the online


Lightfastness Tests -- Charvin Water Soluble Pastel Painting Sticks

In January, 2015, I made swatches of the 48 colors in the Charvin Water Soluble Pastel Painting Sticks set, and cut the strips down the center. I put half of each strip by a south-facing window of my studio, and the other half wrapped up in a dark closet. In another month, it will have been five years since I started the test. By art longevity standards, five years is not a long time.

In case you're not sure which pastels I'm referring to, above is a photo of the set. Here is a link to them on the Jerrys website. They claim to be pure pigment and lightfast. They are certainly well priced! As you can see in the image below, the colors are rated by the manufacturer, some as "**** Excellent" and some as "***Good". But if you know me, you know I often need to prove things for


Megasketch Monday -- Abstract Art and Doodles

Golden High Flow in an empty Montana marker

While many artists are happiest when doodling or playing around with abstract concepts, I get bored to tears. Pushing around paint or pens without a specific image in my mind always felt like a waste of time. I was determined to spend at least a small part of my Project Megasketch time trying to understand what it was about these genres that appealed to others. Maybe it could become appealing to me too. Hopefully I could learn something from it that would be useful in my representational work, or in my appreciation of abstract art in general. Maybe it would improve the quality of my line


Making Friends with Manikins

One of the challenges of Project Megasketch was finding enough subject matter to sketch from life during the winter months. One great solution was the trio of manikins that resides in my studio. If you don't have a manikin, you're missing out. They are fabulous for many different types of studies, such as basic shapes, foreshortening, cross contours, perspective, proportion, motion, dramatic light and shadow, and so much more. Even a great model can't hold an action pose for as long as a manikin!

Set up your manikin in as natural a pose as possible. It can take awhile to find something interesting, that looks like the way a person might actually move. Once you find a pose you like, instead of changing the pose for each sketch, rotate the manikin. Draw the pose from many different angles.


Lines, Ellipses, Perspective, Cross Contours, Bugs and Animals, Oh My!

One of the most important goals in my 600-page Project Megasketch was to develop line quality, and move away from chicken-scratchy type sketches that destroy the flow of beautiful lines and graceful forms. It's difficult to place a line exactly where we want it as it curves around a form, or moves straight across the page.  We compensate by trying again, and again, and again. What we end up with is a hatchet-job of a sketch, created with lots of small lines in an attempt to correct what we didn't do right in the first place. Even if one of those many lines is correct, the sum of the parts is not pleasing.

I searched online to find a process that would lead to an improvement in the quality of my line work, and came upon Draw A Box.  I think it's one of the best free resources for drawing on the internet. Don't miss the opportunity to take advantage of it! If you've decided to take on Project Megasketch, I'd highly recommend that you make it part of your Megasketch journey.

You may get tired of drawing lines and ellipses after several days of it, but the eventual payoff is huge. Don't skip over it. I stopped counting the pages toward Project Megasketch that I spent on the lines and ellipses because there were so many of them. I found them invaluable as warm ups. A couple of months later, I pulled out some vases, pots, pitchers and bottles to sketch. I wanted to see if it helped as much as I hoped. I found that I could draw them directly with ink in just a couple of minutes, and even if they weren't perfect, the improvement in my ellipses when applied to drawings was dramatic.


Project Megasketch -- A Perfect Solution for Your Winter Blues

If you're an artist who doesn't like winter, maybe this post is for you! I used to hate winter. If you live in a cold climate and you're a plein air painter, you probably know what I'm talking about.  One solution for the Winter Blues is to give yourself a special winter art project to break free from your own mold.

Last winter, I embarked upon a drawing/painting/sketching challenge to see objects in a different way, and learn to capture them faster. My hope was that when I ventured out again in the spring to paint, the drawing/blocking in stage would be quicker and more accurate. I wanted to tackle subjects that I found difficult, or required a lot of maintenance and practice, such as perspective, drawing straight lines and round elipses, and being able to sketch a portrait likeness in just a few minutes. I wanted to improve on capturing the elegance and directions of tree branches, the graceful movements of animals, the bustling activity of people walking, and copy some works of the masters to explore their methods. I experimented with mixed media, and broke out all those fun art supplies that I rarely have time to use, or that have been sitting on the shelf untested.

I dubbed this venture Project Megasketch, and began it last November. I finished in April. Maybe it can help you get through the Winter Blues this year, while venturing into new art territory. For those who want to give it a try yourselves, or just follow my project along for ideas, stay tuned. Yours may have different subject matter and goals, but you can create a project that will benefit your art with the development of skills and exploration of techniques by following the process. I'll post regular prompts and examples from my project to help get you started and inspire you in the weeks and months to come. There aren't many rules to follow.

Project Megasketch Rules:

  1. Complete 600 pages, minimum size 9x12"-11x15", in any media. (Or set a different number of pages and size if that's too overwhelming. Make the challenge your own.)
  2. Fill each page. No cheating with half-empty pages!
  3. Work for sale or publication doesn't count. (More about this below.)
  4. Set dates to start and finish. It's okay to adjust that later if you have to. Life happens!
  5. Challenge yourself, but have some fun too.
  6. Trust the process.

Having read this far, if you're still interested, get a few sketchbooks the same size, or one enormous


What happens when you take a year off social media and blog posting?

Well for one thing, you end up with a heck of a lot more time. I logged about a thousand pages of sketches and paintings during the year, experimented with a whole host of media and subjects that I can't wait to tell you all about, spent more time socializing and painting with friends, took on a bunch of artistic challenges, played more music, and the list goes on. But I also missed the online associations. I didn't get Facebook notifications when it was somebody's birthday, and missed hearing about important events in my friends' lives. Thanks to all of my real life artist friends who I see on a regular basis, I never felt like I was in an artistic vacuum, but I didn't get to see all the works that used to travel by on my news feed on social media. 

I also removed my work from the public eye for a year. I retrieved my paintings from all my galleries, did not enter any shows, and posted none of my 1,000 new sketches and paintings. Overall, I have to say that the experience was very freeing! Since nobody would see my work, I wasn't concerned with whether or not it was marketable, or if anybody would show up for show openings. I was free to explore subjects that challenged me, work on drawing, experiment with line work, study anatomy and perspective, copy paintings of the masters, practice constructive drawing techniques, play with abstraction and mixed media, and use whatever I wanted for reference without worrying about copyright restrictions. As a very self-motivated individual, I ended up painting and sketching more than ever, with the time I saved from my self-imposed removal from online interactions.

Now that the year is up, I'm ready to see where this online reincarnation takes me, and how/if it affects the way I've been working for the past year. The sketch above was done in an old, large format music book. It's a watercolor from Muscoot Farm, where my favorite vantage points always end up being smack in the middle of the farm road! The music writing on this page seems to work out well with the composition of the sketch. I got excited about doing the whole book this way, but some other sketches didn't fare as well. After fighting with those, I found it generally better to knock back the music notation a level or two with a thin application of gesso, although that posed some other problems! As the days go by, I'll take you along on my recent art journey. Perhaps you'll get some ideas for your own sketching process too.


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!