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!


Waiting and Sketching at White Plains Airport

8.5x11" across a two page spread in a Stillman & Birn Alpha 5.5x8.5" Hardbound book
Noodler's Black Swan in Australian Roses ink in a Sheaffer 100 fountain pen
Ink blended with a waterbrush, then transparent watercolor added

It's times like this when I'm especially grateful to be an artist. You could leave me alone with a sketchbook and some art supplies and a few apples, and I'd be fine for days! The rest of the passengers didn't share my enthusiasm for a bit of extra sketching time though.

White Plains Airport is actually a pretty fun place to sketch, with large model aircraft hanging overhead in the tall space. The last time I flew out of here, the flight was cancelled, so I considered myself lucky that the plane was just delayed this time around. The trip itself was so busy that I didn't get an opportunity to sketch again until I returned home.