Monday, August 29, 2016

How I Choose My Multimedia Paper

Most  watercolor teacher-artists will recommend Arches paper, professional watercolor paint, and perhaps a mid level brush with the encouragement that you upgrade as soon as possible.  I understand their thinking:  they don't want students struggling with a Royal Langnickel Box from their local TJ Maxx.  Here's the real secret, though: Arches is consistent.   Any brand of professional watercolors perform well on Arches paper.  Any technique is possible --  and beautiful -- on Arches paper, too.  Most brushes -- and, let's be honest, even sticks --paint well on Arches paper.  It's not hard to see why that paper has become the international standard for watercolor fine art and the preferred supply for teaching watercolor.

But there's a little-talked-about phenomenon in the watercolor multi-media world.  Lots of different papers work really well.   Brilliant, translucent, and predictable, many student grade paints are actually easier to work with than their professional grade counterparts.  Whether a brush costs $2 or $32 they both have strengths and weaknesses.  The bevy of other supplies from watercolor pencils to technical pens often peform better on paper that isn't designed specifically for watercolor.  That said, watercolor is still the main -- and most demanding -- element in our work.
A 9x12 multimedia spread

The challenge in watercolor multi-media is not to find a perfect paper, but to learn the quirks of a paper that accepts all the media you normally use.


1.  Normally, I run a basic watercolor test first.  I don't want to commit any time to a paper that doesn't permit my go-to techniques.  I generally use only one pass of watercolor over the entire inked piece, and then possibly a second pass that hits shadow shapes if necessary.

Absolute essentials: I'm watching the paper for show through, pilling, rippling (some buckling is normal), and graying in addition to being able to use these watercolor techniques.

Dry brush? Tea and milk consistency paint, water in #2 or 3 round hair brush squeezed out before picking up paint, paint metered on sponge or paper towel before touching to paper.
Light wash? Tea and milk consistency paint, water in #2 or 3 round hair brush metered before picking up paint, and paint metered before touching to paper.  I specifically test for flat and graded washes at this point.
Aquabrush?  Tea and milk consistency paint lettering and light washes done with the large Pentel Aquash waterbrush.
Dropping in color? Touching a light wash of a different color into an area that's just painted.  If paper is too absorbent, it simply creates spots instead of blending seamlessly. If the paper is too smooth, the colors completely mix.   I use this technique extensively, so this is one of my main tests.
Softening off/pulling color?  Another go-to technique of mine that I won't live without.  Some multimedia papers don't allow the paint to budge once it's down.  It's like using a marker instead of paints.  
Can I glaze small areas without lifting or muddying the work underneath?  Not a deal breaker, but definitely need-to-know. 

Nice, but not a must if the paper is very good with pencil/pen & ink:

Juicy wash? Tea and milk consistency paint in a #8 round squirrel brush, washing large areas without metering paint.  Common for skies, meadows, bodies of water.  Other techniques can be used if the paper can't take a juicy wash.
Multiple layers:  Tea consistency paint in a juicy wash over large area with #8 round squirrel.  Drying time, and then light to juicy washes with #2/3 round hair.  I rarely use multiple layers because the work is rendered in ink first.
Wet in wet? Dampening a small area before dropping in a light wash.
Scrubbing? Removing a drip or wobble.  I don't scrub multimedia paper as a rule.  I either paint around the area I wish to leave, or mask it.
Lifting? Can a barely damp brush remove color once it's placed?  Will frisket come off easily?
Glazing? What happens when a light wash is gently brushed or dropped over an area that's already painted?  On very smooth multi-media paper, the color underneath sometimes lifts or reactivates and blends. 
Watercolor Pencils/watersoluble graphite?  Is any pencil work left, or does it completely dissolve?  How far can I pull the color?

2.  Next, I test a range of micron pens and my fountain pen for smooth flow in any direction.  Paper with too much tooth catches the tip of micron and rapidograph pens.  I also evaluate drying time for the ink as well as how well watersoluble ink "pulls" with a waterbrush.

3.  Lastly, I test normal graphite with both a #2 wood pencil and a mechanical pencil.  Does it smear? Make a permanent dent in the paper?  Run when touched with water?  Can it be fully erased?

My final consideration is price:  
Can I afford to work in this book every day?  

The only way to level up skills in multi-media is to work every single day. I love tutorials, and books, and classes, and facebook groups, and new art supplies as much as the next person, but only actual practice improves my skill set.  If a book is too precious, and I put off working in it, then it's not a good book for me!

My go-to multi media paper is the inexpensive Canson XL  Multimedia 9" x 12" spiral book which performs beautifully with the equally inexpensive Pentel Aquash waterbrush.  The pricier Strathmore Vellum finish Multi-media Visual Journal or 400 series comes in a close second.   What's your favorite multi-media paper?



 I am an Amazon Affiliate and will receive a small percentage of the purchases through these links.

Painting with Middle Values

Original Article:  The Elegance & Power of Middle Values in Painting by David Rankin

Summary:  Rankin uses 18th century master works to demonstrate the skillful use of middle values to create the illusion of depth.  He includes explanations of how to translate these skills to your own work.  Limiting the use of deep darks and whites and isolating them to a single plane is emphasized.

This viewfinder is made of middle value material with included instructions on how to use it as a value finding tool.  I like mine because its very sturdy and multifunctional.



I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small percentage of a purchase through this link.

Erasing with Blue-Tack instead of Kneadable Eraser

Original article: Using Blu-Tack in place of kneadable eraser

Summary:  Blue-Tack is superior to kneadable eraser because it will not transfer graphite back onto the paper.  Demonstrations for lightening tone, complete erasure, and spot/shape erasure are included in the article.



I am an Amazon affiliate and recieve a small commisssion on purchases through this link.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Power of One

A recent decision to get fully invested in watercolor (gulp) left me scrambling after reviews and samples for the better part of a month.  Because here's the thing:  

I work best with limitations.

When I have too many choices, I get over-caffeinated ferret brain and produce nothing.  When I am limited, my creativity blooms.  I call it "The Power of One."  I've been developing skills and preferences for the better part of two years.  I've tested dozens of products, and know which ones are worth the cash, and which ones are a little posh for my work and skill set.  I chose to downsize to ONE Studio Bag (The canvas Harbor Freight rigger's bag) and fill it with...



Paper:  Kiliminjaro 140#  natural white watercolor, 12 x 9"(3:4 ratio)

Proper paper is my passion and priority.  For now I am focused on working in a spiral journal format, so I purchased the 12 x 9" 140# Natural White Kiliminjaro with interleaved sketch paper because it is the closest journal on the market to what I anticipate creating*.  Will the Kiliminjaro always fit my needs perfectly?  No.  But I know that consistently working on the same size/aspect and kind of paper will help my composition and painting skill level soar.  I've already created 3"x 4" and 6"x 8" stencils. that allow me to quickly subdivide the page keeping the same aspect ratio.  No more paper compromises!

*I am currently testing 9 different types of watercolor paper to determine my favorite "workhorse" paper.  By the roll even expensive papers are fairly reasonably priced.

Paint:  Da Vinci, Low Intensity Triad influenced gamut 

What does "one" mean with paint?  One color?  One brand?  I decided on one gamut housed in one palette box. Learning the difference between a limited palette and gamut masking from James Gurney's website made the decision to limit gamut instead of palette an easy one.   I've been drawn to Low Intensity Triads since I started painting two years ago, and understand now how a pigment way outside a triad can easily be manipulated into that triad's gamut.  I have a marked preference for Da Vinci paint, and a soft spot for Daniel Smith's mineral pigments.  

Brushes: 1 Mottler, 1 Flat (Aquarelle), 1 Mop, 1 Round, 1 Rigger

Again, how did I want to define one?  One brush?  One brand?  I chose one good quality brush of each type of brush I commonly use in a single small zippered case.  My most expensive purchase, the da Vinci Series 36 round, was about $35.  I already owned the mop and rigger, and purchased the mottler and aquarelle during the April art site sales for a song.  My budget would have allowed top of the line or multiple sizes, but my brain intervened.  If I get desperate, I have whole sets of synthetics in every imaginable size packed away in a teaching tote.

Pen & Ink: One of each type of pen I use, sepia ink.

This was WAY hard. I have a long standing love affair with pens and ink. After debating an upgrade to a TWSBI mini, I chose to keep my Pilot Metropolitan Fine nib (which works brilliantly!) and purchased the Tachikawa T-40 Holder with the Nikko G Nib to replace my gronky plastic holders.  I purchased Noodler's #41 brown to use with both, and the Nikko G works with watercolor paint as well. I bought one sepia Pitt Artist technical pen, and  packed away all of the other pen multitudes with either my office or stationery supplies.  The Tachikawa will be my main weapon but there are times when a fountain or technical pen is simply more practical.
I've been using black ink for a couple of years, and I'm ready to take the linework down a notch.  I like the look of both sepia and gray, so I'll start with sepia and work from there.

Extras:  One of each, quality determined by frequency of use.

Yup, I did it!   One mechanical pencil instead of a pencil case full. 1 pencil sharpener.  1 (divided)water cup. One triangle straight edge. One razor knife. One magnifying lens.  Guess what?  It feels wonderful!!!!

Working from a single studio bag with high quality, familiar tools has freed me.  I'm excited about moving forward with my journals producing sketches and studies, my favorite work.  Will I ever produce studio pieces?  I honestly don't know.  Right now, studio work holds little appeal for me, but if I ever do decide to pursue watercolor as art, I have a wealth of material to work from!

How about you?  What sparks your creativity?  Do you function best on the Power of One or soar when you have a wealth of material to explore and play with?  Do you have other ways in which you limit yourself in order to free your creativity?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Customizing the Winsor Newton Sketcher's Pocket Box (2015)

Few travel watercolor kits are as beloved -- and customized -- as the Winsor & Newton Sketcher Pocket Box.  I'm no exception.  I purchased the pocket box for its diminutive size, and switched out the paint to better suit my needs.  You may remember that I'm a fan of the Koi kit from my Meet my Kit post.  I still use Koi on wood pulp paper, but I also need a paint kit that plays nicely with cotton paper.


One of the things I love about the pocket box is how well it works for beginning watercolorists with no change at all.

The colors in the box -- lemon yellow, a couple of cads, a quin maroon, ultramarine, a couple of pthalo blues/greens, and a handful of earth colors --  are a nice mix for a beginning watercolorist to learn urban and pastoral landscape, florals, and portraits.   Only two of the colors, sap green and burnt umber, are formulated with more than one pigment. A few of the pigments are pleasant surprises.  "Viridian" is actually the versatile Pthalo green (blue shade), PG7 and "Alizarin Crimson" is the gorgeous PR206, Quinacridone Maroon.

Photo by Inky Dinky Doodles.  Click the link for a full color chart from the original pocket box.
Factoring into my changes..
  • I'm an intermediate level painter just beginning to develop my own personal palette.
  • The sketch pocket box is just that:  a set of paints that work well for ink and wash.  I am not attempting photorealism or gallery style art in the field. 
  • I primarily paint botanical subjects and simple rural landscapes in New England.  Gray and grayed colors are important in my world.  
  • Value trumps color for me.
  • I use 2 -3 paint colors per painting, and rarely use a true yellow/blue/red triad. My box reflects a set of triads more than a complete palette. A recent chickadee on a branch was painted with Burnt Sienna (PR101), Ultramarine, and Pthalo Green (BS).  
  • I usually work in either a 5-1/2 x 8"  or a 9 x 12" journal. I rarely do more than two passes on a piece, and prefer to do just one (charging color rather than layering).   New England is humid/freezing, and paints can take hours to dry enough to add another layer.
  • My goal is to mix the shades on the paper using only two colors from the palette.  The two greens are an exception (yellow or blue adjusts the shade, red or purple the tone).  For greens, I mix up a "mother green" in one of the palette spaces and then charge in another color as necessary.
  • Unlike most American artists, I prefer the soft glow of earth colors to the more brilliant transparent pigments.  Trevor Chamberlain is my favorite watercolor artist.
  • I am thoughtful about my choices, and change pigments as reluctantly as I change friends. Like any nature journalist, I do occasionally swap out colors if I find redundancy or am in a short season where a different color is more appropriate.  For example, in the spring, Permanent Rose (PV 19) will briefly replace Perylene Maroon (PR 179) for wildflower season.
I customized my box with the following pigments.  I tried to find a high quality photo of each color painted out, and they appear as close to life as possible when using the Safari browser on Apple devices.

Lemon Yellow (PY53)  The pocket box comes with Cotman Lemon Yellow (PY 53), one of my favorite yellows.  When the student grade was gone, I replaced it with WN Professional Lemon Yellow, also PY53
PY53 resembles aureolin's soft yellow hue and its tendency to dull in masstone. It is a relatively weak pigment in tints and has moderate mixing strength with other paints, but creates wonderful pastel greens, browns and blues; and mixed with a touch of burnt sienna, it makes an interesting naples yellow. This is my preferred light yellow pigment for an earth palette.  ~Handprint.com

QoR Indian Yellow (hue) I don't care for cadmiums, and removed the Cad Yellow that came with the set immediately.  QoR Indian Yellow is a convenience mix that exactly matches the yellows native to New England.  Indian Yellow is also the yellow in my go-to 4 color restricted palette. This transparent hue makes rich and varied greens with the Pthalos included in the palette, and lends the earth colors a warm, golden cast.  With the ultramarine blue, I can quickly achieve grayed greens that are suitable for landscapes.  This spot has been Quin Gold in the past and may be again, but for right now, I find the Indian Yellow (which contains Quin Gold) more useful.


QoR Pyrrole Red Light (PR 255)  Cad red was quickly replaced with the more versatile PR 255 (also called Pyrrole Scarlet).  I can create very dark green/blacks using PR 255 and the Pthalos or a wide range of oranges with the yellows.  PR 255 is the red in my 4 color palette. Winsor Red is a similar shade (PR254), but semi-opaque rather than semi-transparent.


WN Perylene Maroon (PR 179) replaced the Cotman Alizarin Crimson (PR 206 Quinacridone Maroon) once I used it up.  I prefer the moodier Perylene to the sweeter Quinacridone.  Thinned to a tint, Perylene Maroon makes a nice colors for pink noses on the ears, noses, and paw pads of mammals.  Mixed with PG 7, Pthalo Green (BS), PR 179 creates a black that is as deep as india ink.


QoR Quinacridone Violet (PV 19) replaced the nearly useless Chinese White.  Quin violet is another superstar mixer.  Quin violet warms Pyrrole Red Light up to a bright cherry red and deepens Pthalo Blue to a moody indigo.  Quin Violet is the color of the sky at sunrise in my neck of the woods, which is why it edged out Dioxazine Violet for palette space.  PV 19 is the wild child of my 4 color restricted palette.

Cotman Intense Blue (PB 15) I left alone.  I have a pro grade of Pthalo Blue if I ever choose to use it, but I find the intense blue a little more manageable to mix in the small amounts I use than the atomic Winsor Blue Green Shade.  Pthalo blue (GS) is another favorite, and one of my basic 4 palette choices.  Intense blue is easily adjusted to any color from turquoise to indigo, and makes a beautiful olive green with Yellow Ochre, moss green with Burnt Sienna, and gray-green with Raw umber.  PB 15 and Indian Yellow make a classic sap green.

Ultramarine Blue (PB 29) is included in the Cotman palette, and I used it until I was able to replace it with the Daniel Smith PB 29.  I use Ultramarine as a mixer only -- it's wonderful for graying down all the warm colors in my palette or making beautiful purples with the Quinacridone Violet or Perylene Maroon.  New England skies tend to be a mix of ultra and pthalo blue.  Both Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber make deep, lively grays when mixed with Ultra Blue.  I often sketch in just Burnt Umber/Ultra Blue and then add a touch of color later.

Greens were considered a primary paint color during the Renaissance, and are an invaluable starting point for botanical and landscape work.  The two greens on my palette are single pigment twins, Pthalo Green Blue Shade and Pthalo Green Yellow Shade.  Pg7 and PG 36 can be used interchangeably.  I tend to mix them with the reds in the palette most often.   I keep them both in my palette because they behave differently even though they look almost alike.

WNC Viridian (PG 7)  I think of this shade as my "male" green.  It's aggressive in tints, doesn't disperse well wet in wet, and tends to granulate.  A garish blue-green, it makes deliciously deep blacks with PR 179 Maroon and a gorgeous night sky color with PV 19, Quin Violet.  A wide variety of "shadow greens" is possible with PG 7, making it an invaluable color for botanical work.  It also can be quickly grayed for use on distant hills.  PG7 is a good starting shade for cooler evergreens as well.  Lastly, PG7 is a necessary pigment when painting the ocean and larger lakes in my area.  True Viridian (PG18) requires a great deal of skill to use well -- PG 7 is a much more forgiving pigment. Like the Pthalo Blues, Pthalo Green is powerful and staining and more difficult to use in the small amounts necessary for journal work, which is why I stuck with Cotman for this pigment.

WN Winsor Green (PG 36) replaced Sap Green, a  convenience mixture. I think of this as my "female" green:  it disperses quickly wet-in-wet, tints other colors without overpowering them, and produces a lighter, brighter version of each mix than the Viridian.  PG 36 mixes a lovely purpley-gray with Perylene Maroon.  I almost never mix this shade with the yellows because it produces an other- worldly green.  I find Winsor Green more difficult to work with than sap green, but worth the learning curve to have a single pigment.


WN Yellow Ochre (PY 43) came with the palette and I avoided the color for over a year.  Recently another nature journalist on a facebook page listed this pigment as "indispensable" and I was intrigued.  I studied the little I could find on the internet, and began incorporating PY43 more and more into my work.  In mass tone, the Winsor & Newton is the color of my mother's refrigerator from the 1970's, but in a wash it turns into a hazy gold that transforms everything it touches. I ordered -- and disliked -- Daniel Smith Yellow Ochre which has a definite terra cotta tinge.  WN has the perfect golden glow.

WN Burnt Sienna (PR101) is in virtually every painting I make.  I don't care for the cooler PB7 from other manufacturers, because the PR101 is the color of the iron that stains our soil, rocks, and rivers in New England.  Burnt Sienna and Pthalo make beautiful mossy shades of green/gray, and Ultramarine turns it a true deep gray.  Many of the birds in our area have this rusty-red color in their plumage, and it's common in the fur of woodland animals.

WN Burnt Umber (PY43, PR 101, PB7) replaces the Cotman cake that came with the kit.  Burnt Umber is a teddy-bear brown convenience hue that easily cools with a dab of Ultramarine.  I originally replaced the Burnt Umber with the QoR Raw Umber (PB7), but straight PB 7 and I have issues.  Burnt Umber and Ultramarine make deep blacks and a wide range of grays that work well for doing two color pieces in the field. (The pocket box has 3 palette wells in the lid which work well for mixing a puddle of Ultra blue, a Puddle of Burnt Umber, and a Puddle of neutral gray.)  Very quick sketches are possible with all three puddles pre-mixed.  Any color can be glazed on top of a grisaille painting once it's dry.  

Why no Payne's gray or Neutral Tint?  I like to mix my gray from Ultra and Burnt Umber so I can "tune" it warm or cool.  If I'm graying down a color, I use its complement, not gray.

I first looked into the Pocket Box and upgrades after seeing this John Muir Laws post a couple of years ago.  He eventually went on to create a huge palette of colors for field use, but his tiny customized pocket box is still a great resource for those who like to paint with a limited palette.

Have you customized the Pocket Box or another common palette or did you create your own?  What do you consider your indispensable colors?  Feel free to pop a link to your own palette in the comments below.



Thursday, September 24, 2015

Favorite Books for Nature Journaling

It's Thursday again, and I'm so glad you could join me.  I'm cracking open the door to my library today.  I'm an Amazon Affiliate, so buying through these links helps support Thursday's Brush.  Be sure to check out the second hand sellers for a bargain, and remember that most of the authors provide a wealth of free information on their websites so you can preview their style.

Art Technique Books



Newbie?  Claudia Nice's original book on keeping a sketchbook journal is out of print, but nearly new copies are available for under $5.  Covers beginning drawing, pen and ink, pencil, watercolor, and loads of technique.  An inspiration reference if you've kept a journal for a couple of years.



 If you're familiar with drawing, inking, and watercolor basics, choose this book instead.  Hundreds of textures explained and illustrated step-by-step.  When I grow up, I want to art like Mrs. Nice!




Two of Gordon McKenzie's reference books in one cover.  Hands down the most valuable watercolor book I own.  Geared to fine art, most of his work is multiple washes on huge sheets of paper.  Don't let that scare you off -- all of the techniques can be adapted for journal work.  No pen and ink work is included, but several chapters on composition are included.



Field Guides



I prefer a field guide that's biome based instead of carrying a separate book for flowers, trees, insects, etc.



Colorful, simple fandex guides are a fun tool if you're working with elementary aged children or if you're new to nature yourself.  They make great stocking stuffers, too.

Nature Journaling



If you purchase only one book for nature journaling, make it this one.  The gold standard.  Although based on creating a scientific, informational journal, the art lessons are some of the best anywhere.



This lovely book is out of print and available at a wide variety of price points.  Hannah Hinchman books are my ideal of what I want my own nature journals to be.  Widely available through interlibrary loan.



Illustrating nature was written for classroom use.  Primarily designed to teach informational (scientific) illustration.  Samples from the book as well as other workshop workbooks focusing on art technique are available on her website, natureworkspress.com




A definitive resource for informational nature journaling, and a favorite of most nature journalers.  As an investigative nature journaler, I was glad it was available at my local library.

Give us a peek inside your own library!  What are your favorite books and field guides?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Favorite Free Video Resources for Nature Journal Work




Mind of Watercolor  Join Steve Mitchell, a professional illustrator with over 30 years of experience, and his sidekick skull, Reese, for watercolor tips, techniques, and tutorials.  Lots of nature work and tons of fun. 

Watercolor Misfit  Carrie Luc seeks to educate and encourage others with her pen and watercolor classes.  Floral and cartoon work with step-by-step tutorials for finished pieces.  

Ashok Kosla  Ashok faithfully films and uploads all of John Muir Laws' nature journaling workshops full length.  Don't miss Laws' unique style as he teaches technique covering supplies, composition, and sketching tutorials for flora, fauna, and biome.  Beginner to Advanced in every video.  The sheer amount of info in these videos is mind boggling.

Cathy Johnson  Cathy has been keeping a journal and teaching since before I was born.  Her style is as simple and graceful as a haiku.  If you have a tendency to overwork, spend some time with Cathy's videos and on her website.

Gay Kraeger's Watercolor Journaling Class  Gay's video class introduced me to Mesh Joint Repair Tape as a can't-live-without journaling tool.   Learn loads of great tips for beautiful graphic design work in a journal.  Geared to beginners.

Karlyn Holman's Elegant Writer Tutorial  If you want to learn to create loose, artistic pieces from a simple nature illustration, don't miss this tutorial.  Buy the  Elegant Writer 4 Calligraphy Marker Sethere for a quarter the cost of a single marker in the hobby store.

Do you have a favorite video for nature journaling or water color?  Share it in the comments below! Note:  We will not be publishing art journal video links (layered journaling technique featuring gesso, acrylic, stamping, collage, etc.) at this time.