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.




Sunday, September 13, 2015

Meet My Kit

Hello, again!

I'm a card-carrying table work girl.  Don't get me wrong, I spend a lot of time outdoors -- I just prefer to create my journal page at a table instead of in the field.  I carry a small pad of tracing paper and a #2 pencil I can sharpen with my pocketknife with me when I hike or canoe.  When I get home I can trace off my sketch, or just attach the tracing paper sketch with washi tape in my journal.  I also carry Ziploc bags and mint tins to bring home (legal) specimens.

The Case

Because I usually work at my kitchen table, I choose to store my basic journal supplies in an old laptop case.  Any clamshell case that zips all the way open and has plenty of storage compartments works well for me.

See how both ends of the strap connect on one side?  On the rare occasions I carry this kit into the Great and Woolly Wild, it doesn't bounce around, even if I'm rock hopping. 

And this is what I'm talking about.  I can access almost every tool directly from the open kit.  My teenage boys appreciate that feature since they have this bizarre need to eat at regular intervals at my art -- umm, kitchen -- table.  If I'm out in the aforementioned Wild, I can access almost all of my tools simply by unzipping the top of the case and reaching in.


The Supplies

Where appropriate, I'm giving Amazon links to the supplies in my kit.  I am an Amazon affiliate, so a purchase through one of these links sends a little art ka-ching my way. 
This notebook is my favorite paper.  It performs well with all media, and has a good price point. On the rare occasion I want a double spread, I'll tape two pages together along the right hand side, and cut the front page away from the spirals.  I often double the book back on itself while working, so a sewn book doesn't work well for me.  The Hand book journal you see above was a gift from a friend, and not something I'll replace when it's full.


I love Col-Erase!  Nice layer of color, and they disappear when you paint over them. They are not as bright -- or as breakable -- as Prismacolor pencils.


Koi is a neat watercolor option that falls somewhere between student and artist quality.  They have vivid color, but are less translucent than an artist paint. Many of the colors can be used like gouache. I originally bought these to have a wide variety of colors when I was following tutorials, but I find them my go-to paint most of the time now.  I like how Koi performs even better than my QoR artist watercolors on the Visual Journal paper.  Koi doesn't perform well on Arches or other cotton paper.


I have a Rosemary and Company travel Squirrel mop because I have a husband that does amazing things like ordering a paintbrush I covet from England.  This is a similar and highly recommended brush without all of the fiddly overseas shipping.


 I'll be linking to an article on how to use technical pens within the next few weeks.  Unlike a standard office pen, they are used at a 90 degree angle to the paper for best results.  Once I discovered that little tidbit, I had much better luck.  I like the 001 to 03 for sketching, and the 03 to 08 for text and frame work.  You'd be hard pressed to find a better deal on 6 of these pens.


These water soluble pens are the latest addition to my kit.  They do wicked amazing things when touched with water -- teal and fuschia things, to be exact.  Search Elegant Writer on YouTube for a quick tutorial by Karlyn Holman if you've never used these pens.  They also work well for lettering...ha!


Another recent addition...  I like having a divider when I'm doing botanical illustration.  This set doubles as a compass if you like to do magnified views in circles in your journal, and includes a ruling pen with a separate holder.  No instructions are included, but if you search the name of the bit on YouTube, you can find tutorials.  I'll be sharing several techniques using this set in the coming weeks.


This little value and view finder is worth it's weight in gold for a beginning artist.


I have a vintage folding 10x magnifier similar to this one.  Know of a better style or product?  Shoot me a note in the comments, puh-leeeez!


It's a triangle! And a protractor!  And a ruler!  This little gadget is great if you like frames and line work, but it really shines in figuring out angles of branches, leaves, mountain sides, etc.  Again, I have a vintage 1970 engineers' edition, so if you know of a better one, leave a comment.


White Gelly Roll pens allow you to add quick highlights or even text over painted areas without mucking up a paint brush.  A must have at a GREAT price!


A tiny (30 cc)makeup mister is great for small journals.


The rest of the stuff in my kit is widely available at Wal-Mart or Michael's...
  • USA Gold #2 pencils
  • Pentel Clic Eraser
  • Non-photo blue Col-Erase pencil. 
  • Poster putty, which I use in lieu of a kneaded eraser.  I'll be putting a link to an article that explains the benefits of blue poster putty over a kneaded eraser in the drawing skills.
  • Tortillon (paper stump)
  • Hand held pencil sharpener
  • Cellulose sponge cut into bits for painting foliage, stones, etc. stored in my Koi kit.
  • Washi tape.  Search "nature washi tape" on Etsy for some great bargains and styles.  I use this to tape off landscapes for painting or to affix items to a page.  You can wrap a lot of washi around an old playing card or credit card.
  • Binder clips for holding pages open.
  • #2 round, rigger, and 1/2" flat nylon watercolor brushes.
  • Speedball holder with A5 nib.  I plan to replace that with a Pilot Metropolitan as soon as Christmas of this year.  
  • Mesh Drywall Joint Tape is one of my main journaling tools.  I'll feature a whole post on the different things you can do with it, including quickly making lines for text and stenciling in neat textures and borders.
Last, but certainly not least, is the cuff of a sport sock I wear on my wrist to change colors and meter water, and a handful of laminated reference booklets and sheets which I'll be adding to the drawing and painting pages later.

What do YOU have in your journaling kit you can't live without?  Share your favorites with us in the comments below.


Well, hello there!

I'm glad you've chosen to come take a peek at my blog.  Please introduce yourself in the comments.

Who am I?

I'm a late beginner/early intermediate multi-media artist who prefers pencil, ink, and watercolor. I keep what Hannah Hinchman defines as an Investigative Journal:  
 It documents the outer world, but includes many unmeasurable and unnamed phenomena, like the effects of light, ways the seasons change, patterns and textures in nature. It goes outside the categories of the Informational journal and finds links between apparently dissimilar things. Thus it includes more of the person making it, because it’s up to that person to invent new categories. Art in this journal would look more like what we find in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
I am by nature a researcher:  I collect and collate information into a usable form. Thursday's Brush will reflect that tendency -- you won't find a lot of new information or experimentation here.  You will find a reference library of videos, tutorials, articles, and even product reviews and recommendations.

Why another blog?

I want to create a comprehensive, searchable resource for myself and others who are seeking to grow their skill set in drawing, inking, and painting in a journal.  While I prefer to illustrate the natural beauty around me, I'm not afraid to pick the brains of other artists who prefer urban work, graphic design, or just plain doodling. A lot of free information exists for beginners, but after that, instruction becomes a scavenger hunt. If you have a tutorial or video you've found or created, feel free to send me the link and I'll consider adding it to Thursday's Brush.

That's Kind of A Weird Blog Name...

The name is a play on the poem that assigns character traits depending on which day of the week you were born.  Thursday's brush, like Thursday's child, has far to go. I've just started my journey as an artist, and I have a bit of wanderlust, too.