Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thumbnail Sketches - All Dressed Up!

One of the lessons I taught my students while in Tuscany was about using thumbnail sketches to zero in on a scene and test out various compositional options. I suggested using a separate sketchbook page for the thumbnails and later turning that page, with its accumulation of tiny scenes, into a dynamic page in its own right. I thought you might like to see how this works, how I build a "dressed up" gridded page from a series of simple thumbnail sketches and the addition of a few design elements.

On the day of the lesson, my students and I parked ourselves in a shady pine grove with views of the surrounding countryside and began to narrow our focus by sketching small sections of the endless view, limiting our thumbnail sketches to simple pencil drawings of the main shapes of the scene. Details were not necessary.

Outdoor class at Fattoria Bacio

I snapped some photos of the scenes I sketched, so I could refer to them later, then we all chose one of our thumbnail sketches on which to base a larger drawing, and went to work on that in our sketchbooks.

This week at home, using my photo references, I turned each of my rough thumbnail pencil sketches into a miniature painting. All together, they bring back a week's worth of wonderful memories.

Here's the process:
First I tidied up the messy grid I had drawn onsite by using 1/4" painter's tape to mask off borders around my sketches, being sure to "de-sticky" it before using so it wouldn't damage my paper. (I probably should have done this in the beginning, onsite, but I was in a rush at the time and just dove into working on my thumbnails.) I then added more drawn details to each scene and inked them with my Platinum Carbon fountain pen (extra fine tip). I filled in some empty spots in my grid with new scenes drawn from my reference photos. Two of the gridded boxes were allotted to lettering.

Step 1 - Taped grid, line drawings, first washes

I laid down my light to medium base washes (plus a few darks here and there), as shown above, and let them dry fully.

Next it was time to make those sketches come alive with the addition of darker tones and shadows.

Step 2 - Darker washes

Then, the big reveal....

Step 3 - Lots of white space

Peeling off the tape revealed the pristine white borders around my sketches. I loved the look of the page, and I probably should have just left it at this stage, but I felt like the titles got a litte bit lost among all the paintings, so I added a dotted outline around the title boxes...

Step 4 - Dot border on title boxes

Hmmm, it looked good, but the two boxes felt disconnected, so I made a dotted line to connect them.

Step 5 - Connecting dots

I thought it might look nice to carry over the dotted motif to the outside edge, so I added a simple dot border around the entire page.

Step 6 - Dotted line border

Lastly, I masked off inside the dotted border...

Step 7 - Masking tape

and painted a variegated wash around the outside edge of the page to echo the colors of the title boxes.

Step 8 - Painted border
10" x 7", ink & watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

Was that an improvement? Or did it look better with the white space around it? I think maybe I should have stopped at Step 4 or 5. What do you think?

I tend to like to push the limits in my sketchbook and keep adding elements to my pages until I feel they're finally complete. There's an element of risk in that approach, because I may overdo it and wish I had stopped earlier in the process, as in this case. But what I do then is to simply turn the page and move on. After all, it's just a piece of paper, and I have plenty more of them.

Sketchbook journaling is about the process, not the end result. The tests of a successful page are:
  • Did I have fun?
  • Did I record a memory or experience?
  • Did I learn something?
On all counts, I give this page a resounding YES!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

2016 Tuscany Workshop

Imagine yourself wandering through the cobblestone streets of this medieval hilltop village in Tuscany. You stop at a sidewalk cafe for a cappuccino and pull out your sketchbook to begin drawing an ancient stone building across the way. Sip.......look........paint........see. 

This is the way we experience Tuscany, taking the time to meander and explore, or to simply sit and enjoy. It's a different way to travel, without the pressures of trying to see it all.

You'll take home a journal filled with colorful images and a story that only you can tell. 

My week-long 2016 workshop at Fattoria Bacio in Certaldo, Italy, is now open for registration. Visit my Italy Workshop page for all the details. 

To learn more about what our week will be like, you might want to check out my blog posts from this year's workshop. Just look in the Blog Archive for the October 2015 posts.

(The workshop is already more than half full, so register soon!)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

2016 Workshop Schedule

I've put together an exciting line-up of classes for 2016 - see all the details on my US Workshops page. I'll be teaching on both coasts and across the pond, so check out the schedule and see if there's a workshop that might be right for you.

Here are a few of the highlights...

In January, I'll be teaching in Florida for the first time at the beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Why not take a break from the snow and ice and head south for "Sketch Your Life! An Introduction to Sketchbook Journaling" January 21st and 22nd? There's so much to see and do in Sarasota - it's a wonderful spot for a winter getaway.

I'll be returning to San Clemente, California, in February for a three-day watercolor workshop and one day of plein air painting at Casa Romantica. If you've taken my sketching classes and wished you felt a little more confident with watercolors, here's your chance to learn some great techniques for painting landscapes and seascapes.

My five-day workshop at Cheap Joe's Art Stuff in North Carolina (May 9-13) will be fun for newbies and experienced sketchers alike, with lots of great sketchbook journaling projects to play with plus watercolor instruction. Sign up before November 9th for a 10% discount off the workshop price.
View of the Blue Ridge Mountains

If you've always longed to see the rocky coast of Maine, consider attending my June workshop at Primrose Cottage in Owls Head. Last year's trip was amazing, and I can't wait to return and share this wonderful place with another group of artists. I can only accommodate five participants, so let me know right away if you'd like to be a part of this very special group.
Sketch this view from the porch at Primrose Cottage

I'm opening up my home studio in Ruff Creek, PA, in August for a three-day "Sketch Your Life!" workshop for those new to sketchbook journaling. Jumpstart your creative process with this low-stress, high-fun workshop.
We'll sketch flowers from my garden during the August workshop at Summerhill 

"Sketching at Summerhill" will start up again in February and continue into the fall, with the usual instruction, sketching time, food and wine. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather will cooperate this winter!

And finally...ITALY! I'll be returning to Tuscany next September 24 - October 1. Registration details will be available very soon, so stay tuned!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Step-by-Step Watercolor: Fattoria Bacio

In one of my recent posts, I promised I would show you the step-by-step process I used to paint a sketch of Fattoria Bacio, our workshop location in Tuscany.

The villa is perched on top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.  One pretty fall morning, I walked out along the ridge, about 1/4 mile from the villa, and found a spot that gave me a great view of our temporary home.

I started with a very rough pencil sketch, just to block in the major shapes of the fields and buildings, then I inked it with my Platinum Carbon fountain pen filled with Platinum Carbon ink.

10" x 7" Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

I applied the first washes of color, starting with the sky and painting it wet-in-wet, then I let it dry before starting on the landscape. For the base wash on the landscape, I primarily used olive green and raw sienna. Wetting the page along the lower edge of my drawing allowed the paint to run, giving it a soft, diffused look.

Next, I painted a base color on the olive groves, then began adding medium value tones to everything. I indicated the rows of grapevines by letting my round brush dance across the page, creating irregular lines.

 Next, I filled in the palest shades of color on the buildings.

Spots of darker color were added to window openings, roof overhangs, bushes, and the large tree.

A few more brush strokes were added to the vineyards, and I judged it finished.

Or was it?

After I got back home, I took a look at the page. I liked the sketch but kept debating about whether or not I should add some hand lettering. I liked the vignette effect I had achieved, but I kept thinking the page needed a little something more.

So I added a title...

and then played around with some options for a small decorative element to set off the lettering, finally deciding on this one...

Here's the final result...

10" x 7", ink & watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

What do you think? Were my additions a good idea? Or should I have stopped when the vignette was complete?

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the way I work. :)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day Trip to San Gimignano and Saying Goodbye to Tuscany

It had been a fantastic week at Fattoria Bacio and our final days gave us more of the same. The sunrise Thursday morning was spectacular...

and the skies cleared by breakfast time, forecasting a perfect day for our trip to San Gimignano.

But as we ate our breakfast, a stealthy fog began to fill the valleys, gradually covering all but the tops of the hills. A trio of hot air balloons moved silently overhead, their view of the countryside obscured by a blanket of white...

Lucky for us, though, when we gathered an hour or so later for our trip to San G, the views were back, beautiful as ever...

We stopped on the way to take a photo of our group, with vineyards, hills, and a view of the towers of San Gimignano in the distance.

(Left to right) Debbie, Rebecca, Candy, Suzanne, Linda, Eric, Saundra, Leslie, Joann, Geraldine, Nancy, Larry, & Maurice

600-year-old walls still surround the medieval hill town,

and most of the city is pedestrian-only, making it a pleasure to stroll the narrow lanes.

We visited on market day...

and after meandering through the market for an hour or so, we rewarded ourselves with a gelato from the award-winning Gelateria Dondoli. As expected, it was amazing!

There were plenty of opportunities for sketching things both big...



and small...

Shopping was a lot of fun, with leather goods, ceramics and clothing being the specialties.

We made it back to Fattoria Bacio in plenty of time for another one of Patrizia's extraordinary dinners. This one was accompanied by the estate's special dessert wine known as Vin Santo.

To make Vin Santo, white grapes are harvested and then laid out to dry in a well-ventilated attic area where the flavors and sugars in the grapes are concentrated before pressing. Fattoria Bacio's Vin Santo is then aged for fifteen years, so the wine we enjoyed at dinner had been made in the year 2000. It was served with almond biscotti which we dunked in the wine. Heavenly!

Our final day in Tuscany started with one last lesson in the studio.

I gave everyone some pointers on designing a title page for their travel journals, and we all worked on finishing up some pages that had been started earlier in the week.

Larry used a color box to push the subject forward on this page about San Gimignano

Joann's colorful composite page about a trip to Certaldo

Use 1/4" painter's tape to mask off boxes for a gridded page like this one from one of my students

We had an optional trip to the medieval hamlet of Barberino in the late morning, but some of us opted to hang around the villa for some quiet time.

I decided to stay behind and spend some time painting...

After all the busyness of the week, I really enjoyed grabbing an hour or two for myself.

I'll add some journaling to this page later

Geraldine attracted a crowd as she sat nearby. Who knew cats would be so interested in someone eating an orange? It's not like she had an open can of tuna fish, after all. Silly kitties!

We had a gelato party outdoors under the chestnut tree in the afternoon. A day in Italy just isn't complete without enjoying gelato at least once!

After a little more time painting, and a final dinner, we said our farewells and promised to keep in touch. The students gave me a gorgeous handmade scarf from San Gimignano as a thank you gift.

They must have read my mind, because I almost bought myself the exact same scarf on Thursday when we were in town! Imagine my surprise when I opened the package and saw the scarf I had been yearning for.

They were a great group of people, and I count myself blessed to have had a chance to get to know each one of them. I hope they enjoyed the trip as much as I did. I was inspired by their artwork and their upbeat attitudes every day. Thanks, guys! I couldn't have asked for a better group of friends to accompany me on my first teaching trip to Europe.

And now I'm looking toward the future! I'll be announcing details for my 2016 workshop in Tuscany next week. The dates will be September 24 - October 1, 2016. I am also working on arrangements for a watercolor workshop in Provence in 2017, so watch for information coming soon!

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