Friday, March 16, 2018

France Sketchbook - Day 3 - Versailles (continued)

I spent ten wonderful days in France last summer, and I've been working off and on to finish up my travel journal from the trip ever since then. I posted my sketches from Paris right after the trip but never got around to posting anything from my time in Provence. I've been loving working on this sketchbook, and I thought you might enjoy seeing the pages that I've completed so far. In case you missed them earlier, here are the posts I wrote about the beginning of the trip:
Bon Voyage!
France Sketchbook - Day 1
France Sketchbook - Day 2 - Paris
France Sketchbook - Day 2 - Paris (continued)
France Sketchbook - Eiffel Tower Step-by-Step Watercolor Tutorial
France Sketchbook - Paris Edibles
France Sketchbook - Day 3 - Versailles

I left you at Versailles the day before we were to head for Provence. (See this post.) When we returned to Paris from our tour of the palace, we spent the rest of the day just meandering...

Click to enlarge and see the full two-page spread

Ink & watercolor in a 6" x 8" handmade sketchbook filled with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper

We checked out the vendors at a little outdoor market we found...

Then we had lunch at a nearby cafe, settling in at an outdoor table so we could watch the parade of people walking by. There was a mix of tourists and native Parisians, and you sure could tell the difference!

I love the shop windows in Europe, and especially in Paris. They're just beautiful! I find myself taking pictures of them everywhere I go.

I finally decided to sketch one of them - the window of the Ladurée macaron shop. Isn't it just dreamy?

Here's my sketch...

Ink & watercolor in a 6" x 8" handmade sketchbook filled with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper

I used Fine-Tec metallic watercolors for the elliptical design surrounding the tower of macarons. I wish you could see the shimmering gold line work and lettering better. The scan doesn't do it justice. The Fine-Tec paints look just like gold leaf.

I wanted to be faithful to the look of the Ladurée window, so I kept my colors to a range of pink shades, but, look at what I didn't include...a rainbow of luscious greens, yellows, blues, and chocolate browns!

The whole shop is gorgeous...

Look at that chandelier and the filigree wall...

It's hard to control yourself when faced with all that temptation, but the prices introduced an element of restraint.

I bought a couple of macarons and my friend, Candy, splurged on several flavors, too, so we had a chance to share and try quite a few varieties.

By the time we walked all over Versailles and roamed the streets of Paris for an entire afternoon, we were beat and just couldn't face up to another marathon walk back to our apartment, so we finally got up our nerve and tried the Metro.

Candy and my mother, Saundra

I don't know why we were so nervous about it - it was easy and convenient (once we figured out how to purchase our tickets). Next time I'll be a regular Metro rider.

We toasted Paris with one final Aperol Spritz, then packed our bags, ready for the next adventure.

Coming up next: Arriving in St. Remy-de-Provence

Monday, March 5, 2018

"Fickle February" Sketch + Step-by-Step Swirly Vine Border

Last month it seemed like the weather just couldn't make up its mind. We experienced snow, rain, ice, fog, sleet, high winds, and warm sunshine here in western Pennsylvania. After the weeks of extended cold in January, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw crocus leaves pushing their way up through the melting slush in early February. It seemed too early; surely there would be a blizzard the next week!

Two-page spread in a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" hardcover Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook. Ink and watercolor.

I was so excited about those first green leaves on the crocus that I decided to start a page in my nature journal about the February weather variations. I had already laid out a border on this page about a year ago, but then never got around to putting anything else on the page. It was just waiting for me to fill it with sketches! (Scroll down for instructions on how to draw and paint this swirly vine border.)

But, in all my excitement, I mistakenly picked up a pen that had water-soluble ink in it instead of permanent, so when I started to paint this first sketch of the crocus popping up through the snow, the ink ran. It looks okay, but it was tricky to paint the leaves without the color getting muddy. I made sure to use my Platinum Carbon Desk Fountain Pen with Platinum Carbon waterproof ink for the rest of the page.

The day after the first crocus sighting, we had 2" of snow! For my sketch that day, I painted a wash of cobalt blue, let it dry, then drew snowflake designs on top of it with a white Signo Uniball gel pen.

A few days later, I hosted a Summerhill Sketching workshop here at my house. It was such a beautiful warm day that I opened the windows to let some of the fresh spring air in during our sharing time. It felt so good!

The next day we had a ton of rain that resulted in a lot of flooding in our area. I was out and about that day, so I treated myself to lunch at a cute little restaurant that sits above Dunkard Creek. The creek was out of its banks and flowing around the trees, which usually stand high up on the river bank above the water. I sketched the scene from a nice dry spot inside the restaurant.

I decided at that point that I'd better fit in a title before the page was filled with sketches. I used a pointed calligraphy nib loaded with watercolor to do the lettering.

On February 20th, the crocus buds finally burst into bloom! I took my sketchbook outside and sat in the sun to draw them - my first plein air session of 2018!

I was waiting for another change in the weather to fill the final space on my page, but it stayed warm that whole last week of the month, so instead of doing another spring-like sketch, I decided to paint the big beautiful full moon for my last sketch of the month.

I've never tried painting a night scene before, so I did a little practice sketch on a piece of scrap paper to figure out how to handle the subject matter. I ended up using Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, and Payne's Gray for the cloudy sky and moonlit landscape. I love how it turned out - I think I'll have to try this again sometime on a larger scale.

I wanted the sketches to be viewed chronologically on the page, so I used red arrows to make the images flow from one to the next.

Click to enlarge for a more detailed view

Now here's the promised tutorial on how to draw and paint this swirly blue vine border....

I started out sketching the the main sections, lines, and shapes on the border in pencil first, then I inked everything. Here's how to do it all, step-by-step:

1. Start by figuring out how many spaces you want to use on each side of your page. Use an even number of spaces, so that the design will flow symmetrically around the corners. (Mine has six divisions on the short side that's shown in the photo.) Place a dot at each division point. The dots should be centered vertically in the space. Draw a wavy line as shown below. The line goes slightly above and below the initial dots and curves around the corners.

2. Draw a small circle above or below each dot, as shown.

3. Add a leaf shape to the left of each circle.

4. Add rounded leaf shapes to fill in the remaining space, as shown below.

5. Add curlicue lines in the rounded leaf shapes.

6. Partially fill in the circles, leaving a white center.
Outline the vine pattern with more concentric lines until the entire border space is filled.

The design is now ready to paint.

(Please excuse the poor quality of these next photos. I didn't take the time to scan the steps as I painted the border but just snapped pictures with my phone.)

Tape off the outside edge of the border with 1/4" blue painter's tape. (Always be sure to press the tape against your clothes first to reduce the stickiness before applying it to your paper.) Paint a base wash of light blue over the entire border.

After the first wash is dry, paint a new layer of darker blue on everything except the leaves and circles. Let it dry.

Paint a third layer of medium-dark blue one step away from the leaves, as shown below.

Finally, paint a very dark blue-black color on the sections that are one further step away. After the last layer is dry, carefully peel away the painter's tape. (Always pull the tape off at a shallow angle rather than back on itself. It's much less likely to tear your paper that way.)

Even though this border design is somewhat complex, it works well on this very busy sketchbook page, because I've limited the colors to a range of blues. The blues in the border echo the colors in the sketches and help to unify this spread made up of six separate sketches.

After the entire page was finished, I added one more tiny sketch...

The return of the bluebirds are one of my favorite signs of spring - I'm glad I thought to include one on my Fickle February sketch.

I enjoyed having a continuing project throughout the month of February. Looking for signs of spring helps us northeasterners to get through the last of winter. It's gotten colder again since March began and there's snow expected this weekend, but I've started another project that will help me to make it through to April. I'm working on a daily calendar, filling in one little box each day with things that are happening in my life. I'll be sure to share it with you when it's finished.

Happy spring - keep on sketching!

If you'd like to learn how to keep a sketchbook journal,
join me March 9-11, 2018, 
at Summerhill Studio, in western PA,
for a three-day workshop entitled 
"Sketch Your Life! An Introduction to Sketchbook Journaling".
Read all about it on the US Workshops page here

Monday, February 19, 2018

Super Simple Slip-On Sketchbook Cover

Have you ever heard of oilcloth? It's a finely woven cotton fabric that has a waterproof vinyl coating applied to one side. I happened to spy some cute oilcloth on the clearance table at Hobby Lobby the other day and thought, "Wouldn't that make a great sketchbook cover?"

So, I snapped up a half yard of a couple of different designs and came home and whipped up some easy slip-on covers for my hardbound sketchbooks.

If you can't find oilcloth locally at a Hobby Lobby or Jo-Ann Fabrics, here are two online sources:

Since oilcloth is vinyl-coated, it doesn't ravel when it's cut, making construction an easy process. You will need a sewing machine to sew the seams, but trust me, it's easy!

Begin by gathering your supplies:
  • Oilcloth (Yardage depends on the size of your sketchbook. A half yard would be enough for any size you might want to cover.)
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Flexible tape measure
  • Double-sided tape
  • Pencil
  • Sketchbook to cover

Step 1 - Measure the sketchbook to determine what size to cut the fabric.

To determine the CUT WIDTH, place a flexible tape measure inside the back cover, 1/2" from the gutter.

Measuring the width

Holding the tape measure in place, continue wrapping it around the outside of the back cover, across the spine, across the front cover, and inside the front cover.

Note the measurement on the tape that is 1/2" away from the gutter. For my sketchbook, the measurement was 23 1/4". This is the CUT WIDTH of the book cover.

Purple line shows the width measurement

Stop the measurement 1/2" from the gutter 

To determine the CUT LENGTH of the cover, measure the length of the sketchbook and add 3/4". For my sketchbook, that measurement was 9 1/4". (It might be best to add an extra 1/4" the first time you try this, to make sure the cover doesn't end up too tight to slip on.)

Step 2 - Use a pencil to draw a rectangle on the wrong side of the oilcloth. It should measure CUT LENGTH X CUT WIDTH. Mark the center of the long side at the top and bottom with a small pencil tick mark.

Center mark

Step 3 - Position the cover on the sketchbook, wrong side out. The tick marks should be positioned over the center of the spine.

Positioning the cover

Tuck the end flaps inside the front and back covers. Make sure the cover is centered perfectly and the flaps are the same width in the front and back.

Cover fabric in place on sketchbook

Step 4 - Begin to pin the cover in place. Insert pins lengthwise in the seam allowance. Do not pin anyplace that is NOT in the seam allowance, as the holes will show in the finished cover.

Pin the top and bottom seams on the front and back covers.

Cover pinned in place

Remove the cover from the sketchbook.

Cover pinned and ready to sew

Step 5 - Stitch the pinned seams with a 1/4" seam allowance. Backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam. Remove pins as you approach them along the seam line.

Stitched seam

Cut across each corner to reduce bulk, as shown.

(At this point, you may want to turn the cover inside out and do a test fit to see if you need to take the seams in a bit more, then proceed with Step 6.)

Step 6 - At the spine area, where there is no stitching, place a piece of double-sided tape in the seam allowance.

Double-sided tape in spine seam allowance

Pull off the tape backing.

Fold over the seam allowance. Press it in place with your fingers.

Step 7 - Turn the cover right side out. Push out the corners using a something pointy, like a mechanical pencil with the lead retracted.

Corner of the cover

Step 8 - Install the oilcloth cover by folding the front and back covers of the sketchbook back on themselves and sliding the fabric cover on. It helps if you work each end simultaneously, sliding it on an inch at a time.

Sliding the oilcloth cover onto the sketchbook

The completed cover should fit nice and snug. If it doesn't, you can flip it inside out again and take in the seams a bit.

The cover is bright, pretty, and waterproof, just right for protecting my sketchbook from wear and tear.

These basic directions could be expanded upon by adding an outside pocket to hold pencils and pens.

You can tuck ephemera like ticket stubs, business cards, etc. under the inside flaps, and the cover can even be reused for other sketchbooks of the same size. How about making a matching slipcase to slide the whole sketchbook into for stashing in a backpack or art bag? So many possibilities!

Give this project a try. The only challenge may be in deciding which of the many colorful oilcloth fabrics to choose. Will it be polka dots, floral, stripes, plaid, or camo? Pick one to suit your mood, then give it a go!

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