Monday, April 29, 2019

Accordion-Fold Flower and Quote Journal

I have a LOT of unfinished sketchbooks, some of which I've been adding to since 2012! These UFOs (UnFinished Objects) don't bother me - I like filling them gradually over time - but I have to admit that there's something very satisfying about finally completing one.

Accordion-fold sketchbook made with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper and added covers

This little accordion-fold sketchbook was started two years ago, then I added a few pages to it last spring, but I had never gotten around to painting the last sketch in it until a week or so ago. Now it's finally FINISHED! Yay! It sure feels good to hold this little gem in my hands.

Accordion-fold sketchbook, 4" x 5-1/2", covered with batik fabric & tied with leather cords

Most of the sketches are of flowers from the gardens here at Summerhill.

This first sketch is of the dwarf echinacea that grows next to the "Fairy" roses by our front porch steps. It blooms all summer long, and I love its deep fuchsia color.

Each flower sketch in this accordion-fold sketchbook is accompanied by a hand-lettered quote, and many have a pretty border outlining the page.

At the height of summer, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) blooms along the stone walk that leads to our back patio.

Roses line that same stone path where it curves under the arched white arbor.

For each of the sketches, I first did a quick pencil drawing to rough in the flower's placement on the page and mark off space for a border. Then I drew a more detailed image with a fine-point waterproof pen. All of the shading was handled in the next step, when I painted the sketch with watercolor.

The purple clematis was drawn with watercolor pencil rather than a pen.

The lines softened a bit when paint was brushed over them, and the colored pencil pigment bled onto the petals.

I like experimenting with different materials in my sketchbooks - it keeps things interesting, and who knows? I just might discover that I like a new tool or technique better than what I usually use. (That's what my 2020 "Sketchbook Journaling Explorations" workshop at Cheap Joe's will be about. Check it out here.)

Last spring I went on an outing with some artist friends to Enlow Fork natural area here in southwestern Pennsylvania, and we sketched the wildflowers that carpet the hillsides for a few weeks every April and May.

The Blue-Eyed Marys were spectacular, and I did this sketch onsite that day, sitting in the warm spring sunshine, happily chatting with my friends and enjoying the wonder of that very special place.

Click to enlarge

The final sketch in my accordion-fold flower journal is a composite of six different flowers we saw blooming that day at Enlow Fork.

Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, flowering quince, Virginia bluebells, bluets, and a buttercup all dance across the page.

I love this little sketchbook. It reminds me of those moments when I was so taken with the beauty of what was in front of me that I felt compelled to grab a brush and paint it. It brings back afternoons when the most important thing I had to think about was the turn of a petal or the color of a leaf.

It reminds me that life is good, and beauty is all around me, if I only pause my frantic rushing, take a deep breath, and look with fresh eyes at what's right in front of me.

If you would like to make an accordion-fold sketchbook with watercolor paper, click here for instructions (generously shared by artist Marc Taro Holmes on his blog). My sketchbook was made using just a quarter sheet of 140 lb. paper and has 4" x 5-1/2" pages, but larger sketchbooks may be made with half and full sheets of paper, with page sizes up to 5-1/2" x 7-1/2".

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Guest Post: Cathy McCort & Her Yearlong Calendar Project

We have a guest blogger today, my good friend Cathy McCort from Washington, PA. Cathy was one of six students in the very first sketchbook journaling class I taught back in 2014. She had never picked up a watercolor brush before that class, but wait till you see how far she's come in five short years!

When I first had the idea to do a monthly calendar back in March 2018, I shared it on the Facebook group I have for my students and asked if anyone else was up for the challenge of sketching every day that month. Cathy accepted the challenge and RAN with it, completing not just 31 but 365 days of calendar sketches! It's an amazing accomplishment, and one of which she should be justifiably proud. I wish you could have the pleasure of examining each of these 9" x 12" calendars in person. The vibrant colors pop off the page, and the creativity, humor, and zest for living that's shown here tells you a lot about the wonderful woman who created them.

Now, let's hear from Cathy and see each of her wonderful calendar pages...

Completing 12 months of tiny calendar drawings was indeed a challenge but I was intrigued from the beginning. 

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Most of the time I painted every day, but sometimes life got in the way, and I would play catch-up by painting several days at a time. Either way, I loved the idea of documenting some life events or just painting an object or idea that I came across that day. 

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Deciding what to paint is always a challenge for me. I wanted to break free of the little squares at times, and I also chose to do some themes as in July and August.

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I'm not going to lie, some months were more of a struggle than others but I'm just OCD enough to not have given up!

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I loved this exercise mainly because it kept me painting for an entire year even if only for a short time each day.

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I have framed these twelve pieces in simple frames and they are hanging on a wall in my family room. 

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I haven't been painting very long, and so for me, this is a huge accomplishment, and I love it! Leslie, thank you for the idea and the constant encouragement!
~ Cathy

Thank you, Cathy, for sharing it with us!

This exercise offers a wonderful way to record life in all its variety - the ups and the downs, the happy times and the days that are a struggle, the joyful moments and the things that drive us crazy. It shows the richness of our experience of being in this world, of making our way and living life to the fullest. Brava! to Cathy for persevering and creating something absolutely WONDERFUL!

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Thursday, March 21, 2019

February Calendar Sketch

Life can become a bit of a blur sometimes, can't it? One day merges into the next and before you know it, another month has gone by. I have trouble remembering what I did yesterday, not to mention last week! But I've found that keeping a daily sketched calendar is a great way to capture days and moments that might otherwise be forgotten.

Ink & watercolor in a 12" x 9" Kilimanjaro sketchbook filled with 140 lb. off-white watercolor paper

I started this practice last spring and did a few months' worth of calendars (see March and April), then when workshop season arrived, I put it on the back burner. On January 1st of 2019, I started up again and have really enjoyed the process over the past two months. (See January Part I, II, and III) I have now completed five months out of the year, and I plan to eventually have a calendar for all twelve, even if they're done in different years.

I vary the layout each month to see how creative I can get with my boxes. February was easier than most, since there were only 28 days in it this year, which made four identical weeks.

After I drew the layout in pencil, I laid 1/8" blue painter's tape over the lines. (To make 1/8" tape, I sliced 1/4" tape down the middle with a #11 Xacto blade.)

I penciled in the dates, so I wouldn't get confused and forget a day, then started adding my daily sketches. All the sketches were drawn with a Sakura Pigma Micron 01 pen.

The month included sewing, exercising, snowy weather, buying new glasses, learning to make my own sketchbooks, and getting ready for a teaching trip to Florida...

There were fun, happy days, like when some friends came over to paint on the 5th, and less-than-fun days like the 7th, when I spent a long time in the dentist's chair, and the 14th, when I received some discouraging news from my doctor.
I left the wintry weather behind on the 18th when I flew to Tampa, then spent two wonderful weeks teaching, relaxing, and enjoying the Florida sunshine.

Designing these little triangles was challenging. With such a limited space, the sketches had to be very small, especially if I wanted to include some lettering, too. To keep things interesting, I varied the lettering styles in lots of different ways, just like I teach in my introductory sketchbook journaling classes. Here are a few simple ways to alter a standard printed lettering style:

  • Use all caps or all lower case letters
  • Add serifs to the letters
  • Elongate the letters
  • Make letters short and fat
  • Make the letters more rounded (like on my Feb. 22 sketch)
  • Add curlicues to the letters
  • Use bold block letters
  • Fill block letters with varied patterns, such as plaid, stripes, & polka dots
  • Put dots on the ends of each letter
  • Curve the line of lettering
  • Make the letters "bouncy" (some up, some down)
  • Use cursive instead of printing
  • Thicken the downstrokes of printed or cursive letters 
  • Place the lettering on a banner
  • Use a fancy lettering style from your computer

At the end of the month, after all the boxes were filled with sketches, I knuckled down to finalize the design of the rest of the page. I decided on a bold lettering style for the title, hoping it would stand out against all the busyness of the triangles that filled the page below.

I added the three quotes that I had chosen to border the page then taped off the three sides using 1/4" painter's tape. The quotes were hand-lettered using a pointed dip pen and black ink.

Using the same colors I had used earlier on the triangles, I painted a border wash of blended colors around three sides of the calendar. The trick to seamless blending is to keep all of the paint the same degree of wetness as you paint. Mix up plenty of paint on your palette before you put brush to paper, then work quickly to cover the area with wet paint, then don't touch it again while it dries! Flooding wet paint into a drying wash is a surefire way to get blooms. Also, using a skimpy amount of paint and a fairly dry brush will result in lines, overlaps, and irregularities in a wash.

I like the bold, chiseled look of the lettering, painted with just two colors, a light aqua and a medium-dark blue.

Decorative motifs help to draw attention to the title.

The final step in completing this page was to add some darker values to the daily sketches using richer, more concentrated mixtures of the background wash in each block.

I think adding the darker values helped to make each block more cohesive.

Keeping a daily sketched calendar definitely takes commitment, but I enjoy taking some time each day to work in my sketchbook, and all those little snippets of time add up to a wonderful gem that's filled with memories.

This February calendar brings a smile to my face every time I look at it, remembering all the events, places, and people that were a part of my days. 

Click to see larger image 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

January Calendar - Part III

My January 2019 daily calendar is finally finished! I chose cool blues and purples for the borders and the spaces between the blocks. It seemed the perfect choice for a month filled with every kind of cold, dreary weather you can imagine.

12" x 9", ink & watercolor in an American Journey watercolor journal

It took awhile to do all that detail work...

I think I'm ready to work on something big and splashy next. (Well, maybe after I finish the February calendar I'm working on, which has 28 more little shapes to fill!)

I'm off to Florida tomorrow to teach in Bradenton and Sarasota. Can't wait to soak up some sunshine! I'll check in when I get back. Meanwhile, click on the image below for a larger view of January, in case you want to see the individual entries....

Click to enlarge

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Taking a Chance

As I painted this sketch yesterday, I thought about all the chances I've been offered in my life, the ones I took and the ones I didn't.

Watercolor sketch in a 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman & Birn Delta series sketchbook

And as my thoughts meandered back to younger days and decisions I'd made that impacted the course of my life, I knew with a deep certainty that the best decision I'd ever made, the one chance I took that affected my life more than any other, was to say "Yes!" to this man...

He's been with me through the ups and downs, the joys and the tragedies, the days that were filled with happiness, and the ones that left me reeling. He's a good man with a good heart, and I'm so thankful to have him in my life. He's the solid foundation of my life that has made all things possible.

Happy Valentine's Day
to my one and only, 
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