Friday, March 29, 2013

My Travel Sketching Supplies

In my last post I showed you the fabric organizer that I made to take along on my upcoming trip to Italy. I thought you might like more specifics about what's going in the kit.

If I had to, I could get by with nothing more than a pencil, a Pitt pen and my sketchbook. Sometimes that's all I take when I go out to sketch, but for this trip, I want options. I'd like a good selection of watercolors and brushes, and a few choices when it comes to tools. It may look like a lot when it's all laid out here in the photos, but everything will fit into my compact kit and be easily stashed in my backpack.

First and foremost is the sketchbook. I've decided to take two10" x 7" Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbooks. (Info about where to buy Stillman and Birn sketchbooks can be found here.) The Beta Series contains white 180 lb. cold-pressed paper which doesn't warp when it gets wet or allow ink lines to show through to the reverse side. It should be perfect for my watercolor travel journal. The Beta doesn't usually come in a 10x7 landscape format but when I called Stillman and Birn a few months ago to inquire as to whether they had any plans to offer that size, the wonderful folks there said they'd be happy to make a few for me, just to take on this trip. Can you see why I love this company? Great products and nice people - the perfect combination!

My palette will be a Heritage Folding Palette with 18 wells. It has a leakproof seal and a nice roomy mixing area. I set this one up a few months ago with Brenda Swenson's recommended color selections, and have enjoyed playing around it. I'll have a chance to really get comfortable with some of these new-to-me colors on this trip. The 18 colors in the wells are (from upper left):
Lunar Black
Burnt Sienna
Quinacridone Sienna
Viridian Hue
Cobalt Teal Blue
Cerulean Blue
Marine Blue
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue Light
Cobalt Violet Light
Rose Violet
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Scarlet Lake
Winsor Orange
Quinacridone Gold
Raw Sienna
Hansa Yellow Medium
Leaf Green

I added a few convenience colors in the upper mixing area:
Sap Green
Olive Green
Payne's Gray
Yellow Ochre (I couldn't bear to leave it behind, even though it's very similar to Raw Sienna)

These paints are a mix of tube colors from Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, American Journey, and Holbein. When filling the wells with paint, I make sure it's level, not mounded, and allow it to dry overnight. When I'm ready to paint, I'll spritz the dry paint with water and allow it to soften a bit.

The brushes below are what I normally use for plein air painting. The rounds are sables from Cheap Joe's, and the flat is Cheap Joe's Golden Fleece. (I usually include a #8 round, also.)  #6 and #8 rounds are what I tend to use the most when I'm sketching outdoors. The tiny #0 is mostly for lettering text and drawing electrical wires or fencing. I sometimes take a rigger brush, too, for painting tree branches.

I have a love/hate relationship with water brushes. The biggest drawback to them is how difficult it is to control the water flow. I also don't care for the quality of the bristles. They may come in handy though, when it's not convenient to set up a water container, so I'll take them along.

Check out my new water container ...

It's a collapsible silicone mug that only weighs 2.1 oz. and collapses down to just 1/2" thick. It will slide right into one of the outside pockets of my sketch kit. It can be expanded to hold just a small amount of water or opened up all the way to hold 16 oz.

Okay, I know you're going to think I'm going overboard with the number of drawing tools I'm packing, but here's the justification for what I'm taking: I usually do a quick preliminary sketch with a mechanical pencil to get the proportions and perspective right, then use my fountain pen to do the actual drawing. But this vacation is primarily a sketching trip, and I think it would be a great time to try doing some sketches with a heavier pencil line like the 4B, and watercolor, but no ink. I'd also like to do a few sketches with the blue-grey and chocolate Derwent watercolor pencils. We'll see if it actually happens.

I only own one type of fountain pen - the Noodler's Nib Creaper Flex pen. That's what I do most of my sketching with here at home and what I plan to use on the trip. But sometimes pens clog or nibs get scratchy or a hundred other things can happen that might make me wish I had brought an alternate means of sketching, so I'm taking a few felt tip pens along, too. Workhorses like the Pigma Micron pens and Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's pens are great for sketching and I'm comfortable using them. I'm sure they will be put to good use.

The white gel pen is for adding highlights that may have been lost in the painting process. I don't use it too often, but sometimes a white accent is just what's needed.

Here are a few odds and ends that I'll throw in the bag...

  • The metal spatter screen is fun and easy to use to add a fine spray of texture to a sketch.
  • The piece of vinyl screening can be loaded with paint and pressed onto the page to add a pattern or texture.
  • The rubber band will hold down the pages of my sketchbook on a windy day.
  • The red acetate value finder is something I should use but rarely do. It simplifies a scene into values of light and dark, eliminating the distraction of color. On this trip, I want to pay more attention to value in my sketches, and this simple tool might help (if I remember to get it out of my bag and use it!)
  • The Noodler's Lexington Gray ink is my favorite for sketching as it's waterproof and fast-drying. I also like that the color is just a tad softer than full-on black. I'll be using this ink to refill my fountain pens.
  • The small sprayer is for rewetting the paints on my palette prior to painting. I also use it to wet the sky area on my paper for wet-in-wet painting.
  • The small tube of white gouache is for adding highlights. I rarely use it, but may take it along.
  • A small piece of old credit card comes in handy to scrape away wet paint for various effects.
  • A 6" plastic ruler helps me lay out pages for a gridded composition.

As if all that weren't enough, I've decided to take along a folding three-legged stool. My painting buddy, Suzie, and I figured we're going to be spending a lot of hours sketching and we might as well be semi-comfortable. It's springtime, and the ground may be wet - best not to be sitting down there with the worms and slugs.

Buddy the cat thinks he might like to come along :)

And the last art supply I'm taking is my cute new hat. It's packable, and has enough of a brim to keep the sun out of my eyes, but doesn't look like beach wear. I think it will be just perfect.

I've been planning for months, now let the fun begin!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Everyday Artist Sketch Kit

I've been searching the internet for months looking for the perfect travel sketch kit that would hold all the basic art supplies I like to take along when I travel. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and make one myself.

The Challenge
I like to carry a backpack when I go out sketching, so that, in addition to my art supplies, I can carry a water bottle, a jacket, and my camera. Usually I just stash my art supplies in the various outside pockets of the pack and put my sketchbook, palette, and tube brush holder in the large interior compartment. But it wasn't always easy to remember which of six different pockets held a particular item, and trying to fish around in the interior to find my sketchbook underneath my jacket and behind my lunch just wasn't cutting it anymore.

The Idea
I needed an organizer that I could use in conjunction with my backpack - something with space for my sketchbook and palette, along with a built-in brush holder, a pencil and pen holder, and pockets for various other items.

The Solution
The Everyday Artist Sketch Kit

Exterior view of 9" x 12" x 2" sketch kit

The outside of the kit features pockets to store items which need to be readily accessible.

Open outside pockets

The handles are short because they will only be used to pull the kit out of the backpack. I don't plan to carry it anywhere on its own.

My 10" x 7" sketchbook and Heritage palette rest in slots which are accessible without opening the kit, so I can quickly reach into the backpack and grab the sketchbook without taking the whole kit out.

Top view showing palette and sketchbook slots

Here's where things really get exciting! When you open the Velcro closure, the brush, pen, and pencil slots are revealed, along with another pocket.

Inside view

The kit has internal stiffening to allow it to stand on its own, as shown above. I can sit and sketch with all my supplies at my side. The kit can stand on the ground, on a chair next to me in a restaurant, or on a table top.

Another standing option

The kit can be doubled back on itself and still stand, saving space, as shown above.

Now let's take a closer look at what goes where. The idea of the open outside pockets is to stash the most basic supplies where I can reach in and grab them without removing the kit from my backpack. The upper pocket holds a pen, pencil, and eraser while the lower pocket has folded paper towels and tissues which I use when painting.

Outside easy-access pockets

On the other side of the kit, there is a large elongated pocket with a flap. This is for odds and ends that I may want to take along such as a value finder and spatter screens.

Large outside pocket

To stiffen the spine of the kit, I made a slot to hold a 1" wide plastic ruler which sometimes comes in handy when I'm laying out a gridded page.

Inside view

The left inside is for paintbrushes in a wide range of sizes. I like to have a good selection even when I'm on the road.

Paintbrush storage

I stitched down a piece of heavy vinyl in the area behind the brushes to protect the base fabric from water and paint, then added an additional flap of vinyl over the brushes to protect the brushes themselves. It simply folds back out of the way when I need to pull out a brush. There's plenty of air circulation around the sides and bottom to allow the bristles to dry.

Paintbrush protector flap

On the right inside I made slots for water brushes, pens and pencils. I think I'll add a few more pens and a couple of water-soluble colored pencils for my trip. The pocket at the top holds odd-shaped items such as a small water sprayer, pencil sharpener, kneaded eraser, and a tube of white gouache. A collapsible water cup would be a good addition here.

Inside pocket and pen storage

A nice feature of the pocket is that it's actually two pockets in one. There's a foldover flap on the main pocket to hold the contents securely, but the top is not sewn down. This makes another open pocket behind the first one, where I can store additional pens or pencils.

Double pocket

Here's the whole shebang, ready to roll. Isn't it adorable? :)

This was my prototype, and I'm already working on a second design which will offer a few improvements. I'll try that one out on my Italy trip and report back. So far, the kit seems very convenient. I love having everything organized and accessible. It's great being able to pull the sketchbook out from the top, grab a pen from the outside pocket, and start sketching. I can keep it simple if I like, but everything I might need is readily available. Seems like taking matters into my own hands was the best solution to my eternal search for the perfect sketching organizer!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Winner of An Illustrated Journey

I loved reading all your comments this week and hearing about your favorite vacation spots. It's nice to feel a connection with all of you. Thanks so much for taking the time to write.

When it came time to pick the winner of the free book, I decided to do it the old fashioned way. Instead of using an online random number generator, I had my grandson Nicholas draw the winning number from twenty-one slips of paper that I put in a basket.

And the winner is commenter #2 - Crystal Smith. Congratulations, Crystal!  I hope you and your son enjoy the book. Just drop me an email at to arrange for delivery of An Illustrated Journey.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Giveaway -- An Illustrated Journey!

In a mere eighteen days, I am going to be on my way to Italy! I can't tell you how excited I am at the prospect. My sketching buddy, Suzie, and I will be housesitting for a friend for ten days in Vicenza, in northern Italy, then we'll travel south for a taste of Tuscany and Florence before heading home. We're looking forward to soaking up the beautiful scenery, learning about the culture, tasting the wine, and eating lots of gelato.

We'll both be sketching like mad and keeping an illustrated travel journal of our adventures - everything from those first hours of waiting impatiently for the flight to leave JFK, to sipping an expresso at a sidewalk cafe in Venice. I can't wait to get started!

Because I love travel sketching so much, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Danny Gregory's newest book, An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration from the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators, and Designers. Reading about the unique approaches and styles of the various artists featured in the book gave me lots of great ideas for things I might want to try on my own illustrated journey.

And because I want to share the fun with all of you, I've decided to host my first ever 

Page from An Illustrated Journey by Danny Gregory

One lucky person will win a brand-new copy of An Illustrated Journey. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post.

Page from An Illustrated Journey by Danny Gregory

I'd love to hear about where you'd like to vacation if you had the chance, or where you're going this summer. Or just say hi, but be sure to enter!

Page from An Illustrated Journey by Danny Gregory

I'll announce the winner next Friday, March 22nd. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cupcakes for Callie

My sweet little granddaughter, Callista Rose, is five months old today! I think she's just about the cutest baby I've ever seen, and her happy personality and great big smile have brightened our lives immeasurably these past few months. 

I started a baby quilt for her before she was born and finally finished it a few weeks ago.  (Guess I spent more time playing with the baby than sewing :)

It's based on the traditional Irish Chain pattern, with appliqued cupcakes filling the empty squares between the pieced areas.

 I embroidered her full name and birthdate by hand using DMC floss.

I selected a font that I liked on the computer, then printed out the lettering in the desired size. A blue washout marker was used to trace the lettering onto the fabric, then I did the stitching.

The collection of cotton quilt fabrics included a border print which I used as the main border around the pieced area of the quilt.

Other strips of the border fabric were cut and used as binding for the quilt. Precision was necessary to have just the portion that I wanted on the design to show, like this thin line of darker pink on the back.

The quilt is backed with creamy white non-pilling polar fleece. It provides a nice soft surface for the baby to lie on or under, and it's a breeze to quilt. I machine quilted Callie's Cupcake Quilt on my Bernina 1630 sewing machine.

I sketched out lots of design possibilities for the cupcakes, then narrowed it down to just eight.

They have fluffy frosting and sprinkles...


 chunks of chocolate...

M & Ms and fondant flowers...

wavy lines of frosting and a cute little heart on top.

The quilt has a light polyester batting which keeps it soft, supple, and not too heavy.

As a finishing touch, I made Callista a ruffly diaper cover to match her quilt...

Callie loves her new quilt from Grandma!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New! Watercolor Prints

I am happy to announce the opening of a new online shop for my watercolors. Many of the sketches you see on this blog are now available online as fine art giclee prints (digital ink jet reproductions.) I'm partnering with Fine Art America, a print-on-demand service which offers an amazing array of possibilities for art reproduction. My artwork will now be available as prints on paper, canvas, or metal, as well as in greeting card format.

Step 1: Select a sketch, Step 2: Choose the print format

I encourage you to click on this link and pop on over to the website to play around with it a bit. Select a painting, then try out various combinations of matting and framing options. A 3-D rendering will show you exactly how the artwork will look with the selections you've made. 

Step 3: Select frame style and mat colors

For years my art has been offered for sale at our local gallery here in Waynesburg, PA (and will continue to be), but until now I haven't had a convenient way to offer high-quality prints of my work to people who don't live nearby. I'm glad I finally found a way to do that.

I've uploaded over thirty of my paintings and sketches to start and will continue to add more. If there is something you'd like to see in my shop, just let me know. I hope you enjoy looking around.

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