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!
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