Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bon Voyage!

Today's the day! It's finally here. This afternoon I'm flying to Paris! I've been dreaming of this for years. I remember buying a Paris guidebook almost twenty years ago in the hopes that I would somehow find a way to visit that magical, mythical place one day. It all seems unreal, the fact that I'm now one of those people who flies off to Europe to see the sights and visit all the places that have starred in the books I've read, the movies I've watched, and the songs I've listened to all my life. But it's real! And it's happening in just a few hours. Yippeeee!

I've been awfully busy this past month getting everything ready for the trip. I had to write up all my lessons and print the handouts for my French Escapade workshop in Provence, send preparatory emails to my students, shop for a comfy pair of shoes, figure out what sketchbook to take, fill my palette, and gather my supplies, plus my garden had to be planted and the flower beds whipped into shape. But all that is done, and I'm ready to go.

I packed much lighter this time than I did last fall on my trip to Italy. It's going to be hot in France, so lightweight summer clothes are the rule of the day. I did a sketch the other day of the clothes I was loading into my suitcase, and then, as I painted it, I thought, "Gee, do I really need that many pairs of capris?" Nope, so I pulled a pair out. I'm ordinarily a fairly heavy packer ("Oh, but I MIGHT need it!"), but I amazed myself this time. My suitcase isn't even full. (That leaves more room to bring home lots of irresistible goodies from Paris and Provence!) Anyway, here's the first sketch in my Provence 2017 sketchbook....

12" x 8", ink & watercolor in a handmade hardcover journal with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper
(Click to enlarge)
Comfortable shoes are a must on any European trip, since we do so much walking. I'm taking my black SAS sandals, which feel heavenly on my feet...

and my blue Teva sandals, which I also love...

and a pair of flip-flops for the pool and to use as slippers in the hotel room. And since it's going to be in the 90s when we get there, a dip in the pool will feel really good at the end of the day, so I packed my cute polka dot swimsuit, and a cover-up.

PJs are a necessity - I packed my black and white polka dot ones. I didn't realize they matched my swimsuit until I started painting the sketch. Funny. Wish I hadn't put them right next to each other on the page. Oh, well.....looks like I have a theme going here.

The main staple of my travel wardrobe is going to be summer dresses. They're the coolest thing to wear when the temps are in the 90s. And at night, if it cools off, I have a couple of pairs of leggings to slip on...

and a sweater or two...

A few tops and crops, and I'm all set....

Wait, I almost forgot my cute white denim jacket....

and a pair of shorts for hanging around the hotel.

One last thing...

the hat I bought at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Florida when I was teaching there. My friend Judy talked me into it ("It looks SO GOOD on you!"), so it always reminds me of her when I wear it.

The sketchbook I'm using for my Provence journal is one that's really special to me. It was made for me by my friend Susan, from Ohio. We had been online friends for a couple of years before we finally had a chance to meet at my Cheap Joe's workshop last year. Sweetie that she is, she had made me a beautiful, perfectly crafted hardbound sketchbook as a gift, which she gave me on the final day of the workshop.

Besides being a dream of a sketchbook, there's something else that makes it one-of-a-kind. The last two pages are filled with warm wishes from each of my students from the workshop.

Now that's a pretty special sketchbook. One that seems almost too wonderful to use. I've been saving it and admiring it, waiting for the perfect reason to actually take a pen and start desecrating those pristine pages. And then I decided, if PARIS doesn't qualify as worthy of this sketchbook, then what ever will? I know Susan made it to be used and loved, so it's coming along with me to France!

The sketchbook has a hand-sewn binding and a pretty floral cover. It's filled with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper. I'm really looking forward to filling it with happy memories. Starting it at home with my packing sketch was a good way to ease myself into it, get a feel for the paper, and relax about using it.

While I was working on the sketch, I realized that the off-white cover fabric would likely get soiled on the trip, either with paint or just from normal wear and tear, so I made a temporary plastic book cover for it.

I took a sheet of lightweight plastic (like from a Ziploc freezer bag) and cut it to size, then used a sewing machine to stitch the top and bottom edges. I sized it to cover the entire inside of the covers, so wet paint won't slop onto them.

Now my Provence sketchbook will stay as clean as the day Susan gave it to me.

In preparation for the trip, I've been taking care of a few things that have been nagging at me for years. I finally made time to put decorative covers on my Italy sketchbook from 2015. I covered the Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook with a dish towel I bought in San Gimignano specifically for that purpose. It has a map of Tuscany woven into the fabric.

For the back cover, I used a compass rose from another section of the towel. I pieced the border designs on the sewing machine to make the compass image fit onto the sketchbook cover.

The end papers were made from watercolor paper and sized to fit the space exactly.

To complete the sketchbook, I finally made a title page for it...

10" x 7", watercolor, Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

The  lettering and borders were all painted by hand after being drawn with pencil.

My last tying-up-loose-ends project was to make a decorative cover for my 2016 Tuscany travel journal. For this one I used the stash of tickets, wine labels, business cards, brochures, and other paraphernalia that I had collected during the trip.

"Yes! Paste" was used to glue the pieces onto the cover of the 10" x 7" Handbook Field Watercolor Journal. After everything had dried, I brushed on a couple of coats of Mod Podge clear acrylic sealer.

For the end papers on the inside of the covers, I used the floral wrapping paper that I saved from the thank you gift my students gave me at the end of the workshop last year.

It felt so good to get some of these little projects wrapped up before leaving on my trip. I'm packed and ready to go. Now, let the fun begin!

The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, 
is a departure into unknown lands. 
Sir Richard Burton

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Going Back to My Roots with a Simple Little Travel Journal

Fred and I celebrated forty happy years of marriage this past winter, and we decided it would be fun to take a little trip down memory lane and go back to where we met, married, and lived as newlyweds. Our celebratory getaway was delayed a few weeks due to our schedules, but the stars finally aligned and we hit the road for Annapolis, MD, one sunny spring day. 

Gel pen & Pitt Artist's pen in a 4"x6" Stillman & Birn Alpha hardcover sketchbook

I wasn't planning to do a lot of sketching, but I took my little 4" x 6" Stillman and Birn Alpha hardcover sketchbook along just in case. Good thing I did, because after we headed out, I was feeling so relaxed and happy (and antsy, because I can't sit still in the car doing nothing!) that I pulled out my sketchbook and laid out the first couple of pages of a travel journal about our anniversary trip. After all, it was the big 4-0, and that's something worth commemorating!

Gelly Roll metallic gel pens + Pitt pen

Instead of fussing over the pages like I do in my larger sketchbooks, I just cut loose and had fun. It was play time!

I wasn't trying to make anything perfect. I didn't agonize over finding just the right lettering style, and I didn't worry about what anyone would think about my sketches. I didn't plan on ever showing them to anyone. They were just for me and Fred.

But I've decided to share them with you to show you a different side of my sketching style, one that's simpler and less "designed". It's more spontaneous and whimsical.

I think part of the reason I felt free to paint like this when we were away was the fact that 1) I wasn't planning to show them to anyone, and 2) I was using a small 4x6 sketchbook. With a small sketchbook, it doesn't feel IMPORTANT. There's not much time invested in each little page. There's not a lot of risk if I mess up.

I really enjoyed playing in my sketchbook over the course of our few days in Annapolis. It taught me an important lesson - that sometimes striving to be too perfect can suck the joy out of something. Sure, my other sketchbook pages are beautiful, but there's something so charming and real about this little journal of our weekend getaway.

This is more along the lines of how I used to sketch before I had a blog and began showing my work and teaching workshops, and before I started caring a little too much about impressing people with what I can do.

This journal has rekindled something in me that was being snuffed out by my overzealous pursuit of becoming ever better. It has reminded me that I need to relax more and just have fun with my art.

I've had time to think about all this as I worked on painting these little sketches at home. And I decided to share my thoughts with you in the hopes that they might encourage you, too, to relax into your sketching, to go with the flow and play around with pen and paint, not worrying about the outcome, not comparing yourself with anyone else, just responding in a creative way to the little moments that make up your amazing life. 


It was a wonderful trip for us in so many ways, remembering those early days of our marriage and marveling at the changes we've seen as we raised a family together and survived moves, job changes, house building, health challenges, and so much more. Through all the ups and downs, we've had each other, and that's all we ever really needed.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

3 Easy Ways to Transfer Lettering to a Sketchbook Page

Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to add lettering to a sketchbook page than simply drawing it directly on the paper? Sometimes we aren't sure exactly what style we want to use or what size we need to fit in a particular spot. So we sketch a title or a phrase, then erase it; draw it larger, then erase it; try a different style, then erase it. You get the idea. All this trial and error can damage the page as we try again and again to get the lettering just right.

But don't despair! I've come up with three easy ways to tackle this problem, and they can help to make your lettering challenges a thing of the past. I'm using the title of this sketch from my 2016 Tuscany sketchbook as an example. (Fattoria Bacio is the villa where the workshop was held.)

Method #1
Tracing paper + graphite paper

Lay a sheet of tracing paper over your sketch. Play around with various styles and sizes of lettering by drawing them on the overlay.  Sketch the lettering on the tracing paper with a pencil. I like to use a mechanical pencil with 0.5 mm HB lead. (For unique lettering styles, try a website like Check out this blog post for complete instructions on how to preview your text in various fonts online.)

The tracing paper is thin, translucent, strong, and smooth. It's easy to see where you're placing your lettering, and if you change your mind, it's a simple matter to erase your first try with a kneaded eraser. The pencil lines erase much more cleanly than when drawn on sketchbook paper.

Once you've finalized the look of your lettering, it's time to transfer it to your sketchbook page using graphite transfer paper. You can buy commercially-made transfer paper, but I prefer to use my homemade version.

Here's how to make homemade graphite transfer paper:
Take a piece of tracing paper and scribble all over one side of it with a dark 4B to 6B pencil held on its side. (I use a Prismacolor Ebony pencil.) Color the paper a dark grey-black by scribbling in one direction, then turning the paper 90° and repeating the marks in the opposite direction. Then shade it in a diagonal direction. Cover the tracing paper with graphite. The paper should appear glossy and shiny.

I like using my homemade graphite paper rather than a commercial product for two reasons:
1. It's free, and I don't have to run to the store to buy it or order it online and wait a week to get it.
2. I know that any marks that I make using this as a transfer medium will come off easily with an eraser. There are no unknown ingredients like wax in it. It's pure, simple graphite.

I mentioned above that tracing paper is strong. Would you believe I've been using this same piece of homemade transfer paper for at least six years? So the amount of time it took to make it was more than worthwhile.

Now back to transferring the lettering...
  • Tape the sketched lettering design in position on your page. 
  • Place the graphite transfer paper underneath the lettering, black side down.
  • Using a ball point pen, trace over your lettering to transfer it to your sketchbook page.
  • Remove the graphite paper and tracing paper. The lettering is now ready for inking or painting. If the transfer is too dark, simply lighten it by pressing a kneaded eraser on it and lifting some of the graphite.

Method #2
Reverse side tracing

Try out different styles of lettering using a tracing paper overlay on your sketch, as in Method #1. After you've finalized the lettering...
  • Flip the tracing paper over to the reverse side.
  • Use a soft pencil, like a 6B, to trace over the reverse image of the lettering.
  • Flip the tracing paper over so it's right side up. Position it on your sketchbook page where you want the final lettering to be.
  • Use your finger or a burnishing tool to rub the lettering and transfer it to the paper underneath.
  • Remove the tracing paper. The lettering is ready for inking or painting. If it's darker than you like, simply press a kneaded eraser on it to lift some of the graphite.

Method #3
Printout + graphite 

Type up your lettering on a computer. Try out different styles. When you decide on the style you like, print it out in several sizes. Cut them out and try them on your sketchbook page to see which size you prefer. 

Once you've decided on the style and size, you can use your graphite transfer paper to transfer the lettering to your sketchbook page, or give this method a try...
  • Flip the paper over to the reverse side.
  • Scribble over the lettering with a dark pencil.
  • Turn the paper right side up and tape it in position on your sketchbook page.
  • Trace over the letters using a ball point pen to transfer the lettering to the page underneath.
  • Remove the printed pattern. The text is now ready for ink or paint.

After transferring my sketched lettering using Method #1, I decided to paint the title of this Fattoria Bacio map page with watercolor...

I use all three of these methods often for adding lettering to my sketchbook pages. They offer quick, simple alternatives to drawing directly on the sketchbook page or tracing a design through 140 lb. watercolor paper using a light box or a sunny window.

I hope you'll give them a try and see how easy it is to add the perfect finishing touch of hand lettering to your own sketchbook pages.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Find the Perfect Lettering Style for Your Sketchbook Page

Hand lettering can add so much to a sketchbook page...

It can personalize your sketches and make them more interesting, meaningful, and graphically pleasing.

You can change the mood of a page from serious to playful with just a few strokes of the pen.

You probably use your natural printing or handwriting for the majority of your sketchbook journaling, but sometimes it's worth it to take a few extra minutes and come up with something more stylish or special. A decorative hand-lettered title can even end up being the star of a page!

Here's an easy way to find the perfect lettering style for any sketchbook page.

1. Go to my favorite font website, You'll see a home page that looks something like this...

2. Choose a theme like "Fancy" or "Script", then click on a category. "Decorative" and "Calligraphy" are two of my favorites.

3. Look for the "Preview" box in the middle of the page. Type your title or text in the box where it says "Type your text here".

4. In the "Fonts" box, change the number of fonts you want to preview from 20 to 50 or 100, if desired.

5. Click "Submit". You will now see how your text looks in all of the fonts in that category. (Note that you'll have to click on multiple pages to see additional lettering options after the initial 20, 50 or 100.)

6. Click on different categories at the top of the page to see even more options. The website will continue to preview fonts using your chosen text.

7. Choose the font that suits the style and feel of your sketch. Copy your chosen lettering style by hand or download the font to your computer.

Here's how I download fonts onto my Windows computer:

1. Click "Download" (to the right of the font style) to download the font into your "Downloads" folder.

2. Find the zip file in the "Downloads" folder.

3. Double-click the zip file. It opens and shows a file with the font's name.

4. Double-click on the font file to open it.

5. Click "Install". The font automatically installs onto your hard drive.

The font is now available to use in various applications like Microsoft Word, Publisher, etc.

Now that you know how to find the perfect lettering style for your sketchbook page, would you like to know how to transfer that lettering to the page without tearing your hair out or damaging your page? Stay tuned for my next post entitled "3 Easy Ways to Transfer Lettering to a Sketchbook Page".

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