Wednesday, April 18, 2018

France Sketchbook - Villa Glanum + The Thinking Process Behind Page Design

After a morning spent sketching at Saint Paul-de-Mausole monastery, my students and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at our hotel, then we gathered for class outdoors under the shade trees in the courtyard.

(This post is a continuation of my travel journal postings from a trip to Paris and Provence. As I finish up the painting of my sketches from the trip, I'll share them here. To catch up and read the earlier posts, visit the "Travel Sketches" page and click on the links for Paris & Provence 2017.)

It was a hot summer day and the constant din of cicadas (the unofficial symbol of Provence) meant I had to almost shout to be heard. But the inconvenience of noisy insects was nothing compared to the joy of being in a beautiful garden in Provence on a perfect summer day.

My lesson that day focused on how to design a themed composite page in a travel journal. A composite layout offers a great way to capture the essence of a place on a single sketchbook page. I usually suggest some guidelines for a composite page, like including sketches in a variety of sizes, and having a vertical element, a horizontal element, something organic, and some local signage. It's a good jumping off point, but often my students seem a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities. They look at my composite pages filled with colorful paintings and lettering and just shake their heads and ask, "But how do you DO that? How do you come up with the design? How do you get from the idea of a composite page to THIS?"

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

So, I thought it was high time I attempted to convey how I get from a blank page to something like the sketch you see above. What goes on in this brain of mine?

When I begin to work on a composite page in my travel journal, I take some time to think about what it is about that particular place that really speaks to me. What is it that makes me smile or makes my heart skip a beat? What do I love about the place? That's the first criterion for selecting subjects for my sketches.

Then I think about what is unique to the place. What's different from home? What's typical of the locale or representative of the region?

These two thought processes help me to narrow down the immense amount of subject matter to a few select ideas for possible sketches. At that point, I'm usually ready to begin drawing. I don't have the whole page planned yet, but I have an idea for how I want to start. It will evolve as I work.

For this sketch of Hotel Villa Glanum, I knew I wanted to draw the entrance to the hotel in the center, surrounded by smaller scenes from the building and grounds, but I didn't draw the hotel facade first. I simply penciled in an oval for the spot where I planned to put it later on.

I was concerned that the page might end up feeling like a hodge-podge of images, so I tried to think of what I could do to tie things together, to give it some structure. A border? Frame? Lines? A color box? I brainstormed ideas, trying to think of something different, something that would add some variety to this journal. I came up with the idea of using an ellipse to frame the center image and connect the surrounding sketches. I penciled in the large ellipse lightly with a pencil. Then I was ready to choose the first subject I would sketch.

I liked the little stone fountain that was merrily splashing away in a shady part of the garden. It was cool there and my friend Karen was sitting nearby, so it was a natural place to begin sketching. I quickly penciled in the main shapes of the sketch, then inked it with a black Pigma Micron 01 pen.

Watercolor came next. Buff Titanium was the perfect color for the old stone. The foliage was painted with mixtures of Sap Green, Olive Green, Cobalt Blue, and Yellow Ochre.

Next, I jumped over to the lower right corner of the two-page spread and did a sketch of the window of my room.

This subject matter qualifies for my composite sketch on several counts:
1. I have a personal connection to it. It's my room.
2. The color of the shutters is to die for! They definitely make my heart beat faster.
3. This vignette, with its climbing vines, terra cotta roof, shutters, tie-back curtains, and wrought iron railing is a representation of the entire building.
4. The scene is typical of Provence.

I sized the sketch to fill the corner and extended the greenery on the left side to follow the curve of my elliptical frame.

That's all I had time for that afternoon, but later in the week we had a few hours of free time, and I jumped at the chance to add more sketches to the page.

Olive trees are everywhere in Provence, and I love how each one shows the marks of age. The years of pruning, harvesting, wind, and weather give them rugged character and make each one unique.

This gnarly old tree in the Villa Glanum gardens had a trunk that angled to the left, so I positioned it in the upper right corner of my page. The trunk echoes the curve of the ellipse, and I allowed some of the branches and leaves to extend down over the ellipse to soften the frame and make the tree project forward on the page. Notice how I drew the tree with my pen. I defined the trunk and major branches, but my pen skipped over areas of the trunk where foliage covered it. I only drew a few of the leaves and smaller twigs, leaving most of the detailing of the foliage, trunk, and branches for later on, to be added with a brush during the painting process at home.

Next, I added the center sketch of the hotel to the page. I sketched it onsite with pencil and pen, fitting it into the general area that I had marked off at the beginning. As I worked, I adjusted the size and location to work well with the sketches already on the page.

When I painted it later, I prettied up the colors a bit. The actual awning was brown, and I just couldn't bring myself to have that big slash of dark brown in the center of this sketch that's filled with light, soft colors. Artistic license to the rescue! I changed the color to be more in keeping with my color scheme for the page.

I came home from France with most of this page drawn and some of it painted, but I still had two areas to fill with sketches. The lavender sketch in the lower left corner of the page was added next. This scene had caught my eye from the moment I stepped out into the garden our first night there. The old stone steps and wrought iron gate lead to the Mausoleum of the Julii and Saint Paul de Mausole monastery, which I had sketched earlier. Stone walls and masses of lavender, two things that I love - how could I not sketch them?

I shaped the bed of lavender to follow the curve of the elliptical frame on the page, and positioned the tree at the left side to act as a frame for the sketch and keep the eye from roaming off the page.

The grounds surrounding Villa Glanum were filled with oleander in full bloom. Coming from the northeastern part of the US, it's not something I get to see regularly, so I really enjoyed having it as a part of every day in Provence. That made it a natural choice as a subject for this composite page. I took several photos of oleander blossoms while I was at the villa, then drew this customized arrangement to fit the space on my sketchbook page when I was back home.

One of the last things I added to the page was the green grass in the lower left corner. That spot looked empty, like it needed something. Adding some green with hints of warm Yellow Ochre there helped to round off the corner and tie it in with the other greenery on the page. It's not something anyone would really notice when looking at the page, but it enhances the overall composition.

Click to enlarge

I should probably mention my overall color choices for the page. With this composite sketch, I wanted to convey a feeling of relaxation, happiness, warmth, and sunshine. I intentionally kept my colors light and sunlit, but I also made sure to have a good range of values throughout the sketch. I used touches of Yellow Ochre in the foliage, on the buildings, and on the ground to add warmth. The off-white color of the paper helped to soften the colors, too.

One of the most important color decisions I made on this page was also the last decision I made. I waited until all the sketches were finished before I chose the pink color for the elliptical frame. I knew the color of that frame would greatly affect the look and feel of the entire sketch. I had already used Permanent Rose here and there on the page, and I thought the color would enhance the happy feeling of the painting, so I plunged in and painted the ellipse pink. After the oval frame was painted, I went back to each of the sketches on the page and added more touches of rose to make the page feel unified. If you look at the close-ups of each sketch, you'll be able to spot it.

At the very end, I decided to add a dotted edge to the ellipse to soften the hard defined edge and fancy up the plain wide pink line a bit. It's always risky to keep adding things to a sketch - it's easy to overdo it - but I had a niggling feeling that the ellipse needed a little something, so I took the plunge and added the dotted lines. That did the trick - no more niggling!

I hope this rather lengthy explanation has given you some insight into the way my mind works when I'm planning, designing, drawing, and painting a page like this. There's a lot of thinking involved, that's for sure, but I enjoy the design aspect of sketchbook journaling.

What it all comes down to is pushing myself to do something I've never done before, like using a large ellipse to unify a composite sketch. I constantly ask myself, "What if...?"

Give it a try. You just might surprise yourself with what you can do!

Would you like to try travel journaling?
Join me this fall in Sicily or Northern Italy. 
For information, click here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Last Chance for Italy!

I have two European workshop tours coming up this fall, one on the island of Sicily...

and one in Northern Italy...

Both of these exciting 7-day painting workshops still have openings, and the deadline is fast approaching when we will have to decide whether we have enough people to make them happen. My organizers reserved hotel rooms and villas a year in advance for the workshops, and we need a certain number of participants in order to have everything work out. So, if you have been toying with the idea of coming along on one of my 2018 Italy trips, please don't wait! They may not be there for you later on.

Read about Sketching in Sicily here.
Here are two articles about what makes Sicily so special:

Read about Sketching Northern Italy here.
Watch a Rick Steves video that covers much of what we'll be seeing.

I take great care in choosing the destinations for my European sketching workshops. They need to have a distinctive culture, rich history, amazing food, and absolutely spectacular scenery. Sicily and Northern Italy check off all those boxes! So why not come along with me and create a travel journal filled with memories of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy?

A friend gave me a Christmas gift this past year, and I have it hanging in my studio where I see it every day. It's a reminder to me that no one knows what tomorrow will bring, so, to quote my friend Cindy's mom, "Go while you can!"

Watercolor by Cindy Queen on 300 lb. Arches paper

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Free Tutorial - Just for You!

How would you like to learn how to paint these gorgeous daylilies?  I'm giving away a free tutorial called "How to Paint Daylilies with Watercolor." This is the same lesson I taught at a "Sketching at Summerhill" workshop awhile back. Now you can experience Summerhill for yourself! Read on to find out how to get this fun freebie...

Ever since I began teaching art classes, I've sent out a monthly email newsletter to my former students and other interested creative types, to keep in touch and let them know about upcoming workshop opportunities. Unfortunately, I never had a way for my blog readers to opt in to my newsletter list. Well, now that has all changed!

I have finally knuckled down and forced myself to learn how to use an email hosting service for my monthly communications. I'm still figuring everything out, and there may be some glitches along the way, but this should help me to more easily stay in touch with people who are interested in my workshops and classes.

If you're a follower of this blog, I'd love to have you sign up for my new and improved monthly email newsletter. This is different from being a blog follower. I can't legally subscribe all of my blog followers to the newsletter without their permission. So, I've added an opt-in button here on the Everyday Artist blog for you to use if you'd like to subscribe. Just look for the pink daylily that's labeled "Click here to subscribe". It's in the column on the right, below the header and above my profile photo.

To thank you for subscribing, you'll receive the free ten-page step-by-step watercolor tutorial about how to paint daylilies.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

March Calendar Sketch...31 and DONE!

I've always wanted to try keeping a monthly calendar filled with daily sketches. It's something I often suggest to my students, but I had never actually done it myself...until now!

Ink & watercolor in a 12" x 9" American Journey journaling sketchbook

I started this calendar page on March 1 and finished up today, the last day of the month. In between, I did a lot of painting, made a few mistakes, and learned some lessons that will make the process easier the next time.

I used a 12" x 9" American Journey Journaling Sketchbook from Cheap Joe's for my calendar. It has a sturdy burgundy cover and 20 pages of 140 lb. hot-pressed Saunders Waterford watercolor paper. The paper has a nice tooth to it, rather than being smooth like most hot-pressed watercolor papers.

I calculated the spacing for my blocks, leaving room for a border around the page and a title at the top, then I inked everything. I used a Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pen in dark blue to draw the boxes and title. Then I decided to paint a watery variegated base wash on the page. That's when I discovered that I had made my first, and biggest, mistake: the ink was water-soluble!

The Staedtler pen was new to me. Lesson #1: Always test your drawing tools for permanency! I had been so excited to get started that I just hadn't stopped to think. You can see in the photos that the lines all softened and bled. I could have started over on a clean page, but I decided to just go with it. I kind of liked the softer look to the lines.

Painting on a colored base definitely gives a different look to a page. The base color becomes your lightest value, and it affects all of the colors layered over top of it. It can be tricky to get the color results you want in a sketch, but I think the challenge is worth it for the unifying effect that the base wash brings to a sketchbook page.

Here's a diagram of the measurements I used to lay out my page. It allows for spaces between the blocks and a border around the edges. Measurements are metric, because it's so much easier than using inches. Here's the ruler I like to use.

Click to enlarge

In the empty area on the calendar at the beginning of the first week, I lettered the old lion and lamb saying. It was tough painting a white lamb on the blue background, so I used white gouache to brighten it up a bit.

March is a time of change, and it was fun recording seasonal milestones on my calendar, like the first forsythia blossoms and the return of the mourning doves, blackbirds, and orioles.

Each of these little squares measures about 1-1/4". Tough as it is to paint a bird that's only about 3/4", it's even tougher to paint a person! Believe it or not, Day 5's sketch actually does look a little bit like my friend, Judy.

I was on my way, but there were a whole lot of empty spaces waiting to be filled...

I just kept plugging away at them. Some days, there wasn't anything special to record, like Day 7, when I spent hours cleaning in preparation for a weekend workshop here at my house.

Painting the Chocolate Pavlova was fun. I used a Signo Uni-Ball White Gel Pen to add highlights to the whipped cream. I also used it to draw the snowflake on Day 9. When it was drawn, though, I thought it looked too glaringly white on the page, contrasted with all the more subtle colors surrounding it, so I gently softened and lifted some of the lines with a damp brush.

My Sketch Your Life workshop kept me busy all weekend, but I managed to catch up with my sketches on Sunday evening after everyone had gone home. Don't you love the little cupcake?

One of my friends pointed out how ironic it was that I did a workout sketch following the Irish Cream Cupcakes. :)

Here are two boxes that have mistakes in them. Can you find the boo-boos?

I was actually drawing daffodil buds, not tulips. Not sure why tulips popped into my head. And on the March 14 box, I inked in a nice big "15". Oops! What to do? I mixed up an opaque lavender using Titanium White watercolor and a touch of purple paint. It covered it beautifully.

If I thought it was hard drawing Judy back on Day 5, just think how crazy I must have been to sketch four people on Day 15!

Our cute grandson, Nicholas, spent the weekend with us on the 17th, and we were having a great time until.....

Nicholas got the flu. The poor guy was sick off and on for two weeks!

Finally, the first day of spring!

The next day we had four inches of snow.

Working on the European Workshops page on my blog, I spent an entire day immersed in pictures of Italy, so that was a natural subject for the calendar square that day. I think this is the smallest landscape I've ever painted.

Coming down the home stretch....

I think the Rainy Day Robins sketch is my favorite.

Finally, the last few days were done!

Now I had to decide whether to add a border.

I decided to go for it...

I could have called it finished, but that messy, blurry title had bothered me from the beginning. I didn't like the style at all and wished I had left it blank until the end, so I could design something that was a better fit with the sketches I had done on the page. But what could I do about it now? It was there, big and bold, in dark blue ink.

I decided to design a new title and collage it over the old one.

I drew the letters freehand with pencil, then inked them with a Micron 01 pen. (The sketches were all drawn with a Micron 01, too.) A yellow wash was  painted over the lettering and allowed to dry, then the letters were painted with a mixture of Marine Blue and Ultramarine Blue. The title was glued to another piece of watercolor paper that I had painted pink, and decorative flourishes were added.

Click to enlarge

This was a really fun project and a great way of getting in some painting time every day. I love looking back over the month and remembering these little snippets of my life.

Here are ten suggestions for painting a monthly calendar page of your own:
  1. Draw the daily boxes in pencil. You can always ink them later, but if you want the option of having sketches overflow the edges of the box, don't ink them at the beginning.
  2. Leave space for the name of the month, but design it at the end, to coordinate with your sketches.
  3. Lightly pencil in the dates early on to prevent mistakes. 
  4. Be creative with date placement. The numbers don't all have to be in the same position in the boxes.
  5. Coloring the background around a sketch (inside the box) will help to define the edges and separate it from the surrounding spaces.
  6. Be creative with lettering placement. Notice the variety of ways that I incorporated lettering into my sketches.
  7. Use varied shapes like circles, ellipses, squares, and arches within the boxes to add interest.
  8. Pay attention to the overall colors on your calendar. Vary colors in adjacent boxes for contrast. Repeat colors throughout the calendar to make the color scheme appear harmonious.
  9. Make the border coordinate with the style, color, and feel of your calendar.
  10. Give yourself the gift of time. Take a few minutes to think back over your day and choose what to paint, then grab a brush and dive in.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

France Sketchbook - Day 5 - Lavender Field at St. Paul de Mausole

Ah, the lavender fields of Provence!

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

They really are pretty as a picture. The colors, the fragrance, and the beauty of it all are simply unforgettable! 

During our first sketching session in Saint Remy, my students and I spread out around the monastery grounds at Saint Paul de Mausole, where Vincent van Gogh had once lived and painted. 

I settled in under a shady tree and did a quick pencil sketch to block in the large shapes of sky, trees, and field then wet the sky and tree area with clean water. It was a hot, breezy day and I knew that the plein air painting process would be challenging. I had to work quickly before my paper dried out, so I immediately dropped Cerulean Blue into the wet sky area and allowed it to flow, forming soft-edged clouds. Working my way down the page while the sky was still wet, I painted Olive Green, Sap Green, and Yellow Ochre into the tree area, changing values and colors as I went, to make a varied base for the wooded background.

While the sky and trees were drying, I skipped down to the lavender field and wet it with clean water, letting it soak in until the paper was damp but not shiny with water. After mixing up puddles of pale lavender and darker violet paint, I began painting the rows. I had to work quickly before the paper dried, brushing on mostly lighter lavender tones, then adding darker values of purple wet-in-wet to indicate the shadows between the rows.

Next, I painted a base wash on the shed, stone wall, and other green areas along the sides of the lavender field.

To finish the sketch, I added darker values and texture. Looking back at the detail images above, you can see the second and third layers of glazing that I added. Here's what these darker values do for the sketch:

  1. They help to loosely define individual trees in the mass of foliage behind the shed.
  2. On the wall and building, they suggest stone texture.
  3. On the shed, dark strokes of color show texture on the tile roof and shadows in the doorway.
  4. They indicate deep shadows under the tree next to the shed.
  5. In the lavender field, darker tones define the rows with shading and add texture to suggest stems, flowers, etc.
  6. They add spots of deep color that catch the eye and help the light areas in the sketch to appear sunlit. 

The simple border with corner details was drawn after the painting was complete.

I was really happy with the way this sketch turned out. Painting it on location gave it a looser look than the sketches that I paint back home in my studio after a trip. And there are so many happy memories tied up in it that I can't help but smile when I look at it.

But I had a few moments when I thought I would have to scrap the entire page....

The final step in completing this travel sketch was to add some lettering to the page (at home). I had a line of text in mind for it, and I went ahead and added it below the image using a calligraphy pen. But something was bothering me about it. I had a niggling feeling that it seemed familiar, that maybe I had used the same line somewhere else in the journal.

I turned a few pages, and, lo and behold, there was the same line on another page! In nice big bold letters. Oh, no!

The lettering on the lavender sketch had to be removed. I first tried lifting the paint by scrubbing with a damp brush. It barely budged. I tried a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It damaged the paper but didn't lift the lettering. Then I tried painting white gouache over it...then another coat of gouache. It covered, but then I tried to paint over the layers of gouache to blend the cover-up area in with the drippy wash that I had painted below the lavender field. It was a disaster! It looked horrible. So, there I was with a giant mess on a sketch that I loved.

But desperate times call for desperate measures! I'm not one to give up, so I penciled in a new quote on a piece of watercolor paper, painted the lettering with a calligraphy pen loaded with watercolor, then tore the piece out and glued it onto the offending mistake.

 Now I LOVE the page!

It's one of my favorite sketches (so far) in this travel journal. My other favorite is coming up in my next blog post. I can't wait to share it with you.

 If you enjoy sketching on location, 
why not come along on one of my trips to Italy this fall? 
I'll be there by your side to guide you each step of the way!
Visit the European Workshops page to read about
upcoming workshop tours to Sicily and Northern Italy.
I'd love to have you join me!

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