Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Maine Pebble Sketch with Step-by-Step Tutorial

One of the things I enjoy most about Maine is the rocky beaches filled with stones of varying sizes, colors, and textures. This year, for the first time, I thought I'd try to capture those colorful pebbles in a sketch. Here's what I came up with....

Ink & watercolor in a 9" x 6" hardcover Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

Would you like to know how I painted all those interesting textures on the stones or how to do the interesting curvy border ? Read on to find out!

Click the thumbnail for a larger image, if you'd like to see all the details.

Late one afternoon, my friend Wendy and I headed out to Crescent Beach at low tide to do some sketching.

While she sketched me sketching, I focused on the pile of rocks at my feet.

I sketched in the main shapes of the stones quickly with a pencil.

Next, I inked the shapes with a Platinum Carbon Desk Pen filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink, then applied an initial watercolor wash onto each of the rocks.

I tried to achieve variation in tone on many of the rocks by dropping in darker values or contrasting colors...

On some, I waited until the base wash had begun to dry slightly then touched in medium-value paint in the same colorway as the base wash. This created blooms that gave me a nice head start on creating texture on the stone.

That's all I had time for while I was there on location. The sun was going down, and it was time to cook dinner for my students, so I packed up my supplies and headed back to Primrose Cottage.

Back home in my studio after the trip, I resumed work on the sketch, and the texturing process began in earnest. I wet the gray rock in the upper left-hand corner of the sketch with clean water and grabbed a couple of dark earth tone and black Derwent Inktense Watercolor Pencils and my spatter screen. I held the screen over the wet rock and scratched the black pencil lead across the screen to scrape off particles of pigment.

They fell onto the wet rock, creating a granite-like texture. The granules dissolved slightly and adhered to the paper as they dried.

(After the paper dried, excess granules which had fallen onto the surrounding dry paper were easily removed by holding the paper vertically and tapping it over a trash can.)

 I used the same technique on a gray stone in the lower right corner of the sketch,

but this time, I touched the wet granules with the point of a round brush here and there to soften some of the edges and give a different look.

In cases where I wanted a mottled look on a rock, I dabbed on spots of paint with the tip of a round brush like this...

then smudged the paint with my finger to make the marks appear more irregular.

It worked well to create splotchy texture.

As the sketch progressed, I added layers of watercolor on top of the dry base washes to deepen the colors of the pebbles and indicate form shadows. I sprinkled salt into some of the washes.

As the salt dried, it created a distinctive crystalline texture that was perfect for some of the granite stones I was painting.

Here's what the sketch looked like in the early stages of adding texture...

When I wanted to add texture to a stone but was concerned about paint getting onto adjacent pebbles, I used Grafix Frisket Film to isolate the stone I was painting.

To use the frisket film, I cut a piece that measured at least an inch larger than the stone on all sides, peeled away the paper backing, and affixed the clear adhesive-backed plastic film over the area to be painted. Then I used a #11 X-Acto blade to carefully cut around the stone (without slicing into the paper).

I lifted the film that covered the pebble, exposing that section of my sketch.

I laid pieces of paper over the outer edges of the plastic and weighted them down to cover the rest of my sketchbook page.

With the film protecting the surrounding paper, I was free to add texture in any number of ways. Here, I applied paint with a crumpled piece of plastic wrap...

On this stone I spattered paint, blotting some of the spatters to lighten them while leaving others untouched and thus darker.

This stone has frisket film around it.

It was easy to sponge paint with a natural sea sponge onto one small pebble when the edges were masked with frisket film.

When the sponging and spattering were complete, the film was peeled away.

After I was satisfied with the texture and form shadows on the rocks, I added cast shadows all over the sketch. Since the sun was low in the sky when I took my reference photo, the shadows were very pronounced. I used artistic license to turn back the clock and make shorter shadows in the sketch than what I had seen in real life. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the shadow painting step.)

The last step in the painting process was to add cracks and fissures on some of the stones,

Notice the tiny white highlights in the pitted spots on the gray rock

and spatter Titanium White opaque watercolor on this pebble.

I also added white veining to one of the larger rocks using watered-down opaque white. I didn't want the white to stand out too much in the overall look of the painting.

The pebble painting was finished! Now came the hardest part of the sketching process, deciding what to do with the surrounding white space.

What would you do with all this white space?

I decided to add a border to the page using painter's tape. I tore strips of green Frog Tape in half lengthwise, creating an irregular wavy line.

I applied the tape about 1/4" away from my sketch, with the wavy edge facing toward the outside edge of the paper and overlapping at the corners. (Always be sure to stick any masking tape to your clothing a couple of times before applying to your paper. This removes some of the stickiness and prevents the tape from tearing your paper when it's removed.)

The corners were mitered using an X-Acto knife fitted with a #11 blade. First, I carefully cut a 45 degree angle through the top layer of tape.

Then I cut off the underneath tape that was extending out the side.

That left a nice, neat corner.

Now it was time to paint. Since I was going to paint a juicy wet-in-wet border, I slipped some paper towels in behind my page to protect the rest of my sketchbook. After mixing up puddles of paint (the same colors used for the pebbles), I began applying the richly colored paint to the border.

The consistency of the paint was important. It had to mingle and flow, blending softly together without mixing completely. I wanted the individual hues to be discernible so they would echo the colors of the stones, rather than combining to create a big, muddy mess.

After the border had dried, I removed the tape, only to find that some paint had seeped under at the corners. Oops!

Not a problem! I lifted the paint with a damp brush, then brushed on a little Daler-Rowney Pro White to cover what remained.

The next step in constructing the border design was to lay a piece of heavy-duty pet screening over the page, align it with the edge, and use it as a grid to draw pencil lines approximately 1/4" apart, radiating out from the center of the page.

It was a quick way to transfer parallel lines to the border without any tedious measuring.

The only problem with using the pet screening was that my pencil lead broke once in awhile as I dragged it across the ridges of the screen, but it was still quicker than using a ruler to mark all those lines.

I inked each line....

Then I inked another line between each line. Note that I always use a piece of scrap paper underneath the page when working on borders, to protect the other sketchbook pages.

The corners were free-handed with radiating lines.

It looked good, but I decided to take it a step further. Don't I always? :)

I laid down a strip of masking tape about 3/8" from the edge of the paper to use as a guide.

I then drew a line between each of the previously drawn lines, from the tape to the edge of the paper, creating a darker border within the painted border.

The page was finally finished!

Ink & watercolor in a 9" x 6" hardcover Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

I was tempted to add even more detailing (maybe another thin black line outside the edge of the pebble sketch?) but decided to leave some breathing room for this very detailed sketch . I have to remind myself that white space is good. It's not necessarily crying to be filled.

Looking at this colorful little sketch, I'm transported back to Maine. I remember that happy hour I spent there on the beach, chatting now and then with Wendy, listening to the waves gently lapping against the shore, and feeling perfectly content. Sketching keeps me in the moment while I'm doing it and takes me back to those special times when I look at the sketch later. So many wonderful memories lie nestled between the covers of my journals.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sketches from Maine!

Maine was WONDERFUL! The lupines were in bloom, the weather was close to perfect, Primrose Cottage was as cute as ever, and the students who joined me for the painting retreats were an absolute joy to be with. Getting to spend two weeks there this year was the icing on the cake. I fell in love with Maine all over again. It was so hard to leave on the last day - the whole way home I was conjuring up plans that would allow me to spend more time there next year.

(See photos from the trip on my Facebook page.)

Pencil & watercolor in a 9 x 6 Stillman and Birn Alpha series sketchbook

I did a lot of sketching while I was there, in between teaching, driving, cooking, and porch sitting. I decided to play around with some new materials on this trip, some of which I really liked. Others turned out to be an exercise in frustration for me. I think it was a good thing, though, for me to take a lighthearted approach to the sketching I did and give myself permission to experiment and play. It felt very freeing. I'll be sharing some of what I learned in upcoming posts.

One of the new supplies I tried is the Sailor Fude bent-nib fountain pen. (It's pronounced foo-day.)

You might wonder why anyone would want a pen with a bent nib. Well, it gives you lots of options for varying line widths when you sketch with it. It all depends on the angle at which you hold the pen.

Hold it in a vertical position and only a little bit of the nib comes in contact with the paper, resulting in a fairly fine line. Tilt it down and let the bent part rest flat on the page and you'll get a wide, bold line. Flip the nib over and use it upside down for a very fine line.

Varying line widths drawn with a Sailor Fude pen

I was always intimidated by the pen because it's so different from what I'm used to, but, after using it for two weeks, I've come to enjoy the consistent ink flow and the variety of strokes I can make with it, like the ones in this sketch of the beach at Owls Head Light, drawn and mostly painted on location.

Ink & watercolor in a 9x6 Strathmore sketchbook w/140lb. watercolor paper


I used the Sailor Fude for several landscapes during my time in Maine and also tried it on a floral sketch the day we went to Merryspring Nature Center in Camden. Normally I would use a pen with a fine line when drawing flowers, something like a Platinum Carbon Desk Pen with extra fine nib, so that the lines of my sketch would almost disappear under the watercolor. But the day we went to Merryspring I was feeling adventurous, so I grabbed the Sailor Fude pen and drew a mass of flamboyant red poppies with strong, bold strokes, then pulled out my size 8 round travel brush and splashed on watercolor with abandon, letting paint flow into the background and splatters fall where they may.

Ink & watercolor in a Strathmore sketchbook with 140 lb. watercolor paper

I tend to paint much looser and faster when I'm sketching on location than when I'm in the studio. Having a time limit and contending with the sun and wind drying my paint all too quickly makes me just dive in and go for it. There's no time to fuss and fret - I'm in the zone!

Here's another sketch done with the Sailor on an outing to Birch Point State Park, where I painted my friend Connie doing some sketching.

With the Sailor Fude, I enjoy doing more line work, adding cross-hatching in some of the shadow areas where I would normally have just drawn a single line. I like the different look this gives a sketch.

The border was drawn with a Pitt Artist's Pen, size S, then painted with the same colors used in the sketch: Sap Green, Marine Blue, Ultramarine Blue, and Permanent Rose (mixed with blue to make purple). I started in one corner and worked my way around the page, blending one color into the next as I went.

Here are the simple steps to drawing this hatched border. Just start with two parallel lines, then divide the space between them into squares. Draw diagonal lines as shown below to divide the squares into triangles, then fill them with closely spaced parallel lines.

Adding the watercolor toned down the busyness factor of all those little lines, and the colors really set off the central image nicely. FYI - I almost always work on my borders back home rather than on location. It's so much easier working at a table than in my lap!

I'll be back with more sketches in a few days, plus I'm working on a tutorial for you on how to paint a collection of beach rocks. See you soon!

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