Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sketchbook Journeys: Spain

Spain was wonderful! I loved every moment and came home with a journal filled with memories. Travel changes me. Living in a different country, eating the food, walking the streets, meeting the people, learning about the history of that place - it alters my perception of the world and makes me realize how rich and varied other cultures are. Travel broadens my mind and makes me want to see and learn more. And a good way to do that is to keep a travel journal during a trip. It's amazing what a memory jogger a sketch can be.

These first two pages of my Spain sketchbook serve as a sort of introduction to what follows. I completed the map before the trip to give myself a better idea of where I would be traveling, in relation to other places I've been in Europe.

The quote page was begun at home, added to on the flight back from Spain, and painted after the trip. There's certainly not time to work on a design like this when you're traveling! I had lettered the quote and inked the layout of diagonal squares before I headed to Spain, thinking that I would look for some simple tile designs while I was there. It wasn't until I was having lunch at the airport hotel restaurant my last day in Spain that I finally found what I had been looking for. The top of the table where we were eating was covered with tiles. The patterns were definitely not simple, but I never shrink from a challenge, and I managed to work out the designs for my sketch.

The sketchbook I'm using is a 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman and Birn Beta series softcover. I knew I wasn't going to have much time to work on finishing up this journal in the months following the trip, so I decided to approach it a little differently than I normally do during my travels. My goal was to make it quick and casual...and finish-able! To that end, I...

  • journaled everyday in my regular printed lettering style - nothing fancy, nothing to worry about or stress over. 
  • standardized the border style on all my journaling pages, so I had fewer design decisions to make. 
  • incorporated collage into many of the pages. It brings back memories and helps to fill the space on a page without having to devote a lot of time to painting. 
  • limited the time I spent on drawing. Rough pencil sketches were done quickly, so I could get to inking and painting sooner.
  • took advantage of small chunks of time to add drawings to my sketchbook.
I reminded myself at the beginning of the trip that "Done is better than perfect" so I dove in and filled an entire 50-page sketchbook in two weeks. Of course, I still have a lot to finish up in it here at home, but the emotions, the wonder, the awe, and the joy of being in that amazing place are all there, just waiting for the finishing touches.

I dove right in that first day, jet lagged though I was, and sat by the pool for a few minutes on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, with all of Barcelona spread out below me.

The Andante Hotel is in a great location, close to the harbor, museums, and one of the main pedestrian walkways in the city. We walked miles and miles every day, absorbing the sights and sounds of this spectacular city. It was so much greener than I had expected. Tree-lined streets, parks, and gardens made me feel at home, and the architecture reminded me a lot of Paris. So, despite my not being a city girl, I would happily return to Barcelona some day.

The title page for the Barcelona section of my travel journal started out simply, then morphed into a design inspired by the stained glass windows at La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece basilica. It all came about because of a boo-boo.

Some gel pen ink from the facing page had transferred to this page when I closed the sketchbook too soon. See?

All through the trip, I debated about what to do to fix the mistake, then finally decided I would have to glue something over the offending ink blots. Since our time in Barcelona centered around the work of Antoni Gaudi, and I had been absolutely blown away by the beauty and creativity of Sagrada Familia, I chose to paint a stained glass window inspired by the rose window in the cathedral. Some of the sections on my page are fairly close copies of designs in the actual window while others were modified somewhat. In Gaudi's windows, the cool colors on the eastern side of the church represent the nativity while the warm yellows and reds in the windows on the western side represent the crucifixion or passion. I included both on my page.

I first designed the window pattern on graph paper, then traced the design onto watercolor paper. I penciled in the lead lines then inked and painted them. Next I cut an overlay out of heavier Canson Mi-Tientes colored paper, used a thick black Sharpie to color it black, glued it over the painted piece, then glued the whole thing to my sketchbook page. The last step was to make the "Barcelona" title piece, which I cut out and glued in the center of the black piece. (By the way, the lettering style is called Amadeus. Isn't it fun?)

I think this page is a great example of how thinking creatively while fixing a mistake can turn a page into something better than what you had originally planned.

More sketches from Barcelona and Costa Brava will follow soon, but for now I thought I'd give you a very abbreviated tour of our time in Spain. It's tough to choose from the hundreds of pictures I took, but here are the highlights....

The view from the roof of our hotel was fantastic, but the infinity pool kind of gave me the willies!

The outside of La Sagrada Familia is stunning, but when I took this picture, I had no idea of the beauty that awaited me inside.

Even on a rainy day, the windows glowed.

It was ethereal....

Gaudi was a creative genius, and it was a high point of my life to see his work in person.

A side trip to Montserrat took us up into the mountains.

We even caught a glimpse of the Pyrenees off in the distance.

After four days in Barcelona, we headed off to Costa Brava for my workshop in the village of Calella de Palafrugell. This view from our hotel is one I'll always remember. I took a picture of it at least once a day, every day, while we were there. It was just that pretty!

We sketched it the first day of class.

The color of the water makes my heart beat faster just looking at it!

I could spend a month sketching in Calella and not run out of inspiration.

One perfect day we sketched at the botanical gardens just up the hill from where we stayed.

Perched atop the cliffs, it was a little piece of heaven.

We had dinners together...

and time alone...

We spent a day in Figueres, shopping, sketching, wandering, and visiting the Dali Museum.

Another day, we visited the tiny medieval village of Pals. It turned out to be one of my favorite spots on the tour.

And one evening, as I sat at the table in our apartment working on my sketchbook, I happened to glance up to see this....

the most spectacular rainbow of my life! Can you see the treasure at the end of the rainbow? It's Costa Brava itself!

It was an amazing trip with wonderful group of people, but no matter how much I love my time away, there's nothing like coming home again. When my mom and I came down the escalator in the Pittsburgh Airport and saw these smiling faces waiting for us, it felt really good to be home.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Accordion-Fold Flower and Quote Journal

I have a LOT of unfinished sketchbooks, some of which I've been adding to since 2012! These UFOs (UnFinished Objects) don't bother me - I like filling them gradually over time - but I have to admit that there's something very satisfying about finally completing one.

Accordion-fold sketchbook made with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper and added covers

This little accordion-fold sketchbook was started two years ago, then I added a few pages to it last spring, but I had never gotten around to painting the last sketch in it until a week or so ago. Now it's finally FINISHED! Yay! It sure feels good to hold this little gem in my hands.

Accordion-fold sketchbook, 4" x 5-1/2", covered with batik fabric & tied with leather cords

Most of the sketches are of flowers from the gardens here at Summerhill.

This first sketch is of the dwarf echinacea that grows next to the "Fairy" roses by our front porch steps. It blooms all summer long, and I love its deep fuchsia color.

Each flower sketch in this accordion-fold sketchbook is accompanied by a hand-lettered quote, and many have a pretty border outlining the page.

At the height of summer, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) blooms along the stone walk that leads to our back patio.

Roses line that same stone path where it curves under the arched white arbor.

For each of the sketches, I first did a quick pencil drawing to rough in the flower's placement on the page and mark off space for a border. Then I drew a more detailed image with a fine-point waterproof pen. All of the shading was handled in the next step, when I painted the sketch with watercolor.

The purple clematis was drawn with watercolor pencil rather than a pen.

The lines softened a bit when paint was brushed over them, and the colored pencil pigment bled onto the petals.

I like experimenting with different materials in my sketchbooks - it keeps things interesting, and who knows? I just might discover that I like a new tool or technique better than what I usually use. (That's what my 2020 "Sketchbook Journaling Explorations" workshop at Cheap Joe's will be about. Check it out here.)

Last spring I went on an outing with some artist friends to Enlow Fork natural area here in southwestern Pennsylvania, and we sketched the wildflowers that carpet the hillsides for a few weeks every April and May.

The Blue-Eyed Marys were spectacular, and I did this sketch onsite that day, sitting in the warm spring sunshine, happily chatting with my friends and enjoying the wonder of that very special place.

Click to enlarge

The final sketch in my accordion-fold flower journal is a composite of six different flowers we saw blooming that day at Enlow Fork.

Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, flowering quince, Virginia bluebells, bluets, and a buttercup all dance across the page.

I love this little sketchbook. It reminds me of those moments when I was so taken with the beauty of what was in front of me that I felt compelled to grab a brush and paint it. It brings back afternoons when the most important thing I had to think about was the turn of a petal or the color of a leaf.

It reminds me that life is good, and beauty is all around me, if I only pause my frantic rushing, take a deep breath, and look with fresh eyes at what's right in front of me.

If you would like to make an accordion-fold sketchbook with watercolor paper, click here for instructions (generously shared by artist Marc Taro Holmes on his blog). My sketchbook was made using just a quarter sheet of 140 lb. paper and has 4" x 5-1/2" pages, but larger sketchbooks may be made with half and full sheets of paper, with page sizes up to 5-1/2" x 7-1/2".

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Guest Post: Cathy McCort & Her Yearlong Calendar Project

We have a guest blogger today, my good friend Cathy McCort from Washington, PA. Cathy was one of six students in the very first sketchbook journaling class I taught back in 2014. She had never picked up a watercolor brush before that class, but wait till you see how far she's come in five short years!

When I first had the idea to do a monthly calendar back in March 2018, I shared it on the Facebook group I have for my students and asked if anyone else was up for the challenge of sketching every day that month. Cathy accepted the challenge and RAN with it, completing not just 31 but 365 days of calendar sketches! It's an amazing accomplishment, and one of which she should be justifiably proud. I wish you could have the pleasure of examining each of these 9" x 12" calendars in person. The vibrant colors pop off the page, and the creativity, humor, and zest for living that's shown here tells you a lot about the wonderful woman who created them.

Now, let's hear from Cathy and see each of her wonderful calendar pages...

Completing 12 months of tiny calendar drawings was indeed a challenge but I was intrigued from the beginning. 

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Most of the time I painted every day, but sometimes life got in the way, and I would play catch-up by painting several days at a time. Either way, I loved the idea of documenting some life events or just painting an object or idea that I came across that day. 

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Deciding what to paint is always a challenge for me. I wanted to break free of the little squares at times, and I also chose to do some themes as in July and August.

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I'm not going to lie, some months were more of a struggle than others but I'm just OCD enough to not have given up!

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I loved this exercise mainly because it kept me painting for an entire year even if only for a short time each day.

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I have framed these twelve pieces in simple frames and they are hanging on a wall in my family room. 

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

I haven't been painting very long, and so for me, this is a huge accomplishment, and I love it! Leslie, thank you for the idea and the constant encouragement!
~ Cathy

Thank you, Cathy, for sharing it with us!

This exercise offers a wonderful way to record life in all its variety - the ups and the downs, the happy times and the days that are a struggle, the joyful moments and the things that drive us crazy. It shows the richness of our experience of being in this world, of making our way and living life to the fullest. Brava! to Cathy for persevering and creating something absolutely WONDERFUL!

Copyright © 2019 Cathy McCort

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