Thursday, September 26, 2013

Step-by-Step Watercolor Painting: Highland Light - Cape Cod

When we were in Cape Cod last week, I did a quick vignette sketch of the Highland Light near Truro, and I thought you might enjoy seeing a step-by-step of how I added the watercolor back at home. Here's the completed sketch...

Step 8 WM
"Highland Light", 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" ink & watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

And here's a time-lapse video showing the entire process...
(To view it larger, click on the YouTube icon.)

Time-lapse videos are a lot of fun - it makes the process of painting appear almost magical. Their instructional value is limited though, since everything goes by in a flash, so I have a series of scans to share with you as well. Here's the complete process, from ink sketch to finished painting...

Step 1
On location, I lightly sketched in my layout with pencil to make sure my proportions were correct, then did the ink drawing with a waterproof Pigma Micron 01 black pen. The sketchbook I used is a 5.5" x 8.5" hardcover Stillman & Birn Beta series. It has heavy 180 lb. paper which doesn't buckle when watercolor is applied.

Step 1 

Step 2
Back home, I painted the sky wet-in-wet and blotted off the clouds with a crumpled tissue. I added a touch of Permanent Rose to the Cerulean Blue just so it wouldn't look too uniform, and to tie in with the warm tones which I would add next to the roofs.

Step 2

Step 3
Light washes were applied to the foliage and cottage roofs. I also put a glow of red on the lighthouse where the color of the shed roof was reflected.

Step 3

Step 4
The house siding was given a light grey tone, and lighthouse shadows were applied.

Step 4

Step 5
It was finally time for some darker tones...the black walkways on the lighthouse, the shadows on the cottage, and the windows.

Step 5

Step 6
A bit of texture was added to the siding and roof on the cottage.

Step 6

Step 7
Darker shades were finally added to the foreground foliage and the bushes near the front steps of the cottage.

Step 7
Step 8
Time for the final touches...a suggestion of bricks on the lighthouse tower and a smattering of red flowers in the foreground to add some warmth and echo the color of the shed roof.

Step 8

There you have it. It looks so doable, doesn't it? Well, it is! If you're not already a sketcher, I hope you'll pick up a pencil, pen, or brush and give it a try. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sketching the Time Away

A twelve-hour van ride is enough to drive me bonkers if I don't have anything to occupy my time. I get antsy and impatient and tend to snack too much, just to break up the monotony. But last week, when my husband and I were packing for a trip to Cape Cod, and I was gathering some art supplies to take along, I came up with a fun idea to pass the time on our upcoming 673 mile trip. I would paint a sketch for every hour that we were traveling. Twelve sketches in all - that should keep me occupied!

We were up 4:45 a.m. and out the door by 5:45. I set the timer on my phone to go off hourly, and when the ringer chimed at 6:00 a.m., I began looking for a scene to sketch. Trouble was, it was still dark out, but, hey, rules are rules. I started drawing...

5-1/2" x 8-1/2", watercolor & ink, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

Each hour, I did a simple sketch lightly in pencil, then inked it with a Pigma Micron black pen (size 01.) I balanced my Heritage palette on my lap to add the watercolor, holding the sketchbook in one hand and a waterbrush in the other.

We didn't stop at all for me to sketch; these were all done on the move. Some of the landscapes are composites of scenery we passed. I'd see a scene and try to jot down the main components quickly before I forgot the image, then add other elements as they came and went by my window.

For others, I snapped a photo and referred to the image on the viewfinder to draw the picture. For a few of them, like the 8:00 a.m. sketch, I had live models. (That's our golden retriever, Buckley, begging for some breakfast.)

Since we drove hundreds of miles of parkways with nothing to see but dense trees lining the highway on both sides, I had to get creative in choosing my subject matter, thus the lovely 3:00 p.m. view of my feet on the dashboard and Fred pumping gas at 4:00 p.m.

5-1/2" x 8-1/2", watercolor & ink, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

By the time 5:00 p.m. rolled around, I was beginning to dread the sound of the hourly alarm. I'd had quite enough sketching for one day, and as we drove the length of Cape Cod to get to Wellfleet, I put away my paints for another day. We arrived safe and sound, just in time for a sunset walk along Cape Cod Bay.

The next morning, after an hour of sitting around in my pajamas on the screen porch, looking out at the water, sipping a hot cappuccino, and listening to the quiet, I added the final sketch of Clam Cake Cottage.

Sketching in a moving vehicle is challenging. The space is cramped, the scenery is moving by at 70 mph, and it's tough to control a pen or brush when things are bouncing around. But there's an immediacy to the sketches that I like, and instead of the miles passing by in a blur, it has a way of making me notice the particulars of the area we're driving through. It sure made that twelve-hour drive to Massachusetts fly by!

Saturday, September 14, 2013



is now the SKETCHER!

In keeping with the new focus in my life, sketching and painting, I've retired my old license plate and gotten myself a new one. I love it! Now my Chrysler minivan has been converted from a drapery delivery vehicle to the sketchmobile!

For the past thirteen years, I've enjoyed making people's homes more beautiful by designing and fabricating custom window treatments, slipcovers, and bedding through my business, Leslie Fehling Designs. Along the way, I taught classes at conferences around the country and here at my home, sharing with other drapery professionals the embellishment techniques that gave my work a special touch of creativity and originality. It was fulfilling and rewarding, and I'm happy that my business was a success.

But for the past several years, I've been growing more and more excited about watercolors and sketchbook journaling, and less excited about the drapery business. Sewing has begun to take a back seat to art. So I've decided to take a sabbatical from my drapery workroom for a time (or maybe forever?) to focus on what I am longing to do: sketch, paint, and share my love of sketchbook journaling with others by teaching.

Your encouragement over the past few years, my dear readers and friends, has been instrumental in giving me the courage to follow a new path. Thank you so much!

Change is good, and life is all about growing and seeking and learning. I can't wait to see what the future holds!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Gift Filled With Memories

For thirty years, the Waynesburg True Value Hardware store was a fixture on the main street of my hometown. Carl Duffield, the genial owner of the store, always had a smile ready for anyone who walked in the door, and we got to be friends over the years. Customers could always count on finding just what they needed at Waynesburg Hardware, anything from a cast iron skillet to some obscure plumbing fitting or a pair of garden gloves.

"Waynesburg Hardware", 16" x 20", ink and watercolor on 140# paper

Carl retired a few years ago and the building was taken over by a new shop owner, but my memories of the old hardware store came flooding back recently when I received a call from Carl's wife, wanting to commission a painting of the store as a surprise birthday gift for her husband.

We put our heads together and came up with some ideas to personalize the painting. The store window features the sign and oversized key which were always prominently displayed when the store was operational. The slogan "If we don't have it, you don't need it" was just one of the many quirky things I had always liked about the old hardware store.

For a real personal touch, Carl's grandchildren were added to the scene. His grandson sweeps the sidewalk in front of the store, while his granddaughter walks by with one of the family's prized whippets on a leash.

This painting was intended to be an accurate, architecturally detailed depiction of the scene, which meant I had to recreate the look of the stone and brickwork on the buildings. Layers of watercolor in shades of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and burnt umber gave me the look I wanted, but it required lots of fiddly detail painting. It's like magic when you see that first wash of pale tan suddenly begin to take on a three-dimensional look as the darker shades are added.

The shadows I painted on the architectural trim at the top of the buildings helped to give the impression of a bright, sunlit day. I always get a kick out of it when I come to that step in the painting process when I add areas of shadow, and the whole picture suddenly pops. It's so cool!

I had to simplify the gingerbread trim quite a bit, because of the scale of the painting, but hinting at the elaborate floral swag motifs was enough to give an impression of the style of the decorative woodwork.

The brick buildings were painted by first washing in a varied background of warm tones to suggest the lighter mortar color. Then I suggested individual bricks by painting them with a small flat brush. I varied the hue and intensity of the bricks to keep them from looking too uniform and monotonous. I lifted some of the color in places to soften the hard edges.

The surface of the more distant building (below) is less detailed, the bricks less distinct. The lettering on the store sign is sharp and legible though, since it's such an important part of the subject matter.

The painting was a huge surprise to Carl on his birthday and a big hit with the entire family. I enjoyed working on a project with such a personal connection, knowing that this once-in-a-lifetime gift will be treasured by the family and passed on to future generations. It's an honor to be entrusted with people's memories. And what a blessing it is to know that my work can bring so much happiness to people!

To inquire about commissioning a sketch or painting, email me at
I'd love to create something especially for you.

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