Sunday, August 28, 2016

"Sketch Your Life!" Workshop at Summerhill

Last weekend I hosted my first three-day "Sketch Your Life!" workshop here at my home, and we all had a great time exploring the possibilities of sketchbook journaling.

I injured my toe when I was rearranging furniture for the workshop. Ouch!! I ended up with a nasty infection, but it's healing nicely now, thank goodness!

Everything went fairly smoothly (except for that trip to Urgent Care on Friday evening!) and by the end of the weekend, we all felt like friends. The students came from all over - some were local, a few drove in from across the state of Pennsylvania, and others came all the way from Maryland, Mississippi, and Kentucky. They all had one thing in common, a desire to try a new approach to being creative.

Or did they only come for the great food? :)

Yes, my mother and I fed them well!

Mocha Sundae Pie with Oreo Cookie Crust

Our lunches included Corn and Basil Tart, Wild Rice Artichoke Chicken Salad, and Pizza Pizzazz Salad, plus lots of yummy side dishes like Cantaloupe-Peach Soup with Blueberries...

and desserts that that were to-die-for, like Mocha Sundae Pie, Bourbon-Pecan Tart, and my famous Chocolate Pavlova.

Bourbon-Pecan Tart

The ladies worked hard each morning, sketching and learning and trying new things. They deserved to be rewarded at lunchtime!

Most of them were new to sketchbook journaling, so I started them off with an introduction to drawing and watercolor. I think it was a big help to those who were complete beginners.

Angela doing a contour drawing of her hand

They learned how to design interesting lettering styles and simple border designs, then they put their new-found skills to use on their first sketches...

Next they did a page using a color block or box to make their subject pop off the page...

Later, they sketched fruits and vegetables from varying angles or in different stages to make an interesting "Multiples" page...

It's always so much fun to see each person's style begin to emerge as they work through the projects.

One afternoon, I had them do a speed-sketching challenge where they drew a gridded page filled with candy in a very limited time. Choosing just six pieces from the candy box may have been the toughest part of this exercise!

The candy bin had lots of cute, colorful penny candy, but we reserved our calories for the good stuff...

Thanks, Carol, for bringing us these yummy temptations all the way from Maryland!

A little chocolate makes the sketching so much more fun!

Carol designed some beautiful borders...

and don't you love this sketch? Those complementary colors just sing! And how about that plaid background? She got the idea for the pattern from my laundry room wallpaper. Inspiration is everywhere.

I decided to mix things up a bit on Saturday afternoon, so I gave everyone a break from their watercolors. I had them find a spot somewhere in the house or outside in the yard or on the porch, and try doing a sketch directly in ink without any preliminary pencil drawing first. The twist was that the ink in the pens was water-soluble, so, when they touched the lines with water, they dissolved into soft grays, resulting in nice mid-tone shadows. My sketch at the top of the page is an example, drawn with a Platinum Preppy pen with Platinum ink. And here's Bobbie's sketch of my porch swing...

Charlotte and Lu sketched the view from the classroom...

Carol, Sara and Lory drew in the living room...

The sketches were done in nothing flat, and everyone really enjoyed playing around with the shadow washes.

Another fun project we did was to illustrate one of our favorite quotes. There were some really good ones - here's one by Angela...

Sunday afternoon, after three days of me standing up front talking about sketchbook journaling and showing pages from my sketchbooks, it was finally time for everyone else to have a turn. Each person shared their sketches with the group and talked about what they had created.

It was touching and funny and heartwarming to hear them talk about their work. And the encouragement that flowed back to them from their new-found friends made it even more special.

Charlotte had us all laughing!

It's amazing how much they accomplished in just three short days! And seeing their confidence grow over the course of the workshop was a wonderful thing. They're excited about sketching now and are making plans to do a September challenge. They'll learn so much if they stick with it.

All of my preparations - the writing, printing, emailing, meal planning, grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking, and studio prep - were worth it, to see the happiness on their faces as they said goodbye. This kind of teaching is a lot of work, but the rewards are priceless.

I hope to offer another "Sketch Your Life!" workshop here at Summerhill in 2017, but haven't settled on the dates yet. I still need to firm up some travel commitments first. Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 4

Andrew Wyeth painted hundreds of paintings in Maine during his life, and the Olson House was one of his favorite subjects. It's now part of the Farnsworth Museum. We visited on a beautiful summer day and had a chance to sketch for awhile after touring the house and watching a documentary about Wyeth.

The house is stark and spare. It looks like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life. From the house, grassy meadows lead down to the shimmering waters of Penobscot Bay and a small cemetery where the artist is buried. I chose a spot among the wildflowers and settled down to draw.

All sketches were done in a 9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook.
For this one I used pencil and watercolor.

My landscape vignette has the breezy, sunlit look of coastal Maine, with its clapboard house and barn, evergreen trees and beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers. The border frames the sketch nicely without overwhelming it.

Each year when I'm in Maine I take my students to visit the Rockland Breakwater Light in Rockland harbor, but this year I decided to stay on shore rather than walk the breakwater out to the lighthouse. While I was waiting for them to return from the nearly two mile round trip walk, I sketched a dredging barge anchored just off-shore.

The sketch was drawn with a black Pigma Micron 01 pen. The border was added later. I used a variety of pens for it, including several sizes of Pitt Artist's pens, a Platinum Carbon fountain pen with Platinum Carbon ink, and a Pitt brush pen (color cold grey 232).

After the workshop wrapped up, my mother and I headed up the coast to Acadia National Park where we met some friends for a week. We had a little cottage near the water on Goose Cove, not too far from Southwest Harbor in the part of Mt. Desert Island that they call "The Quiet Side". It's away from the hustle bustle of Bar Harbor and the main attractions in the national park.

I thought the little "Beach" sign that pointed the way to our private cove was really cute, so I did a quick sketch of it the first morning we were there. I used a Pentel Hybrid Technica gel pen that Joe Miller had given me when I taught at Cheap Joe's back in May. The pen glided over the Stillman & Birn Alpha paper nicely and was a pleasure to draw with. The ink is water-soluble, so after the drawing was finished, I used a waterbrush filled with clean water to dissolve some of the lines and draw out the gray color to make shadows. I love this technique, and it's so quick that I'm able to get a sketch finished in no time.

The tides in northern Maine are dramatic, with huge changes in the shoreline happening every day as the tide comes in and goes out. At low tide, I enjoyed exploring the cove to see what I could find. Mostly I was searching for sea glass, but there was lots more to see. I sketched various types of seaweed, a sea urchin shell, barnacles, a dead crab, mussel shells, snail shells, sea glass, and even a few minnows that had been trapped in a tide pool.

Trying to fit all the different shapes in on my page was a lot of fun. The minnows were the last thing I drew, after the lettering had been added. I wish I had planned for them a little earlier, so I could have had one of them actually coming through the "D". Still, I love this page.

This last sketch was a quickie done at a sidewalk cafe while we waited for our lunches.

I'll share the rest of my Maine sketches when I have a chance to finish them, but they may have to wait awhile. I have a couple of house portraits to paint, a three-day "Sketch Your Life!" workshop next weekend here at my house, and Italy coming up in September. These are busy days!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 3 (Step-by-Step Tutorial)

During my June workshop in Maine, I waited all week for the perfect day to drive to the top of Mt. Battie and spend some time sketching. My patience was rewarded when we awoke one morning to abundant sunshine and clear blue skies.

The view from the top of Mt. Battie is spectacular - deep blue ocean as far as the eye can see, dotted here and there with low-lying islands. Off in the distance, fifty miles or so to the northeast, Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park jut out into the sea. Down the hill lies the picture-perfect village of Camden.

"Pretty Little Camden, Maine, "9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook, ink & watercolor

The expansive view from the top of the mountain can be overwhelming for an artist. How do you capture the vastness of it all? Well, this year, I didn't even try. Instead, I focused in on the pretty little town of Camden and attempted to capture the feeling of its houses nestled in among the trees next to a snug, protected harbor. Zooming in on a scene is a great way to limit your view and narrow your selection of subject matter.

I used a Platinum Carbon fountain pen with Platinum Carbon ink and an extra fine nib for the drawing. The extra fine nib was a good choice for this scene with its tiny details. The sky and water were painted first...

Step 1 - Paint the sky and water

The next step was to paint the distant islands and fingers of land jutting out into Penobscot Bay. Moving into the mid-ground, I painted the bright yellow-green fields and some grassy areas along the water's edge and put the first bits of color on the buildings.

Step 2 - Paint the distant land and begin picking out some of the mid- and foreground details.

Moving into the foreground, I painted a lone evergreen and the light and middle values on the rocks.

The foreground grasses came next.

Step 3 - Paint the foreground grasses

While the first light yellow-green washes were still wet, I added darker tones to indicate shadows. As they dried, strokes of darker color were added to suggest texture/foliage.


Next, I painted the dark spit of land above the Camden woods and began adding more color to the houses so that when I began painting all the green trees in the mid-ground, I wouldn't accidentally paint over a tiny house.

Step 4 - Paint the dark peninsula and add color to more buildings.

It was finally time to tackle all the greenery in and around the town.

Step 5 - Begin painting the trees around the buildings.

I started with light to medium values of olive green and varied it by adding ultramarine blue for shadow tones. Sap green was used, also, and combined with ultramarine and burnt umber or burnt sienna for the deepest shadows.


I contrasted light sunlit sides of trees with darker areas that were in shadow. Individual trees were painted wet-in-wet, but, where I wanted a hard edge, I had to let some of them dry so that the adjacent tree color wouldn't run into them.

The last step was to paint the woods that were beyond the little town.

Step 6 - Finish painting the more distant middle ground woods and the buildings in town.

I made these darker and more subdued, to make them recede into the distance and focus the eye more on the foreground and the town. They were painted wet-in-wet, but I left bits of sparkling white paper here and there to keep the area from feeling dull and lifeless.


The homes and commercial buildings peeking out from behind the trees were finished simply and blue-grey shadows were added.


Then I called it done!
Pretty little Camden,'s always held a place in my heart, and now it's in my sketchbook, too!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 2

Picture yourself sitting in an Adirondack chair somewhere along the coast of Maine, water gently lapping at the shore in front of you and seagulls soaring lazily overhead. The sun is sinking low in the sky and there's a stillness in the air, as if the earth is holding its breath, waiting for darkness to come.

All sketches were done in a 9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook

That was the scene at Primrose Cottage when I painted "All is well". The peace and serenity I felt that evening flowed through my paintbrush and onto the page. I painted directly, with no preliminary drawing, a first for me, and it felt very freeing, just letting the color flow without worrying about accuracy or page layouts or trying to be perfect. It's just a simple little sketch, nothing special really, but the memory it holds will be with me for a long time.

Another way to pack a lot of memories into a sketchbook page is to include photos. I often make a page of photos in my travel sketchbooks. I use Microsoft Publisher to lay out selected photos on a page, then print the page on matte photo paper and glue it into my sketchbook. On this particular page, I left an empty white border around the photos, then drew a black and white border design with a Pitt Artist's Pen after it was in the sketchbook.

Everyone really enjoyed the quirkiness of Primrose Cottage, and I think most of us did at least one sketch of the interior. Mine is of a corner of the original kitchen, with it's pretty antique china, enamel table, pink chairs, and white curtains with pom-pom fringe. I drew it directly with a Pitt pen, not worrying at all about perspective or straight lines. I wanted the style of the sketch to feel kind of funky and fun, like the room itself.

Pitt pen and watercolor

Later in the week, we made a second excursion to Birch Point State Park. It was a warm, sunny day, and the water was sparkling and beautiful. I enjoyed watching all the happy children busily digging, pouring, running and splashing. What a contrast to earlier in the week when we all sat huddled over our sketchbooks, bundled up with jackets and hats on, wishing we had brought gloves!

Watch for lots more sketches coming in a few days!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Step-by-Step Iris Watercolor

Merryspring Nature Center is an idyllic little gem in the heart of mid-coast Maine. The day we visited, we had the place entirely to ourselves. There was so much to draw that I found myself wandering around for awhile just taking it all in, waiting for something to "speak" to me. Should I do a landscape scene with a grey weathered shed in the background, or a composite page with a variety of flowers? Or should I focus on just one flower or plant?

Finally I chose a stand of iris as my subject matter and sat down to sketch.

I began with a pencil drawing of the iris, then lightly sketched in an idea for lettering across the top of the page. This could change later - I was just trying it out at this stage.

Step 1 - Pencil drawing (Stillman & Birn 10x7 Alpha series sketchbook)

I decided to paint the leaves first using a variety of colors, rather than plain green. There is some green there, but I also used yellow, teal, lavender, pink, red, and blue on the leaves and stems, allowing the colors to blend wet-in-wet. Using a larger size brush (#10 or 12) helped me keep things loose.

Step 2 - Paint base washes on the leaves

While the washes on the leaves were drying, I started on the flowers, painting the yellow centers first.

Step 3 - Paint the yellow centers on the flowers

Next came the lavender and purple flower petals. And this is the point where I got so engrossed in what I was doing that I forgot to stop and take pictures. :(  So, let me explain what happened between steps 3 & 4....

Step 4 - Paint the flower petals

I first painted the light lavender-pink petals. If you look at the photo at the top of this post, you'll see that the light-colored petals on the iris were actually almost white. I chose to make them lavender because I wanted them to contrast with the white background. Artistic license!

Next I painted the darker purple petals, dropping in some red in places, wet-in-wet, to vary the color. After that all dried, I went back in with a few touches of darker color on the lavender petals and added the darkest yellow in the center of the flower (a mixture of yellow + raw sienna).

Since there was so much white space around the flowers, I decided to break it up with some spattering. I am usually careful not to overdo the spattering, because I don't want it to be too obvious, but in this case I thought more was better. The larger spatters were done with a paintbrush, and some of the finer ones with a piece of window screen. (Simply brush some paint on a piece of screen, hold it over your paper and give a strong, quick blow.)

Step 6 - Spatter

The lettering was changed slightly from my original sketch. I just played around with it in pencil until it seemed just right, then painted it with the same colors I had used for the sketch, using a small round brush.

Step 7 - Finalize lettering

Completed sketch 

All finished! Most of the painting had been done on location at Merryspring, out in the wind and sun, but I ran out of time before it was completed. The final touches on the flowers and the lettering were done at home. Total time to paint it was probably 1-1/2 - 2 hours.

It seems that painting directly from a pencil sketch makes me feel a little freer than when I do an ink drawing first. This painting is looser than my usual style, and I like that.

On this trip to Maine, I resolved to try new things. This sketch was a departure from my usual routine in that I didn't use ink lines, I varied the leaf color substantially from what was in front of me, and I minimized detail. I think the sketch reflects the fact that I felt relaxed and happy that day at Merryspring, sitting in the sun in that peaceful garden with beauty all around me and my friends nearby. And it makes me happy again every time I look at it and remember.

PS - The folks at Merryspring Nature Center liked my sketch so much that they have decided to feature my watercolor on some of the products they sell in their onsite retail shop. Now my irises will be printed on mugs, T-shirts and other items to raise money for Merryspring. Awesome!
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