Monday, February 13, 2017

A Cacophony of Color!

When I was in Florida a few weeks ago, my friend Judy and I spent a few hours at the Village of the Arts in Bradenton. We had a great lunch and strolled through the neighborhood filled with brightly colored historic cottages. Many of them house galleries, art studios, restaurants, and specialty shops. The little cottages were so cute that I couldn't wait to sketch them. I decided to do a two-page spread in my Stillman and Birn Zeta series softcover sketchbook. The sketch would feature four different cottages plus the hand-painted street sign in the center.

(Click to enlarge) Ink & watercolor in a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" Stillman & Birn Zeta series softcover sketchbook

I decided to keep my sketch bright and whimsical, like the Village of the Arts, so I skewed the angles of the architectural elements, simplified some details, and gave myself permission to add and subtract whatever I pleased.

Using my reference photos as a rough guide, I did a pencil drawing to rough in the basic shapes then drew my images with my trusty Pitt Artist's pen (size S).

Step 1 - Line drawing

Next I painted the skies using a #8 Escoda Versatil round brush. I got a set of these brushes from Cheap Joe's, and I'm really enjoying them. They come to a good point, hold plenty of water, and have a nice spring to them that I like.

Step 2 - Paint the skies  

I used Cobalt Blue for the skies on the top right and lower left and Cerulean Blue for the other two.

In step three I painted on some dabs of masking fluid where I wanted to indicate flowers on some of the bushes and vines later. The first washes were splashed on the foliage next using Sap Green, American Journey Earthen Green (a new favorite!), Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Yellow Ochre, and American Journey Shadow (another new favorite - it's a delicious deep blue-purple).

Step 3 - Begin painting the greens. Add masking to flower blossoms.

The Stillman and Birn Zeta paper has a slick finish, and the paint sits on the surface rather than soaking in. This allows the paint to mingle and flow, creating interesting colors and textures as it dries. I used that quality to my advantage by painting much of the foliage wet-in-wet. Sometimes I put down a basic green, like Sap Green, then dropped in some Cobalt Blue to indicate a shadowy area in the trees. Other times I painted on a Yellow Ochre base, then touched in some Earthen Green or Cobalt Blue, or I started with a Sap Green base and added AJ Shadow to make a really rich dark area.

Now that I had gotten some of the basic background painting out of the way, it was time to have some real fun with color in step four. I stayed fairly true to the actual house colors in my reference photos. Yes, the cottages were actually that adorable!

Step 4 - Paint base washes on everything else using light to medium values.

I continued working all over the sketch, filling in areas that still needed color.

Step 5 - Keep adding light & medium values

In step six, I began painting shadows where they were needed on the cottages, yards, trees, fences, sculptures, etc. The masking fluid was removed and the flowers were painted. The sign post came next. I painted the background color on the signs with watercolor, but used a variety of brushes and pens for the lettering. Some shop names were done with a small round brush and watercolor. For others I used a Pitt pen or a Platinum Preppy fountain pen filled with colored ink.

Step 6 - Paint shadows and signs

I decided the border lines around the four cottage sketches needed a little beefing up, so I added another black line with my Pitt Artist's pen. In step seven I filled in the double line with watercolor. I chose a color from each sketch that would complement it, keeping to the cool side of the color wheel to provide a little bit of continuity in this sketch that contains a whole rainbow of colors.

Step 7 - Add color to sketch borders

And finally, the lettering... I had sketched it in pencil at the very beginning, but had to resize it a bit when I added the double line border around the cottage sketches. I used my Platinum Preppy fountain pen filled with a pink Platinum ink cartridge to draw the lettering and fill it with color. (Check out this set of Platinum Preppy fountain pens I bought on Amazon. The ink is water-soluble, so you can't put paint over them, but I've found plenty of uses for them. They're great to draw with or to use when adding lettering to a finished watercolor.)

Step 7 - Add lettering

The sketch was finished, but it needed one final touch. I used my white Signo Uniball gel pen to add a narrow white line around the signs and separate them from the background.

Step 8 - Add a white outline to the signs

It's a wild and crazy sketch, but I had so much fun doing it.


It felt very freeing to get away from the fussiness that seems to inhabit a lot of my sketches. I didn't worry about perspective or proportions or accuracy. I was BOLD!

Definitely no accuracy going on here :)

I pushed the colors and added a trellis to a blank wall.


I put up curtains and left out ugly brown gravel. I turned grey concrete to pink.


I played! And isn't that what sketching is supposed to be about? Give it a try - you don't have to be an expert at drawing or painting. Just have fun being creative. Have no expectations other than to experience the joy of creating something with line and color where there once was only a blank page. Sometimes I'm just amazed at what appears on the page - we're magicians!


  1. I love these! and can't wait to have a go with your instructions.

  2. Glorious sketching, reminds me of when we visited Florida for the first and only time and saw these cottages ourselves. Wish I could find those photos.....

  3. These cottages are adorable! They are perfectly done in your style!!! I've never been there, but it reminds me a bit of Key West.

  4. Wonderful! Thanks Leslie.

  5. How delightful!! The little cottages are adorable and the colors are absolutely PERFECTION TO THE NTH DEGREE!! Thankful for brightening my rather dullish Michigan day. Always, always and inspiration, my dear Leslie! Bravo!

  6. What a fun sketch to remember your time in what looks to be a charming community! I wonder if the owners will want to ad your whimsical touches, like the trellis or the pink walkway, to their cottages after seeing your inspiration.

  7. I love how you change things up when you sketch. You really captured the vibe of that village. I love the step by step, too!

  8. What an awesome piece of art and tutorial! I love it, especially the tutorial. What a great way to share your skill with others. Thank you so much for capturing the color and whimsy of the Village of the Arts, and sharing it with others. I am a new owner in the Village, and look forward to opening an art center there later this year. Your artwork makes me even more inspired to open my doors! Will you be offering this sketch page as a print?

    1. What will your shop be called? I'll try to stop by next winter when I come to Bradenton again.
      Yes, I can upload it to my online print gallery at Fine Art America, and you can order a print in whatever size you like. Email me for more information.

  9. I love these! I have trouble sketching. I want to draw, not sketch, everything in the scene. Would have loved to go to Greece, but can't this year. It looks fantastic

    1. Oh, I do wish you could come to Greece with me. It's going to be an amazing trip, and it may be the only time I teach that workshop.
      One hint for you with your drawings - why not zoom in so you're looking at a smaller portion of the scene? That way you can draw all the details you want, but it won't take forever. Give it a try! :)


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