Saturday, March 31, 2018

March Calendar Sketch...31 and DONE!

I've always wanted to try keeping a monthly calendar filled with daily sketches. It's something I often suggest to my students, but I had never actually done it myself...until now!

Ink & watercolor in a 12" x 9" American Journey journaling sketchbook

I started this calendar page on March 1 and finished up today, the last day of the month. In between, I did a lot of painting, made a few mistakes, and learned some lessons that will make the process easier the next time.

I used a 12" x 9" American Journey Journaling Sketchbook from Cheap Joe's for my calendar. It has a sturdy burgundy cover and 20 pages of 140 lb. hot-pressed Saunders Waterford watercolor paper. The paper has a nice tooth to it, rather than being smooth like most hot-pressed watercolor papers.

I calculated the spacing for my blocks, leaving room for a border around the page and a title at the top, then I inked everything. I used a Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pen in dark blue to draw the boxes and title. Then I decided to paint a watery variegated base wash on the page. That's when I discovered that I had made my first, and biggest, mistake: the ink was water-soluble!

The Staedtler pen was new to me. Lesson #1: Always test your drawing tools for permanency! I had been so excited to get started that I just hadn't stopped to think. You can see in the photos that the lines all softened and bled. I could have started over on a clean page, but I decided to just go with it. I kind of liked the softer look to the lines.

Painting on a colored base definitely gives a different look to a page. The base color becomes your lightest value, and it affects all of the colors layered over top of it. It can be tricky to get the color results you want in a sketch, but I think the challenge is worth it for the unifying effect that the base wash brings to a sketchbook page.

Here's a diagram of the measurements I used to lay out my page. It allows for spaces between the blocks and a border around the edges. Measurements are metric, because it's so much easier than using inches. Here's the ruler I like to use.

Click to enlarge

In the empty area on the calendar at the beginning of the first week, I lettered the old lion and lamb saying. It was tough painting a white lamb on the blue background, so I used white gouache to brighten it up a bit.

March is a time of change, and it was fun recording seasonal milestones on my calendar, like the first forsythia blossoms and the return of the mourning doves, blackbirds, and orioles.

Each of these little squares measures about 1-1/4". Tough as it is to paint a bird that's only about 3/4", it's even tougher to paint a person! Believe it or not, Day 5's sketch actually does look a little bit like my friend, Judy.

I was on my way, but there were a whole lot of empty spaces waiting to be filled...

I just kept plugging away at them. Some days, there wasn't anything special to record, like Day 7, when I spent hours cleaning in preparation for a weekend workshop here at my house.

Painting the Chocolate Pavlova was fun. I used a Signo Uni-Ball White Gel Pen to add highlights to the whipped cream. I also used it to draw the snowflake on Day 9. When it was drawn, though, I thought it looked too glaringly white on the page, contrasted with all the more subtle colors surrounding it, so I gently softened and lifted some of the lines with a damp brush.

My Sketch Your Life workshop kept me busy all weekend, but I managed to catch up with my sketches on Sunday evening after everyone had gone home. Don't you love the little cupcake?

One of my friends pointed out how ironic it was that I did a workout sketch following the Irish Cream Cupcakes. :)

Here are two boxes that have mistakes in them. Can you find the boo-boos?

I was actually drawing daffodil buds, not tulips. Not sure why tulips popped into my head. And on the March 14 box, I inked in a nice big "15". Oops! What to do? I mixed up an opaque lavender using Titanium White watercolor and a touch of purple paint. It covered it beautifully.

If I thought it was hard drawing Judy back on Day 5, just think how crazy I must have been to sketch four people on Day 15!

Our cute grandson, Nicholas, spent the weekend with us on the 17th, and we were having a great time until.....

Nicholas got the flu. The poor guy was sick off and on for two weeks!

Finally, the first day of spring!

The next day we had four inches of snow.

Working on the European Workshops page on my blog, I spent an entire day immersed in pictures of Italy, so that was a natural subject for the calendar square that day. I think this is the smallest landscape I've ever painted.

Coming down the home stretch....

I think the Rainy Day Robins sketch is my favorite.

Finally, the last few days were done!

Now I had to decide whether to add a border.

I decided to go for it...

I could have called it finished, but that messy, blurry title had bothered me from the beginning. I didn't like the style at all and wished I had left it blank until the end, so I could design something that was a better fit with the sketches I had done on the page. But what could I do about it now? It was there, big and bold, in dark blue ink.

I decided to design a new title and collage it over the old one.

I drew the letters freehand with pencil, then inked them with a Micron 01 pen. (The sketches were all drawn with a Micron 01, too.) A yellow wash was  painted over the lettering and allowed to dry, then the letters were painted with a mixture of Marine Blue and Ultramarine Blue. The title was glued to another piece of watercolor paper that I had painted pink, and decorative flourishes were added.

Click to enlarge

This was a really fun project and a great way of getting in some painting time every day. I love looking back over the month and remembering these little snippets of my life.

Here are ten suggestions for painting a monthly calendar page of your own:
  1. Draw the daily boxes in pencil. You can always ink them later, but if you want the option of having sketches overflow the edges of the box, don't ink them at the beginning.
  2. Leave space for the name of the month, but design it at the end, to coordinate with your sketches.
  3. Lightly pencil in the dates early on to prevent mistakes. 
  4. Be creative with date placement. The numbers don't all have to be in the same position in the boxes.
  5. Coloring the background around a sketch (inside the box) will help to define the edges and separate it from the surrounding spaces.
  6. Be creative with lettering placement. Notice the variety of ways that I incorporated lettering into my sketches.
  7. Use varied shapes like circles, ellipses, squares, and arches within the boxes to add interest.
  8. Pay attention to the overall colors on your calendar. Vary colors in adjacent boxes for contrast. Repeat colors throughout the calendar to make the color scheme appear harmonious.
  9. Make the border coordinate with the style, color, and feel of your calendar.
  10. Give yourself the gift of time. Take a few minutes to think back over your day and choose what to paint, then grab a brush and dive in.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

France Sketchbook - Day 5 - Lavender Field at St. Paul de Mausole

Ah, the lavender fields of Provence!

Ink & watercolor in a handmade 6" x 8" sketchbook with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro paper

They really are pretty as a picture. The colors, the fragrance, and the beauty of it all are simply unforgettable! 

During our first sketching session in Saint Remy, my students and I spread out around the monastery grounds at Saint Paul de Mausole, where Vincent van Gogh had once lived and painted. 

I settled in under a shady tree and did a quick pencil sketch to block in the large shapes of sky, trees, and field then wet the sky and tree area with clean water. It was a hot, breezy day and I knew that the plein air painting process would be challenging. I had to work quickly before my paper dried out, so I immediately dropped Cerulean Blue into the wet sky area and allowed it to flow, forming soft-edged clouds. Working my way down the page while the sky was still wet, I painted Olive Green, Sap Green, and Yellow Ochre into the tree area, changing values and colors as I went, to make a varied base for the wooded background.

While the sky and trees were drying, I skipped down to the lavender field and wet it with clean water, letting it soak in until the paper was damp but not shiny with water. After mixing up puddles of pale lavender and darker violet paint, I began painting the rows. I had to work quickly before the paper dried, brushing on mostly lighter lavender tones, then adding darker values of purple wet-in-wet to indicate the shadows between the rows.

Next, I painted a base wash on the shed, stone wall, and other green areas along the sides of the lavender field.

To finish the sketch, I added darker values and texture. Looking back at the detail images above, you can see the second and third layers of glazing that I added. Here's what these darker values do for the sketch:

  1. They help to loosely define individual trees in the mass of foliage behind the shed.
  2. On the wall and building, they suggest stone texture.
  3. On the shed, dark strokes of color show texture on the tile roof and shadows in the doorway.
  4. They indicate deep shadows under the tree next to the shed.
  5. In the lavender field, darker tones define the rows with shading and add texture to suggest stems, flowers, etc.
  6. They add spots of deep color that catch the eye and help the light areas in the sketch to appear sunlit. 

The simple border with corner details was drawn after the painting was complete.

I was really happy with the way this sketch turned out. Painting it on location gave it a looser look than the sketches that I paint back home in my studio after a trip. And there are so many happy memories tied up in it that I can't help but smile when I look at it.

But I had a few moments when I thought I would have to scrap the entire page....

The final step in completing this travel sketch was to add some lettering to the page (at home). I had a line of text in mind for it, and I went ahead and added it below the image using a calligraphy pen. But something was bothering me about it. I had a niggling feeling that it seemed familiar, that maybe I had used the same line somewhere else in the journal.

I turned a few pages, and, lo and behold, there was the same line on another page! In nice big bold letters. Oh, no!

The lettering on the lavender sketch had to be removed. I first tried lifting the paint by scrubbing with a damp brush. It barely budged. I tried a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It damaged the paper but didn't lift the lettering. Then I tried painting white gouache over it...then another coat of gouache. It covered, but then I tried to paint over the layers of gouache to blend the cover-up area in with the drippy wash that I had painted below the lavender field. It was a disaster! It looked horrible. So, there I was with a giant mess on a sketch that I loved.

But desperate times call for desperate measures! I'm not one to give up, so I penciled in a new quote on a piece of watercolor paper, painted the lettering with a calligraphy pen loaded with watercolor, then tore the piece out and glued it onto the offending mistake.

 Now I LOVE the page!

It's one of my favorite sketches (so far) in this travel journal. My other favorite is coming up in my next blog post. I can't wait to share it with you.

 If you enjoy sketching on location, 
why not come along on one of my trips to Italy this fall? 
I'll be there by your side to guide you each step of the way!
Visit the European Workshops page to read about
upcoming workshop tours to Sicily and Northern Italy.
I'd love to have you join me!

Monday, March 26, 2018

France Sketchbook - Day 5 - Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery

Two-page spread, ink & watercolor in a 6" x 8" handmade hardbound sketchbook filled with Kilimanjaro 140 lb. watercolor paper
When I woke up that first morning in Provence, I didn't know what the day would hold, but the sun was shining, the cicadas were buzzing, the lavender was blooming, and all was right with the world.

(This post is a continuation of my travel journal postings from a 2017 trip to Paris and Provence. To catch up and read the earlier posts, visit the "Travel Sketches" page and click on the links for Paris & Provence.)

6" x 8", ink & watercolor in a handmade hardbound sketchbook filled with Kilimanjaro 140 lb. watercolor paper

After breakfast, we packed up our sketching supplies and walked across the street from our hotel, following brass markers that led us to the sanitarium where Van Gogh spent the last year of his life.

The winding driveway to the asylum took us through groves of olive trees...

the same olive trees that Vincent painted in 1890.

Here and there along our route, we stopped to read the informative panels showing paintings that Vincent had painted of the scene before us, along with translated excerpts from letters to his brother Theo. In the letters, he was hopeful, optimistic, and enthused about what he was creating during his time at Saint Paul de Mausole.

It felt like such a privilege to me, to be able to look out at the same trees, mountains, and fields that Van Gogh had been inspired to paint.

As we moved out of the olive grove and onto the shaded path leading to the sanitarium, we all grew quieter.

It felt like a spiritual experience, being there in that place. I felt a connection to the struggling artist who had devoted himself to pursuing his passion.

After the bright sunshine of the fields and gardens, it felt as if we were entering another world when we stepped inside the monastery. It was a blisteringly hot day, and the shade was a welcome relief from the sun.

The cloister corridor was the site of my first formal class with my students, although I'm not sure how they could even listen to me when they could see this scene right behind me....

(I think it's one of the prettiest pictures I took on this whole trip.)

After class, we all split up for independent sketching time, and I headed outside to paint the lavender field behind the monastery. (I'll share that sketch with you in my next post.)

I left a blank page in my sketchbook to add this sketch of the cloister gardens later at home using photo references.

6" x 8", ink & watercolor in a handmade hardbound sketchbook filled with Kilimanjaro 140 lb. watercolor paper

The composition is a blending of several photos. I wanted to frame the scene with the columns, but I also loved the look of the boxwood plantings being on the diagonal, so I merged the photo above and this one:

Many of the other sketches in my France journal have a soft look to them, with muted colors and tan buildings. For a change of pace, I decided to push the colors of the stonework in this sketch, giving the columns and arches a golden glow.

The vining plant on the facing page was one that I also took a picture of that day at the cloister, and I chose it as an accent on the text page, to coordinate with the colors of the cloister garden sketch.

In my next post, you'll finally get to see those famous Proven├žal lavender fields!

 If you would like to experience the fun and adventure
of an overseas art workshop, 
visit my European Workshops page 
to read about upcoming trips to 
Sicily, Northern Italy, Spain, Tuscany and Croatia.
I'd love to have you join me!

Friday, March 23, 2018

France Sketchbook - Day 4 - Provence

After three days in Paris, we were finally heading for Provence!

We all met our tour director, Jackie (from French Escapade) and her assistant, Marie, at the train station in Avignon. It was a relief to finally turn over all the decision-making to someone else! I knew they would have things well in hand, but I wondered what surprises they had planned for us throughout the week. I had never taught a workshop in Provence before, so it was all as new to me as it was to my students.

We checked into our beautiful hotel just outside St-Remy-de-Provence.

Villa Glanum is located just across the road from Saint Paul-de-Mausole, the sanitarium where Vincent van Gogh spent the last year of his life, and right next door to Glanum, the ruins of an ancient Roman city. 

The grounds around the hotel were beautifully landscaped, with paths meandering through the olive trees, and flowers everywhere.

The lavender was in full bloom when we were there in June. That's what we came to see!

In the evening before dinner, we met for a walk to the ruins and Jackie told us the history of the place. We saw an impressive triumphal arch that was originally the entryway into the city of Glanum, which was overrun during the collapse of the Roman Empire. The building materials were all recycled to construct St. Remy.

The ancient mausoleum that I sketched was built by two sons as a tribute to their father. It's over 2000 years old. It amazes me that it's still standing today. In the town where I live, they tear down houses that are a hundred years old, because "It's too expensive to maintain them."

You can see by the photo that I pushed the colors a bit to make the sketch more interesting, and I took away the dark shadows that were covering the lower half of the structure. Artistic license at work!

We had a wonderful dinner that evening and had a chance to get acquainted with each other. There were students from as far away as Grenada!

The week was off to a great start, but I couldn't wait for the next day, when we would visit Saint Paul-de-Mausole to walk and sketch in the footsteps of Vincent.

If you would like to experience the fun and adventure
of an overseas art workshop, 
visit my European Workshops page 
to read about upcoming trips to 
Sicily, Northern Italy, Spain, Tuscany and Croatia.
I'd love to have you join me!
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