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.  


  1. This is just darling. Love this idea

  2. This page is really great! I love how you changed the word March too! Maybe I will try this sometime!

    1. It was a lot of fun, Annie. I’d love to see what you’d do with this project.

  3. I love this! I love the story it tells. What a great way to pause and be present to our lives, instead of just motoring through our days on autopilot (which so often can happen to me, anyway).

    If you hadn’t mentioned your mishap with the Staedtler, I wouldn’t have noticed the bleeding. I think it created a nice softness to the boxes. Each sketch is a work of art. Thank you for the tips!

  4. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial, Leslie.

    1. You’re welcome, Merry. Since you like working small, this seems like it would be right up your alley.

  5. In case my first attempt to comment got lost somewhere...

    I love this! I love the story it tells. What a great way to pause and be present to our lives, instead of just motoring through our days on autopilot (which so often can happen to me, anyway).

    If you hadn’t mentioned your mishap with the Staedtler, I wouldn’t have noticed the bleeding. I think it created a nice softness to the boxes. Each sketch is a work of art. Thank you for the tips!

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. What’s interesting about this project is that all the calendars that my students did last month are so different, but each is very much a reflection of the individual artist’s style and personality. I guess we can’t help being who we are. Are you thinking about trying it sometime?

    2. I'm always fascinated by how a group of artists can use the same prompts, yet each create something entirely different. That's why it's good, I think, not to worry too much about finding our style. We can't help but have our own.

      Yes, I would like to try this. I'd also like to try the Saunders Waterford paper sometime. I've heard good things about it.

  6. You did a great job with this. I knew what was going to happen with that Staedtler Triplus the minute you mentioned it, because I learned that same lesson, a few years ago!

    1. In the end I’m glad I used that pen, though. I like the softer, less defined lines. I hope your Fineliner sketch turned out okay. :)

  7. Leslie, I love this. Sue and I are doing an April challenge to get ready for our workshop with you in May in Boone. I bet we will use this format for a future monthly challenge. Looking forward to seeing you in May.

  8. This is brilliant! Love your work. I will definitely be giving this a try in my free time. Thank you for a wonderful article!

  9. I love this -- and your tips -- more than I can say. Thank you!


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