Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Casa Romantica Gridded Sketch

Earlier this month I taught a two-day plein air sketching class called "Sketch Your World" in San Clemente, CA, and on the second day we visited Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens. The Casa was closed for the day, but they allowed our group to come and paint, so we had the place all to ourselves except for a few gardeners working here and there to keep everything tidy.

Ink & watercolor in a 10" x 7" Handbook Field Watercolor Journal

It was peaceful and quiet as we wandered around the courtyard and grounds, selecting subjects for our morning project, a gridded page featuring scenes from Casa Romantica. I also encouraged the students to try using cross-hatching on their sketches.

In between helping students, I worked on a gridded page of my own. The 10" x 7" Handbook Field Watercolor Journal I was using is one of my favorites. After dividing the page into a 7-section gridded layout, the sketch boxes were fairly small, but that didn't stop me from drawing a border of tiny decorative tiles around the center space on my page and filling it with a the view from the Casa's oceanside terrace. The drawing was easy, but the painting of the tile border later drove me crazy. Much too fussy and time-consuming!

Tile design from the stair risers at the Casa

The gardens were filled with everything from lowly impatiens to towering cacti, and I wanted to feature plants prominently in my sketch, so I looked around for a plant that really caught my eye. I settled on this large succulent in the inner courtyard and drew a zoomed-in view of its waxy yellow-green leaves on the lower left corner of my page.

When I painted it later, I added touches of Cobalt Teal Blue to the dominant yellow-green color of the leaves to make it more interesting.

Since I used hatched lines on the ink drawing to indicate cast shadows on the leaves, the painting process went faster than usual. I didn't have to do as much layering and glazing as I usually do to get a range of values.

To balance out the green and yellow in the lower left corner of the page, I next decided to draw a big-leaf philodendron leaf in the upper right corner. I liked the interesting pattern of veins and open spaces in the leaf. Notice that I didn't edge the box with a black line, like I did with all the other boxes on the page. Instead, the spaces along the edge were left open.

HINT: Wait until the end of your drawing session to ink the grid lines, rather than doing it in the beginning. This gives you the option of having parts of the sketches extend past the grid lines, which makes things more interesting and adds depth and dimension to the page.

I debated long and hard about what to put in the long, narrow boxes on the page. I almost sketched in an antique wrought iron standing candelabra but finally made the decision to have each box contain something organic, since the gardens are what I enjoy most at the Casa. This vase filled with corkscrew willow branches seemed like a perfect fit for the box, and I loved the shadows they were casting on the wall.

The keyhole entrance to Casa Romantica is a distinguishing feature of the property, so I decided to include it on my page. I thought the scene would fit well in the horizontal box at the bottom of the page, so I went ahead and drew it in. It wasn't until I had finished it that I realized it looks way too busy situated next to the box above it (in the center of the page) with its intricate tile border, flowers, and landscape.

I should have done something simple instead in the lower box, but it was too late to change it. Next time I'll take a moment to consider the busyness factor when planning what subjects to feature in a grid box. The relationships between the individual sketches in a grid are important. I should have considered color, scale, and complexity instead of just thinking, "Oh, I like the keyhole door! I think I'll draw that."

It was late in the day when I got around to filling the last box in my grid. A tall, gangly cactus seemed like a good choice since it spoke to me of southern California. It also had interesting prickly dots along the spines of the trunk and branches, and it was casting lovely shadows on the wall behind it.

I sketched it quickly, then it was time for the final sharing time with the group. It had been a long four days of teaching, and I think the students were a little tuckered out, too. It was fun to see how varied everyone's sketches were, and we all agreed that it had been a wonderful, relaxing day that gave us all a little soul food.

Later, when I finished the sketch in the studio, I penciled in a title then inked it with a Pitt Artist's Pen, size S. Watercolor was added to give it some color and coordinate with the rest of the sketch.

The finished sketch...

Click to enlarge


  1. How nice that must have been to have the gardens all to yourselves! I like gridded layouts; I should think of doing them more often. And I like that you chose a theme. It creates such a harmony within the page. You know, I didn’t notice the keyhole entrance sketch as being too busy. I can see now why you are bothered by it, but I think it goes well with your theme and gives a real sense of place to the page as a whole, especially to someone, like me, who’s never been to Casa Romantica.

    1. I thought, too, that the entrance said a lot about the place, so I'm glad I included it. Sketching is really more about capturing the experience than it is about design, but you know me - page design is a big part of why I like sketchbook journaling. It's good to keep it all in perspective, though, and not worry too much about something that's less than ideal on a page. Just learn from the experience, turn the page, and do another sketch!

    2. Agreed! I think we are cut from the same cloth. ;-)


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