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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sketchbook Review: Field Artist 4" Square Watercolor Journal

Click to enlarge
Every once in a while, I spot a new art toy that I just know is going to recharge my flagging art energies and it happened when I saw the Field Artist 4" Square Watercolor Art Journal!

I just knew I was going to love it because:

  • It's small. At only four inches, it fits in the palm of my hand when closed. 
  • It's square. I've been having a love affair with squares for many long years and I am almost always captivated by something squared, especially if it is not usually found in that shape!
  • It's a watercolor journal and that always makes me happy. 
Upon receiving the art journal from Amazon (no affiliate links), I immediately pulled out my stamps and embossing powder and decorated the front cover. The journal does have an elastic band to keep it closed that cannot be seen in the image. 

While I adore the effect, I don't recommend doing this as the embossing is not holding up well. My journals are well traveled. They go everywhere I do and that means they typically tumble around in whatever bag I am carrying. The cover itself is a "PU leather-like fabric" and is holding up just fine. It's the embossing I added that is not. 

My first piece of art is on the inside of the cover. The paper used as the endpaper is not the same as the journal pages. It's much lighter in weight so I opted to use markers to create my design. The paper didn't hold up well even under marker so I caution you about using any kind of wet media on it.  

The endpaper on the inside right sports the sketchbook branding and is oriented so that the logo only reads correctly when the book is opened top to bottom with the fold of the journal above the logo. You can also see the yellow ribbon page marker in the image below. 

I'm thinking I'm going to be gluing an additional piece of watercolor paper over the branding page and using the space as a place to put my "if lost, please return" info:

Eventually, I worked my way to my first page. Since the book is small and I knew I wanted it to record "everyday adventures" that seemed to fit as the title page as well as the theme. I think we often have far many more adventures than we realize. It takes paying attention to notice them though. 

Those adventures can be as simple as having to take a detour due to construction and seeing something new or it may be notice a pretty bloom on your way to the mail box (even if it's a weed!). 

By elevating the ordinary by paying attention, we can make it extraordinary!

The page has ink from a Faber-Castell Artist PITT Pen as well as watercolors on it. There was no bleed through from the pen or paint. The pen performed very well on the paper with no skipping or bulking. 

There is a slight textural difference between the two sides of the pages and they don't always match up. Sometimes you have two different textures across a spread. There doesn't seem to be a pattern to where the difference will show and where it will not. It's slight enough that it can be ignored even if it is visible. 

I found the time to capture a family of wrens that have been visiting our backyard in the evenings. The babies had just fledged and were a little clumsy the first time we spotted them. Four days later and the only way to tell the parents from the babies was the fact that the babies were still following mom and dad around with their mouths open waiting to be fed!

There is a stamp in the upper corner that did not bleed through to the other side even when I painted over the stamped area. Again, pen and watercolor were used in the piece.

One last little surprise was the long accordion-fold, panorama page that is attached in the very back of the book in place of a pocket. It is four panels wide, but the fourth panel is partially glued to the back cover giving you only three panels to be painted on the back. I have to admit a pocket at less than four inches in width probably wouldn't have been very useful! 

The paper is marketed under the Chinese brand, Image. I was not able to find further information on the maker or the paper. 

So here are my pros on this adorable little journal:
  • It's small and very portable. 
  • The size is perfect for capturing a quick sketch. 
  • The paper is acid-free and dries flat without having to be weighted or dried with a blow dryer. 
  • The paper has hard sizing which makes it very forgiving when you want to pick up paint to get back to the white of the paper. 
  • It lies flat making it easy to work across the spread. 

My cons:
  • The sketchbook is very small and it takes some adjusting to getting used to working in it. It's hard to rest the heel of your hand on the page and draw at the same time! It is not difficult to adjust to the size challenges, but I'm thinking folks with big hands would really be challenged. 
  • The paper is not archival. Chances are good it is made from wood pulp instead of cotton or linen and they have removed the acids. However, this is not a deal breaker for me as I'm using this to play in rather than creating works I expect to wind up in a museum!
  • The paper has a hard sizing which makes it way too easy to lift color unexpectedly and it seems to take a bit longer to dry than other papers. While I put this down as a con because speed is important to working on location, it's not a huge problem. It just means I need to alter my approach a bit to fit with the paper of the journal.  
  • The fact that the paper textures do not match up across the pages. It's a minor thing to fix and because it wasn't, it speaks to rather shoddy workmanship or a lack of pride in their journals, especially given the last point... 
  • For the size, I find it a bit pricey at $12.95 (I guess we're paying for that extra dose of cuteness!).
So far, I've been very pleased with the journal and I've thoroughly enjoyed using it! I look forward to finding more little everyday adventures to record on its pages!

What new art toys have you found lately?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Training To Overcome The Fear of Sketching Out in The Wilds

A-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n Spread, completed
Stillman & Birn Zeta, 7 x 7 inches
Ink & Wash 
The idea of stepping out into the world where anyone might want to take a peek at the pages in our sketchbook can be daunting. Especially if we're new to the idea or at the beginning of developing our skills. Of course, this make an adventure like An Imaginary Trip Made Real To England seem huge, but it's not!

It boils down to performance anxiety. We're afraid of disappointing ourselves and others. What would we do if we went and then couldn't get anything worthwhile down on the page? Eeeek!

Let me ask this: if you were doing a speech in front of 150 people, would you wing it or would you write and practice your speech for days, if not weeks, in advance? If you decided to run a 5K race, would you wait until the day of the race to start building your endurance? Of course not!

My friends, sketching is no different! It takes practice, a willingness to leave our comfort zones and a sense of adventure. 

To begin conditioning yourself means starting to sketch NOW. Today. 

And that's where things like a-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n pages come into play. For me, anticipation pages began as a way to practice and psyche myself up for the "big event." Eventually, I realized that I kept creating them because they gave me a great deal of enjoyment. I like the build up of excitement before the actual trip.

By doing anticipation pages, I "knock the rust off" of my skills if I've been lazy about sketching on a regular basis. When I create pages in my home environment, I try to work from life, but sometimes that's not possible. Since I don't have any chickens, I went to the computer for inspiration. I worked from the screen rather than printing out a photo. Same goes for the soccer ball.

I had a champagne cork so I used that as my model, but I didn't have any cheese rolls lying around, so it was back to the computer. This time, I found out what cheese rolls looked like and then drew them in the composition I wanted for my page. The umbrella and tea cup were my own and I drew from life to strengthen my eye and hand coordination.

Taking It To The Next Step
While you're definitely in training when you're sitting in your kitchen sketching away, working outside of our normal work area, is an entirely different experience and one that should be practiced as well.

When I first decided to sketch on location, I waltzed out the door and went to a town about twenty minutes from me. The downtown area was full of interesting old buildings and mostly deserted on a Sunday morning. I was making sure there was no one about, but it didn't matter, I still failed spectacularly! I had not yet discovered a new mindset.

Since working on location totally blew my mind, I decided to begin again with baby steps—I started in my kitchen. I would pull a chair away from the table and draw something with my sketchbook in my lap. I sketched and painted whatever was outside the window or I'd set a leaf or pot of flowers on the window sill and draw.

After a while, I became bored with this set up and went outside and drew in my backyard. My backyard's not all that exciting so it didn't take too terribly long before I decided to go to the park and sketch. Sure, I chose an area where I wasn't likely to run into anybody, but I was still getting out there. I eventually went into town to sketch and then a restaurant and so on until I conditioned myself to sketch anywhere. Not all sketches were successful, but the training was!

I would occasionally gather up my courage and go sketching around a bunch of people in a busy location. Sometimes it worked out and other times it looked like a rabid squirrel had scribbled all over the page. My nerves would get the best of me and I'd panic.

But you know, I survived. And with each attempt I became a little stronger, a little gutsier. I also realized that most people have no clue what I'm doing. They don't notice. They're too busy with their own dramas to be worried about me and my little sketchbook.

There's also something about interacting with people, by choice, that lends another layer of patina over the whole experience. Most folks that stop and talk to you, who want to see what your doing, want to be like you. They want to be brave enough to sketch "out in the wilds." They want to be creative. Just listen to them. You'll hear it in their voices when they speak.

Changing Your Mindset
When sketching in the wilds, it requires a different mindset than sketching in familiar [safe] surroundings. First and most obvious, is the amount of time we'll have. When we work in our homes, we can work as long as we want [in comfort] on something, usually while working from a photo.

When we're on location, we have a much more limited amount of time and we must adjust our expectations to match the amount of time we have as well as the current skill level we possess.

Rather than viewing the time limit as a bad thing, use it to challenge yourself to see just how much you can get done on location. If you're not getting much down on the page, start looking for ways to work quicker. This usually means leaving out details or suggesting them rather than meticulously recreating them.

Another big change to consider is this: if you don't get finished on location, you can always take a quick snap with your phone and use it for reference later. Knowing you can take a photo helps to reduce the amount of pressure we place on ourselves to get the page finished in one sitting. Sure, that's the long term goal, but we're in training and that goal will be met eventually.

Last, it's a sketch. It's not a mini-masterpiece! When we're on location, dealing with the elements, the light changing, people walking around and other distractions, sketching becomes a mini-adventure within the bigger trip! It takes on a life of its own that becomes an indelible memory that queues up every time you look back at your sketch. And I will share a secret with you...even lousy sketches still serve as a great portal back to the moment in time where it was created!

So instead of postponing a marvelous adventure like An Imaginary Trip Made Real To England until "you're ready," go ahead and sign up today! Then start training for an adventure unlike any other. Challenge yourself to sketch something each and every day. Even if it's for just 15 minutes a day, you'll have logged over 30 hours of practice before we leave for England!!

And remember, once we're in England, you'll be with likeminded people and I'll be there by your side to help you create a sketchbook full of great memories!

How do you prepare for a big art trip? Any "training tips" you'd like to share that help you move past fear?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

family reunion sketching

I have not posted on this blog for a while. As I wrote my own blog yesterday about my recent family reunion I remembered my family history project from some time ago, which was mentioned in the Artist's Journal Workshop book. It was a different side of the family (paternal) , and I realised that I have very little from this side of the family (maternal) in the way of objects, letters and photos .
I was fortunate to capture what I could at the family reunion.

Last weekend I spent five days interstate for a Family Reunion in Goondiwindi  (pronounced Gunda - windy) in Queensland, Australia. pop 5600. I completed over 10 pages of sketches.
my maternal line . drawn from family photographs. I drew this in advance to set the scene and begin the narrative of the following pages.  Faber Castell Dark Sepia watercolour pencil is perfect. I was tempted to use colours with the current generation, but liked the old world look.
It was a gathering of over 130 descendants of two migrants in 1850's. Our family line stayed in the area until 1953, so there is close connection.
This is my art blog so it is all about the sketches from the weekend. It also includes sketches done in advance and completed afterwards. 
I took my customised  watercolour pencil wrap and Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (13 x 19 cm) with me, as I do everywhere I go. There is always an opportunity to sketch !

But first I had to get there - My journey began with a bus ride a,  two hour flight then a two and a half hour drive west to outback Queensland. 
The Cunningham Highway is a long flat road. Not as brown and barren as I thought it would be.

Some time was spent visiting places which brought back  memories for some of the family.

Meet and Greet at the Goondiwindi Bowls Club on Friday night. So many new faces.

I sketched this in the open hot, dry heat of 33 degrees. I did not stay out there long, heading back under the trees for conversation and food.
Group photos at Goondiwindi Boars Rugby League Playing Fields - one of everyone and then the separate families. The photographer was really quick and did not stand still for long.

Lots of social gatherings .  But I did not sketch at them all, as I wanted to socialise, ask lots of questions and try and soak it all in. The long weekend was very well organised, with names on coloured tags for which line of the family you are descended from. Great introduction and talking points. I met some lovely and interesting people.

It was a very special moment to stand in front of the graves of the ancestors who began life here in a strange foreign land over 150 years ago. It is difficult to try to understand the difficulties and challenges that they encountered.

and then the return journey home.....
... to start writing down some of the family stories that we were told and fill in the gaps on our family tree with the new relations we discovered. 
 Below is part of that history - Nana's tennis trophy from 1941. The town of Toobeah now has a population of 42. I think it was about 250 when she visited, There are quite a few tennis courts around the district, and it must have played a big role in the social life of the district.

I sketched this in 2014

Friday, December 9, 2016

a really tiny mint tin palette

On our recent trip to Fredericksburg, I purchased a tiny mint tin because it reminded me of a friend and co-worker who portrayed Rosie the Riveter in historic presentations. Teresa's aunt had actually been a riveter during World War II, and much of the material was based on her memories. And now the tin has been turned into a wee paint box. I tested my color choices on this page.

A silicon mini ice cube tray from Amazon was cut up to fit the tin with 9 spaces for tube paint to be squeezed into. While I was at it, I cut another to fit the Texas mint tin I purchased when we were planning to move to Texas. Formerly it held 6 half-pans of paint; now it can hold 12 colors plus a bit of a natural sponge.

The bare minimum of tools to take along with me . . . one of these tiny tins, a fountain pen, a waterbrush, and my journal.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Travel sketching in Port Fairy

Last weekend I spent a delightful weekend away in the delightful Port Fairy, four hours from Melbourne . I carry my Moleskine Watercolour sketchbook, Lamy Safari ink pen and watercolour pencils with me everywhere. This blog is my journal of sketches from the weekend. It includes my different styles of sketching and drawing, depending on time, opportunity and inclination. I feel like I have captured my weekend on paper and looking back at it will bring back memories of the time and place.

The historic seaside village of Port Fairy is a unique example of a perfectly preserved 19th century shipping port. The little township has retained its old world character and there is an extraordinarily rich variety of architecture.   
POPULATION 3100 - peak periods 10,000 - Folk Festival; 40,000

I caught the train to Warnambool and then a short connecting bus ride to Port Fairy. 

I walked around  the nearby Griffith Island. The lighthouse and bird (above) were sketched on location. The shells and seaweed drawn back at my cosy accommodation in the evening. It was an idyllic day.
The Port Fairy Lighthouse was built in 1859 (41 feet above high watermark) and is on Griffith Island. Griffiths Island is also home to a large colony of muttonbirds, who nest in burrows in the ground. 
I saw the dead Muttonbird (Shearwater) on the beach at the end of my walk and sat on the beach to draw its angelic wings as it was buried in the sand. I had seen a few dead muttonbirds on the island (thousands roost live there in summer) but this is the first one I wanted to draw.


On Sunday I met with a sketching friend, Angela who took me on a tour of Port Fairy and we sketched some of the sights. It has so much to offer visually and historically. I am returning in February and will do more sketching then. 

As well, as seeing the sights, we visited a local Church fair, where Angela's friend Val was face painting. A group of four small girls arrived with parents and Angela offered to lend a hand. It was an unexpected and delightful time of the day. The young girls were very happy with the results of the newbie face painter! I was happy to sketch the painters.
I am really pleased with my captures on paper from the weekend.

Monday, November 7, 2016

New Stonehenge Watercolor Paper!

I was recently asked to review the new Stonehenge watercolor paper from Legion Paper--they sent me samples*, and although I am VERY happy with it and plan to get more for my journaling projects as well as painting, you know I'll be honest...I've been devoted to Fabriano for years, and this had to measure up to some stiff competition!

It did.

So let's get right at it!  I had small sheets of 300 lb. rough, 140 lb cold press, and 140 lb. hot press to experiment with, and I really put it through its paces.  I threw about everything at it I could think of...

It's a good bright white paper, with both internal and external sizing, so it's pretty tough.  I'm not terribly hard on my paper, but I did use some of the rougher techniques I could think of.

This is the 300 lb. rough paper I tried first...

Salt and scraping...
I worked very wet in wet on the two examples above, and used spatter, spray, salt and scraping--it handled all of those well.  I hadn't stretched or taped the paper down to a board, so it did buckle slightly while wet, but it dried nicely--and since I usually DO tape down my paper when doing an actual painting rather than working in my journal, I don't consider that a problem.  (I didn't notice any buckling in the small journals I made...)

Here I did a variety of small test swatches on the 300 lb. paper..lifting at upper left (scrubbed pretty hard on that one with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and there was some slight pilling, but they brushed off when it was dry); drybrush in the middle that nicely shows paper texture; scraping at upper right with an overlay of soft color.

The graded wash at lower left would have been smoother, but that was MY fault, not the paper's!  Again some lifting, gentler this time and no pilling.  Finally at lower right, nice glazing of colors.

The other papers, both 140 lb. lent themselves to my favorite approach these days, journal making.  I did a meander/maze journal from the hot press,  and an accordion from the cold press, below.


This is the little accordion journal, with cold press paper...fun!
I packed up the accordion and headed out to Watkins Mill to explore its capabilities.  I love that pine tree and it made a terrific subject.

I started with an ink sketch of the trunk, then tried a variety of effects that the cold press paper handled just fine...wet in wet, drybrush, scraping, no problem.

You can see the nice paper texture here...
I painted the small branches with the pointed, sharpened end of my watercolor brush, below.

The finished sketch...

...and playing with approaches and textures on the right...

A graded wash, and drybrush with a flat brush at top and a round one at the bottom.  I enjoyed the texture, which you can see above in this photo taken on a sunny day!  Again a graded was was successful on the CP paper...

I love the way you can work across the fold in this type of book, and just keep going!

Though it IS watercolor paper, I decided to try other mediums as well...different graphite pencils, here...

...some watercolor pencil...

A bamboo brush and ink...

I made the brush from a garden stake...obviously not for detail work, but it seemed to love the paper texture too!

These are some of my favorite pigments...the colors really sing on this paper.
Going for broke here...drawing back into a wet wash with ink below, blotting, edges, spatter, granulating colors, salt and clear water...yep, the paper can take it!
So...was that all?  Nope, still had the hot press to test out, though that little meander journal still has some pages in it to play with...

The cover for the meander journal....

This is the meander journal in the process of making it--3 folds with the grain, three across.  I did notice that the paper's folds were more visible against the grain than with it, though nowhere near as badly as Arches, which tends to crack. 
I couldn't resist my favorite Prismacolor colored pencil for sketching, on the smooth paper...nice...

Of course it took ink and watercolor well...

Granulating paints really show up on this surface...loved that.  It's Daniel Smith's Lunar Black in wet washes...

I got a set of Gansai watercolors and tested them out on the HP paper as well...the colors are brilliant!

And finally many layers of gouache...the smooth, bright paper was perfect!

..as noted in this post, it will be commercially available in December--check with your favorite supplier--but you can get samples to play with right NOW by filling out the form you'll find here... Legion Paper's new Stonehenge in a variety of weights and surfaces: http://www.legionpaper.com/stonehenge-aqua

Try it out and let me know what you think! 

* I received no payment for this review other than the paper itself--full disclosure here! 
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