Watercolor

Paintings and sketches done in watercolor.



The Flowers That Bloom in May

The Flowers That Bloom in May Cover

The Flowers That Bloom in May PDF (10.5 MB)

During the month of May I challenged myself to draw every day. I chose as my theme the flowers in our backyard. I’ve been spending the last month and a half writing a journal about the project, which contains a gallery of all my sketches and field notes about my methods, materials, thoughts, and discoveries.

The Flowers That Bloom in May” – PDF (68 pages, 10.5 MB)

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Sebright Gardens Sketch

Sebright Gardens Sketch

Sebright Gardens Sketch

This morning I drove north to the Sebright Gardens for my first visit. Salem’s Artists in Action group was meeting there for one of their Paint the Town outings. So, in addition to checking out the garden I also wanted to meet the group. I talked with Melody and Merren and learned about the group and their activities and meetings. Both were very gracious and welcoming.

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Founder’s Square

Founder's Square

Founder’s Square

Saturday I drove to the Oregon Garden. Cold and clear. A perfect day to get out for a walk in the garden and catch up on my homework for Liz Steel’s Sketching Now Foundations course. Founder’s Square is a large open structure that’s used sometimes for outdoor weddings. In the summer it’s surrounded by vegetable gardens. Up the hill is the garden resort. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to sketch either the resort or the large structure which is Founder’s Square. I have walked here many times and photographed the location from various vantage points. The view of the resort did not appeal to me. So, I walked around the square to pick the best angle for context. I wanted to show the structure’s placement in relation to the gardens and resort. I was also looking for depth and composition with a photographer’s eye. I picked a spot that had a foreground, middle ground, and background (for depth) and that was out of the way of foot traffic (although there was hardly anyone else around).

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New Paints

Toy Palette

Toy Palette

I got some new watercolor paints for Christmas. Above are the original colors that came in a small toy palette I got as a stocking stuffer. The colors were really weak. So, I replaced them with my other major present which was a set of Daniel Smith watercolors.

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Constructing Volumes

Art Books

Art Books

Week 4 assignment for Liz Steel’s Sketching Now Foundations course. We are learning to construct volumes. In this exercise we first draw a wireframe outline as if we can see through the objects. I used a red Pilot FriXion erasable pen. Then we add black ink, and then watercolor. I erased the red lines with a hairdryer (heat erases the FriXion ink, cold brings them back). These are three of my favorite art books – “Art and Visual Perception” by Rudolf Arnheim, “Van Gogh’s Flowers and Landscapes” by Janice Anderson, and “Varieties of Visual Experience” by Edmund Burke Feldman. I’ve been practicing drawing straight lines. I think it is starting to pay off. My lines are looking less wobbly. It’s hard to get the angles and sizes right. I didn’t get the top book right to start with and that effected everything else. Also, lettering is hard when it’s on a slanting surface. I didn’t know how to do white lettering. I used a white charcoal pencil, but it didn’t show up very well on the light blue book. Also, I need to practice doing background washes. I should start with a juicier mix and work faster.

Jim

Kettle, Cup, and Spoon

Kettle, Cup, and Spoon

Kettle, Cup, and Spoon

This is an assignment for the Sketching Now Foundations course I’m taking from Liz Steel. We are Comparing pen and pencil sketching. I did the pen version on the left first starting with the cup. I then drew the top curve of the kettle, the handle, the spout, the middle curve, the left and bottom of the kettle, and finally the spoon. I then added a little blue watercolor to the cup and some gray for the shadows. I followed the same route with the pencil drawing on the right using a water soluble graphite pencil. I then added gray watercolor and pulled some of the graphite out of the drawing with a waterbrush to get the grays on the cup and a few other places.

I feel equally comfortable using both pen and pencil. I like both versions. The drawing with pen on the left is wonkier. It always takes me a while to warm up so the drawing with pencil is more accurate.

By the way, it really helps if you set up the objects you want to sketch like you would for a good photograph. I place them on a seamless white backdrop and light them from above with a soft large light source (I used a large Chinese lantern with a bright compact fluorescent bulb inside).

Seamless Backdrop

Seamless Backdrop

This helped me see the edges more clearly because the objects were not surrounded by a cluttered background. It also helped me see the cast shadows. Notice I actually have two light sources. The hanging lantern was to the right and I also had the overhead ceiling light on above and to the left.

Stillman & Birn Zeta series spiral bound 5.5 x 8 inch notebook, Mars 500 technical pen with 0.4mm tip and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, Kuretake Petit waterbrush, General’s Sketch & Wash water soluble graphite pencil, Lucas watercolors in my home made 15 color travel palette.

Jim

The Dentist’s Office

Dentist's Office

Dentist’s Office

I drove my wife, Kris, to the dentist today to have her teeth cleaned. I sketched the office while I waited in the car. I wanted to try using my technical pen with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink in it. I’ve been using a 0.5mm tip. I recently cleaned up an old 0.4mm tip that’s been sitting in my desk for 35 years. I let it soak overnight in a solution of Murphy’s Oil Soap (1 part soap to 10 parts water). That did the trick. Sure is fun to get an old favorite working again. I like the extra fine line.

Stillman & Birn Zeta series spiral bound 5.5 x 8 inch notebook, Mars 500 technical pen with 0.4mm tip and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, Kuretake Petit waterbrush, Lucas and Daniel Smith watercolors in my 15 color home made palette.

Jim

15 Color Travel Palette

Travel Palette

Travel Palette

This is my new travel watercolor palette. I made it from a plastic fluorescent light fixture grid panel that’s made up of 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) squares. I cut out a piece of the grid and then molded some InstaMorph plastic to fashion a bottom plate. I made the lid the same way cutting out the grid to leave just a frame. I taped one edge to make a hinge and filled the wells with Lucas and Daniel Smith tube watercolors. When closed the palette measures 3.5 x 2 x 0.75 inches (8.5 x 5 x 1.8 cm) a very convenient size that’s easy to carry in a pocket or bag. I hold it shut with a rubber band. I also attached a magnetic sheet top and bottom to hold it in use on my setup board when painting on location.

Stillman & Birn Zeta series 5.5 x 8 inch spiral bound notebook, Mars 500 technical pen with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, Lucas and Daniel Smith watercolors.

Here’s a photo of the palette open and closed in my hand so you can get an idea of its size.

Travel Palette Photo

Travel Palette Photo

Next I made a chart of all the 50/50 mixes that can be made with these 15 colors.

15 Color Mix Chart

15 Color Mix Chart

It takes a long time to do these charts, but it is well worth the effort. It’s important to start with clean colors and to keep them clean while you are working. That means cleaning the brush every time you pick up a color to mix it with another color, cleaning the mixing area when it gets full, and changing the cleaning water often.

Here are some of my discoveries:

  • When mixing it works best to mix light colors into darker/stronger colors.
  • Don’t put down wet paint right next to another square with wet paint in it. The two colors will bleed into each other. You can see that on the far left in the third and fourth rows. From then on I worked in a checkerboard pattern, waited until the paints had dried and then filled in the rest of the blank squares in the checkerboard.
  • I like the mixes made with Phalo Blue especially combined with my gray mix to make a nice Payne’s gray, with Viridian to make black, with Alizarin Crimson to make a nice dark brown, and Burnt Sienna to make gray.
  • I also like the mixes with Ceruleum Blue. Mixing it with Viridian makea a lovely turquoise. Mixing it with Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber creates nice grays.
  • I am not happy with the Lucas Cadmium Red Hue. It does not mix well. I need to find a better warm red.
  • I like the wide variety of greens and earth colors in these mixes.

I was surprised by the number of dark value mixes. Here’s a black and white picture of the chart. Notice how many of the colors are darker than mid tone gray.

15 Color Value Mix Chart

15 Color Value Mix Chart

I guess I should have realized how many dark blues and browns I had in my palette, but I didn’t until I saw this chart.

I’m pretty happy with my color choices in this palette – particularly here in the Pacific Northwest where we have a lot of greens and browns and our skies show many grays and blues.

Jim

SketchingNow Foundations Course Week 1

Pencil Tests

Pencil Tests

I’m taking a 12 week course in sketching from Liz Steel. This week we are getting to know our materials. I recently got some new water soluble pencils which I’ve been meaning to try. The General’s Sketch & Wash pencil arrived just before I was heading out the door to take Kris to the eye doctor’s. So, I stuck it in my bag and sketched a stool in the office while I waited. They kept turning the lights off on me which made it a challenge, but I persevered. This is a nice soft pencil capable of making a variety of marks. I really like how it melts into a beautiful granulated gray when you add water. I used my Kuretake Petit waterbrush to pull the grays from the lines on the page. This pencil works very well. I’ll be adding it to my kit.

I also recently tested a set of 6 Derwent Inktense water soluble colored pencils. They deliver as advertised a very intense ink like pigment when moistened. They also mix well. You can draw with them on dry paper and then wet them or you can draw onto wet paper and get very saturated color that spread into the paper. You can also use a brush to draw color from the tips of the pencils. That’s what I did in the row just above the mixes in my test. I’ll be carrying these in my kit too to add bright spot colors to my sketches.

Sketching Kit

Sketching Kit

Another assignment this week was to draw our sketching kit. This is the bag I usually carry with me when I go out. It has room for all my art supplies plus a water bottle and a snack. I drew this with the General’s Sketch & Wash pencil and added the grays with water from my Kuretake Petit waterbrush. I then used a variety of pens to add black and some detail.

Stillman & Birn Zeta series 5.5 x 8 inch wire bound notebook, General’s Sketch & Wash #588 water soluble graphite pencil, Sailor CDE calligraphy pen with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, Kuretake Petit waterbrush, Platinum Carbon Desk pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink, and Uni-Ball Vision Fine pen black.

Jim

The Wrong Nemo

Book Cover Illustration

Book Cover Illustration

This week’s Sketchbook Skool Storytelling assignment was to pick or make up a book and illustrate its cover. As a boy I loved reading my father’s books such as Treasure Island, Mysterious Island, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Some of them were illustrated by the great N.C. Wyeth. For a while I contemplated doing a small oil painting in Wyeth’s style. This seemed a bit ambitious. So I decided to do a watercolor.

Book Cover Thumbnails

Book Cover Thumbnails

I thought about it for a couple of days and did these thumbnails and an initial pencil drawing. The first four thumbnails were for “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and the last thumbnail was for “The Mysterious Island”. I picked “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and did a larger pencil sketch of the idea.

I didn’t want to hand letter the cover because coloring in around letters with watercolor would look messy.

Book Cover Comp

Book Cover Comp

I did this mock up in GIMP (the free open source image editing program). As usual it turned out to be more complicated than I anticipated. I wanted the title to be red with a black outline around the letters and the authors name to be black with a red outline around the letters. I tried a number of methods all of which didn’t work. Eventually I figured it out. You have to select the text with the text tool, convert the text to a path, and stroke the path and make sure you select the right foreground color before you do it. LOL. Well I learned something extra in Sketchbook Skool. I liked this idea. However, I thought I’d sleep on it.

The assignment called for doing research on the details. I Googled “weird deep-sea fish” and “giant octopus movies” and “1880 sailor uniforms”. While researching underwater scenes, I looked at Finding Nemo backgrounds (which are beautiful) and got the idea to include Nemo the clownfish in the scene. I then remembered the storyline of Finding Nemo. The movie is really about Nemo’s father, Marlin, as he searches for his son, Nemo. Then I got the idea to have Marlin find the wrong Nemo, Captain Nemo, on the Nautilus. Brilliant! Better ideas really do come with persistence.

I drew the illustration again on a larger piece of paper with pencil. I drew and erased at least six versions of Captian Nemo. It didn’t look right. I couldn’t find any reference photos showing him from the back. Finally I had to photograph myself in the right position to draw him as I couldn’t quite get the the head and legs right.

Jim Posing as Nemo

Jim Posing as Nemo

I inked the pencil drawing while lounging on the futon with my feet up and a heat pack on my back. I had thrown out my lower back while working in the yard. Sitting at the table bending over a drawing was not a good idea.

Book Cover Pen and Ink

Book Cover Pen and Ink

After dinner I painted the scene with watercolor. Strathmore 300 Bristle vellum paper holds up well to multiple erasures, but it does not handle watercolor well. It buckles and tiny pieces of paper ball up if you scrub it while wet. I photographed the painting and transferred the file to my iMac. I used GIMP to drop the image into the book cover design and changed the text to read “The Wrong Nemo by James Blodget”. I uploaded the image to SBS at midnight. Done is better than perfect.

Book Cover

Book Cover

I learned a lot from this assignment. I really enjoyed doing the research and discovered that it takes more time than doing the finished drawing. I was also reminded how important it is not to settle for your first idea. Allow yourself time and trust that the process will reveal a better idea.

Doing an illustration is about creating your own world. You decide what to put in and what to leave out. It’s all in the details. There are things in this drawing that I know no one else will notice like the gauge in the shadows in the upper left hand corner or the bit of yellow glow around the angler fish’s antenna or the blue reflection in the window sill or the blood shot eye of the octopus or the fact that his legs have two rows of suckers instead of one or that the first mate is barefoot. It’s all there because I thought about it and put it there. I now really appreciate the work that goes into a good illustration.

Jim

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

In 1954 a group of enthusiastic, imaginative children gathered together eager to learn. By 8:05 they realized that their teacher was part of a conspiracy to turn them into worker bees for the military industrial complex. Her name was Mrs. Weamers and she went by the book. Children in her class would do as they were told or else she would “Jump down your throat and dance on your liver” as she was fond of saying. We survived. We did more than that. After all, we were the generation who would grow up to defy the establishment in the 60’s and change everything. We had Great Expectations.

This week’s assignment for Sketchbook Skool was to draw from imagination your first day of school. It ended up taking a LOT longer than I anticipated. It took me two days to refine the idea. At first I thought I’d give each child a thought bubble with a dream occupation and compare that with the teacher’s wish to turn them all into corporate drones. That was WAY too complicated. So, I combined all their dreams into one group bubble and then realized that I didn’t need to show the teacher’s thoughts. Instead it could be implied by the space with the flag in the front corner, clock on the wall, desks in a row.

I drew the scene first in pencil. I started with the blackboard and back walls. I then drew circles for the placement of the kids’ heads and then refined their faces and bodies. Next I added the teacher and her desk and the flag. I then drew in the space for the thought bubble and sketched the cowboy. His horse turned into a beast because I couldn’t draw a bucking horse from memory. Other than a ballerina I had no idea what the girls wanted to be. So, I stuck to what I knew – a pirate, a deep sea diver, a pilot, a dare devil, a movie maker. These are the dreams of little kids.

The next stage was to ink in the drawing. I used a Platinum Desk Carbon pen with Platinum Carbon Black ink. It has a very fine nib and the ink is waterproof. I spent almost as much time erasing the pencil marks. Finally I added watercolor using a Di Vinci #6 travel brush and a combination of Daniel Smith and Lucas tube watercolors.

I learned once again that a project takes on a life of its own and you have to follow it. Don’t settle for your first idea. Usually the first thing you think of is a cliché. You need to take it further and have faith that good ideas will come along the way.

I was also reminded that drawing is fun, but it is also hard work. It takes a long time to do it “right”. It requires patience and stamina. “Rest with renewed attack” is a wise working strategy.

Jim

Lupin Sculpture

Lupin Sculpture

Lupin Sculpture

I went for a walk in the Oregon Garden in Silverton today. The Fall colors were really starting to pop. I sat near these iconic sculptures near one of the fountains to do this sketch. I drew in pencil first. I then used my Sailor calligraphy pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink. Finally I added watercolor using my Kuretake Mini waterbrush and my new homemade palette filled with a combination of Lucas and Daniel Smith tube watercolors.

I’m really starting to feel comfortable doing these sketches on location. I have more confidence with my materials and techniques and I’m working faster. I like the way this one turned out.

Jim

Coast Sketches

Coast Sketches

Coast Sketches

My wife and I spent a few days at the coast. I managed to squeeze in several small sketches. These were done on business card size watercolor paper. I was experimenting with carrying all my materials around in my shirt and pants pockets. Each sketch holds a story for me. The first one is the view across the street from our rental house. We were in a tsunami hazard zone. The road up the hill was the escape route. The second one is our house as seen from sitting on the hood of our car. I had to carry all our luggage up those stairs. The third is the view from the dining room window. The days were gray but that didn’t keep us from (picture four) walking to the beach. A large surf was coming in on Saturday. So, all the surfers were out in their wet suits. I prefer to work larger, but it’s fun to see that even a small sketch can trigger a memory.

I bought this paper on jetpens.com for under $5.

Jim