Making sketchbooks

21 March, 2016. I was really excited to recently discover that Nicholson’s Peerless Transparent Watercolors are still being made – I presumed they went out of business years ago (wrongly, as it turns out.) I used to love these as an easy, transportable method of carrying watercolors out onto location and I promptly ordered replacements for my long exhausted supply. Imagine my surprise when they arrived this morning safely wrapped in a page torn from a February 1948 issue of Better Homes & Gardens!

These are unusual pigments in that they are highly concentrated and somehow dried onto small sheets of card stock. One can cut out a “palette” of, say, 1 x 1 inch squares and double stick tape them to a card that fits perfectly to the inside front cover of one’s sketchbook. Many artists who use Peerless paints have gone to great lengths to figure out better and better ways to carry them – each artists seems to have topped the previous one. For examples of their ingeniousness, check out the examples on the Peerless site or simply do a search on YouTube. Seriously – it’s difficult to create a more compact kit than this.

Yesterday, I hit the woods for a short sketch outing carrying a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and a sketch “pamphlet” I made from a sheet of Arches Cold Press watercolor paper. Interestingly, I recently noticed that Marc Taro Holmes is doing almost exactly the same thing. I can get four 4-page pamphlets from each full sheet of watercolor paper (four 8-page booklets if one uses both sides.) I like Arches Cold Press as a stock for straight watercolor painting and thought I’d try it out as a sketching surface. However, as noted yesterday, I just wasn’t at all pleased with how the paper accepted line work from my brush pen – in point of fact, it did not accept the lines at all. I had to laboriously work back and forth to make the lines lay down on the surface, which is really not my preferred approach at all. I’d far rather my lines appear effortless, and that’s not gonna happen when the process demands each line be worked so heavily. Arches CP isn’t going to work for me as a sketch surface so this morning I decided to do a little action research.

After a visit to the art store, I’ve selected three sheets with which to experiment upon over the coming week: Fabriano Studio Hot Press, Fabriano Artistico Hot Press, and Arches Hot Press. Without having yet put pen to paper – just touching the “feel” of the paper – it seems like the Arches will provide both a nice surface for line and a decent surface for washes. But the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. By the way, I was intrigued by the paper Marc Taro Holmes recommends using, Strathmore Aquarius II. He describes it as a lightweight paper that won’t buckle under washes. Stretching the paper is unnecessary because it’s some type of synthetic blend. None of the three professional art stores locally carry it, but it’s available online from Blick, Amazon, and Jerry’s. When I searched, Amazon was about three times higher than Jerry’s for some reason.

Today, I’ll carry one of the sketching booklets with me as I ride out toward the country and enjoy the second day of Spring. Later this week, I’ll be in the Ozarks and then further south to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I should have plenty of subject matter to conduct my sketch testing.

Accordion-fold sketchbook

20 March, 2016. Well, it’s Spring Break. No school for ten days and I plan to not waste this opportunity to get some sketching and painting in. I cut up a full sheet of 180# Arches Cold Press watercolor paper to make some accordion-fold sketch pamphlets. I was curious to see how the brush pen worked on this surface in the field.

I’m really not crazy about the brush catching on the surface, without the typical economical line work I prefer. This surface that I like so much for watercolor painting simply isn’t “slick” enough for my style of brush work. I’d far rather let the point of the brush slide around a lot more casually, instead of having to work back and forth over the same line, over and over and over again just to make it apparent. I don’t like how much this feels like a coloring book instead of the gestural nature of a sketch.

But – of course! – the watercolor washes lay down nicely on this paper. I’m going to give things another try tomorrow with hot press paper instead. There’s got to be a way to get nice washes and still have a velvety surface for the lines. (Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and watercolor wash on 180# Arches Cold Press.)

I’m hip.

6 March, 2016. Morning Day Cafe is fun and hip and has great food in a low stress, inviting environment. Tattoos and other signs of hipness are in abundance, as evidenced by the guy here who seems to rule the short counter. (Roughed in with graphite, inked with Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in Canson 180 Sketchbook. Approximately 6 x 9 inches. Liberty, Missouri.)


“Barista?” I’m not a coffee drinker – I hate the stuff. So, not being into that scene, I’m not sure what this guy is actually called. He’s making coffee, but he’s also pouring drinks and taking food orders, so I’ve probably got his title screwed up. Whatever.

We stopped by Morning Day Cafe on the Square in Liberty, Missouri to grab a bite to eat before walking around the corner to get a long overdue and badly needed hair cut. It’s a cool, hip place populated by cool, hip people. How it found its way to Liberty is beyond me, but I’m thrilled we’ve now got a couple of eclectic and interesting destinations in town. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)

Catching up.

5 March, 2016. Well, so much for making this a “daily” sketch journal. Things have been more than a little hectic and while I’ve managed to squeeze in a little time for sketching, updating this journal has been more than I could fit into my week. The sketches themselves are a disjointed group, so it’s fitting, I suppose, that they get posted here as a kind of representation of my jumbled week.

Several days ago, we took our drawing students to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art to learn first hand what expressive painting looks like. Following that visit, groups of art students fanned out to conduct photo research of the architecture in the surrounding area. (We’ll be exploring that subject matter in class later this month.) Even though The Country Club Plaza commercial district has what is described as a “Spanish influence,” there are a variety of styles in evidence, most of which is very decorative in nature, and highly ornate. It’s an urban sketcher’s paradise, to be quite frank.

Speaking of art students, I’ve really been enjoying sketching them as they learn about easel painting these past weeks.

I can’t believe how “into it” they’ve become, how engaged they are with easel painting. I wonder if they’ll be as focused when the weather improves and we move outdoors to work on location?

Working on location with a sketchbook is a natural for me. I give myself permission not to worry myself about how realistic my sketches are, or concern myself with a sketch that takes just a few minutes to scribe in comparison to another in which I manage to get lost in the details.

Because my days have been so busy, I’ve had little time to be out cycling. No cycling means no bike sketching, and that’s been a frustration for me.

And just for fun I scribbled a quick caricature of a fairly dour looking woman when we dined out the other evening.