Objects of Desire

20 January, 2017. This past week I began to introduce gouache to my painting students. It’s a media that seems to be remarkably unfamiliar to students, and surprisingly even to many art teachers of my acquaintance. Essentially, gouache is an opaque watercolor. Practically speaking I see it handling somewhere between traditional watercolor and tempera. I know a lot of classroom tempera paint is really crude stuff, so I don’t mean to sound disparaging. Good quality gouache is far and away superior to the gloppy tempera paint that comes in gallon jugs.

Normally I would be teaching acrylic right now, but I’ve grown weary of replacing brushes and scrubbing out palettes crusted over with dried paint – not to mention the annual ritual of having a plumber come out to fix the pipes under the sink, clogged with glops of acrylic. Gouache is a good alternative for teaching opaque painting that is far more gentle on brushes, palettes, and pipes. A plus is that while acrylic tends to intimidate my students for some reason, they are taking to gouache quite naturally.

I plan for my art students to complete two paintings before we transition to watercolor. The first prompt is “Objects of Desire,” in which learners are asked to create a painting of a luscious, tempting, scrumptious dessert of their choosing. We’re working in a relatively small size – the example I made in yesterday’s class (above) is the same size and support specified for students (10 x 10 inches, on illustration board.)

I don’t know how many different ways there are to approach painting in gouache. As always, I stress that there will generally be more life and vitality to a painting if it’s done from life rather than a photographic reference. (It’s fun to look around the art room and see that some kids have done as I did in the example above, and brought in something yummy to draw and paint.) In any event, I always begin with sketches on scrap paper or in a sketchbook to work out my general composition, then very lightly transfer a drawing onto the support. I find I’m more successful keeping the construction lines less detailed rather than more to allow for a more fluid application of line or color.

Gouache is a good way to introduce a valuable concept to students interested in moving into painting with oils: painting gradually thicker layers over thin. The reality of oil requiring this approach to ensure proper binding of layers isn’t relevant to gouache, but I find that subsequent thicker, more opaque layers of gouache lay down more easily when brushed over a light underpainting. The underpainting also helps me to visualize how local colors harmonize and to consider ideas about value placement. It’s quite a bit different than how I approach watercolor.

The end result has an interesting matte quality, with what I would describe as a sort of “pastiness” where the opaque white mixtures are built up. I enjoy the ability to work with flat colors that are more design-like than some other medias might naturally turn out.

Out of the Ice

17 January, 2017. I’ve heard that timing is everything. When we scheduled a three day weekend in Florida a couple of months ago, we figured it would be a welcome respite from our normally cold January weather. What we didn’t realize is that we’d be fleeing the Midwest just ahead of a big ice storm. Great timing!

So for three days I hung out on Cocoa Beach, just me, a bag full of Tommy Bahama shirts, and my sketchbook. My travel kit is small, so these are pretty much all brush pen or Lamy Safari fountain pen.

Cold ride.

2 January, 2017. I sketched this out with a brush pen a couple of days ago. I’m not even sure if I like it or not, so on a lark I scanned it in and added color layers in Photoshop. (Kuretake #40 brush pen in Canson 180 sketchbook. Color, courtesy of Adobe.)

There’s a time and place for this sort of thing, I suppose, but it feels a little too much like a magazine illustration for my tastes…too much contrast between the looseness of brushed lines and the hard, mechanical shapes of color, I think.

This is my story.

1 January, 2017. I had fun working on an illustration this afternoon. This sketch is my donation to the HALO art auction. The auction is emphasizing the power of story this year, which I think is a nice fit for my approach to sketching. As I said, this was fun. I enjoyed using the fountain pen to scribble, and then allowed the watercolor to pool and bloom and “melt” the line work. The more I experiment with limited color, loosely drawn and painted elements, and simply leaving some areas completely unpainted, the more I enjoy the direction my sketching has traveled. (Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen and watercolor wash on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper; typography was added in Photoshop.)

Belly up, folks.

16 December, 2016. Belly up, folks, because it’s a cold night out there – damn cold when you think about it, and only getting colder. So belly up, hoist a glass or two, and enjoy an hour of good company while you wait on your platter of fish and chips. From time to time the door will open and you’ll briefly shiver as the crowd grows, another soul or two added into the scrum. (Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen and watercolor wash on Strathmore Aquarius II.)

One Day Before Thanksgiving

23 November, 2016. Bubba’s car is on the fritz so I had to pick him up from work yesterday. Due to the holiday, he only clocked half a day so it happened that we were heading home – and right past the turn off for The Local Pig – at 11:30. Well, that seemed like fate to me!

We stopped to shop at the meat market for what I consider to be the best smoked and brined chops I’ve ever had, and ate lunch from their food truck. Normally, the Pigwich has a long line of hungry, patient patrons but the crowd was small on this chilly November day. Bubba sat on one of the benches immersed in a video game of some sort while our sandwiches were being prepared and I used the opportunity to use him as the subject for a quick sketch.

(Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen on Strathmore Aquarius II)


I get a lot of requests to purchase reproductions of my sketches, as well as original artworks. Most of the sketches that appear on the pages of Just Sketching are available in a high quality printed format. Most reproductions are approximately 8.5 x 11 inches and printed on heavy art paper. Set up with a generous white border, I like to use a wider mat in a 16 x 20 frame.

Unmatted reproductions are reasonably priced at $25, plus $5 for shipping (CONUS only.) If you wish to make a purchase, please use the contact form below. Be sure to indicate the image(s) that interest you. I accept payment through PayPal.

Original drawings and paintings are often generated on commission. However, I seldom sell my original sketchbook work.

Eclectic Cafe

16 November, 2016. You heard it here first: I love the funky little hippy joints, those hole-in-the-wall places with both eclectic people and food. OK, most of these places are populated with folks in search of coffee and an endearing seat in which to enjoy their cup. Personally, I hate the stuff, but the places themselves are great for observing a diverse populace.

Keeping things loose – especially the application of paint – is the best part of these sketches for me. After nearly four decades of splashing watercolor around on paper, I finally feel like the paint isn’t fighting with me. Too, the earth tone pigment of the inked line work seems to hold things together, the warmth is much less harsh than the black I use when I sketch with brush pens. (Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen, Noodler’s Ink (Beaver), watercolor wash, on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.)

New Roads

12 November, 2016. Chancing upon a gravel road, I pedaled that path to see where it led, round tight corners bordering Missouri River bluffs and through farmlands pretty and cozy and nestled and hidden. Between fields I rode, flanked by ponds and streams; horses, livestock, and waterfowl were my neighbors, and one cowboy rehearsing with a lariat, a young steer his understudy. Up and over very steep hills, I climbed and panted; my breathing at times labored as my wheels reached each summit. And yet the November air brought forth a growing chill in the waning afternoon light.

I was traveling light, a sketchbook and pen and lead holder my only tools. The colors, though, were wonderful and I regret not bringing along watercolor. (Rural Clay County, Missouri; Kuretake No. 40 brush pen)

Music in the Park

6 November, 2016. Well, I ran out of ink almost immediately at yesterday’s Tweed Ride, but I still had my lead holder. I quickly roughed in a few of the people with graphite, and inked them this morning with a Lamy Safari fountain pen. I debated about adding color throughout the entire thing. Maybe I’ll do so, but I kind of like the unfinished look. (Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen, Noodler’s Ink, Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper; Kansas City, Missouri.)