One of the watercolor problems that every artist needs to learn to solve is handling the paintings that they don’t think are good enough. It happens to us all, believe me. Eventually you will hear yourself say I hate my art ! Here are some strategies for handling that eventuality with grace.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, ‘why paint’? Do you wonder about the importance of painting and whether there are any benefits to it?
Ever thought about having a go at a portrait in watercolour? Good thinking… and these 10 tips for beginners are sure to get you off to a flying start.
Have you heard the story of Goldilocks and the 3 art supplies? If you have ever wondered if you are choosing the ‘right’ art supplies, this is for you…
Apparently if you ask Neil Gaiman where ideas come from he might just say something like, "a little shop near Bognor Regis". For inspired creatives who produce consistently it seems to be something of a tiresome question. Hmm, must be hard for them. But what do us lesser mortals do?
Well, as far as I can see, the difference between consistent creative producers and those of us asking these sorts of questions is that the producers have figured out how to 'show up'.
You see it’s a bit like that witty comeback. You think of the best one liner - somewhere between a few hours and a few days later, don't you? You had to have the snarky encounter and then give your brain a bit of time to work on a suitable response. Same with writing, same with painting, or any creative work for that matter. It’s only when you engage yourself in the physical act of doing the creating that the wheels start turning.
Don't have great expectations of that first effort or two, however. Remember your comeback line? The first thing your brain came up with on the spot was probably something close to, "I know you are, but what am I?" Then, instantly recognising that some improvement was possible, your brain kept grinding away churning out pithy alternatives until, at last - perfection! (Too late of course, but a perfect reply, nonetheless.)
So the trick is to create. Want inspiration and ideas? Show up.
That's when you get inspired. And also improve your skills, problem solve, not to mention just plain old enjoying the process of creating. Writing, drawing, basket weaving - doesn’t matter. It applies across them all. Begin the process. Enjoy the process. Let the product begin its evolution into something better and better.
You see, it’s science. There's this thing called the Reticular Activating System in your brain. It sets out collecting bits of data from your world that match whatever it thinks you are looking for. If it is a witty comeback line then all of a sudden snippets of eavesdropped conversation, Seinfeld reruns and newspaper letters to the editor all seem to appear with some relevant insights, feeding into your creative problem solving machinery.
So it is with any other creation. The difference between composing a witty retort and writing a novel or painting a picture is simply a matter of scale.
But back to that question regarding the source of inspiration for a moment. The answer is you. Your world and everything you experience. Anything that touches your heart in any way.
You swim in a sea of inspiration. In fact, there is so much of it that you can't see the wood for the trees. Only when you begin - something - anything, do you give the Reticular Activating System its command to seek. Then like a bloodhound on a scent trail it is off, filtering and collecting salient pieces of your world to inspire your creation.
Now, I'm not saying showing up is easy. But it is better to have a more practical step to take as opposed to waiting for some sort of mystical holy grail of ideas to be revealed.
There are pitfalls, like of course, that inner critic poised to speak out as soon as creation begins, if not before. But whatever form your creative work takes, your job is to get started.
Put pen to blank page, apply fingertips to keyboard, clay to the wheel. Dip your brush in the paint and get it moving.
Over the years I have come up with a process to prime myself for any studio time. (I have inventively named this My Prime Process.) It is the best way I know of helping me to Show Up. It addresses nearly all my objections and gets me working. I do it first, before I start painting anything else or even writing. But I have also found that it serves so many other purposes.
Find your way to get started.
Then do it.
You never know where it might get you.
Looking for more tips about showing up in your art practice? I have an online class that’s got you covered - click here to find out more about it.
I know. You have this little creative itch to scratch. Plans of starting a sketchbook practice, journalling regularly, getting back into painting or dusting off that guitar.
But somehow actually Doing The Thing just doesn't happen. Life seems to get in the way. All other things seem to declare themselves more important than your creative urges. And if you do manage to tip toe towards starting there's that little voice that pipes up as soon as your first tentative steps are taken. She's mean, that voice, isn't she?
She is your inner critic, and fear not, everyone has one. Some are just noisier than others. Perhaps some are just better managed. I spent so much time listening to mine especially when I first started learning to draw and paint. Such constant companions were we that I even drew her once. Want to see?
Since we spent so much time together it seemed only logical that we should be on a first name basis. I call her Aunt Enid, and she's a bit of a shrew. And yes, in my head she wears a stiff, scary matron's uniform and scowls a lot.
Even though I really wanted to make some art, I seemed to do an awful lot of procrastinating. The creative urge would tug, but somehow I always managed to find an excuse to put it off. Aunt Enid would pipe up as soon as I thought of getting out my art supplies.
Shouldn't you be doing something more useful... laundry, perhaps?
Isn't it a bit late to start learning to be an artist?
I thought this would stop once I was a bit more accomplished (who knows what I thought that might mean - let’s not forget that art is subjective). Thing is, you can only get more accomplished by actually doing some art. But when you have this nagging doubt that you are not good enough at it you tend to find anything but art to do.
It's self protection really. What we call the inner critic that pipes up with all that judgement is really a well meaning part of us that is trying to save us embarrassment or hurt. So well intentioned, but misguided because it's just paper and paint after all and you don't need to show anybody.
And allowing yourself some time for creative expression is good for your soul. It can be a restorative, replenishing sort of activity that actually leaves you better equiped to return to your regular responsibilities and activities.
One of the things I have learned about the inner critic is that she doesn't go away. But actually, since she does have my best interests at heart, perhaps that is as it should be.
For a while, I laboured under the delusion that the inner critic was a beginner's problem and that I would overcome it eventually. Now I think that that is partially true. The inner critic is a lifelong companion, she is family. So like a crotchety old aunt who might be a bit mean, the best thing to do is to figure out how to manage her. Want to know how I did it?
I made you a free workbook that steps you through my approach.
Creativity is such a great practice ground for so many things. Managing the inner critic is just one. For I’m not sure if you have noticed but that critical voice that pipes up about your drawing is the same one that has opinions on how you are managing your life in general, your level of fitness and waistline, your forgetfulness … you know what I mean.
So learning to work with her, or perhaps in spite of her, in the sketchbook is great practice for managing any of the other negative self talk that creeps in to other parts of your life.
When I first started drawing, or rather wanting to draw, I spent so long shuffling paper, wondering what to draw, researching different types of paint and so on because I didn’t want to hear want Aunt Enid had to say about my efforts. But giving in like that is like failing before you begin.
If you know what I mean, and need some help taming your inner critic grab the free workbook now, so that you can get back to creating today.
Shock! Horror! The manufacturer of my favourite pickles changed the shape of the jar! I know... first world problems.
But you see these pickle jars are an essential part of my painting process. They hold the water for my watercolour painting and I usually have a selection littered across my desk. I need two really, one for clean water and one that I can use for rinsing off my brush. But they seem to multiply. It is funny how such a small thing seems to be important in my painting process. Its a matter of ritual I suppose.
It got me thinking about all the other essentials that I wouldn't be without in my art studio - the ones that you won't find in a art store. I love that! It makes me feel all resourceful and thrifty.
Here's the list:
Ok. I won't go on about these any more. (But I don't think I could paint the same without them.)
Old hair spray bottle
I think that when I first had need of a bottle to spritz water about it wasn't so easy to find them such a thing in the stores. I found a bottle of hair spray in the back of my cupboard. It was surprising because I don't ever use hairspray and also because it was not the aerosol kind but the one with a removable top attached to a long straw that goes into the inside of the bottle.
Clearly it had been sitting there waiting to be emptied, well rinsed and repurposed as a water spritzer in the art studio. Essential for waking up the watercolour palette in the morning or spritzing over the acrylic palette once in a while to try and extend the drying time of that beautiful buttery paint that is squeezed out onto the palette.
And if you spray it directly into a watercolour wash you can get some lovely effects.
Molly the Dolly
Now, I know that you can get a proper mannequin for the purposes of figure drawing but they are not terribly approachable creatures, I find. It's an intimate business this figure drawing lark, you know.
Much easier to have a sweet face smiling up at you regardless of the awkward pose you are requesting. Molly the Dolly sits with me on my desk with her fully articulated joints and a very patient disposition. She even has the prettiest little fingers for me to draw as opposed to the mittens that artist mannequins usually come with.
Old Credit cards
So these I seem to have plenty of! Old store cards are also good. I love them as scrapers for spreading gesso or acrylic paint over my art journal pages.
They are part of my watercolour kit too. You can cut them up into nice sharp shapes for the purposes of scratching into wet watercolour paint for some lovely effects. In fact you can sometimes get them sharp enough to scratch out white marks on paintings that are completely dry to make details like highlights in eyes. Of course you can use a craft knife for this, but doesn't a shard of credit card sound a lot more fun?
If it is a bit later in the evening and you have it to hand, you might see your way to sparing a drop of vodka into your watercolour wash. You can get plain alcohol from a pharmacy, I believe.
However.... painting in collaboration with a spot of vodka.... how can you not?
A drop of alcohol spreads in a perfect circle. Sometimes they turn out like dandelion heads. Delightful.
On the subject of getting texture into watercolour paints, we cant ignore what the kitchen has to offer. Salt.
Drop salt into a nice juicy wash of watercolour and leave it to dry completely. The salt soaks up the water pulling the pigment with it. This leaves little star bursts in the colour when you brush the salt off. For a slightly different effect you can tip the paper at an angle when you drop the salt on letting it slide down the page a little before you let it dry.
(Now it occurs to me that if you had tequila you could substitute that for the vodka and since you have the salt out you may as well make yourself a Margarita. For the good of the painting.)
You are going to need an actual candle stick or some such (I use a floating candle because that is what I had to hand). Before you start painting with watercolour you can rub the candle across parts of your paper. The was will resist the watercolour and preserve the white of the paper. You can do this rather purposefully to put a bit of texture into something like brickwork or as highlights on water, for instance.
These are those little white abrasive cleaning blocks intended for removing marks from walls and that sort of thing. Where I am, the available brand is Chux but I bet you will find something like it in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket wherever you are.
If you rub these little blocks (slightly dampened) over your very dry watercolour painting you can actually remove a bit of the paint revealing the highlight. Go carefully. It is scratching off the top layer of paint and paper - don't be too aggressive or you could end up with a hole in your painting.
Speaking of watercolour texture, how about getting an old toothbrush (ok to be honest that seemed a bit yucky so I used a fresh toothbrush for this) and dipping it in watercolour paint, watered down acrylic paint or ink and flicking it across the page. Lovely!
It's best to hold the toothbrush with your thumb over the bristles and then pull your thumb nail back over the bristles releasing the colour in delightful random splatter over the page. With a bit of practice you can learn to control this at least a little bit and then use it in particular areas to indicate things like stars in the night sky or a field of flowers in the distance. But filling journal pages with nothing but abstract toothbrush splatter is a charming way to spend a lazy afternoon too.
Now these are just fun things to have around. I wouldn't dream of sticking one in my ear somehow but I use them as mark making tools - cute little dots they can make.
They are also handing for dispensing things like mineral spirits/ blending solvent/ Gamsol when you have your colouring pencils out.
What is this blending solvent you ask? Well, before you rush off the to art store you might want to see if you have any .... vaseline.
Yes, vaseline. This can be used to transform your colouring into something more like a smooth painting. The vaseline reacts with the coloured pencil and smooths it out giving some lovely blending effects. Similar to what you might achieve with something like Gamsol which is made specifically for this purpose.
Don't believe me?
Ok maybe this isn't essential for you but it is for me.
I am seldom without a cup of tea and painting is no exception. A word to the wise though... it is best to move the teacup a safe distance from the water jar.... that could end tragically...
Conventional wisdom for artists is that they should work in a series. In part, this is to do with the more commercial aspect of an artist's work - developing a body of work for which they are known. But really I think this undershadows some of the more important benefits that arise when you work in a series. Wherever you are in your creative journey there is merit to taking on board some of the ethos of working in a series.
In fact even if your creative project is your big beautiful life as opposed to a particular creative hobby there is merit to giving yourself some sort of 'series' to work on in order to reap these benefits.
The Learning Curve
When we first start doing something it is hard. New skills can be acquired and while I believe we can learn pretty much anything we set our minds too it would be naive to think that this can be done without a lot of hard work and probably a touch of frustration. From psychology to economics the idea that the more we do something the better we get at it has been graphically depicted as a learning curve.
Different labels are applied to the axes but essentially they all depict time or experience along the horizontal axis and some measure of learning, progress or production on the vertical axis. When you start out you have to acquire all the necessary skills to achieve competency. This is shown by the steep and painful looking incline at the beginning of the curve, before it flattens out. But fear not! Perhaps it is not all that bad...
Josh Kaufman is of the opinion that you can learn anything new in about 20 hours. The basic skills you need to do pretty much anything can be tucked under your belt in 20 hours if you give it a bit of thought and set about it deliberately.
Doesn't that seem nice and manageable? Josh is very convincing about it. You can check out his TED talk on the matter over here.
So of course, the first time you draw a face will probably feel really difficult. It will be much harder than the 5th time you draw a face. If you abandon face drawing after that first attempt you will never get to experience that. Perhaps you jump to drawing animals instead. Guess what? The first time you draw an animal, it's really hard! The way I look at it, if you don't work in a series of some sort then you are being rather cruel to yourself. You are effectively condemning yourself to a sort of purgatory at that steep end of the learning curve. Don't be mean to yourself. Work in a series.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is all very well but certainly not a permanent state I am striving for. I think we deserve to give ourselves some breathing space at the level of competency before striding out beyond the comfort barrier once more.
One of the obstacles every creative person deals with is Resistance. And yes I do think it deserves a capital letter (I think Stephen Pressfield would agree.) Resistance is essentially a defence mechanism. It is the voice that pipes up with all manner of suggestions to avoid committing to the creative act. It is our response to fears of failure, judgement and criticism. It is a sneaky beast that manifests in many ways. For me, it appeared with the question, but what would you draw? What indeed. Predetermining the answer to this question by selecting a series theme in advance has helped me immeasurably here.
Resistance pipes up again. You are not very good at drawing those. One of the very good reasons for working in the series is to overcome this precise problem. Sometimes the only way to silence the voice of Resistance is to go ahead and create.
What do you really think?
It is my belief that the call to create is born of a need in the individual to discover something about themselves, their experiences and their environments. I don't think that this is immediately apparent to us all. Of course there are some that are driven to create art about their most passionate personal or political causes. But the rest of us are not all blessed with such clarity. Sometimes you don't really know what you think about something until to start to examine it. In fact, sometimes we do not even realise something is troubling us until we begin some kind of creative process like writing, painting or knitting and then, inevitably, out it will come.
Carl Jung used mandalas for this intentional process of self discovery. Even unintentionally, I believe that making space for some sort of creative activity allows your inner wise self the space to purge whatever it sees fit. But it is not a quick fix. I think the magic happens when you offer your inner wise self this opportunity on a consistent basis. To me something like a regular sketchbook practice or journalling is in fact a series of its own.
I have been giving myself the challenge of a new series each month for more than a year already.
Want to see what I have been up to?
Head over here to have a look.
I know what it is like. There is that tiny little voice inside. It is like a small child tugging at your sleeve. There are things she would like to do. Paint. Draw. Bake cupcakes. Write that novel. Start learning to play the guitar. (I'm kiddding... obviously its a ukulele she wants...) She gets quite excited about these things. It we are honest, she has been wanting to do these things for quite some time. But you always have an excuse for her. Do any of these sound familiar?
We don't have time
Yes, you are busy. Of course you are. But you still have some control over how you spend at least a portion of your day. If an emergency arises or a friend pops in to visit unexpectedly you will probably manage to shuffle things around and still get everything done that you need to. And if we are honest, even 15 minutes a day doing this thing that your inner voice won't give up on can be enough to make significant progress on your project if you can be consistent with it.
We have more important things to do right now
By important, you mean not fun, right? There is a danger that we can start thinking that life is hard, that important things are difficult, that the good things in life are only acquired through struggle. So if you are doing something that is easy and fun, it must therefore not be important or worthwhile.
We need to spend our time doing something more useful
Discounting a project on the grounds that it is trivial and time wasting is an easy trap to fall into. The thing is, that little voice is still nagging you, isn't she? Even if you avoid your project in favour of something practical (like the laundry, shopping around for a better insurance policy, or some other tedious, grown up, but very 'useful' chore) you are not fully present to it. Part of you can't shake the doubt that you are letting yourself down. Is this thing going to be on your list till the day you die?
We could, but we don't have the right supplies
Ah yes. You would start that novel, but you just need to wait until you get a new notebook from Typo.
You already have all you need.
Just start. You will be glad you did.
We are a bit old for that, aren't we?
So is that it then? It's all over? If we didn't start this thing young or get it out of our systems before we grew up it's too late?
Did ice cream stop tasting good because you stopped being a child?
If it was fun then, it is probably still fun now. And it is never too late to learn something new. Better do it today, because tomorrow you will be even older...
We are not very good at that
Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. This is fear.
We tend to think that we will be judged, scorned or humiliated if we attempt to do something that we are not totally adept at. This still seems to be the case even if we are doing something totally private like drawing in a sketchbook that we have no intention of sharing. We are protecting that inner child from criticism. But we are also eliminating the chance of new experiences and the acquisition of new skills not to mention the fun you might have in the process.
We are not really 'creative'
Oh yes we are. Just look at how many imaginative excuses we came up to avoid having to face our fears and do this creative project (which we actually really want to do).
No matter which one of these excuses you tend to use, or how many you combine, you have not managed to dismiss that little voice. So you may as well just heed that creative calling.
Life is finite.
Don't miss your chance to do these things that you can't stop thinking about.
If you are anything like me you have a box of watercolour paint and you can't resist splashing a bit into your sketchbook. This gets you thinking about 'proper' watercolour painting. Is sketchbook paper good enough?
Yes and no. It really depends on your expectations. Water will make your paper buckle and it can pill easily if you start trying some watercolour techniques like colour lifting and masking. But working in a sketchbook is low pressure and there is a lot to be said for that. Playing with watercolour in a sketchbook is a great way to start but look what happens to my favourite daily sketchbook pages.
Because it is my sketchbook I am totally okay with that. But, if you do want to go a little further with your watercolour paints you do need to think about paper. So here is what I think you need to know before you set off for the art supply store.
(By the way, I have a whole class on watercolour supplies for beginners - and it is free… want to take a look?)
There are three common surface textures for watercolour paper.
Hot pressed paper is the smoothest option. The easy way to remember this is to think of a hot iron smoothing out the surface of the paper - for this is pretty close to how the paper is made. Mixed media artists often favour hot pressed paper as do some illustrators or painters who incorporate fine details into their paintings.
So what is paper that has not been hot pressed until it is smooth? It is NOT. No really, that's what they call it, as in not hot pressed. Sensibly, it is also referred to as cold pressed. The surface of the paper has been flattened, but not under heat so there is still some texture which I find is a little bit more forgiving to a new watercolor painter.
Rough paper, as you have probably guessed, has the most texture and this provides for some lovely interesting effects as the watercolour paint pools and granulates in the little hollows of the paper. This is becoming my favourite type of paper because I like loose paintings and use a lot of wet into wet mark making.
Watercolour paper is available in different thicknesses which are described as weights. Depending where you are in the world this will be described in terms of either pounds (lb) or grams per square meter (gsm). Thinner paper handles less water and buckles easily. The heavier the paper is, the more water it will take and the less likely it will be to warp and cockle. While there are many different variations available across different manufacturers the three most commonly used paper weights are:
90lb or 190gsm
This is very light paper, slightly thicker than sketchbook paper and will have to be stretched or mounted to avoid the buckling. It is a less expensive option that still allows you to benefit from the properties of watercolour paint, but to be honest I think if you are going to spend money on watercolour paper I would go for the 300gsm or just stick to a sketchbook.
140lb or 300gsm
This is my go to paper weight for proper watercolour painting (as opposed to sketching). It feels like thick card and can put up with the lifting, scrubbing etc that I might end up doing. However it is still flexible so you can roll it into a tube if you are posting a finished painting somewhere. And if you do a painting you don't love you can actually use the back of the paper and that might make you feel a bit better about the value you get for your money.
Many artists will stretch this paper which involves wetting the paper completely (like in the bathtub) and the then stapling or taping it (with the appropriate tape) to a rigid surface to dry before painting. Well... that is way too hard for me. One of the reasons I love watercolour is that it is low maintenance - easy prep, easy clear up. If I have to do all this before I begin that would rule watercolour out of my studio as I am not a patient person.
Another option is to tape the dry paper onto a rigid surface with artist tape or even packing tape. This will leave you with a nice clean white border around your finished painting when you remove the tape and helps to reduce the warping of the paper while you are painting.
I do tape down my paper sometimes but I seem to be adopting the buckled paper into my loose style... well, that's my story, anyway. If you like more precise, detailed botanical style paintings then you may wish to investigate paper stretching, or choose thicker weight paper or make sure you choose the right format (blocks) which I will get to shortly.
300lb or 638gsm
This is very thick and consequently quite inflexible. I find it so intimidating (and expensive) that I don't use it at all. However with paper this thick you really will be able to minimise the buckling of the paper without the need for stretching or mounting the paper before you paint.
If simplicity is your thing then you probably want to buy your watercolour paper in a pad. Watercolour pads are available in all sorts of sizes so this is a most convenient option. You will also see blocks instead of pads. A block is a pad that has been gummed nearly all the way around instead of just on one edge. This means the paper is automatially stretched for you. You can just remove the finished painting (when it is completely dry) by slipping a palette knife into the little ungummed space and sliding it around the edge to slice it off the block. The downside is that you can only work on one sheet from the block at a time of course.
Large sheets of watercolour paper are available usually 56cm x 76cm. The advantage here is that you get to choose your painting size by trimming the paper down to your custom requirement. The disadvantage is that you have to trim the paper down to your required size. I'll leave that to you to way up.
If you are really committed, you can buy a whole roll of watercolour paper. This works out cheaper in the end if you are prepared to make the investment up front. And of course everything I just said about trimming the paper down to custom size applies again.
Artist or student grade
It does seem that you get what you pay for with watercolour paper. There are student quality and artist quality versions available in most brands. The difference is in the materials that are used and production processes. Key words to look for if you are looking for better quality paper include:
acid free - this means that the paper has the right Ph balance to prevent yellowing and deterioriating as the painting ages
%cotton - the higher the percentage of cotton fibres (or rag) the stronger and more pliable the paper will be
Ultimately, choosing the right paper for your project is a very personal decision. It is important to think about the purpose and longevity of your project and balance that with the amount you are prepared to spend.
I am finding that nice paper can completely change your painting experience. Exactly what you think is 'nice' paper will probably come down to a good deal of trial and error to find what suits your style.
So go forth and experiment.
Find out all you need to know about watercolour supplies in this free class
Being able to add perspective to your drawings instantly adds a touch of realism and invites the viewer into your picture. But when you are starting out, learning about perspective can seem terribly daunting. Here are 7 things you need to know about drawing in perspective that might help. Keep it simple by trying to incorporate one or two of these points into your current artwork. Next time try one or two more. Before you know it you will have a whole raft of tools in your perspective skills arsenal.
An easy way to give the illusion of depth is to use colour. Objects in the distance are perceived in cooler hues and those in the foreground in warmer hues. Have a look at the mountains below. This one is easy to remember when we are drawing or painting landscapes since we we probably instinctively make the mountains blue or purple. The same principle can be applied effectively to other subjects too using cool blues, purples and greens to push the distant objects back and warm reds, yellows and oranges to pull the objects in the foreground towards the viewer.
When objects partially obscure one another we know that the one we see completely is in front of the object that is partially obscured. Making sure that you have objects that overlap in your image will add depth and interest to your composition.
In the still life below see how the lime pushes the flowers behind it. The milk jug is obviously the most distant object since most of it is hidden behind the mug in front of it.
Objects that are in reality, identical in size appear smaller if they are further away from the viewer. For example, look at the vertical fence posts in the photograph below. We know they are the same size but as they get further away from the viewer they seem to be smaller. In addition the spaces between the posts, which we know to also be the same in reality, appear to diminish. The posts appear to be getting closer together but in fact they are still equally spaced.
Focus and level of detail
Objects that are close to the viewer can be seen more clearly than those in the distance. Therefore an object in the foreground should be portrayed with a higher level of detail than one in the background of the image in order to portray that sense of depth. In the image of the fence posts above, notice how the foreground is in focus and the the trees and fence posts that are further away are hazy. Doesn't it feel like that fence goes on for miles?
Similarly the poppy fields below illustrate the effectiveness of high detail in the foreground and more abstract, suggestive shapes for the same flower in the distance.
Parallel lines such as the edges of a road or a railway track appear to converge as they approach eye level. The point at which they meet is described as the vanishing point. Eye level is the imaginary horizontal line level with the eyes of the viewer - indicating their vantage point. The vanishing point always sits at eye level but it may be within the image or outside of the image, ie off the edge of the page/painting.
One point perspective
The railway tracks above are a good example of one point perspective. This is the term used to describe a situation where all the receding parallel lines meet at a single point. When drawing a 3D object such as a cube or a building, you will need to use one point perspective if you can see the front of the object and not the sides. This is the straight front view of the object. If you can see the top of the object as well as the front, that vanishing point will be useful to get the angles right on the lid or top of the object. Have a look at the chest below to see what I mean.
Two point perspective
If you are able to see more than one side of the 3D object you are drawing then you will have to use two point perspective. This means that you now have two vanishing points. Both the vanishing points will be on the eye level and any of the lines of the edges of the 3D object would converge to their respective vanishing points if extended. The example below uses a gift box as the 3D object. You can imagine that if this box were to be included in part of an image these vanishing points may well be beyond the edge of the drawing as discussed in the Vanishing Point section above.
A few years ago, when the creative itch first started to trouble me I decided I needed to equip myself with a sketchbook. I was on holiday and with only one small bookshop nearby the closest thing I could find was something labelled 'visual diary'. Later, a bit of research turned up yet another possibility... an art journal.
So. sketchbook, visual diary or art journal?
What's the difference?
Which one should a beginner take up?
Was I doing this right?
I set about to do yet more research. Of course. That is my left brained way. My default setting. It turns out that there is no International Federation of Creative Taxonomy handing out clear definitions or a set of instructions. I ended up forming my own meanings for each of these things and I would like to share them with you. Hopefully this will leave you one less avenue for procrastination and free you up sooner to get creating!
This is a helpfully descriptive name in itself. A record of one's life (diary) in the form of pictures (visual) as opposed to words. The emphasis here seems to be on documenting one's life, capturing moments or details of the every day. I love that idea. I appreciate any sort of tool that helps me surrender to the present and notice the small delights of the day. Or perhaps even the not so delightful bits... the important bit is the noticing, being present. It also solves one of the dilemmas that a beginner faces - what to draw.
Unfortunately this also raises another issue for the beginner - how to capture these moments when you have perhaps not yet gathered the necessary drawing skill. One approach is to make peace with being a beginner and give yourself permission to produce drawings that you will probably never want to show to anyone. Doing something badly is the first step towards doing that thing better. If you can let go of the attachment to an attractive outcome and surrender instead to the process of keeping a visual diary, you can only get better at it.
A'sketch' is a rough or unfinished drawing, according to the dictionary. Therefore a sketchbook comes with an in-built licence to be imperfect. It is a place to try things out, to think aloud... but on paper, if you see what I mean. Sketch things from your imagination. Or from photos, or from your life. Here you can practice and prepare for more polished things in the future. Or not. For some, sketchbooks are enough in and of themselves.
I always used to associate sketchbooks with dry media, pens and pencils. But the sketchbook gods are more forgiving than that. Depending on which dictionary you look in you may even find that the definition of sketch is a rough drawing or painting. Many sketchbook artists will add watercolour to their pen or pencil sketches. If you want to see some marvellous sketchbooks, take a look at Urban Sketchers. Typically urban sketching is of things you find in towns and cities. Browsing through the Urban Sketchers sites is like travelling vicariously on other people's holidays or peeping into their lives. You get to see their world through their eyes. Sounds like a visual diary... doesn't it?
Now the name art journal scared me a bit at first. Art? As in fine art? High brow sort of stuff?
Actually, no. Well, not unless you want it to be. Those with a lot of skill from years of practice inevitably seem to transform any page into a work of art. But the term art journalling is often associated with a process that requires no prior drawing or artistic ability. If you let it, an art journal can be the most forgiving of the three. Splash paint in it like a five year old. Scribble furiously with a marker. Stamp, collage or stencil. Or draw a finely detailed portrait. Maybe just some words.
Now we get down to the essence.
What I have learned from my investigation, is that if there is a rule, this is it: anything goes.
The benefit of exploring these different options and labels is seeing just how broad the scope really is. The label offers some sort of direction. For me, visual diary emphasises documenting your life. I associate sketchbooks with freedom to be loose and unfinished. Art journals are about healing - therapy in paper form. One of those angles probably resonates with you more than others. Go with that one. It is the right choice.
Choose whatever media you want. Draw or paint things you love or things you hate. From memory, imagination or reference. Part of your daily life or the one you wish you had. You can paste things in, you can rip bits out.
You can call it an art journal, or a sketchbook or a visual diary. Heck, you can call it Gertrude.
It really doesn't matter.
Just make sure you take it out and make some marks in it.
Want some help with your sketchbook practice? I have a class full of tips on that…
These days watercolour is available in so many different types and forms. I am yet to meet one that I don't like. I'm steadily working my way through them, but there is always another to go on the wishlist!
If you are looking at getting into watercolour, or considering expanding your collection, here is a round up for you. I have given a brief description of each of the types of watercolour, including how I use them and why I like them. I have also included links (any links to Amazon are affiliate links) to each of the products in my favourite brands.
This is the type that comes in hard dry little cakes. It can be in the cheap kids version, or the top of the range artist quality. Even the cheap variety can offer some surprising delights like Crayola, for instance. although you do need to watch out for the poor versions which will put you off watercolour completely. You know - the totally wishy washy low pigment versions. My favourites are my tiny Koi travel set from Sakura and my Schmincke pan set. I love that I can add to my Schminke collection by filling up another pan.
Pan watercolour is the one I use most often. I love that it is self contained and ready to go. I can mix bigger washes in the built in palettes. And when I am done, clean up is as simple as shutting the lid. Any dry paint in the palette can be used next time I paint if it suits.
This to me is grown up watercolour. The kind you see Proper Artists use. Of course I see my Schminke pan set in the same light. I was given a set of tube watercolours more years ago than I cared to admit and they rather intimidated me. It took me ten years to work out that you need to get them out of the tube and into a palette to feel less intimidated.
The beauty of watercolour is that, unlike acrylic and oil, when it is out of the tube and allowed to dry, a spritz of water will bring it back to life. So while some recommend using the paint fresh from the tube for best results, most of us will end up reviving the dry palette with water. It feels so much better to know you aren't wasting too much of that precious paint. And of course once my pans are empty it is the tube watercolour that I use to fill it back up. You can buy refill pans but somehow I don't. (I talk about this more in my free class on watercolour supplies).
If you are looking for a compact travel companion in watercolour this might just be the one. I love these. I especially love their history. These were the paints that were used to colour photographs in the old days, when all photographic images where monochromatic.
The pigment is on a piece of card and often arrives stapled together in a sort of watercolour book. When you put a wet brush to the card the colour leaps to life. The colour of these cards can be nothing like the colour of the paint when it is on paper. I find these colours so vibrant and fresh. a perfect partner to my waterbrush.
The instructions they come with suggest that you can cut up the sheet and pop a little piece in some water to create a liquid paint. I have never done that. Seems like a waste somehow. And the waterbrush makes it so easy. I have made little palettes to fit into my various journals. That in itself is an awful lot of fun but it can be rather time consuming!
Now these are still on my wishlist, Dr Ph Martin's liquid watercolour. I hear a lot about how vibrant the colours are. Some even talk of them being too bright, and needing to be knocked back with a bit of tube colour. Too bright? That I have to see...
There is also a slight variation on offer here in Dr PH Martin's Radiant Concentrate. This version is not light fast and is actually a dye rather than an ink, but they come in bottles like ink, usually with an eyedropper. There is a sort of chemistry lab feel to them. Is it odd that this alone holds enough appeal for me to want to try them?
Of all the forms of watercolour, these have the least appeal for me. They are chunky sticks or blocks of watercolour. On the plus side that means they are easy to transport. They also can be used directly on the paper like a crayon or a pastel. I haven't rried that but it sounds rather messy. Not sure why you wouldn't choose a watersoluble crayon or pastel if that is your thing. They do seem to be very versatile. I haven't tried them myself but I found this very comprehensive post from someone who made a full exploration.
I was a little reluctant about gouache at first. Watercolour is transparent, and you can build up lovely layers glazing one colour over another. Why would you use non-transparent watercolour? For that is the simple explanation of gouache - that it is opaque watercolour.
Well, sometimes you are just in the mood for something with a bit more of a punch. Still water activated and therefore easier to use than something like oil, but it is paint with a bit more body to it. Gouache gives you a bold dash of colour and it leaves a lovely matte, slightly chalky texture that practically begs you to put a bit of coloured pencil over the top of it.
It is in many ways, more forgiving than watercolour, so if you are currently feeling a little frustrated with watercolour, gouache might offer a bit of respite. Being opaque you no longer need to worry so much painting things in the right order and preserving your lighter areas. White gouache or any other light colours can be applied over dark colours without a problem, as long as it is dry. Gouache is also easier to lift out if you change your mind. As with watercolours, you can lift damp colour off the paper with a dry brush or bit of kitchen paper. However some colours in a watercolour paint are staining colours, which means that you cannot ever be completely rid of them. Gouache will lift out much more cleanly. You can use the gouache very thinly, adding a lot of water to it and then you can increase its transparency slightly and more easily blend one colour into another. With more water it does feel very much like watercolour paint. Definitely worth playing with if you get the chance.
Watercolour markers... mmm... how I love thee....
These are very friendly watercolours. In fact you don't even need to think of them as watercolours, you can just use them as some of the nicest markers you may ever find. My favourite are the Tombows. They come in an enormous range of colours and have a brush tip on one end and a bullet tip on the other. If you apply the colour on decent watercolour paper and then take a wet brush to the colour you can move the pigment and watch it flow just like watercolour paint from a tube or pan.
These are coloured pencils which can be activated with water much like the markers. Mine are Faber Castell student versions, and fairly inexpensive, and I am happy with them, but you can certainly get professional artist quality versions too.
Using a pencil means you end up with a lot more control in your painting because you are essentially drawing. They are also very handy if you don't like the graphite sketch lines of your under drawing to show through. Instead of graphite you can do your initial sketch with a watercolour pencil and then it will disappear into the watercolour paint once you begin painting over your sketch.
It also makes them a very portable form of watercolour with very little mess. If you were to pop a few watercolour pencils and a waterbrush into your pencil case you have equipped yourself do do a fair bit of painting without needing any further supplies. I like to touch the tip of the waterbrush to the end of the pencil and apply little bits of colour that way, painting directly from the tip of the pencil. Of course, 'little' is the operative word here as it is a great method for little details but no way to go about larger washes.
Inktense pencils are a rather special kind of watercolour pencil. They are so named because they contain ink rather than watercolour pigment. It is still activated by water and behaves like any other watercolour pencil initially. For me they hold two nice surprises.
Firstly, the colours which seem rather dull and drab when you apply them to the paper dry, transform into the richest, most vibrant paint you will see. They are the ugly ducklings of the pencil case. The second stand out feature is that once dry, they are permanent. This means that unlike watercolour pencils and paints which will reactivate if you apply water or more paint over the top of them, these will stay put. If you are into mixed media that makes them enormously appealing. You can also get inktense blocks if you prefer that to the pencils.
Now these hold the timeless appeal of childhood. Holding one of these feels just like holding a wax crayon at kindergarten. But make no mistake, they contain very high quality pigment and are very definitely professional supplies. Like the pencils, they are nice and portable and you can use them directly on the paper or touch the wet brush to the tip to apply the colour as for the pencils or the watercolour blocks. They are called Neocolour II by Caran D'Ache, and you need to be quite careful about that if you are out buying them. There are also Neocolour I available, but these are not watersoluble at all, so that can be very disappointing if it you purchase one by mistake.
Watersoluble oil pastels
I have to say I am not a fan of pastels usually. Way too messy, too much dust and smudgey transfer or smelly fixative required for my liking. However, I discovered these watersoluble oil pastels which are a different matter all together. Messes with my head a bit... water soluble oil?
Anyway, these are stubby fat crayons that smell slightly waxy. The colours are glorious and they feel rather like the neo colour II, only fatter and more... squidgy. With the slight waxy smell you apply the water with significant doubt as to its likely effect. But tah-dah! Totally watersoluble. Because of their stout nature finer details can be tricky, but of course you can overcome that with the brush to tip approach as described earlier.
Little pots of heaven.
Twinkling H2Os come in individual little pots in an array of gorgeous colours. Although if you swish your damp paint brush straight into the freshly opened pot you are not likely to agree with me. These paints seem to take a while to reactivate compared to pan watercolour. The trick is to give the pot a healthy spritz of water and leave it for a minute or two. Then when you dip your brush into the pot you will find that you have gorgeous glossy twinkling colour to work with. For this is obviously their charm - the twinkle. The paint is irridescent so it will shimmer in the light even when it is dry on the paper.
If it seems like this is a luxury too far you can always get some irridescent medium to add to the watercolour paint you already have. You can do this on the palette as you go which means you have both the twinkling and the non twinkling version of all the colours you already own. But if you are up to adding these to your arty arsenal you won't be disappointed.
If you are looking for a bit more help and information on watercolour supplies for beginners, this just might be for you…
Some days you just feel pulled in all directions, don't you? We manage to fit more and more into our lives. The more you do, the more you can do. But there is a cost. We cannot run on full steam every waking moment of the day. This is easy to forget. Especially when you have prioritised everything that you have to do for everyone else. Everything for which you are accountable. The risk is that you end up doing the urgent tasks in favour of the important tasks on your list, as Stephen Covey would say.
We have so many goals, even if we perhaps haven't articulated them as such. But I bet we all can come up with a list that goes something like this:
It goes on and on, doesn't it? And we haven't even started on any work-related to do list. At times like this finding time for a self care practice, like doing something creative can seem hard to justify. But I think that we almost have to. If you don't oil the wheels the machine stops turning. We are those machines. And the self practice rituals that we devise for ourselves are the oil.
These things are important although they do not demand to be heard in the way the urgent tasks do. They are important because they maintain our capacity to function, and because they come from our truest values and desires. Our values and needs - not those of someone else.
If your creative practice soothes your soul and refuels you, can you really afford not to do this? To be fair to ourselves though, we have to make sure that these self care routines are manageable. If you only have ten minutes to spare to be creative, then make it count. Let it be enough.
The fact that you set aside time for yourself is more important than the amount of time you allot. Make those few minutes precious and sacred. Not negotiable. Surrender yourself entirely to your practice, whatever it may be. A few minutes with a colouring book. A cup of tea and a sketchbook. Baking a batch of cookies. Ten minutes of writing in your journal - with or without a prompt. A short walk with your camera. Immerse yourself completely in the process, with no expectations for the outcome. Engage all your senses, breathe deeply.
Let every fibre of your being yield to your task. Let your complete mindful engagement in your task feed your soul. Nurture yourself so that you can replenish your ability to help those who need you.
If you have the creative urge - heed it. A few minutes in each day can add up to a surprising body of work. It is infinitely preferable to leaving that need unmet to grow into resentment. We regret the things we don't do far more than we regret the things we have done.
Let your ten minutes of creation be a reminder that you have the power to create the sort of life experience you desire. Moment by moment. And even if you only have a few moments to spare, it can be enough.
This month I have been drawing yoga poses. A great way to practice figure drawing. And since I recently took a lovely class on Scribble Art with Julie Johnson, I have also been practicing putting in my values with scribbles.
It has been a fun series to do. Quite challenging, given that it is figure drawing in fairly complicated poses, but that is why I wanted to do it in the first place. That and the chance to do some scribbly values. Because those are just fun.
Values are... well very valuable in your arty arsenal. It is the values that can bring mood to what you draw. More importantly they also indicate form, changing a flat image into something more dimensional.
One ends up doing a lot of squinting while trying to put in the values. When you squeeze your eyelids together you reduce the amount of information that your eye can take in. You are left with what is important - the values.
Value is the darkness or lightness of a colour. In a monochromatic image you rely mostly on value to identify what the image represents.
I am finding that it takes quite a lot of practice to be able to see all the values and replicate them in your own drawing. The advice is often to use a value scale. Something like this:
Want to try it?
Take out your smart phone and take a quick photo.
Now use your phone camera or something like the Snapseed app to change the photo into a black and white image.
See if you can pick out each of the values from the value scale in your photo. It can be deceptive. Sometimes an area looks like it is darker or lighter than it actually is because of the value that is beside it. It's one of those tricks our eyes play on us.
I put in the value using scribble, but it can be done with all sorts of techniques like shading, linework and cross-hatching. The paper is white so one of the tricks is to avoid scribbling in the areas that are going to be closest to the first value in the scale (white).
Then the finest pen you have will make a lighter value scribble, while a thicker nib pen will make a darker value scribble. The more dense the scribble is, the darker the value and the more open and lacy the scribble, the lighter the value will appear.
If you go too far you might have to get out a white pen and do a bit of white scribble to lighten up a value.
It’s all rather fun. And by the way, if you are really serious, you can use a wider value scale - 10 instead of 5.
I kept my yoga values series close to being monochromatic to keep things simple. Actually I had planned to make sure it was just black pen in various nib thicknesses.
However, I don't seem to have managed to muster up sufficient restraint to keep it at that. I couldn’t help adding in a bit of coloured pencil here and there. But in the end I stuck to just the chocolate brown colerase pencil - one of my favourite things to draw with - and the pen.
Note: this post may contain affiliate links. If you end up making a purchase through one of these links it is theoretically possible that I may earn a small commission. So, thank you, if that is you!
Oh coloured pencils... how do I love thee?... let me count the ways!
I may not be a poet, but a list maker? For sure. And I count 9 reasons to love coloured pencils.... thusly...
They return you to childhood. Nothing feels more delightfully child-like than clutching a coloured pencil. Picasso told us that all children are artists. What easier way is there to channel your inner child?
They are unassuming, low maintenance art supplies. Not messy like pastels, no brush clean up required, no waiting for paint to dry, not intimidating like oil paint, they are the friendliest tool in your kit.
The way they feel. Is there anything better than the waxy glide of coloured pencil over paper leaving a rainbow in its wake?
The range of colours. So many delightful colours to choose from, and infinite more nuanced variations appear when you blend them effortlessly together.
Effortless blending. Oh, did I not mention the blending already? On their own, because they are good natured enough to work together to give depth, volume and life. And with a colourless blender pencil or some sort of solvent they dissolve into a seamless paint-like sheen.
No smudging. Being a member of the anti-graphite pencil club I can't not talk about the fact that they won't smoosh all over the opposite page when the book is closed or move if you rub your finger over them. So both friendly and obedient, they are.
Control. I love tiny details. Sadly, I am a teeny bit clumsy, I fear. Tiny pupils and eyelashes and other fine details are quite beyond me with something like a paintbrush. In fact, I should probably just throw away my rigger brush. Pencils enable me. Hurrah.
Transportable. What could be easier than throwing a couple of coloured pencils in a cute pencil case? Add a sharpener and all you need is a bit of paper.
They play so nicely with other art supplies. Now, this is why I bring this up particularly today. I took out my coloured pencils and used them to add the final finishing touches. Coloured pencils work so well on top of watercolour and matte acrylic paint and over gesso.
I adore my coloured pencils (you might have guessed). And Prismacolours are my favourite brand. But we had better not be biased. There are some downsides. I count two.
Breakage. They do break quite easily when sharpening. You can try to improve this by baking them. No, really... I haven't completely taken leave of my senses. This melts the wax inside the pencil so that when it hardens again on cooling all the breaks inside the barrel fuse back together. I havent got around to testing this out yet for myself - will let you know when I do!
Time consuming on a large scale. If you are doing a large picture it can take a quite a long time to build up the colour to the desired intensity. However this is easily rectified by point number 9 in the above list. Start with a wash of colour provided by watercolour or acrylic paint, then bring out the coloured pencils.
That's what I did today. I started with my ink drawing... and I liked it... yay! An improvement on yesterday....
Then I added watercolour...
And then I got out my coloured pencils to improve the shading and details. And yes. I do keep them in colour bundles with a coordinated colour hair elastic. Please don't judge me...
Final nerd tidbit... apparently both colour pencils and coloured pencils are acceptable names but coloured pencil came first. So I must be a purist. Or just old fashioned. (And since you read this all the way to the end (by the way, thank you) I can only assume that you would be interested in this sort of coloured pencil trivia...)
So tell me.... how much do you love your coloured pencils?
Explore more of the Flower Faces Series