How well do you know your watercolors? The response to that question at a recent workshop for sketchers led me to work with participants on a number of color tests. These experiments are really useful for seeing the full range of values that a single color offers. They also help you figure out simple color combinations (two or three colors) that work well together. Instead of doing a color chart with carefully controlled squares, I like to test colors more fluidly, doing graded one-color and two color washes. You can do this right in your sketchbook so that you have the reference with you, or use separate sheets of watercolor paper. Here are a couple pages to give you a sense of the great range of possibilities from just a few colors.
Sample 1; click to view larger
Test (Top left): raw sienna test with alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and cobalt blue
Result: I rarely use raw sienna
Test (Bottom left): burnt sienna with phthalo blue and ultramarine blue
Result: great range of possibilities with ultramarine; I use this combination frequently
Test (Top Right): Burnt umber with ultramarine
Result: another winning combination
Test (Middle Right): Alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre
Result: I love the blue leaning combinations, especially for shadows
Sample 2; click to view larger
Test: I just bought two new blues—Indathrone and Indigo (Daniel Smith)—and wanted to try them with colors that I use frequently.
Result (Indigo, left): I was looking for ways to get some rich darks and this seems to do the trick. I suspect I’ll use it sparingly, but it’s nice.
Result (Indathrone, right): I especially like some of the greens and grays—a keeper!
This tree once stood on the shoreline of Hog Island in Maine, with a sweeping view of Muscongus Bay— not a bad place to raise successive generations of young birds. According to the US Forest Service, some 85 species of birds, including owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, flycatchers, and swallows, nest in tree cavities. You might catch a glimpse of birds excavating a tree hole, or coming or going from one, but it’s rare, indeed, to see one from the inside. This old woodpecker hole was cut open after the tree fell, revealing the nest cavity inside. The sketch is much reduced from the real thing. The eggs of various birds that use nest cavities are painted actual size.
Click to view larger.
I cracked open a new sketchbook this week: blank pages stared back. Who knows what will become of them? Pieces of life, seasons, artistic experiments, birds, experiences, memories. It seems fitting then that my first page records a journey. These are quick sketches made while driving from Connecticut to Maine, pulled together with text about what I was listening to in the car.
I wasn’t really sure where the pages would go when I began. With each stop along the way, I added something more. Built over time, the page, like the book itself, is record of my journey. Here’s to what lies ahead!
If you’ve ever tried sketching birds, you know that they are terrible models. Few will stay put for more than a few seconds. As soon as pencil meets paper they’ve struck a new pose. Except for gulls! Head to the coast – or to many vacant parking lots – and gulls will loudly greet you and serve as cooperative subjects. Among my favorites is the raucous laughing gull with its smooth black head. Next to ordinary herring gulls, laughing gulls seem far more distinguished. But all gulls make good models. Next time you’re at the beach, bring a sketchbook along and give gulls a try.
Warming up- Gesture sketches or contour sketches are often done in 10, 20, and 30 second intervals. That’s about all you’ll get for a single gull sketch. But birds often return to similar poses, so you can pick up where you left off.
White on White- White birds on white paper can be a challenge. I’ve added a bit of sky and skim of shadow to give shape to these gulls.
White on Toned Paper- Quick sketches inform longer drawings like this one. Done with pencil and colored pencils on Strathmore 80lb toned tan paper glued into my sketchbook. Toned paper is really great for white subjects like gulls.
Click any of the above sketches to view them larger.