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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Matmata, Mauritania

Here a quick sketch I did in Matmata, Mauritania Some of the sketches I did there during my one month trip are on



More to follow as soon as I have ro scan the three sketchbooks...

Friday, January 27, 2012

fun sketch kit

(55) Jill's sandwich bag by vickylw
(55) Jill's sandwich bag, a photo by vickylw on Flickr.
This was just too fun to not share! At watercolor class last night, we covered some pretty basic stuff; it is a beginner's class, after all. (But I love hanging out with these people!)

So part of the time, I did a quick sketch of Jill's wee sketch kit. A two-sided purse holding all she needs, including 2 tiny sketchpads --- in the form of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich! The whole thing, filled, measures only 4 x 5 x 1 1/2 inches. Her paint box is a used mint tin and easily fits inside.

Oh --- and Jill carries this treasure in her everyday purse . . . which is in the shape of a big chicken!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Best seen during Crescent Moon phases (the one to five day period before or after a New Moon), Earthshine is caused by direct sunlight on the earth that reflects onto the Moon which creates the smoky glow of the shadowed portion of the moon.

After sunset tonight, take a peek at the sky to see Venus, the Crescent Moon and Earthshine for your very own. Venus will be to the lower left tonight.  Happy viewing and hopefully journaling!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Challenge of Sketching and Painting Snow

The challenge of sketching snow in a journal is an ongoing dilemma, as it tends to show up flat and non-descript unless there are some lively contrasts around it. Living in Western Colorado, I have a lot of opportunities to try my hand at winter scenes (way too many!). Today we woke to about 4 new inches of snow on the ground. The landscape was magical--everything turned into a Winter Wonderland, sparkling white. A hush enveloped the land. The sky and ground were essentially the same color (white-ish) and the snow-laden trees, grasses, and cattails were coated with mounds of pure white fluff. This was the view from my front window this morning, looking out across our acre, our neighbor's log home, and the fields beyond. But I was so overcome with the beauty of it all, I had to sketch it during my morning tea.

I was lucky enough that the next page in my journal happened to be tan (I bind my own journals and sometimes mix papers in them), and I knew it would make the snow stand out against the dark background. I whipped out my portable gouache palette and used a Derwent Blue-Grey colored pencil to sketch the basic shapes in, then laid in swashes of white gouache. The gouache covered the tan paper, but an interesting contrast of tones developed from different areas where the background showed through. (The paper was Rives BFK 104 lb. tan) I liked the effect. And of course, the more you look, the more you see the different shades of grey, blue, green, brown, and other colors reflected in the snow. I used the blue-grey pencil and a dark brown one to add details and shading. My very peaceful, pristine scene was captured in the journal without much fuss, thanks mostly to white gouache, that versatile paint that can be applied thickly or watered down easily. Now what will I do on the next page, which is white?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fountain pen tweaks and maintenance...

I thought I'd cover this subject since so many of us are experimenting with fountain pens, now!  Some maintenance IS necessary (especially if you're using pigment inks, which can clog), and it's best to take it easy and take it slow...

Tweaks CAN work...but they can mess up a good pen, too.  Go gently...

I've been very enthusiastic about my Noodler's Ahab pen, while recognizing that not all Ahabs are created equal.  Some work great, some apparently don't have their nibs set quite right.  Since it is SO easy to tweak the Noodler's small Creaper pen to get the nib set just as you, personally, prefer it, and since I noticed my two Ahabs were slightly different and one worked better than the other, I decided to fix that.

Great fix, as you can see above.

Apparently, unlike the Creaper, there is only one way the Ahab nib will seat properly.  (They tell me it goes on the side that is slightly out of round...which is hard to discern, and isn't mentioned in their flier.)  Since I didn't set it that way, it wouldn't go in as far and I bent the nib when I tightened the cap...siiigh...

So...I tried a replacement nib, and since I was messing with it anyway, I decided to try converting it to eyedropper fill, which holds a lot more ink than the piston-pump the Ahab comes with.  The whole body of the pen can be full of ink!  OK, I got a little starry-eyed about that idea.  I love the little Noodler's Flex pens but they DO run out of ink quickly if you sketch a lot.

The flier gives directions on how to do that, including moving up the O-ring and using some silicone grease to seal the threads...

Want my directions?  Just don't.  Ahab holds a lot of ink, just as it comes.  It's difficult to know why it didn't work for me, but it leaked around the nib section.  Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.  I tried tweaking more, but...

Spoiled the journal page above with a sudden big drop of ink--and notice the ink pooled in the cap?

After which I decided to heck with it, moved the O-ring back where it was, reinstalled the pump, and it works FINE now.  Sometimes it's better just to be happy with what you have!  The Ahab already holds a LOT more ink than the Creaper.

NOTE: Some people have problems with the Ahab spitting or belching anyway.  No idea why...happily, it is an inexpensive pen, and you may be able to get a refund if yours just does NOT work.  


My Lamys are workhorses, very dependable, if a tad predictable.  (Very uniform lines...and the EF nib really isn't as fine as I'd like.)

But you still need to take care of them, with an occasional cleaning--especially with some inks.

This nib section of my clear demonstrator had ink dried in it...I tried soaking it, but not long enough.  Online searching for help suggested grasping the nib firmly and just wiggling it back and forth...upon which it broke right OFF.  YIKES, I don't know my own strength!

My husband's Lamy had brown ink in it...and it hadn't been used for months.  The ink feed was very spotty and weak...so I decided to try again with it, and PATIENCE.  I used warm water with a shot of vinegar in it, left it to soak overnight, and that solved the problem.  Look at all the sediment in the bottom of the jar!

Here's the difference a good cleaning can make!  The top part of the page is the "before."

You can use a few drops of detergent, a spoonful or two of vinegar*, or even a little ammonia.  Be sure to rinse the pen thoroughly before re-inking and you should be good to go!

*NOTE:  Some of our commenters tell me there's a problem using vinegar, which may etch or corrode a good pen or nib, and say ammonia is the recommended fix.

It writes smooth as silk now, as do my other Lamy pens...but the one I broke off required buying a whole new nib section.  That was $20 down the drain that could have been saved by exercising a bit more patience...and vinegar* or ammonia.


I've been experimenting with other inexpensive pens and will do a new post on those next week...but for now, let me say that the Lamys and the Noodler pens are going to be my personal go-to solution in most cases. 

Till the next gotta-test-it pen comes along...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whoops...Catriona again!

I knew I had more of Catriona Andrews' images, but I could NOT find them the other day...here are more from her travels, too much fun not to share!

Click on the images to see them larger--and sorry, Catriona!

Sketch and Taxes...

Amazing how useful our journals can be, even when working on our taxes...we don't always remember when this medical visit was, or that trip to the camera store...

...but if I can find the sketch in my journal, and the date, we figure backwards from there!  Joseph had actually forgotten a couple of trips to the doctor, but there they were, recorded and dated with my sketches...

My journal really IS a journal, and a diary, and a record of days--nice that it's so useful that way!  (And the easiest way to find some of these?  My Flickr account!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interview #17--meet Catriona Andrews!

Sorry for the delay, all, I know you must have gotten impatient!  Catriona and I BOTH got busy!  I'm delighted to finally be able to bring you this interview and NEW work to inspire you.  I know you'll be astounded at Catriona's range and delighted by her skill.
Wonderfully delicate study of grasses...
But let's let Catriona speak for herself!


I grew up all over the world, travelling in all sorts of countries ranging from Colombia to South Korea, and even did a stint in New Jersey!  This in turn has greatly influenced my drawing in both style and content as from a very young age I was encouraged to draw as often as possible and whenever possible, whether it be sitting in a restaurant and drawing on the paper table cloths, or going to a beach and drawing the boats and people.  

This passion for drawing led me to do a course in Illustration at Loughborough College of Art and Design in UK, graduating in 1998, which only fuelled my desire to carry on sketching whenever possible.  I carry a sketchbook everywhere, and have even been known to draw in the middle of a live music gig, surrounded by bouncing people!  I find looking back on my drawings immediately takes me back to the time I drew it, and I remember the sights, sounds, and smells of that very moment, which is what I love the most–the ability to step back in time so to speak.  Now living in Scotland, I find my passion undimmed and hope to carry on recording all the amazing things that keep coming my way.

Look how energetic and vibrant this landscape is...Catriona feels free to experiment with color and not be locked into what she sees.

Could you add where you were born, what your favorite medium is, what turns you on/inspires you to sketch? 

I was born in Colombia from Scottish parents, and from a young age was fascinated with nature, probably as being so young I was on eye level with most things out there! My mum is an artist and encouraged us all to paint and draw, so its always been second nature to carry a pen and paper with me. My favourite medium is definitely pen and ink, though watercolour runs a close second. I’m more at home with drawing though, I’m definitely in my comfort zone there and don’t need to think about the ‘technique’, I’m just in the zone. I’m not sure what specifically inspires me to sketch. Many things do, sometimes its extremely obscure things like bits of old machinery, but it could also be the tiniest detail in a flower to a view from the top of a mountain.
What’s your studio like, or do you have one?  Where do you do most of your work? 

I’ve got a friend who converted an old Dutch hay barn up in the Lammermuir Hills of the Scottish Borders which he converted into a workshop downstairs and a studio upstairs. I’ve managed to get myself a gorgeous spot by a long wide window looking north over the valley and hills beyond. I do most of my work there, and try to keep my mess to my side, though its not always easy as I have a tendency to spread! I have also been known to work at my kitchen table till the wee hours of the morning as under pressure I find that I work best late at night.

I love this quick sketch of Scottish sheep...the ink works perfectly as a sketching medium.

How do you decide what medium to choose?

It usually depends on what subject I’m working on. Landscape is usually watercolour, though I am trying to get my head around oils and love the richness of colour you can get. Lately I have used coloured inks, I love the vibrant colour and luminosity they bring. The pictures I do for children are usually in watercolour, they seem to work with well with the style of drawing.
One of my favorite inspirations from Catriona are her small sketches to capture events of a whole month!

Does your sketching enrich how you make your living? 

Sketching informs and shapes how I look at the world, it helps me understand how things relate to each other, and how I relate to the world. The observing, noting how things work and move, get stored away in my memory bank and then gets recalled if I ever need to draw something. Obviously I haven’t drawn everything there is to see, so if I do need to find out what something looks like, I research it, sketch it from various angles if possible, find out how it works, then add it to the picture. That is then stored away in my memory till the next time. Or if my mind fails me, I at least have a tatty old sketchbook to look at. Sketching certainly enriches my living, but doesn’t quite earn me a living yet!

Do you enjoy travel sketching?  Do you ever choose to travel someplace with the idea in mind of sketching, or does it just happen because that’s what you do?  Do you travel alone or with someone, and if the latter, how do you manage to sketch?

ravel sketching is the best thing. It always takes me a wee while to get the confidence to sit out in the open sketching, I usually have to start with my back against a wall or pillar till I get the measure of a place. I don’t usually travel somewhere specifically to draw, it just happens. Though Morocco and India are definitely on my wish list of places to go, I think I would fill hundreds of sketchbooks there! I usually travel with someone, though I am always conscious that they’re bored when I stop somewhere because “I just have to draw that – wont be a minute...I’ll catch you up...” Luckily most of my friends and family understand and are quite happy to let me wander off. If they’re not, I try and set aside an hour or two to do my thing, then put the sketchbook away and get the camera out when we join back up. When I was in New York recently I got up early and was out on the streets at 7am, drawing some of the buildings near the hotel. It was great, saw the city at a different time of day, and met various locals walking their dogs before they set of to work – my kind of people being a dog owner myself, so lots of interesting conversations were had.

Do you ever write in your journal?  What kind of notes?

I sometimes write in my journal, especially if its a travelling one. I usually write down things I’ve heard, things that have inspired me, ideas for paintings, and quotes and poems that catch my eye.  The back of my sketchbooks usually contain thumbnails, shopping lists, names of artists and quick sketches of paintings that have inspired me, and random bits of ideas and leaps of imagination! I tend to keep the front for just sketching but sometimes it all intermingles. 

One of the brilliant sketches from her recent project.

Tell us some more about your recent project, please!

I got chatting to a photographer, Cheryl James,  who told me she was doing an installation in an old tweed mill. I told her that I would love to draw something like that so she said she had space for some extra work if I wanted to join her. So I went along and it was all so inspiring. The mill, Andrew Elliot Ltd, was using the old traditional machines and I think the oldest one dated from 1901. The man working ‘her’ said she had been around during the Titanic, both world wars, and god know what else and said if she could talk! There were only 2 men left working at the mill, both nearly 70, one was completely deaf and the other one told amazing stories of the old days when thousands of men worked at the mills along the River Tweed. I was fascinated by all the intricate machinery, all the amazing parts that each had an important role to play. I started in black ink drawings, but the machines although made of cast metal parts all working together had a life of their own, and they were handling such delicate threads that I wanted to try and capture that lightness and life. So out came the blue and carmine and magenta and all the bright colours to try and capture that life. Cheryl and I ended up working really well together, our work seemed to complement each other, and we’ve decided to try and plan a few more projects together in the New Year which is exciting.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m learning how to etch at the moment, or I’ve learnt the basics, and am just trying to master it! I would love to try and capture the lightness and speed of sketching and transfer it to a metal plate, but its still a work in progress! I’m saving up to buy my own press, as at the moment I travel up to Edinburgh which  is a bit of a hike from my hideyhole in the hills especially through the snow, but then its also a good excuse to get a bit of culture and see the bright lights of the metropolis when I’m there.


I know you've enjoyed this interview, especially after our teaser in THIS post--so thank you so much, Catriona! 

Be sure to check out Catriona's blog, at http://inkling-blots.blogspot.com for more inspiration!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thoughts on White Gouache

Above: Gull Study with different whites labeled. The acrylic white
gesso was added to the background before I decided to do a gull study
on this journal page. Click on the image to view an enlargement. 
I get asked a lot about my use of gouache both in my visual journals and in my stand alone paintings. Shortly after Kate started this blog I contributed a lengthy post about using gouache—the gum arabic based, opaque watercolor. Today I posted a discussion of my use of white gouaches on my regular blog (Roz Wound Up). Based on the response I've received to my initial gouache post here I thought it might be of interest here as well.

Gouache can be a tremendously fun medium in which to work. It allows for reworking and covering and is therefore "forgiving" in ways that transparent watercolor is not. It can be used in conjunction with transparent watercolor, and in fact, if you are using a quality brand your gouache paint can be used transparently in passages within a painting where opaque passages all exist. For me the great fun of using gouache is the feel of the paint as you put it on the support (I use gouache on paper, watercolor canvas, and Claybord™). I love moving and blending the paint—seeing the strokes or not seeing the strokes as my intention directs.

Gouache has other characteristics that are user friendly—most important for me it doesn't smell (again, if you get the right gouache!). Acrylic paints, which I use for some of my stand alone paintings can be wonderful for opaque techniques and even heavy body textural techniques to which gouache is not suited. But acrylic paints all have some sort of chemical smell which bothers me. And I have to get the stay-wet palette out to use them over the course of a day or a week. With gouache you can decide on the spur of the moment to paint, get called away, and come back at any time to continue.

I use both Schmincke and M. Graham brand gouache. Schmincke has little odor at all; M. Graham smells a bit like the honey that it is blended with. Both brands are pigment without added opacifiers so when you are mixing your colors your resultant colors are rich and not muddy. Both of these brands also rewet well which has allowed me to make my own pan travel palettes of them, for use in the field. (I spritz my pans when I start my sketch and the paint is a lovely consistency when it's time to paint moments later.)

If this brief statement of gouache intrigues you check out what I have to say about white gouache over on Roz Wound Up today. The more options you have in your visual journaling tool kit the more enjoyable your experience is going to be and the more likely it becomes that you'll build a life long habit. I hope you will, gouache use or not.

Note: I use gouache fairly thickly on my journal pages when I paint with it and despite that have rarely encountered a cracking problem. I mention this so that folks new to gouache aren't scared away by comments that "gouache cracks." It certainly will if you slather it on and then keep moving the support (in this case, keep bending the page you painted on), but you will quickly discover the thickness level as you work with it. If you want additional protection for your gouache pieces in your journal I recommend you use Microglaze from Skycraft (I'm not affiliated). It is a waxy substance you gently rub into the surface of your painting. It's acid free. It has a citrus smell. When it dries it has no waxy feel. It will, however, slightly alter your colors (as any finishing agent will) so you'll want to test it first on a sample. And it alters the matte finish of gouache every so slightly; again you'll want to test a sample.  I use Microglaze to give protection to my paper beads as well.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

my medical journalling : Alissa Duke

I carry my Moleskine sketchbook, watercolour pencils and Safari Lamy Joy ink pen with me everyday. I try and draw everyday – foods, places, events, sometimes people (must practice more), sketching my life around me, as well as various online drawing challenges, filling 20 sketchbooks in the last 3 years.

Part of my “everyday” in 2011 involved what I can now refer to as my little medical adventure. I know that I am very fortunate as I can look back now as it is over, and I am well (apart from now having to take lots of tablets and slightly changing a few things in life and a new short haircut). In March 2011 I was diagnosed with a large benign brain tumour that required immediate removal and I spent about two and a half months in hospital in the ICU and Neurology wards after the initial surgery and subsequent operations due to major brain infections.

Enough medical stuff, this is about the drawing. Journaling in my sketchbook was part of that experience and I am sharing my drawing experience during that time on this blog.

I was asking for my pencils about six days after the initial surgery and had been mentally composing pages and deciding what would be good to draw before that ! This was a huge relief to me, my friends and family as this was a sign that I was ‘me’ again. The whole lead up to surgery had all happened so quickly that I did not have time to worry too much about anything specific, but I had a fear that I would lose my ability to draw, or just as bad, the motivation to draw. I know that there were much worse things than this that could have happened, but my mind had not yet gone in that direction.

I sketched over 85 pages during the time in hospital and the majority are up on my flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/alissaduke/sets/72157626495626536/

There were stops and starts along the way as my recovery got better and then had a few major set-backs. Looking back, I wish that I had drawn more hospital equipment (there was so much of it around me) , made more notes and comments and shared my sketches more with the hospital staff. I had a habit of putting my pencils and sketchbook away when they turned up (which was often !!) I am still shy at times about showing my work to people. The ICU staff were delighted at the Thank You card I sent them with a drawing of “wiggling my toes” (a bit a mantra in hospital departments)

There was certainly never “nothing to do or draw” in hospital and I was fortunate enough to have the strength to draw and mobility to prop myself up in bed and use of my hands. I know everyone is not this fortunate. My sketchbooks and drawings did distract me from the many scary and unknowns of hospital (this was my first encounter with hospitals, at the age of 43) . But I did not draw to distract myself. Drawing did provide me with a sense of contented familiarity – something from the ‘outside world’ of my normal life. I also think that it allowed me to maintain my personality and individuality at a time when everything is taken away from you. Basically, it was a joy just to be able to draw anything. And so I did !! I never thought of whether a drawing was good or bad, (although I was pleased when my attention to details/colours to objects gradually returned).

However drawing did provide a sense of detachment in a foreign environment and it was very surreal to draw tubes, lines coming out of my arm etc. But I also drew my food, toothbrush, room, objects and medicines,. I am actually surprised I did not draw much food at all, considering how much I normally draw it in my sketchbook. I think that I was so eager to eat the food in hospital as meal times became important in the daily routine. The lovely gifts from friends and family did provide a delightful change of subjects. I am also amazed that my lovely supportive sketching friends Liz (Borromini Bear) , Wendy (QuirkyArtist) and Annie and I did not sketch when they visited, but we chatted instead

Looking back now I am so pleased that I sketched during that time and during my recovery back home. When I want I can look back through my sketchbook and remember some of the little things that would normally be forgotten. I have only just seen photos of myself during that time and very recently drew from a few of those to capture what I looked like at the time. That was not easy to do and I probably should have waited a bit longer. But my pencils and my sketchbooks provided me with a great source of happiness in a not-so-great time in life. I hope this has provided you with some insight into my medical journalling experience.

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 2012: Small, Short Interval Sketches.

I've been forced to draw quickly many times but lately I find it hard to isolate long enough time even to finish a blind contour in the park - somehow I find it very hard to concentrate on my sketch and become easily distracted lately. So I decided to give this a try: I pick something to draw (my shoe, tree, bench) and make a blind contour. Then I keep hatching it, looking at my object and drawing - and nothing else. So far I've done several pages of these and mostly it's crap - but I think it's slowly allowing me to block distractions and concentrate for longer periods of time.
See more at:

Recent pages...

Recent pages... by Cathy (Kate) Johnson
Recent pages..., a photo by Cathy (Kate) Johnson on Flickr.
I've been busy with holidays, family, friends, and work, so though I've kept journaling throughout, taking time to scan or photograph and share online is NOT so easy. I've got a big backlog!

Here's the breakfast Joseph brought me a couple of days ago, a couple of quarters of a very ripe persimmon, today's morning yoga, and a bit of masking-tape play as a demo for the upcoming Strathmore class...

And hey, YOU try sketching and holding a posture at the same time!  I usually bend more than that, but I couldn't see that way. :-D

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sneak Peek at the upcoming Urban Sketching book!

Gabi Campanario's new book is due out next month, and you can pre-order on Amazon here:

(Note: I edited the link since Amazon seems to be having a glitch, so I hope this works!  All I could figure out to do to make it work was put the book in my Amazon store...)

Lots and lots of wonderful art, and I'm delighted to be part of it, as are several of our correspondents!

Sandy Williams -- a change in the weather

Winter is finally here, full force.  Our first winter storm here in Michigan started on January 1st and stayed around for a couple of days.  I took many walks in the beautiful falling snow and had time to do these two sketches, although I photographed the scenes and did the art inside where it was warm.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

new year, 2 new journals (a post from my blog)

new year, two new journals by vickylw
new year, two new journals, a photo by vickylw on Flickr.
My latest hand-bound journal is filled with Niddigan print paper, which works better with gouache or ink work than watercolor. The paper is very light-weight, with an interesting texture -- I'm not sure if I can paint on both sides of a sheet or not yet. I bought two full sheets, the normal amount used per sketchbook, but the paper is so much thinner than the watercolor paper I normally use I added some pages of toned Fabriano Tiziano paper.

I also started a watercolor Moleskine, bought very cheaply at Border's ending-business sale, for those times when I want to use watercolor. It fits in my purse easier. The paper makes watercolors look a bit dull, but it's just to play in.

updated gouache palette

The above is the first page of the Niddigan journal -- I always include a palette sketch on the first page of each new journal. It seems to make the journal less "new" and easier to pick up for simple sketches. This shows my updated gouache palette, with some recently purchased colors. I especially love the cool red (quinacridone rose) from M. Graham, but it seems to stay sticky instead of drying in the pan. My other color choices were largely inspired by those of Roz Stendahl -- she does amazing gouache works in her artist journals!

 Using gouache is so different from watercolor, but I am determined to learn more about using it this year. I bought two teaching DVDs from talented artist Sandy Williams. I'm looking forward to learning from Sandy . . . just as soon as I shake this horrible head cold with it's blocked ears and headaches.

UPDATE: Taking the advice of others, I went ahead and painted on the back of this page . . . works great! And watercolor seems to work fine also; the toned paper just adds an "antique" feel. Fun paper!
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