Stand Up Watercolor Sketching

Tina just wrote this comment to my last post.
I’m starting to think about using watercolors in the field again. But the whole setup part is what stalls me… I like sketching while standing, and having to attach the palette, etc. to my sketchbook or to a board crimps my style. 

The old “clip the palette to your sketchbook road is full of frustration, at least it was for me. Different sketchbook sizes, left page/right page, beginning/end of book… there’s just nothing consistent about this process.

So, long ago I realized that I needed to bring my “table” along with me. Lots of people do this, using fome-core or Coroplast boards. Some clip palettes, some imbed magnets into the backing board. I’ve tried all of these methods and they work, if you’re more consistent in your sketching practice than I am. I went a different way, mounting magnets on the bottom of my palettes…all my palettes. This eliminated the need to use a metal palette. It works as well with Cotman plastic kits as metal palettes. All it takes is a little dab of 5-minute epoxy in each corner and 4 little seed magnets, like this:

Of course this requires that your backing board be made of metal (= heavy). But what if you took some very thin plywood (mine is 3mm) and used contact cement to attach thin metal? “Come on, maybe YOU can do that Larry but I don’t have any tools.”

I found, at the dollar store, a small magnet board…a REALLY cheap magnet board. It cost me $2. It was cheap because it came with a cheap plastic frame around a thin, painted piece of metal that was backed by a piece of cardboard. Oh..and they give you some crappy magnets too.

What a deal this was because it was a game changer for me. It took about 20s to pull the frame off, toss the cardboard in the trash and I was left with a perfect sheet of metal that weighed almost nothing. Some 3M77 contact cement and my board was finished. I just dumped a bunch of art books on it to keep it flat while it dried. That was at least five years ago and she’s still going strong, albeit with scratches here and there.

Because Tina is a sketchbook user and because I know she’s like me and uses different kinds of sketchbooks, I’ll skip my single-sheet approach and just show a couple sketchbook possiblities.

Notice first that I’m holding this in one hand. In fact, when I use this standing up, I also stuff a small water bottle in my right hand (I’m a lefty). Sometimes I put the sketchbook on top and the palette on the bottom; it makes no difference. Notice also that I’m holding it up at an angle. The palette doesn’t move.
Here the palette is at the bottom and I have an A6 sketchbook on top. Works the same. A caveat here. When I’m working I typically hold the board from the top and stick the bottom of the board in my belly. In this configuration I have to be careful to keep wet pans of paint from getting on my clothes.
Yesterday I showed my current small bag set up. Because I use a sandwich of Coroplast to hold my paper I find I can just shove the secondary palette cup between the Coroplast sheets and clip it. It’s extremely stable and I can walk along a trail with this set up and ready to go, though I generally dump any water before I break into my marathon trot. Because Tina likes small sketchbooks I grabbed one of my scribblers as the example here. This is a never-before-seen sketch done in the middle of winter. It was probably -20C so apologies for its crude nature.

I know these are lousy photos but this is less of a blog post and more of a conversation with Tina, and anyone else who found it interesting enough to read to this point.

A Ten-Minute Experiment

I was out for a walk yesterday and sat down to rest. Looking back from whence I came I “saw” a vignette and simultaneously I asked myself, “could I sketch that in 10 minutes.” The answer was yes, it’s simple so I immediately asked, “in color?”

So, I set up to do this small watercolor, and it’s not complete because the answer to my question was a no, but I stopped at 10 minutes anyway. When I got home I reassembled the kit I was using for the drawing so you can see how my Portable Painter Micro Palette works for me.

Hmmm… I just noticed that in setting this up for the photo I forgot to attach the water container to the palette. Imagine one there, please (grin).

A Bit Of Summer Sketching

We’ve had a real “meh” spring. A bunch of light rain but mostly it’s been cold, even for us. It’s raining right now but a couple days ago Chantal and I went for the first walk of the year where we didn’t have to wear a jacket, and the day was gorgeous. We walked for at least two hours and along the way we stopped to relax and take in the sun.

At one of those stops we sat at a picnic bench that faced a large tree with an apron of suckers growing from it. I thought it pretty and decided to draw it using a simple Uniball pen. I spent about 10 minutes drawing and then another five adding some color when I got home. Maybe we’ll have a summer afterall.

Art Without My Pen: #30x30DirectWatercolor

This is #30x30DirectWatercolor month and while I don’t participate in “events”, when Marc was visiting I told him I’d do it this year. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for when I said that. Yes, I’ve read his Direct Watercolor book (at least twice) and so I understand the concept, but I didn’t have a clue how it would make me feel to actually do it.

And how did it make me feel? Well, there are several feelings. First is naked. Without my pen I’m lost. Putting it down and picking up a brush causes me to lose my ability to put proportion and perspective on the page. Don’t know if it’s a shift in my concentration or what but things go south when I pick up a brush.

The second feeling is ineptitude. My ability to handle a brush is sorely lacking and it shows in everything I’m trying to do during 30×30. Everything goes down wonky, to use a Liz Steel word. Also, water control is tough for me, also due to a lack of experience.

And the third feeling I have is that it’s just no fun. I’ve heard lots of artists talk about doing the sketch quickly so they can get to the fun part. Well, for me, ALL the fun comes in the drawing. Painting is an afterthought, necessary evil, or something along those lines.

It’s obvious that the ineptitude feeling is a result of me placing all my emphasis on drawing and not painting. If Marc reads this he’ll giggle because fixing that problem is what #30x30DirectWatercolor is all about. I need to spend more time with a brush, following the same “put in the work” that has moved me from painting wonky cubes to being able to draw most things I see. Sigh…is this how a kid feels when he’s told to practice his times tables?

Anyway, I’ve actually done seven of these little paintings, one for each day so far. Four of them are too much of a mess to show you. Marc said in a recent post that 2 out of 10 is pretty good. I suppose he’s right. Here are three of my seven. I hope I get better.

In case you can’t recognize them, Left: onions, Center: Iles aux Grues landscape, and Right: Heron

The Advantages Of Single Sheet Sketching

My last post generated some really great feedback. Those comments covered many of the reasons to use a sketchbook and some of why some like single sheets. I started to respond to each of those comments but concluded that everything I would say should be in the post I promised to make and so consider this to include answers to those comments.

Just to be clear…again, I’m not advocating people to give up sketchbooks. I still use them. Here I’m simply presenting my own reasons for moving more and more to single sheet sketching and maybe, just maybe present that approach in a way that doesn’t cause a sketcher to lose the reasons they use sketchbooks. Heck, this IS the struggle, isn’t it? I’ve always used sketchbooks to keep my sketches chronologically organized. While I talk about throwing them on shelves and never look at them, sketchbooks are still neater than having a bunch of sheets in a pile. Ok…here we go.

I see three major advantages to using single sheets and the importance of each has a lot to do with how/why and with what you sketch. Therefore, I will expose my biases as I proceed.

Freedom of paper choice: I sketch with pencil (shaded drawings), pen only, pen and wash, and with paint (gouache, watercolor). Each of these is best done with a different type of paper. Doing a shaded pencil drawing requires very different paper from when I do a watercolor and so. It seems that with sketchbooks I’m always compromising in this regard. Second, I’m fickle when choosing a particular paper size and color. A landscape A5 just won’t do when I want to do a portrait. Sometimes I like tan paper, or gray paper. For each of these choices I need a different sketchbook. The result is that I always have several sketchbooks “in progress” and still I’m compromising what paper I use for a particular sketch.

Organization: Consider the above. I’ve got several sketchbooks, of different sizes and shapes on the go simultaneously. In that context, the notion that my sketchbooks are maintaining a chronology of events just falls apart. And, of course, there’s always the times when you work on a single sheet to do a special project. There’s no way to truly organize chronologically. Of course, if I could just choose a sketchbook/paper/approach, this would be easy and many do.

Presentation: Because I create sketches and not sketchbooks, I don’t worry about “working across the spread” or designing pages to include notes, quotes and other stuff. If I write notes they are just about the sketch and I put them on the back of each sketch (would make a mess for those creating sketchbooks. But presentation IS important. To me, the most value I get from my sketchbooks is when I’m carrying them and someone asks about my art and I can hand them a sketchbook to look through. This is a problem to solve for a single-sheet sketcher, but it can work with a bit of thought.

Ease of use: I’ve added this fourth advantage cuz I find it true. Some sketchbooks are simply hard to hold and draw while standing. A portrait A5 isn’t so bad but an A5 landscape, particularly if you’re at the beginning or end of it, presents a struggle. Some people never stand while they sketch. I do. People who do carry a support for their sketchbook and this works dandy, but sketchbooks clipped to a board are always less user friendly than are single sheets clipped to that same support.

Methods to solve some of these problems are many and varied. Here are mine.

Paper flexibility and Ease of Use: When using single sheets you have complete flexibility with respect to paper. I carry several sizes, colors and types of paper when I go out on a sketching section. The only limit is that the paper has to fit within the boundaries of my support. The weight of the support is far less than any sketchbook. I first saw the use of Coroplast as a support when sketching with Marc Taro Holmes (I admit that I don’t get out much). He’ll tape sheets of watercolor paper to 4-5 pieces of Coroplast and this means there’s no set up on site, a convenient way to carry his sketches, and he can even work on multiple paintings at once as he can lean one painting against a tree while working on another one. This also makes it very easy for him to display multiple results during the USK throw-downs that occur at the end of events.

This shows a couple methods for attaching paper. Mostly I use clips but it’s sometimes nice to have the border frame resulting from taping off the paper. For me, the size of the Coroplast is important. The width is the widest thing I can put in my bag and the length needs to be long enough that I can push the bottom of it into my belly while holding it from the top with one hand.

This is the board I use most often. It’s a very thin piece (1/8″) of plywood with a sheet of very thin metal glued to it. I use spray contact cement for this and the metal came from a small magnet board I bought from the dollar store. They come with a plastic frame that’s easy to remove. I like this because, by gluing tiny magnets to my paint palette, I can magically fix it to the board.

Carrying paper only requires a couple sheets of cardboard or Coroplast with a rubber band to sandwich your paper selection between them. I use a fabric tape hinge to create a “book” that holds my paper.

Organization and Presentation: Again, there are many solutions but I really love using 9×12 portfolios you can find at any art store. And the best part is that this is far superior to sketchbook organization for the simple reason that you can stick sketches in these in chronological order regardless of what paper they were done on. Thus, all the sketches I’ve done while having several sketchbooks on the go suddenly appear in complete chronological order in a portfolio. And the ability to display sketches is, in my opinion, far superior. I’ve taken these portfolios to show-n-tell events and people loved looking at them because it was so easy to turn the pages. I love the fact that each sketch is covered in plastic so all those pesky hands aren’t touching them.

For me, carrying around an entire portfolio so I can show them to someone on the street sort of defeats the idea of keeping things light. So, what I do is simply place recently done sketches in my paper pouch. Then, when someone is curious, I pull it out just as I would a sketchbook. This works well and eventually sketches get moved to a portfolio.

Oh…one last thing. Kate B. talked about leaving sketches/sketchbooks for people to find. A great idea in my opinion. Recently, somewhere, I left a couple sketchbooks for someone to find and an entire sketch kit in case they became inspired (grin).