Saturday, September 30, 2017

Value study exercise with gouache

Carol Marine's book Daily Painting is filled with tips and exercises that I want to explore (read my review here). A previous value study I did with a photo of blueberries was very much inspired by her book, but I wanted to try one of the actual exercises from it as well.

For this exercise, the idea is to tone your canvas, paint in a sketch of your subject, and wipe away the toned areas to reveal the light areas. She uses oils, but I thought the technique might work with gouache on a gessoed surface since gouache lifts with water. So I put down a coat of Liquitex Basics gesso and applied a thin coat of yellow ochre + burnt sienna gouache. Then I sketched in the mug with burnt sienna using a 1/4" flat brush. To wipe away the toned areas on the lightest values, I scrubbed with a damp cloth and brush. This was too aggressive and I peeled away some of the gesso and paper, but the effect is awesome.

After adding the darkest values, it was complete. Even though wiping away the base layer of paint didn't work very well, it's obvious where the value changes are.

Daily Art 09-29-17 value study of a mug using exercise from Daily Painting by Carol Marine

I loved this technique! I think if I tried again using my cheaper Decoart gesso, which has a smoother surface that paint lifts off of easier (which I discovered in yesterday's sketchbook painting) I'd have better luck.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Practice painting with gouache in a 3-color study

After being so disappointed in how my mug illustration turned out yesterday, I decided it was time to watch some training videos on working with gouache. This 3-color gouache study project caught my attention because it looked like a good project for beginner level gouache painting, and I liked the subject.

Instead of using the colors from the video, I used Prussian blue, carmine, and yellow ochre, with a smidge of lemon yellow as a highlight.

3-color gouache study of avocado on Fabriano Studio cold press watercolor paper

One thing that intrigued me about this tutorial was how he put down a light wash of paint to dirty up the paper and get rid of the white. I'm not sure if that was a psychological thing (taking away the fear of the clean, blank page) or if it has an effect on the paint. But I've been playing with that method here and there and love it.

I liked the process of painting in the subject with brush strokes, knowing that they'd be covered up and corrected along the way. I also like how the right edge of the avocado is lost into the background — that's a concept I've been learning more about and it's coming up in The Watercolor Book, which I'm following along with to improve my watercolor skills. One element of this idea is seeing values as abstract shapes, rather than parts of discrete objects.

I wish my painting didn't look so tight and refined and would love to have more brush strokes showing. I used a 1/4" flat brush for this one, but maybe changing to the 1/2" would help. I don't think I'd be able to make it look neat and tidy with that brush at this scale!

This was done on a 6x6-inch square of Fabriano Studio cold press watercolor paper. I'm experimenting with what media works well on this particular paper, and the gouache did nicely.

Mug illustration troubles

I set an intention to make this morning's gouache mug study more illustrative in style and not worry so much about value accuracy. I also intended to mix up a nice grey color to paint with. Neither of these things went very well. I'm aware of feeling off and grumpy this morning — maybe that had an influence in my sketchbook.

The first sketch of the outlined mug went OK (despite the color that was way off from my goal). I like the simplicity of it and the hatching pattern on the surface.

The larger, second mug was stickier. I think it was because I was all over the place with what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted some shading on it so I tried a gradient wash type of approach, and struggled with applying it nicely. The brush strokes need a lot of improvement, but I was using too much water and a gessoed surface so things were mucked up.

Daily Art 09-28-17 gouache mug illustrations on gesso

I did discover that I like the way the gouache lifts off of the gesso surface though. The highlights look pretty good — a more natural, soft-edged look compared to painting on white for highlights. And I like the overall shapes of the mugs.

The color is so painful to me! I like browns, but I was going for grey and this ended up a purpley grey-brown mess. The colors I used were carmine red, ultramarine deep, and yellow ochre + white. I seem to remember getting a much better grey with the rose, horizon blue, and lemon yellow + white.

I was so over this one that by the time I applied the surface pattern I just didn't even care that the color was hard to see. Relief came when the timer finally went off and I could put an end to it. At least tomorrow will be another day to try something else!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What I learned from "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain"

When I decided to make a serious, deliberate effort to improve my drawing skills (just like when I decided to learn sewing for real), I chose Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards as my guide. I approached it like taking a college-level drawing class and Edwards was my professor. For six weeks, every Monday through Thursday from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. I'd sit down with the book and read through it until there was an exercise to do. I stopped to do each exercise, and made sure there were no distractions so it got my full attention.

In college I was an art major, and took as many art classes as I could. Whenever there was room for an elective, it was an art class. So it's not like I was totally unfamiliar with drawing. But apparently I was very, very rusty! Even with all of the tips and videos I've been soaking up over the last year, they paled in comparison to what this book was able to teach me. Things like:
  • you get better by doing the work, not thinking about the work — put pencil to paper and experience the feelings of engaging your right-brain mode
  • how our brains can trick our eyes into seeing things incorrectly
  • how to quiet the left-brain mode and let the right brain do what it's best at
  • there's nothing wrong with using tools like viewfinders and picture planes — the masters used them, too!
  • taking the time to measure and plot out relationships in the beginning stages of the drawing will set you up for success with the rest of the drawing
One of the early exercises in the book was to draw a self-portrait. When I made mine, I was feeling pretty good about it. It was no da Vinci, but during the drawing process I had been keeping in mind proportion and value. I even thought I was "cheating" a little bit by having a head start with my art background. After drawing it I thought it looked good. Ha! Looking at the first and final self-portraits side by side is shocking. I truly feel like I learned so much from Edwards and while I'm sure I'll continue to grow and improve, my drawing foundation is way more solid.

Pre- and post-instruction self portraits from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain - Amy Lamp
My pre-instruction portrait on the left, and final project on the right. I love drawing on the graphite-toned ground!

The perception of these five skills improves your drawings

The exercises in the book are well-organized around the five elements that Edwards believes are key to drawing, and each chapter builds upon the last:
  • edges (contours)
  • spaces (negative spaces)
  • relationships of angles and proportions (perspective)
  • lights and shadows (values)
  • gestalt (seeing the whole)
And they're all based on the premise that drawing from a right-brain mode is more effective than drawing from a left-brain mode. She includes all sorts of data and examples of this notion in the book, and I had many moments where I felt myself in the right-brain mode. Things went so much better when I could do that. I didn't feel pressured by time or agenda, I was just blissfully drawing what I saw. I'm a left-brain person by nature, so sometimes it was like pulling teeth, but when the switch flipped it was awesome.

These are my drawings from the exercises that I was most happy with:

negative shapes exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Negative shapes exercise of a chair. This chair wasn't a great model for the exercise because it didn't contain any fully enclosed negative shapes, but when I could force myself to see what negative shapes there were, things really did start clicking into place better.

negative shapes copying exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Copy of drawing from the book for another negative shapes exercise. This would have been much more complicated to draw if I'd approached it by focusing on the positive shapes.

one-point perspective exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
One-point perspective exercise view down the hall into a bedroom. The shape against the far wall (in the middle of the page) is a treadmill. Without using a basic unit to locate elements, I certainly would have made that treadmill disproportionately large. In my mind, it's a huge thing!

two-point perspective exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Two-point perspective exercise. I split this into two sessions: one to draw out the contours and one to do the shading. The blinds took a ton of patience!

profile portrait warm-up exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Profile portrait warm-up exercise. At this point I discovered I had incorrectly cut my viewfinders — this drawing is too wide (original here) because my viewfinder proportions didn't match my drawing frame.

profile portrait exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Profile portrait exercise. He wasn't very patient with how long it was taking, so the hair is rushed.

three-quarter view profile self-portrait warmup exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Three-quarter view self-portrait exercise. Notice the theme of positioning the subject too far to the left?!

Steichen self-portrait value exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Value exercise copying the Steichen three-quarter view self portrait. Using the trick of turning the page and my drawing upside down helped get me out of a jam with this one. I really struggled to get the face shadows looking good, but the upside-down trick saved me.

final self-portrait exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Final exercise: self-portrait. At one point I almost threw in the towel on this one and started over, but I powered through and was able to resolve the trouble spots pretty well. 

This book taught me so much about drawing. Really, it taught me that drawing is seeing. If I can slow down enough to focus on what's right there in front of me and not what I think is in front of me, my work is better. And if I'm stuck, it provides tools for that. Some that I find particularly helpful:
  • turn things upside down for a new perspective and to quiet the left brain 
  • do pure contour drawings to loosen up and shift into right-brain mode
  • turn elements into abstract shapes instead of naming the positive shapes and assuming I know how they look
  • use a view finder and picture plane to flatten out what I'm seeing 
I can't say enough good things about Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I highly recommend reading it if you have any interest in improving your drawing and perception skills! You can learn more at

Could this mug BE any moodier?

I've been watching the early seasons of Friends and Chandler always made me laugh. One great line that we've been saying lately, because I made scones: "My scone. MY SCONE!" When I saw my completed mug study for today all I could think was "Could this mug BE any moodier?"

I experimented with a whole bunch of different things for today's sketchbook painting:
  • primed the sketchbook page with acrylic gesso (inexpensive Decoarts, which has a smoother surface than Liquitex Basics gesso)
  • stood at my table instead of sitting because my right shoulder is hurting and I'm sure it's because of my drawing posture at the kitchen table — which gave me a new bird's eye perspective on the mug
  • used fresh gouache instead of the leftovers that were sitting on my mixing palette to help the layers dry faster and be more opaque
  • painted with a 1/2" flat brush
  • used less water
  • painted the entire mug in the darkest value, then layered on the mid and light values, extended the paint beyond the contour lines of the mug into the background and shadow, then painted in the cast shadow, followed by the orange background and highlights — this is inspired by the process Carol Marine describes in one of my favorite books Daily Painting, where she talks about carving out the subject by painting the background around it

Daily Art 09-27-17 moody mug painted from life in gouache on gessoed Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

Like yesterday, my lack of gouache skills obscured a good sketch. I have to do more work on figuring out this "carving out the subject" technique because on my version I obliterated the sketch of the mug when I laid in the dark values.

I really like the way the background is looking though — how the cast shadow and orange surface intermingle where they meet. And I like the effect of having the dark value of the mug down first, and adding light areas on top. This may have been the wrong sized brush for the job, but I do like the movement the brush strokes have.

I also noticed I'm getting quicker at color mixing. The orange color I wanted was easy to achieve, thanks to the handy color temperature guide I made.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A little horse painting and a big new goal

My mom's birthday is coming up, and she loves horses. I got inspired to paint her a horse in watercolor after watching the Color Spotlight video with burnt sienna on the In Liquid Color channel. I've never painted a horse before, and my animal paintings so far have been much more illustrative in style than realistic looking. But it looked super doable.

Or so I thought.

I found an image of a horse on pixabay and traced it onto my Strathmore 500 watercolor paper at about a 5x7 size. I started by following along with the video to see how she lays down her brush strokes and layers in the details. And immediately realized I had no idea how to do this! It went downhill quickly and I decided to use that piece of paper for test swatches to try to figure out how I was going to make this happen.

When I told my friend about this disastrous first attempt, she laughed and pointed out that watching speed painting videos by people who have painted that particular subject many, many times isn't the most helpful thing right now. Good for inspiration, bad for learning. And when she said that I remembered Denise saying that horses were her favorite thing to paint, so that made me feel better.

I took a little break from the project for a few days to do some more learning and see if my second attempt would be any more successful. Some things I wanted to try:
  • starting with a value sketch of my reference image
  • putting down a yellow underpainting wash to layer colors on top of
  • focusing on wet on dry instead of wet in wet washes
  • masking out the white spots in the coat and highlights
  • going slow instead of fast (and maybe stop watching speed painting videos)
beginner watercolor painting of a horse on Strathmore 500 watercolor paper

I think it looks overworked, but I do see progress. The shadow areas on the face are hit and miss — the shaping is off around the cheeks and center. I like the mouth, nostril, and eye. 

Two great things came out of this project: 
  1. I figured out that I want to learn how to paint animals. Landscapes and florals definitely hold appeal for me, but there's something about them that I'm having trouble getting excited about. At least yet. Animals, on the other hand, are something I've always been passionate about and I think that enthusiasm about them will help me fight through the challenges and keep learning until I get where I want to be.
  2. I bought a light box so that I can trace animal images while I'm in "watercolor training" mode. My thought is that I'll spend less time drawing and more time painting, which will hopefully maximize my training time. I'm excited about the possibilities with this.
And a bonus great thing: there's plenty of room for me to improve! Since I love learning so much it's probably good that I have so much to learn because it'll keep me challenged and engaged.

When amateur gouache skills cover up a good drawing

Last week I drew a mug from photos that I had taken. They were converted to black and white, cropped to square, and put in my crosshair template to help me draw it more accurately. This week I'm making an effort to draw it from life instead, relying on the drawing (and seeing) skills I'm developing.

With today's painting, I did a good job drawing the mug, but that was largely obscured by poor gouache painting skills.

Daily Art 09-26-17 drawn from life mug study in gouache in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

I'm not good enough at handling the gouache to achieve the realism I was going for here…but if I squint at it, it's a little better. Where some of the edge details got away from me, the overall proportions look acccurate.

Maybe tomorrow I'll try a more illustrative style, with less shading details. Something that conveys a mug without being too literal.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I finally get the value of value studies

value studies in a Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal by Amy Lamp

I'm obsessed with artist Carol Marine's book, Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist (read my review here). One of the things she mentions in it is that getting values right is the biggest thing she has to help her students with. It's one of the things I'm focusing on right now, and her lessons are helping me a lot. My drawings and paintings often end up without enough contrast — too much of the page hanging out in the middle value range.

I also keep painting over highlights in my watercolor sketches, too, and I think concentrating on some value studies will help me keep those highlight areas white.

Another great resource for watercolor values is a video by Laurel Hart where she explains how she uses a greyscale card and creates a value sketch before beginning her painting:

Value study thumbnail sketches

To start my value study, I opened a photo I took of a plate of blueberries, cropped it down, converted it to black and white, and increased the contrast. My intention was to strip the image down into just a few values: white, black, light grey, and dark grey. (I also added a viewfinder overlay that I made on my tablet to help me with composition and drawing the subject in my sketchbook, but more on that later.)

high contrast blueberries photo with viewfinder tool for my value study - by Amy Lamp

value study thumbnail sketches - by Amy Lamp
The thumbnail on the left is made with a water soluble Stabilo All Colored Marking Pencil in black and a wet brush to smooth out the darkest areas. The one on the right is made with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, giving me just two values: black and white.

I did the same thing with a snapshot of some onions:

high contrast onion photo with viewfinder tool for my value study - by Amy Lamp

value study thumbnail sketch - by Amy Lamp
This thumbnail is made with the water soluble Stabilo pencil and wet brush.

Once I was happy with my thumbnails, I drew a 6 x 6 square in my sketchbook and drew in the blueberries. I also penciled in the highlight areas to make sure I didn't paint over them (like I tend to do!). Instead of black, I used indigo watercolor. I love the monochromatic look of this sketch! My brushstrokes could use some improvement, but if I stand back from the sketch a little bit I don't notice that so much and focus instead on the value contrast. 

4-value study using Daniel Smith Indigo watercolor in Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Journal - by Amy Lamp

I think this study was successful for a few reasons:
  • using only 1 paint color let me focus on the values and not on painting a bunch of interesting colors
  • stripping the photo down to just 4 values let me feel like I had a lot more control over where I put the paint down
  • the subject is simple, with just one basic shape repeated several times
  • I intentionally composed the image so that there would be an interesting value composition of dominant (lights), secondary (darks), and smidge (mids) amounts — an approach I learned from reading Daily Painting
With such a positive experience during this value study exercise my hope is that I'll remember to take the time to do more of them!

Gouache mug study in complementary color scheme

I'm loving the complementary color combination of an earthy red-orange paired with teal. I think the red-orange does a good job of bringing down the exuberance of the teal while allowing it to be a focal point. I've noticed it showing up in my intuitive paintings as well.

This week for my daily art I'm focusing on using gouache. Partly because I missed painting with it after using colored pencil last week, and partly because I put a bunch of it on my ceramic palette and would like to use it up.

Daily Art 09-25-17 complementary color scheme gouache mug painting in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

I felt a little rusty with the gouache, and overworked the mug. Plus I was using a brush that was too stiff for how much water I was using (Escoda Versatil size 8), and didn't like how the brush strokes were going down on the mug. For the background, I switched to my new Princeton Neptune 16 Round. I've been watching a bunch of videos by Hazel Soan and want to do more practice with making fewer, more intentional brush strokes. For this painting I was all over the place with brush strokes. I also have a sumi-e book that would help with that, although not sure if gouache is a medium that works well with that approach.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Trying out my new bottle of Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold Fluid Acrylic

Artists seem to be huge fans of the Golden Fluid Acrylic in Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold so I decided to buy a small bottle and see what all the chatter was about. This is the first thing I've painted with it and I'm impressed with the color of it! This image may be a little more intense than in real life, but it is a really cool color.

I started this illustration by painting the main wildflower shapes in Quin Gold on a 6x6 sheet of Fabriano Studio watercolor paper that was coated with acrylic gesso. After letting the flower shapes dry, I used gouache to paint in the stems and leaves and small accent flowers. For the black lines and dots, I used black gouache on a small liner brush.
wildflower garden illustration with Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold fluid acrylic flowers
The main flower shapes were painted with Golden Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold Fluid Acrylic and I'm impressed with the variety of tone you can get depending on whether it's applied heavily or lightly.

I could see this illustration as a greeting card or throw pillow

Loose and gestural colored pencil mug

After a week of careful studies of a white mug, I changed things up today. Instead of drawing from a photo, I drew the mug as it was actually sitting in front of me. And I also loosened the marks up a lot, going for a general sense of the light and shadow vs. a careful representation.

Daily Art 09-24-17 loose and gestural mug study in Polychromos colored pencils Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook
Polychromos colored pencils in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bunny studies in pencil and watercolor

I was excited to find a few gems at the local library Friday night, and I'm itching to dig into them more. One book I found is Creating Nature in Watercolor: an Artist's Guide by Cathy Johnson. I own a couple of her books already and am drawn in by her relaxed watercolor style.

When a friend came over for our occasional Art Day, I struggled with what to work on because there are so many things I want to try out. As a way to force myself to just start somewhere, I opened to the page titled "Mammals of the Grasslands" because of the sweet drawings of rabbits. They looked manageable to work on in a casual way without complete concentration, so I could chat as much as I wanted but still make some progress with the studies.

Daily Art 09-23-17 bunny studies from "Creating Nature in Watercolor" by Cathy Johnson in Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Journal

For the sketches, I used a Stabilo Graphite All Pencil and loosely went over them with a wet brush to soften the lines and add some shadow. I love how Cathy can capture the form and gesture of the rabbits with just a few confident strokes, and tried to imitate that with my sketches.

I used the watercolor versions to practice controlling the washes and glazes. The first one didn't go so well (the lower left bunny). Part of the problem was that I'm using a Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Journal, where it looks like Cathy used watercolor paper. This journal is great but since the surface is similar to hot press paper I'm having a hard time with washes. It's like the paint is sucked dry the moment after it's brushed on. I might be able to get better results if I really loaded up the brush with lots of pigment and water and loosened up.

But on the second bunny (the lower right) I changed my approach. Instead of trying to a variegated wash I focused on flat wash and glazing on dry layers. This worked much better, and I took my time brushing in the fur details. The cast shadow gave me a lot of trouble, and the colors aren't as rich and golden as I wanted. I did a little practice on those after doing the studies, and will need to continue working on them.

Daily Art 09-23-17 color and brushmark practice for bunny studies in Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Journal

I'd love to do more studies from this book! I'm also excited to explore Beatrix Potter's Art : Paintings and Drawings. She's not an illustrator that was on my radar, but after seeing her name mentioned recently I wanted to check her out. Her detailed style has a lot of charm and tranquility that has me fascinated.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mug study in green Polychromos colored pencils

I'm having that feeling like I'm running out of ways to use the colored pencils for these mug studies. I think that means I need to play more and allow myself to explore or warm up before starting the timer.

Or maybe I play and explore while the timer is running! I guess these don't have to be entirely accurate, carefully rendered drawings. My mode right now is to sharpen my drawing skills so my mind got a little one-track about that.

Daily Art 09-22-17 mug study in green Polychromos colored pencils in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

For today's sketch, I could feel myself getting quicker at drawing and shading which is a cool thing. One thing I'd improve about this one is to angle the sides of the mug more so the rim flares open a tad bit. I drew it too vertically. When I compare it to the last sketch of this view, the other one has a more lively and energetic shape. This one is more droopy and heavy, despite being a brighter set of colors.

I also realized after I started coloring it in that the contour lines I had drawn in with pencil were too dark.

Sophisticated Dachshund sketch

Sketch of a sophisticated Dachshund wearing a Burberry trench coat - by Amy Lamp

Inspired by two things I love: my Dachshund, Bosco, and my classic Burberry trench coat.

Bosco the Dachshund keeps watch at the window in his favorite chair
When the light comes in from the window, Bosco's eyes turn the most beautiful caramel color

Friday, September 22, 2017

Getting better at drawing requires no fancy tools

I'm reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards which I can't say enough good things about (you can see my before and after drawings here). In August I set an intention to buckle down and get better at drawing. It's something I've been circling around in a casual way for over a year, but I decided that without dedicating real time and focus to it it would take much longer. So I adjusted my schedule to give myself a block of Art School time each Monday–Thursday.

Edwards' book came so highly recommended by other artists that it was my first choice. I'm learning so many enlightening and useful techniques for more accurate observational drawing and can see my drawing skills improve.

Yesterday after finishing the hatching activity in the book, I had some free time — the next project needed more time than I had. And since there was already paper taped to my drawing board and a pencil in my hand, I just kept drawing. I've created a ritual of lighting a candle and playing white noise sounds during class so this candle in a glass jar was right in front of me. First I did a couple of pure contour drawings (also called blind contour) to warm up and get in the right-brain zone. Then I felt inspired to work on drawing glass with its highlights and strange shadows.

simple pencil sketch of a glass jar candle on plain copy paper using principles from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

I remembered to see the negative shapes to draw the object more accurately and took my time with placing highlights. And I felt myself being in that right-brain place Edwards talks about in the book! I lost sense of time and just enjoyed the experience of making a simple little sketch of this pleasing little object.

So many people say you don't need to buy anything special to work on your drawings. This impromptu session was a perfect reminder of that. I felt so much satisfaction from making this sketch and I think the reason was because I was actually studying my subject and not focused on what tools to use or how to use those tools well. I love all of my art supplies, but sometimes they're more of a distraction than a help.

I hope to do more of these relaxing drawings! I'd also love to pay attention to what things I enjoy drawing and what things bring me no drawing joy. Or maybe it's more about state of mind than the subject?

Hatched colored pencil mug study

With today's sketch, I was hoping to capture the essence of the white mug with gestural lines and expressive hatching lines. I'd love to be able to make sketches that look spontaneous, like I was moving more of my body when drawing instead of staying close and tight to the paper.

Daily Art 09-21-17 hatched mug study with gestural lines in colored pencil Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

I'm not there yet — maybe standing up for a fresh perspective on the paper and holding the pencil differently would help. I'm at that middle zone where I can be accurate if I work slowly and methodically, but the drawings lack ease. I'll get there with deliberate practice though!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Day 50: Colored pencil mug on a toned gesso background

Yesterday it occurred to me that it might be cool to put down a tinted gesso background in my sketchbook to use my colored pencils on for this week's mug studies. I wanted to see how working with my white Polychromos would go on gesso.

It turns out it's kind of like drawing on sandpaper — the tips of my pencils got ground way down for this sketch! And it brought up one of my weird fears: using things up and worrying that they're being "wasted". I dislike waste in general, but this fear is so silly because I buy these supplies so I can use them. Plus, when I use something up I get to buy more! As a kid I had a scented eraser collection that I refused to use because if I actually erased things with them they wouldn't be perfect little shapes anymore. Huh, maybe that's the underlying issue…perfectionism.

The colored pencil smudges off the acrylic gesso pretty easily, so I left the opposing page blank so it wouldn't become a total mess. I used my greyscale value card to estimate what the toned background would be value-wise and it looked like about 50% grey, so I used that as my benchmark and left the mid value alone and did the highlights and shadows around it.

Daily Art 09-20-17 mug study in black and white colored pencil on toned gesso background in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

I struggled with the upper right corner of the mug, where the lip curves around. That area has been really challenging for me on these studies.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Carefree wildflower garden illustration

Yesterday I felt really inspired by artists like Carolyn Gavin and Amarilys Henderson. Flowers aren't my favorite subject to paint, but there's no denying that sometimes it's the best thing in the world to sit down with no agenda other than to play with color and make satisfying brush strokes. Florals lend themselves well to that.

I squeezed out some gouache onto my mixing palette: Rose and Horizon Blue (both Turner Design Gouache which I got for a fantastic price at Jerry's Artarama), Lemon Yellow and Ivory Black (Holbein), and M.Graham Titanium White. And just started painting plants! It was free and fun and I enjoyed filling in the spaces as I layered more and more in.

Daily Painting 09-19-17 loose and colorful wildflowers gouache illustration in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

My Escoda Versatil brushes haven't been getting much love lately so I used the size 6 for this sketch. It's a slightly stiffer brush (certainly more so than my Princeton Neptunes) that did well with the gouache. The really thin lines were painted with a size 2 liner.

Colored pencil mug in browns and greens

For today's 30-minute sketchbook project I used a bird's eye view of my simple white mug and used colored pencils (in color this time, not just black). I went a little crazy buying earth tone Polychromos pencils, so used browns for the shading on the mug. For the background, to help it recede from the warm tones of the mug, I used green, grey, and indigo. Plus a little yellow on the left side to suggest light coming from that direction.

Daily Art 09-19-17 colored pencil study of coffee cup in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

Colored pencils are taking me too long for my 30-minute time limit. I either need to figure out a way to use them faster or switch to a different medium.

I'm also considering participating in Inktober! I haven't done that challenge before. And I was interested in what the creator Jake Parker says about creativity coming out of two things: constraints and accountability. His goal was to get better at using a brush pen for inking by using it every day for a month and sharing what he made online. You can hear his thoughts on this and the origins of the project in this video:

It was a coincidence to hear him say that because just last weekend I had decided to put some constraints on my daily painting habit so that I could focus my energy on improving different skills. And of course to help keep myself accountable I started this new blog specifically for my art journey.

Now I just have to force myself not to buy a new brush! Jake makes the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolor Brush sound pretty amazing. But at this point I'm dedicated to using synthetic hairs instead of animal hairs. I definitely don't need any inks for the project — I already have so many options in my supplies:
  • fountain pen with blue-black non-waterproof ink
  • fountain pen with waterproof black ink
  • dip pen
  • india ink
  • white ink
  • brown fountain pen ink
  • Gelly Rolls in white and gold
  • a bottle of black non-waterproof ink
  • Micron and PITT artist pens
  • brush pens
  • plus watercolor brushes in lots of sizes including small 00, 0, and 2 rounds, scripts, and a liner
OK yes, I think I'm set on supplies ;) 

One of my favorite watercolor tools: color wheel and simple mixing chart

When I started with watercolors a little over a year ago, I spent so much time researching what colors to buy. I knew I wanted to buy artist quality paints, and because of that investment picking colors at random was not my thing. 

Most painters seem to agree that with a red, yellow, and blue you can mix pretty much anything. And by getting a warm- and cool-biased set of each primary it expands the options even further. This is how I chose my palette. More specifically, I pretty much followed the direction Jane Blundell provides with her Ultimate Mixing Set. If you're stuck on where to begin with choosing your colors I highly recommend checking it out!

Understanding color bias when using a split primary watercolor palette

The one drawback to this split primary watercolor palette is that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin when actually choosing what colors to use for a sketch, illustration, or painting. After all, the whole point of using the split primary palette is that depending on whether you mix the warm or cool version of the color you're going to get different results. Diving in with some swatches is a good way to go, but if you're looking for a more systematic approach there's a fantastic video by parkablogs about this.

I followed along with the video, making my own simple color wheel from my warm and cool watercolor paints, and then making little secondary color swatch charts that show the color bias affects the mix.

Split primary watercolor palette mixing chart
My simple warm and cool color wheel and secondary mixing charts — plus blacks

The way my brain works, it's taking time and practice for this color temperature stuff to sink in, so this has been an incredibly useful tool that I keep with me whenever I paint.

Here's his video:

If you're interested in more info on split primary color palettes, I also find this handout by Susie Short really helpful. Often times I prefer to mix colors that are more neutral and less intense and I go ahead and cross the lines she talks about, but I like learning how to have more control over my mixes so I'm deciding when to neutralize and can get the results I want.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Meetups are hard for an introvert, but worth it

I've been thinking lately about meetups and how I go through seasons where I get myself out to a lot of them, and seasons where I stay quiet and focused in my office. One of the big reasons I haven't been going to many this year is the simple fact of being busy. I have a zillion projects that I love working on, between making items for Oxford Dogma, my grainmill baking book, developing my art skills, learning new things, and generally keeping myself healthy.  But it's also because I'm an introvert, and it's easier for me to choose home over going out. 

Over the summer, I started connecting with people in online baking and art communities. I can't believe it took me so many years to do this! The experience has been enjoyable and rewarding. I also created a Reddit account and am loving the way you can choose your interests by subreddit and connect with others who have the same interests. So perfect for a Scanner like me.

There are a few in-person meetups I like to go to. One is the Arizona Artisans Collective which is a business-focused community for Arizona makers and artists. I've been a member from the start and it's nice to have a group of people who understand what it's like to have a handmade/art business.

Another one I like is CraftHackEV (the EV stands for East Valley in the Phoenix, AZ area). It happens at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of the month at Gangplank in Chandler. It's just pure crafting and making fun. I enjoy chatting with my fellow crafters and often there's someone leading a demo on something crafty. If you live in the area check it out!

I drew this little cable knit hat (ironically, knitting is a common activity at CraftHack, but I chose to draw it instead — capturing cable knit patterns on paper has me fascinated). I just got a few more Stabilo water soluble pencils that I'm having fun with, and have been working on layering more and pushing my artwork past the first pass of "it's OK, but a little lackluster" into something more interesting to look at. While relaxing with the small group and working on my layers, I learned of some artists to check out that I hadn't heard of before and got to hear about what cool things everyone else is working on. It left me looking forward to the next one!

water soluble pencil drawing made during September 2017 Craft Hack EV meetup at Gangplank in Chandler AZ

Monochromatic colored pencil mug

I have so many art supplies now. I can't stop buying them! But there are worse things I could be spending money on. So why is this mug study in plain black colored pencil?

daily art - monochromatic colored pencil mug study in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

I'm trying out something new: since I have all of these different media to choose from, I have a lot of trouble picking what I want to use each day for my daily art habit. It's a crazy roadblock to have but there have been studies done where people who have too many options to choose from sometimes choose none of them at all. I definitely don't want to sabotage my daily art goals by creating that kind of obstacle for myself.

To help with this dilemma I'm assigning myself a few parameters:
  • use a simple white mug as the subject
  • choose one primary medium each week
  • the style and approach can be whatever I feel like working on that day
My desire to either play and be free or to improve skills and techniques is variable. Some days one feels more important than the other. Right now, my priority is skill development, and imagine that when I feel solid there I'll move more toward play so that my style develops.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mug study that got worse before it got better

It's becoming more and more clear to me that art sometimes looks bad or just wrong before it gets good. I'm sure that's totally obvious to most artists, but coming from a design background it was more common that I'd gather my elements — this stage did often look messy — then assemble them on the layout in a fairly clean way. Maybe it was the nature of working digitally vs. by hand with things that get all over my fingers and work area.

Lately, as I've been learning more techniques and media, I've been experiencing moments in my paintings and sketches where it just feels like it's not going to work. The other night I completed the profile portrait exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and in the middle of the session I felt like giving up. I was drawing my husband, so of course he's very recognizable to me and any element of the drawing that was off stood out a ton. I was struggling to get my drawing to look like him, but I kept going and am so glad I did! The final drawing eventually came together and it's thrilling to see it actually looking like him.

It reminds me of a podcast episode I just listened to. A friend recently turned me on to the Jealous Curator podcast, and one of the first that I played was the interview with Lisa Congdon where she mentions the painting curve and pushing through the messiness*. The idea is that you start out with a nice, clean canvas, then as you start working you get to the low point in the curve where it gets messy and difficult. The key is to keep going and push yourself back up to the top of the curve where things are beautiful again. 

I love that she shared this idea because it's much too easy for me to assume that an artist has a vision and then perfectly executes that vision — and that's what defines them as talented. This thought is toxic when it comes to creativity. I'm working on embracing the messiness and trusting that when I keep going I'll get somewhere that was worth pushing through the messiness.

This daily sketch is a good example of that. I almost pulled the plug on it, sure it was failing. But I kept going and can see a lot of things I like about it.

daily art - mixed media mug study in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook with gesso base layer
Can you see my center hatch marks along the edges? I'm working on drawing more accurately by using the marks along with a viewfinder. They're really helpful tools, but I stink at holding the viewfinder still while I sketch…
It's done on a gessoed page in my Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook, with Neocolor II crayons, Stabilo All Pencils, black gouache, and additional white gesso layered on top.

*Lisa also talks about this idea in her book Art, Inc. Excerpts can be read here. It's a great book that I'll be referencing again as I get further down my art and illustration path.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Watercolor wash mug study

I feel a little meh about today's study. My goal was to capture values in a loose way. This sketchbook is the Canson XL Mix Media and I've had better luck laying down a stroke of color and not working over it. I think I did ok with that effort but I wasn't really happy with the way the actual strokes look. That'll take more practice. There are some dappled areas that I like quite a bit.

daily art - watercolor wash mug study in Canson XL Mix Media sketchbook

I also don't love the ochre watercolor pencil for the sketch. I'd like to try my new Stabilo Graphite All Pencil so the lines are neutral-toned.

A lot of my challenge comes down to having expectations that this particular paper can't live up to. I know this sketchbook has a lot of virtues but it can't be my single paper solution (wouldn't that be awesome to find?!). So I can't expect watercolor-paper results on it.

Getting started with daily paintings

When I started painting with gouache over the summer, I became totally inspired by Jennifer Orkin Lewis (August Wren). I had been painting with watercolors for about a year and wanted to try out the more opaque gouache as an illustration medium. The two media are similar, but different enough that I felt some training would be useful, and she has a couple of gouache classes on the platform.

The thing I found so inspiring about her was that she's been painting every day for several years. She sets a timer for 30 minutes and whatever she feels like painting, she does. When she tells her story, she talks about how this experience has been extremely rewarding because it helped her develop her own style (something on my mind) and she's gotten work and representation from her dedication to the practice.

I don't know if I'll be able to keep it up as long as Jennifer, but I can hope! My goals for the daily painting are to:
  • stick to 30 minutes every morning (if I push it to later in the day, it'll likely get skipped)
  • learn how to use gouache (but other media are OK to use, too)
  • learn to use my brushes better
  • try out different sketchbooks and find a good fit for me
I use a variety of things as reference — things I've found on Pinterest, photos I've taken, things around the house, plants and wildlife I see while camping… 

I'm also using the sketchbook to copy what other artists have made to learn more about how they make their paintings and sketches. This was a huge struggle for me to get on board with! It felt wrong and unoriginal. But after chatting with my husband about my painting and illustration goals, he encouraged me to recreate other pieces that I like, just like how art students are taught to copy paintings of the masters. The more I looked into this approach the more it became clear that as long as I'm not trying to pass this work off as my own art, and keep it just for learning and practice, it's totally OK.

Some daily paintings from August 2017

Sketchbook: Canson XL Mix Media
Media: Holbein Artists' Gouache; Daniel Smith watercolor; Lamy Safari fountain pen with black De Atramentis Document Ink

daily painting in gouache of an outfit idea with a fantastic sleeveless grey dress - by Amy Lamp
daily painting in gouache of a plate of blueberries - by Amy Lamp
daily painting in gouache of leaves against a patterned background - by Amy Lamp
Daily Painting in gouache of a ranunculus in glass vase - by Amy Lamp

Daily Painting in gouache of a jar of French green lentils with orange background - a complementary color scheme study - by Amy Lamp
Daily Painting gouache wildflower sketch on gesso background - Chevelon Crossing campground wildflowers - by Amy Lamp

Daily Painting watercolor and ink pen study of Closet Case Files pattern illustration
This is one of the illustrations that I tried to recreate myself. The original is for the Clare Coat by Closet Case Patterns. I can't figure out who makes the artwork for these patterns but I just love them! The ink lines + watercolor washes are bold and lively.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

My new mug for studies

I was at a restaurant supply store yesterday getting a ceramic dish for mixing watercolors and picked up a simple little white mug as well. My intention is to do a bunch of studies with it, practicing different techniques and media. I'd like to get really familiar with painting this one thing, with the hope that by sticking with one subject instead of jumping all around I'll get better at really seeing it and representing it the way I want.

I chose my materials for today's sketch based on my enthusiasm for my new Caran d'Ache Neocolor II crayons. When I chose my colors at the art store, I went with my gut, but they sort of end up being a split complementary color scheme. I managed to keep it to just four colors, but I wanted so many more!

  • Olive Brown
  • Turquoise Green
  • Salmon
  • Dark Grey
daily art - mixed media mug study

I'm having fun layering and layering colors and different media in a way that doesn't work out so well in watercolors. Drawing with crayons and pencils, smudging the lines with a wet brush, and dabbing some of it off with a paper towel is such a tactile way to work. I'm finding that I don't expect such exact results like I tend to want with watercolor. Once I'm done with the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I'll dig into one of my latest library books, The Watercolor Course You've Always Wanted.