I’ve been meaning to try some sketches of birds for quite some time and at long last Ive done it.
I kind of messed up with the first sketch (hidden at the bottom of the page), of what I believe is a Bullfinch, so I think we’ll just call that one a test. I actually thought it was going alright until I started working on the background and that’s when it became just a huge mess. In the later sketches, I found that a more sparse treatment for the background worked much better.
The first sketch and the second one also were done in a Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook (7″ x 7″), which has a smooth hot press surface. For the first sketch colours were mainly cadmium red pale hue and Payne’s Gray – I don’t recall the colours for the background. The second sketch, of a Nuthatch, was an improvement – the background foliage was nothing more than a random green mixture splashed onto the paper – the tree trunk was something similar but with a couple of brown mixtures. The third sketch is of a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. Again, this was completed in a Stillman & Birn sketchbook, but the Beta series, which has a cold press surface but is in the same 7″ x 7″ square format, which I find suits these sketches quite well.
The process for these sketches was essentially the same. Pencilling in lightly to establish the contours and the main shapes, then going over the sketches again with a Pigma Micron 01 and then finally, adding the watercolour. In the later sketches, I spent more time rendering the birds with the pen particularly with regard to modelling the form – which has the effect I think of simplifying the painting part of the process.
I’d like to do some portrait sketching and painting at some point but I’m not very confident currently. Hopefully, working through some exercises will help boost my confidence enough to allow me to try. Took my time with this sketch, working in graphite and white charcoal pencil.
In spite of what I have said about using cheap wood pulp paper, I do still use it as I think there is some value in it for some things.
I took my time working on this, spent an evening working on this.
The paper used here was Daler Rowney Aquafine, a cold-press 140lb. paper. It is an inexpensive watercolour paper, a value-oriented, so-called ‘student’ paper, a term which I realise now is inappropriate and misleading.
I didn’t really care about this, it was intended as a throwaway, the intention being that I would use it to get a sense of how to do the finished version. This gave me the freedom to try things without worrying whether the next step I was about to take was going to completely screw it up. If I did screw it up then it didn’t matter.
Glazing is difficult with this paper – applying paint over an existing layer there is a strong tendency to lift the previous layers. I found I can just about do wet-into-wet glazes if I’m really careful but even then it doesn’t always work or it does work it might only work partially.
Some people use blooms (aka backruns) intentionally in their rendering of a scene – one might consider it a way of acknowledging the medium of watercolour, of referencing it within your painting. That wasn’t the case here, I simply added more paint when I shouldn’t have and a bloom resulted.
Anyway, I think in spite of everything I think it turned out alright. Next step is to re-do this on a better quality paper…
Been practising clouds recently. I thought this was quite a nice example. It’s from my Khadi sketchbook which I’ve had for a while but started using only recently. It’s not anywhere in particular, just somewhere, wherever you want it to be.
Khadi paper is made in southern India. It is 100% cotton watercolour paper but it’s probably not cotton watercolour paper as you know or expect it to be. From what I can gather some people like it and some dislike it, mainly I think because it does not behave in the way that you might expect from a top quality cotton watercolour paper. This isn’t top quality paper, at least not in a conventional sense but it is an intriguing paper with its own distinct qualities. I hesitate to use the word unique because I’m not sure that it actually is unique. It is unique amongst the papers I have used but that’s not saying very much. I have a hunch that there may be other papers from India and neighbouring regions that might exhibit similar qualities.
So far I do like it. I bought the Khadi smooth hard-back 21cm x 25cm sketchbook. In the photographs at the bottom, you can get a better idea of the appearance of the paper and the sketchbook (although the scan provides a more accurate rendition of the colours than the photos, in which the paper appears more white). The paper is not white but is more a warm creamy complexion One edge is deckled. To look at, the sketchbook is just awesome. The hardback cover is made from Nepalese Tsasho paper. With the deckle edges and the hand-made, rustic appearance it totally looks the part and you cannot but be impressed.
Painting on it is, for want of a better word, interesting. How it takes paint will I feel, either turn people completely onto this paper or turn them away from it. I haven’t really made up my mind about it yet. I said I like it and I do but I need to spend more time with it to try and quantify what I like and what I don’t like because there are also things not to like; for instance, it does not respond well to scrubbing. It isn’t some cheap wood pulp paper, it’s better than that but it also certainly isn’t equal to the likes of Arches, Fabriano or Saunders Waterford papers either. It does not to me really make sense to compare it with those conventional top quality papers – it cannot compete on those terms – rather, it needs to be considered for what it is, itself.
Produced this a few months ago and then put it aside with the idea that I might come back to it and work on an improved version but so far that hasn’t happened.
For me, the main criticism is the “blotchiness” of the ink. Not entirely sure what the problem is here. It could be the paper; this was done on a cheap pulp paper and so I wonder whether a better quality paper might improve matters. It could also be the application technique – the ink was applied wet-on-dry and the ink seems to dry very quickly. The same problem has arisen is other ink washes that I’ve made, like this one and this one. Before I do another of these I need to understand what the problem is here.
First of what might become a few sketches based on this California gold-rush era ghost town. I’ve visited there at least a couple of times in the past. I find places like this fascinating. There’s a history there and the history feels so tantalisingly close in time. In fact, there were people living here up until the 1940s. Try and imagine what it would have been like for them, the people who ventured out to this place, into essentially the middle of nowhere and built something, even if only for a relatively short time.
I drew this on 300gsm cold-press Bee paper, an inexpensive yet decent 100% cotton watercolour paper. I’ve been spending time recently looking more carefully at how papers react to watercolour and doing some comparisons of different brands and I’ll write more about that in a later post. One thing for certain is that switching to 100% cotton paper has been a revelation, things that I’ve never been able to do before have become possible and I’m finding it is helping me to gain some confidence.
So, first the negative points. The building on the left bothers me, it doesn’t quite feel rooted in the landscape – it feels like has just been placed there and it also feels very one-dimensional. Next, there’s a mark on the road, a splash of paint which seems out of place and my eye is continually drawn to it – I think I need to remove it.
On the positive side, the sky worked quite well – I’ve been practising skies and it seems to have paid off here. Second, there is a sense of depth to this landscape. This is provided by the dirt road and telegraph poles receding into the distance. It is also aided by the intensity of detail in the foreground which decreases as the distance from the viewer increases. There is some nice value contrast here – there is a sense of drama – the apparently sunlit scene in the foreground versus the ominous sky in the distance.
Realised that my approach to watercolour has been mostly wrong! At least as far as my choice of paper goes. I’d been using cellulose-based paper on the basis that, as a beginner, I’d be working my way through a lot of paper trying out different techniques, exercises and so on. But after trying out 100% cotton watercolour paper recently I’ve come to the realisation that this type of paper behaves quite differently, in ways that are more beneficial to the artist.
Cellulose paper dries more quickly. I didn’t realise that until I tried cotton paper. The faster drying time means you have to work more quickly if you need to go back and work with the paint you’ve just put down.
There are other differences as well although at the moment I’m not sure how I would quantify them – currently, it is more a general awareness that paint behaves differently on cotton paper and I feel that the differences are for the better. I’ve heard some say that glazing is much more difficult on cellulose paper.
Some cellulose paper is better than others, of course. If I had to choose I’d pick Bockingford, made by St. Cuthberts Mill, which also produces the high quality 100% cotton Saunders Waterford paper. I also have quite a few blocks of Bockingford paper so I will continue to use that from time to time.
I’ve stocked up on 100% cotton watercolour papers, from a variety of vendors including Arches, Winsor Newton, Saunders Waterford, Fabriano, Daler Rowney and Bee Paper. The sketch below was produced on 300gsm Bee Paper, which you can buy on Amazon quite cheaply. It’s intended I think more as a practise paper rather than a paper to produce finished work with.