Friday, September 9, 2011

Totorial: Watercolor Sketchbook

I've been promising some tutorials for a while and here is the first.  It's a snapshot from my watercolor journal.  I'm not going to offer insights into how to paint a bird, in fact, I think I'm pretty crap at painting birds, but in the spirit of art journaling, I'm going to share with you my process for bright and blazing watercolor pages.  I know one of the highlights of watercolor painting is the subtle, light infused, movement of the paint on paper. How it dances around the page under the skillful brush of the artist to create a luminous scene that is both enchanting and insightful.  My skill doesn't extend that far...yet, but my love of color has kept me trying.

If there is one key ingredient I use to create the pages of my watercolor journals, it is layering.  Watercolor doesn't lend itself to heavy layering very well, each layer reacts to the next and what was a beautiful effect can quickly become muddy.  But once you get to know your tools, you'll soon discover ways to manipulate your paint to give you the effect you want.  Sometimes it's in the amount of water used on the brush, how much paint you use, or the weight and wetness of the paper.  Play around with it all, it's really the only way to discover what you and your water colors can create together.

For this piece I used my 5 1/2" x 8" Strathmore Visual Journal for Watercolor (140 lb 300g/m2).  It's my preferred book for art journaling, mainly because it's cheap. This one is only about $7.99 and I get it at Hobby Lobby. It's fabulously versatile but beware, the back side of each page isn't as good as the front, but they are sill workable, this piece was done on the backside of a page. I used my Koi Watercolor Field Sketch Box. It comes with a water brush, but I prefer to use a normal round brush with softer bristles.  I have a variety of them and usually opt for the less expensive type.

I begin by outlining my subject.  Avoid penciling in detail, you can do that with paint.  Just draw the general idea of what you hope to capture.  Start with a dry surface and load a wet brush with the lightest color first.  I usually go from light to dark when layering for obvious reasons. you can't easily lighten dark patches, but you can darken light patches.  Also, it's often the light areas that help give dimension to your work.

Continue layering the subject moving to darker colors and trying to effect the shaded areas with either more water on your brush, or a little more paint.  Don't over do it, especially once the paper gets too wet.  Let it dry between layers and remember one layer at a time. Don't over think your piece.  Remember, it's your art journal, not a gallery masterpiece...I'm sure that will come in time.

Once you are happy with the main subject, start working in a background.  Sometimes I use the background purely for shading, other times I use it to give dimension or presence to the subject.  Choose your background colors and load your brush.  Of course your can start with a light wash and then layer on that, but in this case I loaded my brush with color and went for it. I know this technique breaks the WC rules, but it feels good to do, in fact, I often find painting the background to be the most stimulating part of the process. In this case I used minimal water and lots of paint. 

The key to the effect is to apply random brush strokes in ALL directions. Each stroke gives a new effect and doesn't look like you've colored around the subject...although sometimes mine do.  Start your background close to the subject and soften the color as you move to the outsides of the page, this way you can apply a second background color and you have room to blend them.

Sometimes, when I frame a page like this one I apply the paint darker at the frame edge to try to give the effect of 3D.  Another tip is to use some blue mixed into the areas that are indicating shadow, but not too much.  For me, shadow comes last. When you're happy with the paint, let it dry then grab a black marker.  I use a number of different brands, but my favorite seems to be the Sakura Pigma Micron.  I have various sizes and will use two to three different sizes with each page.  Start with a very fine marker and loosly put in the outlines.  Move to a heaver marker as you start to see the dimension evolve, then when your happy, highlight with a white gel pen.

Finally, for the shadow I use a water brush filled with water and about 12-18 drops of brown or blue India ink. Using ink in a water brush has been a very handy trick that I use on just about everything.  Creating the shadow effect is not easy, you need to be aware of the light source and the depth...I'm still learning here. Pat Elliott has been helping me get better with shading, she's a master at it.  She taught me to keep it very light and try to use only one brush stroke to give the effect of shadow. If you use multiple brush strokes over heavy layering you start to mess with the color underneath.  

To finish it off, I write.  I step back from the page, look at the final results and then choose pen colors and words based on how I feel.  Sometime it's the theme or the words that drive the page, others times it's the picture and I find things to write about once it's done.  Either way, with art journaling, there is no right or wrong.  You have to do what feels right for you.  The entire purpose is artful expression and with a bit of luck, you can learn something new along the way.

Thanks for checking in. xx