Posts Tagged ‘watercolor journaling’

Changing the Best-Laid Plans

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Although we can plan a lot about our artwork, there are some elements over which we have little control. One of those is weather.

As I wrote in April, I had intended to keep a watercolor sketch journal throughout a month-long European sojourn this spring. It seemed like a great way to record some of the places we traveled and the scenes we passed during our cruise along the Rijn/Rhine/Rhein, Main, and Danube Rivers.

I began with the best of intentions.

Because standard brushes would have required a separate, (spillable) water container, I had chosen instead to use a single, reservoir brush, in which water flowed directly from the reservoir in the handle, through the bristles, and onto the paper. But it didn’t handle the way I was used to, and I needed time to learn to control the water flow and harness its capabilities, which meant that my earliest watercolor sketches appeared clumsy and amateurish.

Also, consistently overcast skies and chilling rain were not lending themselves to vibrant lighting contrasts or extensive plein air watercolor sketching.

Some paintings, like one I did of windmills along the Rijn, were essentially compilations of scenes we passed too quickly to record as they appeared; managing only to suggest typical images.

130503 Koln Shipyard

The more successful sketches, such as “Koln Shipyard,” above, and “Portside in Bamberg,” below, were painted over a the span of a half hour or more while the ship sat stationary in port. After the first few days, my increasing confidence with the brush became evident in the improving quality of the watercolor sketches.

130603 Portside in Bamberg

Unfortunately, the rains continued to fall, and the rivers continued to rise. So about the time I was learning to negotiate the new brush, the rivers rose beyond safe navigability. Our river cruise suddenly turned into a coach excursion, which didn’t lend itself so well to sketching the rapidly passing scenery.

I tried, with limited success, to paint on the coach. After only one attempt, I had to abandon the daily sketch plan. From that time on, I relied instead on my camera to quickly capture iconic and evocative images to paint from after returning to the studio.

Watercolor Journaling

Monday, April 15th, 2013

I’ve always liked the idea of keeping an art journal but have found the actual practice intimidating. What would I include? Sketches? –At home, I’d rather spend my studio time working on “real” compositions than in a journal. When we’re traveling, my high-energy husband scarcely allows time to whip out my camera and record the scene for later studio applications. Painting can require too much paraphernalia; and if I can’t take time to sketch when we’re on the move, I can even more rarely set up an easel or work in my lap. Artistic musings? –I’m notorious for leaving snippets of papers hopelessly scattered about the house, in pockets, purses, and on odd pages of notebooks…and never compiling them into an organized collection.

A dedicated “Art Journal” sounds ideal but is actually a motivation killer: What if I goof? (And of course, I will; what is art without Trial and the inevitable Error?) Every Oops would live in the journal forever, never to be forgotten. It’s enough to keep me from sullying even the first page. And the more “formal” (pretty or hardbound) the journal is, the more intimidating it seems.

The only times I’ve been able to maintain a written journal has been on our travels, over a limited time frame, and in a dedicated notebook (the less formal the better), so it occurred to me that I might be able to use the same approach to keep an art journal on our forthcoming cruise. Surely there would be time to observe and work on the open decks, and table space I could allocate to my minimal painting paraphernalia. I decided to try.


I began by testing my little-used travel set of watercolors at home. The kit is compact, with limited but usable palette space, a single tiny synthetic-fiber brush, and student colors that I didn’t find at all suitable. After the first dismal test painting, I replaced the student-grade paints with my preferred selections and found a few larger-scale short-handled brushes (for easier toting) to supplement one provided. I also squeezed some bits of sponge (indispensable for removing excess moisture from the brush or cleaning off the palette) into odd corners of the box and between the palette layers. With a screw-top water container, a supply of small watercolor papers, and a light sheet of plastic (to protect table tops), I’d be ready to go. Both weight and space requirements would be minimal.

A 4”x6” paper block to throw into my backpack, and a 6”x12” watercolor pad, marked off into 4”x6” sections for use on the ship, would keep a generous supply of watercolor paper available. Notes of date, location, and additional information could be added to the back of each watercolor sketch, as appropriate.

Meanwhile, I’ll be attempting to get into the habit of doing a little paint sketch every day, from life, to train my eye and my mind to seek out revealing subjects and details from what I experience.

Will the journal be successful? Watch for a follow-up blog later this summer to find out.