Watercolor Journaling

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.

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One Response to “Watercolor Journaling”

  1. Viginia says:

    Hello. In looking for ideas to get myself on the road to watercolor journaling, I came across your article. It reads very much like my story and I can’t wait to see what happened next.

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