Monday, November 19, 2018

But I Can't Draw!

So after I started doing watercolor sketching, I nearly instantly added in travel journaling to my sketchbook, because the place I travel to the most is so beautiful, and the landscapes are not complicated.

This fall when I went to Santa Fe, I took a class in travel journaling by an amazing artist and learned a LOT. Her style is very different from mine, but that's how you learn to stretch a bit, which I did.

My grandfather kept a journal for each year of his adult life and he wrote in it faithfully every day. Just little tidbits of his life - who he had lunch with, what he was working on in his shop, etc. It's SUCH a treasure, and I wish I were that disciplined.

I feel like I "word journal" here on my blog, but watercolor is how I like to record more of my activities - even mundane ones, and so travel journaling & daily sketching is where that desire found a home.

Now that I have done a bit of it, I try to encourage other people to do it, and the first thing everyone says to me is "BUT I CAN'T DRAW". Well neither can I! Or certainly not in any skilled way, although I've gotten better through just DOING it which is the secret to all art skill or any other kind of skill.

So I have a few tricks for you today that will get you over that hump of drawing and let you build your skill to the point where you feel comfortable sketching in the wild.

The key to drawing or painting semi-realistic things is SEEING. And your eye/brain combo fools you, and you shouldn't trust it in the beginning. Your eye can see a vanishing point, but your brain tells you that's not true - buildings have straight lines that don't converge, and so you draw them and then they look weird and you don't know why. Perspective is my biggest challenge and so here is my box of tricks.

  • My phone - I actually travel journal AFTER I'm home for the most part. I take lots and lots of photos, size them for my travel journal and print them out. 
  • My favorite pencil - you need a good, reliable mechanical pencil like this one - I've never found one that came close and it's the only thing I sketch with. I hope they aren't discontinuing this - it says out of stock in a few places. I like this eraser. 
  • Graphite paper - when I was in college, graphite paper was complete garbage. It would smudge all over your work and leave a dirty mess. This paper is amazing and only transfers what you want it to transfer. The sheets are large and can be used many, many times.
  • A good light/magnifier combo for adding detail. My eyes are at that point where I'm both nearsighted and far sighted and I need a little help for adding details. This heavy combo of light and magnifier sits on my standing desk in the craft annex and helps me spot mistakes, work on small details in watercolor or other tiny things like threading needles, get splinters out - you name it. Photo below.
  • The BEST sketchbook - I went through a lot of really awful sketchbooks to get to the best, and I have Antonio Darden to thank for that. I did a studio tour last year with him - we spent hours with him, and I got to flip through his sketchbook, which had this dreamy paper in it. He showed me how even with heavy pigment and water, nothing bled through, and how the color was super vibrant. I instantly bought one, and because I don't pay attention to detail when I want to buy something, I actually bought a series that wasn't made for watercolor - the Alpha series - and that's when I found out how great they are - because it still didn't bleed through and the color and light were just as spectacular as the series that are made for watercolor - Beta Delta and Zeta. I talked to the company at the Expo and found out the reason ALL their books work this way is they have both internal and surface sizing - double sizing - on all their paper. My previous sketchbooks had such inconsistent sizing that it would ruin what I was working on. So these are wonderful and worth every penny. I prefer landscape because I have room to swatch the colors I'm using, but you do what you like.
  • Viewfinder tools - if you are sketching live on location, you MUST have viewfinders to help you frame and size your sketch. 
  • If you want to do live sketching, I recommend a water soluble graphite pencil like this, or my favorite blue water-soluble pencil for monochromatic watercolor sketching - it does come in other colors but WHY? That crazy pencil can write on acetate and glass, too. I sketch mostly in pencil with Daniel Smith watercolor, but today I'm using these watercolor pencils, which are a really fun and easy way to travel journal, super economical and they blend without leaving marks.
  • A good waterproof pen for ink details. My favorite sketcher - Charlie O'Shields does ink + watercolor, as did my instructor. This isn't currently my personal style but I love it so much. I keep a pen like this in my bag for taking notes, as you'll see in my flip through of my journal in the video.
Travel journaling is about recording the feeling of the place, so don't get too freaked out if it's not a masterpiece - it's a visual diary, and it's for no one but you. Have fun and relax. 

Here's what I'm going to show you my process on today. This is a walk I take every day I'm in Santa Fe - down to the square downtown. This intersection marks the divide between the quiet neighborhood above and the peaceful, mildly bustling city center, so I wanted to capture what I see as I enter the main part of town each day. I'm on a hill looking down at Canyon Road and there's a beautiful, old adobe on the corner that always has flowers lining the street. 

Here's the reference photo I took. I sketch in what I call "selective detail" - deliberately omitting things, and keeping most things loose with a little pop of detail.

If I had drawn that without the graphite paper I can assure you the perspective and vanishing point would have been all Cubist. But you'll see how easy it was in the video to get right. 

Here's my lighting setup on my rolling standing work surface in the annex - I am starting to prefer working here over my desk, and I think I'll get a slanted surface to paint and color on under my light/magnifier combo. My Scan 'n Cut is on the left and my beloved paper trimmer is on the right. I got the rolling standing desk from Uline - it's meant to be a tool box, and it's adjustable height. You can get a maple or laminate top.

Here are the supplies.

Arteza Professional Watercolor...
[ ARTZ ]
Arteza 9x13" Graphite Transfer Paper,...
[ ARTZ ]
Arteza Fineliner Pens Black (Set of...
[ ARTZ ]
Arteza Water Brush Pens, Set of 6
[ ARTZ ]
Beta Series Sketchbook, Landscape
[ BLIC ]
Alpha Series Sketchbook, Landscape
[ BLIC ]
Delta Series Sketchbook, Landscape,...
[ BLIC ]
Zeta Series Portrait Sketchbook
[ BLIC ]
ViewCatcher - BLICK art materials
[ BLIC ]
Faber-Castell Graphite Aquarelle...
[ BLIC ]
20408-5001 - Stabilo All Colored...
[ BLIC ] : Staedtler Mars 780...
Pentel Hi-Polymer Erasers - BLICK art...
[ BLIC ]
Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors
[ BLIC ]
Escoda Versatil Brushes, Travel Round...
[ UTR | BLIC | INK ]
Da Vinci Cosmotop Sable Mix F Brushes...
[ BLIC | ELH ]
Lawn Fawn STAMP SHAMMY Cleaner LF1045
[ SSS | ELH | CST | ART ]
Rotatrim Professional Series Cutter -...
[ BLIC ]
Nesting Porcelain Bowls - BLICK art...
[ BLIC ]

Arteza is offering a 10% off coupon for my readers today. Use the photo link below and shop their entire store at a 10% discount with coupon code UnderstandBlue2. My favorite products are: The Woodless Watercolor Pencils, the Expert Watercolor Pencils, the Graphite Paper, the Fineliner Pens and their water brushes. The Expert Pencils are the professional grade, the Premium Watercolor pencils are student grade, with a kid-friendly triangular grip. You'll see them both in the video.

And before you watch the video, I wanted to let you know about a big sale at Picket Fence! 20% off + a free Life Changing Blender Brush for every $30 you spend. The sale link is below with the details!

So now - on to the video where you can see my lighting setup and my process in action! Take some time during the upcoming holiday and just walk outside and sketch something. It's incredibly relaxing and fun. Don't fret if it's not perfect. Perfection is for serial killers.



  1. This is so interesting! And your painting is fabulous!

  2. Great video Lydia. Thank you for all the tips and supplies you used.

  3. What a great post full of good tips. Thank you! Love the photo and your painting of it.

  4. Great video and written explaintion. I’m almost ready to experiment doing this type of sketching. Is the only difference between thr Arteza pencils the shape? I love the idea of using the colored water colored pencils and I was wondering what you thought of the Prisma pencils,, mostly because I have so many of those.
    Your technique with the graphite paper is just what I needed as I often have an issue with proportion. Thanks so much for sharing, I really did appreciate it.

  5. Thank you for sharing your sketching! I would really like to try this. I don't have a sketch book but I have decided to try just an art journal first .I bought a small mixed media pad. I am going to start there and just try playing with different mediums, combining them with stamps and dies and whatever else. I have a question for you. I sort of understand what sizing does for you but what exactly is it? Thanks for all the stuff you share. I learn a lot from you! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


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