No, really sketching every day

Seriously, sketching is like working out. Get your hand used to moving a certain way, get your eyes used to analyzing a scene or catching a sleeve crease, and make these things part of your daily life. And now, I walk the walk and talk the talk, showing off my daily sketches in the hopes that you too will work every day on those things which are close to your heart.

A bit of color. I use ‘Ink-tense’ pencils to color my quick sketches. They are Derwent brand pencils with a watercolor-pencil like consistency. But when you add water washes to make them into paint, they actually become permanent, making them less likely to smear or bleed in high humidity in my abused little sketch pads. I sometimes use a brush with an internal compartment for water when I travel, so I don’t have to carry too much. I also freely use water offered to me at restaurants, blotting my little 0 watercolor brush on paper napkins. I don’t use a lot of color as I go, but sometimes I find it helps.

shy holly dragon

shy holly dragon

And a few sketches showing how the sketch-a-day progress is improving my work in Celtic art. The first is a quick layout for a chariot, the second a quick layout for a piece on Bellanos.

two horse chariot

two horse chariot



So, the sketching is definitely paying off, giving me a better feel for putting down ideas in quick formats and keeping them dated and organized. I feel more confident in putting layouts together without as much fussing, and saving the critique for later.




Eyes tired, head spinning (Ps)

working on the border and central panel

working on the border and central panel

Central panel colors coming together

Central panel colors coming together

Well, the colors are coming together. But I don’t know if I’ll try this combination again for a while.

The intense autumn palette is working well. Rich oranges and reds, a touch of Q-violet, bordered with a nice olive green, and the reds just pop right off the paper. I’m working up an overlay of India ink spirals on the border, which is the eye-wrenching part. It looks great when it is done. But I may need a cool cloth over my eyes. No caffeine for me on this one, thanks.

The central panel is also clipping along nicely with some cooler colors, washes of blues and some Q-violet to tie into the reds in the border. I’ll be done with it soon.

I initially intended the moon to have some 3-d elements in it, but the flat yellow, picking up a bit of unintended green tint from the surrounding color harmonics, works well with the heavier detail in the running pookah.

The central panel has become cool and smooth, in contrast to the brilliant motion on the border. I like it.



Progress report (HrK)

Just to show that this piece is moving along nicely, I have a photo of the recent progress. Note the highlights in the moon rays, bringing some of the brightness of the waves into other parts of the painting.

Nearly finished

Nearly finished


Value and color (HrK)

‘Hall of the Raven King’ is doing well, but I have reached a bit of a snag. Taking a look at the picture in the previous post, you may see it too.

Anyone using color has to remember the basic principles of manipulating value. Working in pencil or pen is a constant education in establishing darks and lights, but moving into color can dull this sense of drama, as color is an easy way to change from one area to another, without changing the value.

‘Value’ is the movement of color through dark and light, and does not refer to the color itself, or to the intensity of a color. Adding white to a color produces a ‘tint’ or lighter version of the original color. In watercolor painting, this can mean adding more water, thus increasing the effect of the white paper on the color. Adding black or the color complimentary to the original will produce the ’shade’ of the original, greying the color.

The value of a color can be seen more readily if you get a black and white picture of a piece you are working on.

My colors were selected on a principle of ’split complimentary’ colors. Permanent green is very close to the standard ‘green’ on a color wheel and the complimentary color to green is red. Quindacrone violet is actually a tertiary ‘red-violet’, close but not exactly complimentary to green. The additional use of red-orange would provide the triad of two split-complimentary colors, existing on both sides of the compliment ‘red’ on the color wheel, to work with green.

But I decided not to use the red-orange, preferring a slightly off-balance feel to the colors.

Unfortunately, at this stage, my values are getting a bit boring, and I may have done the painting a disservice in rejecting the red-orange.

But, really, the values being boring would not be fixed by the addition of another color. It would only make it easier for me, as I could inject some color to make up for the drab values. So, how do you fix a problem with values?

The easiest issue to spot in the photo is the lack of drama between the foreground ‘gatehouse’ tower and the grey background to the white wavecrests. Even the addition of green and purple highlights to the grey stones could not change the fact that the grey stones and the grey water are far too close in value. I like the waves and they are mid-range in the grey of the background, so I need to kick the value of the gatehouse up or down. Changing the color might also help, but the color still has to be over or under the value of the waves.

I’ve decided, due to the brightness of the spiraled wavecrests, to bring the value of the gatehouse down, using black and purple, without white at all to create the stones and mortar. I’ll let you know how it works.

Another value issue seems to be the brightness of the wavecrests, done in very light grey, they appear bright white next to the darker values around them, and nothing else in the painting is that bright. I have to use that value someplace else in the painting, or it will isolate the wavecrests oddly.

I’ll be working in some brighter highlights on the moon rays and the towers to combat that issue. If that doesn’t work, I will have to tone down the wavecrests with a bit of grey. Being that intricate, the attempt would be difficult. I hope I don’t have to do that.



What was I thinking? (BI)

Yes, someone asked me what I think about when I’m painting.

Well, when I’m using colors, I’m thinking about the colors. Where did I see a blue like that? Is this blue as bright or dark as the blue I saw this morning, as the sun was coming up in a clear sky? What do I need to change the color, change the feel of the color. Is it cool or warm? Do I want it cool or warm?

It’s hard to go back and pick up the specific thoughts. Harder still to think about it when I am actually doing it.

When I am working up a picture based on an actual place, I usually start with a photo, and sometimes a quick grid to block in the basic shapes of light and dark, and some initial details. Then I start thinking about how I felt when I was there. Thinking of the things that are hard to put into a photo. Wind and damp, birdsong or silence.

While drawing a pen and pencil landscape of the cliffs and caves of Kesh Corran, I thought about the dead grass and hot stone on a rare, dry day in Ireland. I thought about the silence, broken by the wind and the coughing rattle of ravens calling across the face of the cliffs. The words ‘crisp’ and ‘edge’ kept working into my thoughts, and the black shadows became sharp lines in the water-worn limestone.

Channels and patterns in the limestone, not well-documented in my photos, came from my memory, creating a look that seemed carved by the hands of craftsmen. Abstract lines and almost understood runes formed from memories of the intricate weathering. When framing, I found a bronze frame and warm, yellow/brown mats to complete the look.

Sketches of the Beltany stone circle in Raphoe, Donegal, were affected by my memories of brightness and energy. Shadows in the sketch were darker than in the photos, and the sharp edges formed more of an element in the art than in the photos.

And in Birch Interlace, I keep thinking about the deepness and richness of the shades of blue in a cloudless, winter twilight. The colors of blue as the sun slips away and the reds and yellows fade. The icy edge of a clear, winter crescent moon.

Time for a hot cup of tea, I think.



More color than anticipated (BI)

Well, it looks great, so far. Much more color than I thought I would use. My central seascape has become a brilliant sunset, contrasting with the darker blue of the winter forest. I like it. Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow and a dark Indian Red have blended nicely, I’ve come up with a beautifully intense purple from the Cobalt Blue and Quinacridone Magenta. Just a little of each.

A bit of Sienna and Yellow, some more Cobalt Blue and I have a nice series of rolling hills.

I blocked in some of the snowy background and the crescent moon, and those will be primarily shadowed in blue, but I need some more white watercolor paint, and will have to wait to finish that up.

It isn’t exactly how I planned it, as will happen occasionally, but I am enjoying it.

Working up the central landscaping.

Working up the central landscaping.


Mixing it up (BI)

Drawing and sketching are my first joys, and it tends to show in my paintings. I prefer a very limited palette, selecting only a few colors at a time.

For Birch interlace, I have indulged in blues. Pthalo Blue and Prussian Blue are two of my favorites, but I do not have a Prussian Blue liquid watercolor jar, so I’m starting with Pthalo for lighter areas around the crescent moon. Ultramarine and Cobalt blues move the corners into a cooler range. To deaden some darker areas at the edges and make the lighter areas stand out, I have dabbed a bit of Raw Sienna, and a sneaky bit of Cadmium Orange.

The central seascape will work with the blues as shadows, and move into some Sienna browns and maybe a bit of green. Always make sure your colors move throughout the painting if you are going for an integrated look. If you isolate blocks of one color in one place, it isolates that space from the rest of the painting, and can make things look a bit cartoony.

The birch trees on either side of the crescent moon have been carved into the gesso with a small engraving blade, and the lines are barely visible to me as I paint. They don’t show in the photo very well. It makes it easier to create a smooth background, since I don’t want to keep painting around the tiny branches. I tried a bit of frisket on a corner, but the chalk gesso wouldn’t let go of it, and I didn’t want to put up with that considering all the fine lines I would have to remove.

Egg tempera is laid down in thin layers. It suits my own watercolor style, as I like to work with glazes, laying down thin, multiple layers rather than one thicker layer. Tempera does not develop the thick texture of heavy oils or acrylics, and seems flat to some artists.

I’m waiting on a delivery of some golden ochres and a red ochre from Sinopia pigments, to see if I want to include them. Sinopia carries a large selection of dry pigments, tools, books and gilding supplies. I use them for more than half of my supplies, as they are based in the U.S. and shipping is cheaper than buying from European sources.

working on Birch Interlace

working on Birch Interlace

The photo does not clearly show the depths and richness of the egg/watercolor mix. But I’ll work on getting a closer photo with the tripod next time.


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