Learning from Turner: Eddystone Lighthouse Sketch

Turner seems to have accomplished some awesome atmospheric effects quickly and roughly, especially in his sketches, where he used his fingers as well as a brush to move paint around the page.

Today I tried a quick study of one of his sketchbook works of Eddystone Lighthouse. I have been reading about the paper he used being gelatin sized and the sizing being very resistant the first time around then breaking down. This reminded me of the Moleskine sketchbook paper, so I gave that a try with two colors: Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber. The smoothness of the paper made these effects easier to accomplish. Here’s my sketch of his sketch:


And here is the original. The point in my mind wasn’t to duplicate the marks he made, but instead to get a sense of some techniques and apply them myself. I am looking forward to putting some of this to work out in the world.

Thanks for reading.


Kidwell Farm Shadows

There’s a fair amount going on in the shadows in the painting, and I am only just getting into to it. It was good to lay in some shadow washes and start to build out of of the structure and distance. I have kept with a limited palette of Cobalt Blue, Nickel Azo Yellow, Quinacridone Pyrrolidine Red (sennelier permanent alizarin crimson deep) and Viridian. It’s a nice quartet to work with. I have been using the crimson as a base for all my earth tones now. It’s a versatile pigment. Still tinkering with my overall palette choices.

In painting this I am wishing there were more opportunities for some more expressive brush strokes. I might need to start another one to balance things out.

Thanks for reading.

Sketchbook study of the base of a door

I tried out my new homemade clip-on water cup with a Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook today. I like the addition of the cup to my kit. This will make some location sketching easier. Sometimes the view standing up is better than sitting down. The cup makes that possible.

In this sketch I didn’t get the colors quite right (the sill isn’t lit properly), and probably picked the wrong subject for the available time of15 minutes, which wasn’t enough time to let the different washes dry enough, but I did learn that scraping into a wash is a nice way to give a weathered impression quickly.

Further progress on Kidwell Farm #2


It has been a really busy week for me at the office and with some extra-curriculars related to work, so I haven’t had as much opportunity to paint. This morning I pushed this Kidwell Farm painting a little more, putting in some shadows on the chicken coop and some weathering on the white building. It’s starting to reveal itself more. Still looking forward to the big shadow cast across the white building,but that will have to wait until next time.

Links on Turner, Updates to Compact Kit

In my recent researches into Turner I came across this three part video series on YouTube. It’s a partnership of the Tate and watercolor painter Mike Chaplin in which he takes a brief look at a few Turner works then goes into the field to give it a go himself. The first is on Line, the second on Tone, and the third on Color. They aren’t exactly educational, more inspirational I think. Really a nice example of how much can be done in a 5 minute clip.

In the second video on Tone he showcases a pretty neat compact watercolor kit with a clip on cup an integrated water bottle. I found it here. Of course I want it–who wouldn’t, especially after seeing it in action (silly I know). Not wanting to drop more money on something I really don’t need, I made a little clip-on water cup of my own out of an Altoids Smalls container which latches onto my compact box. No integrated flask, and my box only holds 8 colors, but it’s a nice budget option for sure:

20140319-211437.jpgBest of all it all fits in a pencil pouch with a couple brushes. Just need to keep a small water bottle with me for quick studies on the go. If only I had time for them during the day.

Starting a second Kidwell Farm painting with a new brush

My least favorite part of painting is framing the composition. Unfortunately, these Kidwell Farm paintings are all about structure, shapes and angles, so I have to get things believable–not right, necessarily–but at least believable. Here is the drawing and some first washes for the one I started tonight. There’s an incredible shadow cast from right to left that I am looking forward to putting in and some interesting effects of lights within the shadow.


On Friday I got a new brush that I am very excited about and used for the first time tonight–an Escoda Optimo kolinsky sable #12 (shown above). I have wanted a large sable brush for a while. When I finally convinced myself to buy one, all the stores were out due to some regulatory issue regarding importing the hair. Fortunately this one came in somehow. I am looking forward to testing it out more. So far so good on the above. I’d recommend it, and as far as Kolinsky sable goes, it’s a great deal. Escoda makes beautiful brushes, and I can’t imagine how anything else could be materially better. I was comfortable with this one right away. It’s likely to become my primary brush for non-sketchbook works. Of course this painting isn’t going to be the best test case. I will have to do something more lively and brush-stroke driven for the next one.

Thanks for reading.

Marathon Running and Turner

My wife got into running a couple years ago, building up from a strong dislike of the sport to a passion for it. Today she ran her second marathon, cutting 34 minutes off her time from her first one last year. 4:31 last year to 3:57 this year. That’s beyond incredible, and I am totally impressed with her, not just for her performance today, but for the consistency, the training, the diligence, and the perseverance. Really something to admire and aspire to. She trained for a time and was pretty much spot on (better actually), but that speaks so well to knowing herself as a runner through experience and self-initiated challenges, and what has turned out to be a level of natural gift for the sport she didn’t realize she had until starting to take it seriously.

This brings me to art, and one of the watercolorists who most embodies the qualities my wife exhibited: Turner. The Tate has an incredible collection of Turner’s sketchbooks here. I have been looking at them a lot over the past few days. Some of his sketchbook works were far more than sketches. they were very developed works of art, though small. Others are quick dashes–studies of light at different times of day, or studies of the sky under different weather conditions. These studies were especially interesting to me, as I want to used sketching more as experiment than attempt to get a scene, as self-initiated challenges and training as my wife did with her running–as an aside, she is also an artist and inspired me to pick up the brush in the first place.

Turner was very rough and loose with his studies, but he obviously had masterful understanding of light and weather. In an attempt to try to understand how I might sketch like he did, how I might study, I did this quick study of one of his studies. I tried to paint quickly, and get some pretty saturated washes on, then scrape with my fingernails to add texture and energy. Lots more space to experiment in this line. Here it is.

20140315-201005.jpgIn addition, I am trying to work out a minimal set of brushes for decent sketching studies. Something to do washes with and something to handle concentrated applications of paint. The other factor is size. I want the brushes to fit in a small pencil case with my compact kit and a few other items. I seem to be settling on my Series 7 #5 (an incredibly versatile brush, with water and color holding capacity of a much larger synthetic), and my Escoda Prado #8 round, which is stiffer and grabs paint well but not much water. Both hold really sharp points, but the Series 7 is noticeably wetter. Good combo so far. A couple cut-off straws to protect the tips, and I should be in good shape. They work well with the Stillmam and Birn Alpha sketchbook, which can take a lot, though scraping can tear into the paper, but it is only a sketchbook, so I don’t expect it to be as good as 100% cotton paper. Despite that colors can look really brilliant..

I also made another change to my compact kit paints. I swapped out Cobalt Blue for Prussian Blue, which is a little more versatile in combo with Ultramarine, and it can go far moodier.

Lastly, while my wife and kids were napping this afternoon (they were so excited for her they woke up really early), I did this pencil study of a tree at my house. This was a good exercise I should do more of.

Thanks for reading.


Barbed Wire Idyll

The unifying theme for these California landscape watercolors is the interplay between roughness and beauty. Any scene I select for te final compilation, or maybe just the compilation as a whole should have one trait complicated by the other. In this case, access to the perhaps desirable landscape is denied by the twisted, ragged barbed wire fence. At the same time I tried to lead the eye to the distance and tie in a few points to unify the composition. I hope it worked. I will call it done for now. On to another Kidwell Farm painting next. Thanks for reading.


Leading the eye

20140310-235207.jpgI am now getting to the part I like most about painting, the part where the composition starts to emerge and I can see how it will turn out, how the eye will move through the composition.

Ultimately the eye should settle on the house, but along the way there should be a few paths to get there, either from the largest fence post, down to the left past the cows (a brief distraction), and arcing back around via the foreground foliage (not finished but to be revealed soon), middle distance bushes and boulders, and up to the house. Alternately one could follow the hillside down and across, or skip the right side altogether and just dwell on the right half. I am probably making more of this than it deserves. We will see when it’s done, but this is what I am hoping at least.

Finishing the foliage in the foreground will be the biggest remaining challenge. I don’t want it to be the lump it is, and I should have handled it differently from the start. That said, I used mostly liftable pigments in this painting, and for much of my palette, so this should be salvageable.

Thanks for following along with this one.