Mixing grays in watercolor

I love mixed grays. I know it’s easier to just use something like a Neutral Tint, but mixed grays are richer, since they show undertones of the pigments used to create them. Neutral Tint is exactly that… neutral. So if you want to liven up your sketches, spend a few more minutes and mix those grays!

Gray results when the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue, are combined. And, if you mix a primary, let’s say blue, with a secondary, orange, gray comes out as well. This happens because orange has both red and yellow, thus when combined with blue, it results as gray. The most common version of this mixed gray is created with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. You have probably seen this a thousand times.

Another favorite of mine is actually created by mixing green and red. I have had in my palette a color that I initially hated, Viridian Green. It feels even a little radioactive, stains everything and it seems to contaminate yellows by osmosis… However, I love it when mixed with a red, like a Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Beautiful.

I like the colors to show through, so I won’t mix it up completely in the palette. I want to avoid the gray to look flat. To me, part of the charm of watercolors is seeing the pigments come together on the paper.

You can achieve an infinity of grays by just mixing different pigments, some will be bluish, some reddish, some greenish, some purplish. Play around with variations of gray; which are your favorites?

Marking With Markers

Here is my second YouTube video, in which I sketch with Copic Sketch Markers. I’ve been dabbling with markers for architectural presentations for years now, but for the last few years I’ve been using them more often, especially on location. I know how intimidating these are, so I want to share some of the things I’ve learned. 

1. Never use the fine tip. Some markers come with two tips, usually a chisel tip and a fine tip. You can achieve many strokes with the chisel tip, so the fine tip is unnecessary. Trying to fill in a color block with the fine tip yields terrible results. 

2. Do not buy a basic set. Basic sets come with only six to twelve colors, so it is very difficult to achieve something that looks good with such palettes. Unless you are a product designer who uses color simply as a highlight, a basic set is not worth it. A few values of greys provide more versatility and are way less expensive. If you fall in love with markers after using grayscales for a while, then go ahead and get a color set. 

3. Copic is king. I’ve used a lot of marker brands, but my favorite is Copic. These markers cost about twice as other markers (such as Prismacolor) but they are refillable and have replaceable nibs. A bottle of ink will cost about the same amount of a new marker, but will refill them about 13 times. No-brainer. 

4. Jump one or two. You don’t need all the greyscale values. You can jump either one or two values within the same family. For example, I use Neutral Grays, N0, N2, N,4, N6, N8. You could also use N0, N3 and N6 but gradations are not as smooth. To achieve the missing values you do a second layer after they dry. I also sometimes just use a black marker, pulling or pushing values to create a high contrast image rather than a line drawing. 

5. Streaks or not. I like juicy markers, but I prefer to see the strokes rather than an even color. Sketches get a wonderful character if your strokes are confident. On the contrary, if you prefer even blocks of color, you need to keep the area wet by continuously going over with the marker. It’s something similar to wet-and-wet watercolors, so edges will be a little blurred. It takes a lot of time and patience. 

Also here are some sketches I’ve done on location with markers: 




My YouTube Channel!

I am really excited to announce my new YouTube channel, SketchfullyYours, where I’ll publish sketching related videos.

And so, this is my first video ever! Although I recorded this video in my home studio, from a photo reference (totally the opposite of urban sketching), I just wanted to share the typical process I go through when sketching on location. You can have an idea of how I approach a subject with a loose and expressive style. I have five concepts in my mind when I’m sketching:

1. Keep a lively pen: I keep my pen (or pencil, fineliner, marker) constantly moving, never second-guessing myself, fixing any inaccuracies (nothing is an error) on the fly. I don’t mind if something is out of proportion, I leave that doodle as part of my process.

2. Keep it simple: Even with a complicated subject, I strip down most of the details. I suggest details with a few doodles and leave the rest to the imagination. I still make sure I have enough suggestive doodles as to capture the energy of the subject.

3. Different strokes: I like to use versatile instruments; I want to get different strokes with a single instrument. On this video, notice how I flip the fountain pen, as I get a thinner line when the nib is upside down. On this sketch I also used a brush pen with waterproof gray ink; the brush pen allows me to have calligraphic strokes of various widths, contrasting with the thinner fountain pen lines.

4. Boundless color: I don’t want to stay within the lines and paint evenly. This allows me to be free with my brush. Notice how I’m using fairly big brushes (1/2″ flat and No. 10 round) for a small sketch. The brushes do most of the work for me. Those are the only brushes I carry with me all the time and I normally use a 5.5″ x 8.5″ sketchbook. Sometimes I paint the color first, before drawing any lines. Maybe what catches my eye is how I see colors at a particular moment, so I capture those colors before the sun moves, a cloud sets in or a delivery truck parks in front of me.

5. Be bold: I don’t want to re-create the colors I’m looking at, I leave that to photographers. I still could be much bolder and use brighter colors (that’s an ongoing goal). I don’t mind having green skies or purple trees. This mindset allows me to always try different things. Another thing is that now I’m using less water. I want more pigment in my paint and it also dries faster.

Items used:

Platinum Preppy fountain pen

Platinum Carbon ink

Kuretake brush pen

Noodler’s Lexington Gray Ink

Daniel Smith Watercolors

Cotman watercolour brush- 1/2″ flat

DaVinci Cosmotop Spin Travel Brush- Round No. 10

I trimmed the video shorter and saved at twice the speed; the actual time was 15 minutes. That’s about how much time I spend on my lunchtime watercolor sketches.

Go ahead and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more upcoming videos. Let me know of any requests or suggestions.