30×30 Direct Watercolors (part 2)

I continued the challenge last week, although I’m a couple days behind. Need to do a few more per day if I want to complete the task. I have mostly been using a pretty large brush for the paper (a 26 round on 9″ x 6″ sheets), which I think helps me loosen up. Also, I found some sheets of great Arches 300 lbs. sheets I had misplaced, which make a huge difference. I used this fantastic paper for the last two self portraits; I don’t think O want to paint on anything else from now on. The experience of painting on good paper is pure joy.

30×30 Direct Watercolors (Part 1)

I don’t have much time to either sketch or to blog, but I wanted to participate this year in the 30×30 Direct Watercolors Challenge. The challenge is to do 30 paintings in the month of June, directly with watercolors, no pencil drawing underneath. I thought this was good practice for what could be my future style, based on the lack of control I have with pens or pencils. There are no rules regarding the subject or if these are based on photographs or from live observation. I’ve been wanting to get my feet wet with portraiture, but with a loose and expressive style. So decided to do a self-portrait a day (if I don’t get tired of drawing myself over and over…).

I am sketching fairly small, 9″ x 6″. At the beginning I was using two small brushes, #8 and #5 round, but the last couple days I have mostly used a big #24 round brush. I am liking the bigger brush better.

Here are my sketches for the first six days. These are all under 30 minutes each.

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?

Sketching at Chinatown


Yesterday our group Urban Sketchers Philadelphia met at Chinatown Philadelphia. I had only driven by before, so it was my first actual visit. Even with the high temperatures it was a great outing. 

We met in front of the China Gate, an emblematic portal of Chinatown. It was a fantastic experience, great smells of the nearby restaurants, people stopping and talking to us, great subjects… 

One guy stopped, asked for my pen and started scribbling Chinese characters on the palm of his hand. He spoke no English, and kept pointing at the gate. I gave him my sketchbook and he wrote the characters on my page. 

Later I found out that it in fact translates to Philadelphia Chinatown. 

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.