Category Archives: watercolour pencils

A door in Siracusa

siracusa_door_10In s street very close to our apartment in Siracusa were these wonderful old doors. I took several photos of them because I knew I would want to make art work from them later.

Yesterday we were going to go out sketching, but the weather was too miserable. Rather than go to a museum and sketch inside, we decided to do a project from the John Lovett book I was given recently. There is a section on Buildings and Architectural features, and within that section is a number of Italian doors. We chose one of these three doors, and got started.

We didn’t have the correct colours in pastel pencil to draw it up, so we used watercolour pencils and that worked fine. Then we put in our structural marks (the darks). The next step was to work in charcoal pencil with big confident strokes. I understood that to be bold, and I was wrong. You paint after than and the trouble is that when you wash over the charcoal pencil marks, it makes the washes dirty. From the examples I see that the author’s strokes are thin and spidery. I don’t know how big he is working either. Maybe the strokes look so fine because the image size has been reduced. I am working in a sketchbook. He also says to work from the shoulder and elbow rather than the wrist. To me, that means he is working at an easel. Oh how I would like to do a workshop with him and see how he does it.

John Lovett uses gesso so I also used it to restate my whites so that I could put clean paint over the top. We also used ink…my lovely ink from Florence. And I went back to the watercolour pencils as well.

These were particularly grungy doors, so I am happy enough with the result, though I will do it differently next time. I have already printed out a photo of one of the other doors, so that I see if I get a better result when I try it again. We had great fun doing it though, and learnt so much.

1 Comment

Filed under Charcoal pencil, dip pen, gesso, inks, Italy, pen, Sicily, Siracusa, sketchbook, sketching, Travel, watercolour, watercolour pencils

The Jewish Ghetto, Campo dei Fiori and Palazzo Farnese

palazzo_farneseToday my aim was to spend the day walking around the Jewish ghetto area. Back in the day when I lived in Rome, we used to go there often for the village-like atmosphere in the centre of Rome.

My first stop was in Via Falegnami (street of the carpenters) for a tea and biscotto. I spied something a bit distant to sketch, but before I could begin, a big truck came and parked right in my field of view. So I moved on without taking out my sketchbook.image

But before I left the Jewish area, I had a good look around the streets. I had often wandered through this area, but never really explored it. This time I did and I found, set into the pavements, brass plaques about the Jewish people who were taken away by the Nazis during the Second World War. I had never seen them before. Are they new since my last visit? Did I just walk down different streets? Or was I oblivious?

imageI walked through the market at Campo dei Fiori and came to Piazza Farnese, where I found a cafe to have lunch right opposite Palazzo Farnese, which is now the French Embassy. (As an aside, when I lived in Rome I took the little boy to play at the French Embassy residence at quite a different palazzo. It was the Villa Paolina Bonaparte. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to go inside).
So I sat with my focaccia and lemon tea, and sketched the portone of Palazzo Farnese. Perhaps this will make another solar plate, if it is not too samey-samey with one I have already done. There are so many that I love.


Filed under collage, Copic Multiliner, Italy, Rome, sketchbook, sketching, Travel, watercolour pencils

The Circumetnea concertina book



I wrote before about the trip on the Circumetnea train. Finally I get to scan my little concertina book. It is 12cm high by 15cm wide, and there are eight pages.

It was a small, quaint little old train, and we had our books on our knees. We went between Catania and Randazzo (see map), and it took about two and a half hours. We sketched non-stop. I had three different ‘magic pencils’and four watercolour pencils, indigo, a dark green, yellow oxide and an earthy red. We went through many tunnels; there were no lights but we sketched on. More loopy cacti. At one point the carriage filled up with school children. They were very interested in what we were doing, but we had no time to stop. The book was substantially finished at the end of the journey. I added just a little more dark green and blue pencil, and then sploshed on some yellow watercolour, simply because there had been so much yellow in the wildflowers and vegetation.

I have always suspected that obsessive sketchers miss a lot while they have their nose in their sketchbooks. It’s true! I would have liked to go back to the beginning and to do it all again, so that I could look.

imageI haven’t put the covers on the book yet. I bought a lot of Italian decorative papers in Rome, where I found some shops off the tourist trail that had wonderful papers. I think I will go with my first choice, which is the simplest. I don’t want to overwhelm the drawings. These are just a few of what I have.

(Just a little diversion from Bologna, while I put colour on a very complex sketch that I did in pencil in a museum. Done now. Posting that tomorrow.)


Filed under artist's book, book art, Etna, Italy, magic pencils, Sicily, sketching, watercolour, watercolour pencils

More testing magic pencils

battlementsI decided to try testing one only magic pencil. This time it is the Kohinoor with the red, yellow and orange. Naturally it is Bologna la Rossa (the red). This is our sixth day of rain in Sydney, so again it is from a photo. I have sorted out a muted primary triad in watercolour pencils and I wanted to see how that would work with the magic pencils. Using these pencils you get quite a lot of yellow, and that is no use where you want  dark value.

In a low light, often you can’t see the yellow on the page. I am thinking of these magic pencils for a one-day project in Sicily (mightn’t work, but I will try) and I will need to work very quickly. So I want to get my darks on and I can touch it up later.  I don’t want to keep changing materials either. So this one has a little dark green watercolour pencil where the strongest darks should be. This scan is before I put water on, but in fact the water didn’t make much difference. I learnt something. I need to put the watercolour pencil darks on earlier, as many of the areas I wanted to darken were already covered in light or mid-tone (yellow and orange). So it was a worthwhile experiment.

This is the sidbol_windows_alle of the Palazzo d’Accursio which fronts on to the Piazza Maggiore. I love this part of Bologna. This structure is so massive. It makes the perspective really weird. This photo shows the scale of it compared to the people and the sculpture. We walked around here at night on our way back from a restaurant, and went back in the early morning the day we were leaving to take some photos and look again. That’s why the lights and darks are so strong in my sketch. Just like in the photo.

I will be back there soon.


Filed under Bologna, Italy, magic pencils, sketchbook, sketching, Travel, watercolour pencils

Travelling with a sketcher : guest post from a non-sketcher

Due to popular demand!….. My ‘non-sketching’ friend Broni has responded with a Guest Post about the travails of travelling with a sketcher. Here it is, along with some of her not-sketches.

Sketch-Lake-ZurichI feel the need to respond to the quirkyartist’s blog post. Firstly, because it is a well written piece of work and secondly, because I had no idea that as a non-sketcher I would cause so much preparation! I was aware that this trip was the quirkyartist’s chance to madly sketch so was more than prepared for that and so I jumped at the chance to travel with Wendy because I knew we would laugh ourselves silly and I was in need of a good holiday. My strategy was to sit around in cafés watching Wendy sketch while I recharged my tired batteries and soaked up the ambience of my surroundings by trying the wines, cheeses and coffees of the region we were in.

I was in for a very big surprise. Wendy had shown me her little (overflowing) box of collage material in Sydney and I had also taken possession of my very own sketchbook – it is beautiful, but even bigger than the nice small one I had been gifted for our Bali trip which is sadly, mostly still bereft of pretty sketches and water colours! I immediately felt the clutches of panic but thought my strategy would still work if I filled my sketch book with pieces collected on the trip. I even thought I would still have time to write my own travel blog…

From the moment we hit the airport lounge Wendy had her sketchbook out and had completed a work of art before I had even contemplated the least complicated subject for an attempt. I devised a cunning plan. I would ensure the artist would not go hungry or thirsty so busied myself collecting delectable tastes for us both. I was very good at this and by the time our boarding call came we had tasted the entire range! So, to the plane feeling quite pleased with myself for covering up that I was not feeling very confident about filling this amazing sketchbook of mine. But of course that in itself caused another problem. How to get the book filled? I would have to form a new strategy!Sketch-Memory

My new strategy. Collect anything that looked interesting or told a story about what had happened in my day and get stuck in to that very full box of collage material and start now. Right now. On the plane. Before take-off!

I was faced with many battles. Which tools would I need to complete this mammoth task without having to go in and out of the cabin luggage the whole trip? Obvious ones were: sketchbook and pencil. But then of course I would need the coloured pencils, the ink pens and maybe even the paints. The next battle was where to put it all so that there was also enough room for the all-important glassware (for champagne of course), cutlery and plates of food that were promised to arrive shortly? Then, what to start with?

Sketch-Singha-BeerDo I draw? I did love drawing when I was at college and even passed School C Art, but I know this was helped along by my fairly good proficiency at lettering and calligraphy, but sitting and drawing something in front of me was a big challenge. I knew that the depth in a picture was all about shadows and softer lines rather than what I would be more likely to produce. Let’s not forget that I was travelling with the holder of a Fine Arts Degree which hardly compares to School C Art! Anyway, I digress from the rising panic I was again trying to push down as I was sitting in that plane before take-off, surrounded (read hemmed in and trapped) by artist’s tools and airline fare.

Two glasses of very acceptable bubbles seemed to temper the panic and I started to enjoy myself, telling myself that this couldn’t be so hard, it was after all, just a book…made by my very good friend and travelling companion who had EXPECTATIONS.

By the time we hit Bangkok, our first stop, I was well on the way to having my first two spreads completed. You see how much I learnt in that first day? I learnt that two pages opened out is a spread and that I had done that without even thinking – I had glued so much stuff in there wasn’t much space left for writinSketch-Firenzeg, let alone drawing or sketching. The new strategy was working quite well especially when we decided to soak the labels off the Singha Beer bottles in our bathroom basin – until the water ran out all over the floor. Plumbing not quite finished…

By the time we reached Switzerland I was happy that I was making a reasonable effort in keeping up with recording our trip. I had been given the impression that Switzerland would be the place to recover from the long flight as our hosts would really look after us and let us relax. Another big surprise! From dawn til after dusk we were on the move. Of course this provides more events that must be recorded in the sketchbook but much less time to design and attach the memories.

I was fast learning that Wendy had also packed quite a large whip and that my travel blog would have to take a back seat to filling the sketchbook. It is amazing how much time is required for putting memories on a page every day, or in my case, a spread for every day. I have just realised that if I had used a page a day it may, and only may, have been easier on time requirements, but then it would have taken longer to fill it. I did steal myself away one evening when Wendy was chatting over old memories with our hosts to record my activities for the day. It was the day we had taken the morning off so I could catch up with my business progress and get the washing done. It was an easy memory as it was of the washing machine and computer. These are things I use every day so doing it from memory was not difficult and the sketch is not very sophisticated, in fact it is downright simplistic in artistic terms. But, it is on the page!Sketch-Roma

For the rest of our trip, I did get some time to write a couple of blogs but they were a bit of a catch up from our last trip to Bali so I felt an achievement in that. I did spend time sitting in cafés watching, and marvelling, at Wendy sketching, and of course watching the rest of the world walk, bike or drive by us. That was very therapeutic in itself. I decided not to take my laptop out with me every day because the days I had taken it I found that I was never finished my blog before Wendy had completed another beautiful piece. I was interested to find out in her blog that she felt she shouldn’t spoil my trip by taking too much time sketching, but for me, this was never a concern. I did fill my sketchbook before we got to Bangkok on the return journey so had to console myself with collecting all the pieces I would have to glue in when the additional pages were added. The pages are now in and the gluing almost complete, but I have to admit I do not seem to have as much time when at home and back at the business. Or maybe it is because Wendy’s whip doesn’t quite reach…but seriously, could I really leave it unfinished after enjoying it so much? Of course not!

Wendy is right about my being prepared to have a go at almost anything, though bungee jumping is finally out! Once I put my blog behind me and concentrated on my sketchbook, I found I really liked the quiet moments it provided and the creativity it relit in my soul. ‘The Box’, the materials gratefully accepted, and Wendy’s encouragement Sketch-Barcelonamade all the difference to my confidence as I became more and more involved in filling my amazing sketchbook. I especially like the ducks I drew floating on Lake Zürich. They are very small and look like – ducks. They remind me of a very special day we spent going by train to a place called Rapperswil on the edge of Lake Zürich, walking and lunching there before catching the ship back to Zürich. I did do a couple of other sketches (badly) but really enjoyed the feeling if I got it anywhere near close to acceptable.

Mostly though, I love going back through my sketchbook and remembering one of the greatest trips of my life. Full of…panic in keeping up with EXPECTATIONS, a lot of laughing at funny/odd moments in time and at ourselves, lots of culture, many, many markets, and the really, really good companionship of my long term friend. You can’t beat that.

Oh, I forgot to mention the terror when trying out my Italian in front of Wendy. Not only is she a teacher of art in her home town, but she is a STICKLER for getting the accent and pronunciation perfect! But that is another story…

Be sure to read the original quirkyartist post about Keeping a Sketchbook when travelling with a Non-Sketcher

1 Comment

Filed under collage, Copic Multiliner, Italy, sketchbook, sketching, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Travel, watercolour pencils

Mapping Rome

rome_final_800pxSome of my time recently has been taken up with mapping Rome. I mentioned before, that I belong to a very active online sketching group.  Our most recent activity has been a collaborative map of Rome. The sections were allocated randomly, and although I had hoped for the place where I used to live, I was lucky enough to get a section including the area in Trastevere, where I went sketching with Kelly Medford last September.

Well, how to approach it? I printed out many maps of the area and decided to abstract it a bit. I traced the main streets, so that it would match up at the borders, then drew on some of the narrower streets as borders, for my cubes. Yes, I started with Cubism, but to get an element of realism, I needed the trees and the shadows, so it is a mish-mash really. I washed on the main blocks of colour very lightly in watercolour, then continued with watercolour pencils. I was working at 20cm square, and it took some time to get it all on. Then I had to address the colour balance and tonal values. I used my Workable Fixative, then another layer, and another and another until I was satisfied.Rome Map FINAL 5000x5000

I had to make a decision about text, and decided to name the main thoroughfares, so that meant another spray and lightening them up to get some contrast. In my square I didnt have any major ‘sights’ though there were churches and a fish market. I considered symbols, but decided to keep it simple,as the symbols would have needed to balance across the image.

You can look at a very large on of this map if you click on it.

As the images started to come through from the other participants, I was quite concerned how different mine was. But as you see it all worked out in the end. Three squares have been done with Photoshop. We had a few wires crossed because of the way we set about it, but it was a learning experience. All that is ironed out now, and when we do Paris soon, it will work really well.

The group who were involved in the Rome map are sketchers, and I was interested to see that the majority of people ‘sketched the map’, whereas I approached it as an ‘art map’.  It didn’t enter my head to sketch the map. I have done a couple of maps before, here and here.  I am not sure where my interest in maps started, perhaps with a webinar by Jill K. Berry. I bought her book Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking  to take with me on my ipad when I travel. I also follow her blog.  Another place to learn about mapping is one of the very inexpensive courses on Skillshare. It is called “Map making: learn to communicate places beautifully”, and has been prepared by Anne Dittmeyer who is well known for her blog


Filed under map, Rome, watercolour, watercolour pencils