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Creator of "Dinotopia"! This daily weblog by James Gurney is for illustrators, comic artists, plein-air painters, sketchers, animators, art students, and writers.
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1. "Fig" Newton, Carnival Worker

Yesterday I took my compact watercolor kit "into the wild" to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, New York and painted an impromptu portrait of James "Fig" Newton, the oldest carnival worker at the fair.

He was assigned to a ball-toss game in Kiddie Land. A bucket of ping pong balls cost five dollars. The goal was to toss a ball into one of the glass bowls floating by on little rafts in a circular wading pool. 

The game looked impossible and nobody was going for it. 

I asked him if I could sketch him while he waited between customers, and he was glad for the diversion.

Fig is 71 years old. He has been in the carnival business for 48 years, working mostly in New York State. He has saved up money to help his nephew get started in glassblowing, and he just sent his daughter $500 so his grandkids could get outfitted for school.

He said when a family walks by he can tell right away who makes the decisions and who's got the money. Sometimes it's the dad, and sometimes it's the mom. I asked him if he had a good sales pitch to pull people in. "This game's not worth my barking," he said.

Every fifteen minutes or so a family would come up, pay the money, and a kid would toss the balls one by one. 

Ping--Splash.  Plip -- Splash.  Dink, Dink -- Splash. 
As each kid went away disappointed, Fig got up to his feet, leaned over the plastic pool, and scooped out the ping pong balls with a kitchen strainer.

The portrait took about an hour. I used watercolor and colored pencils, with a little gouache for the edge lighting, highlights, teeth and the blue collar. When I showed it to him, he shook my hand and said, "Good. You got my scowl."

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2. Your Questions about Gear

Marque Todd says:
"I bought your WC video and have been avidly following all of the posts this week - a couple of things I am still grappling with for my kit and I hope you can answer:

"1) How do you protect your brushes from damage with all the jostling they get in a to-go pack? If they are loose in a container the tips can get damaged and that seems a pity particularly for expensive sable brushes. I am also having a problem finding something big enough for short handle brushes that isn't so long that it is hard to pack - any suggestions?"

Thanks, Marque. I keep my brushes loose in a box. The tips are safe as long as the box stays parallel to the ground, but in my belt pouch the box never tips on end. Sometimes if I'm worried about a delicate brush I keep the plastic protector from when it was new and slip that on. I keep the brushes all facing one end of the box. If one needs a good washing out later, I face it the other way in the box so that I'll recognize it right away.

I'm always on the lookout for a box that's just long enough for most short handled brushes but not too big, and one that opens quietly. If a brush is too long to fit in the box, such as an oil brush, I chop it down.

Jeanette uses a brush holder made of stiffened fabric. The brushes tuck into elastic bands, and the whole thing folds open to display the brushes while you're working. When in transit it rolls up and is held with Velcro. I like it except that it's a little too long for my belt pouch.

"2) If you are holding your sketchbook on your lap (vs. using the stiff board behind) how do you manage that with the landscape format? It is pretty floppy and somewhat of a balancing act. The only thing I could think of was to put a binder clip across the gutter/hinge area to help stabilize it."

Sketching at Yellowstone with friends from the ASAI
I've used the binder-clip-across-the-spine idea, and that works fine. Otherwise I just try to rest the middle of the book's covers on the tops of my thighs to keep it from flopping. If I have to, I steady the book with my left hand.

Glenn wondered about the sketchbook pochade rig, asking if I countersunk the T- nuts (Those are the threaded nuts with a flange that fits through the plywood, holding it to your tripod.)

Glenn, Yes, I countersink the T-nut flange using a 3/4 inch spade bit, then glue the T-nut in with Gorilla Glue, so that it doesn't work its way loose. But since it's getting pulled tight from the back, it holds really well. If I was using 1/4 plywood for the backboard, I probably wouldn't countersink for fear of weakening the wood.

For you scratch builders, here's the pochade laid out flat. The red dots on the paint tray are magnet positions, which hold on the metal mixing trays or watercolor kits.

Here is the underside with two quick release plates attached. My new iteration of the rig has three T-nuts, one just right of center and one on each end. I use the central support point if I only have one tripod, and I use the two on the end if I need two tripods to keep the rig more stable when filming.

Here's how the rig looks set up. Every angle and slope is fully adjustable: diffuser, sketchbook, paint tray, and camera bar. The camera I'm using is a Canon VIXIA HF series. It shoots 1080p to flash memory and has the all the essential features: focus lock, custom white balance, and exposure controls, plus an external microphone jack that yields less noise than my DSLR. For a mike I use the inexpensive corded Audio-Technica lav microphone, sometimes clipping it to the sketchbook itself to pick up the scratchy pencil sound cues.

In this view you can see the two tripods. The diffuser panel, which is covered with white rip-stop Nylon, can slide right or left in its gripper to eliminate the direct sun. On the left is the Mighty Bright HammerHead Book Light, which clips on for night sketching.

And here's the the painting that's on the easel, the one that you can watch being painted in the "Watercolor in the Wild BONUS FEATURES" video, drawn with a brush and sepia watercolor in a museum.

Here are the links to that 28-minute video, available only as a download.
"Plein Air Revolution" by Brad Teare, Thick Paint Blog
"DVD Review: Watercolor in the Wild" by Dan Dos Santos, Muddy Colors

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3. Results of the Watercolor Pigment Poll

Here are the results of the Watercolor Pigment Poll, which closed yesterday. The poll asked you to: "Vote for your 8 Absolutely Indispensable Watercolor Pigments." Thanks for voting. There were 147 votes in all.

Most Indispensable Watercolor Pigments
Antique English inlaid mahogany watercolour box 
made by Winsor & Newton around 1850.

1. Ultramarine Blue—109 votes (74%)
2. Burnt Sienna—76 (51%) 
3. Alizarin Crimson—72 (48%) 
4. Cadmium Red—68 (46%)
5. Cadmium Yellow—66 (44%)
6. Burnt Umber—58 (39%)
7. Yellow Ochre—57 (38%)
8. Lemon Yellow—48 (32%)
9. Cobalt Blue—45 (30%)
10. Paynes Grey—44 (29%)
11. Cerulean Blue—43 (29%)
12. Raw Sienna—35 (23%)
13. Opaque White—34 (23% (tie))
14. Sap Green—34 (23%)
15. Gamboge—30 (20%)
16. Phthalo Blue—28 (19%) 
17. Quinac. Rose—26 (17%)
18. Prussian Blue—23 (15%)
19. Viridian—22 (14%)
20. Raw Umber—20 (13%)
21. Hansa Yellow—17 (11%)
22. Perm. Magenta—17 (11%) (tie)
23. Hooker's Green—16 (10%)
24. Sepia—16 (10%)
25. Bone or Ivory Black—16 (10%)
26. Phthalo Green—11 (7%)
27. Other (in comments)—10 (6%)
Winsor and Newton color chart from 1910

Fewer than 10 votes
Pyrrole Red
Vermilion Red
Carmine Red
Venetian Red
Scarlet Lake
Cobalt Violet
Perm. Violet
Neutral Tint
Indian Red
Terre Verte
Emerald Green
Perm. Green
Manganese Blue

1. No greens made the top ten. Nor did black or white. Perhaps that's as it should be because it's quite easy to mix greens and blacks, and doing so offers the benefit of attractive variegation in the mixtures. And the question of whether, when, and how to use white—well, that's a whole 'nuther topic.

2. Ultramarine was #1 by a wide margin, and for good reason. It's an extraordinary pigment, nowadays synthesized cheaply by modern chemistry. But centuries ago when they had to mine it in Afghanistan as lapis lazuli, it was more valuable than gold. More about ultra's history here.

3. You could make a good palette out of the top 12. It would include warm and cool reds, warm and cool yellows, three fine blues, and some good earth colors. You could even get by with a palette made the top five.

4. Alizarin Crimson was #3, but before you buy it, remember that true Alizarin (PR 83) is prone to fading. Read more at this previous GJ post. But if you're painting in sketchbooks, you don't have to worry as much about lightfastness. 

North America? Courtesy Golden Art Supplies
A Note about Cadmiums
Cadmium red and cadmium yellow both appeared in the top ten. The cadmium pigments have been the subject of some controversy, because of the toxicity of the pigments, the regulatory requirements governing the manufacture, and concerns over environmental impacts after disposal. 

Usage has been dropping, and there have been proposed cadmium bans. Those bans have been successfully opposed in most regions, largely due to exemptions of art supplies from banned products lists, but that may change eventually. 

There are worthy modern alternatives, such as pyrrole red and hansa yellow, but they're not as well known. 

Previous Poll
I conducted a similar pigment poll back in 2008, without specifying the medium. Back then, most people probably assumed I meant oil paint. The top ten in that poll did include black and white, which are more commonly used by oil painters, but otherwise the results were fairly similar.

Results of the 2008 Poll (which didn't specify the kind of paint)
1. Ultramarine Blue 180
2. Titanium White 172
3. Yellow Ochre 161
4. Cadmium Red 158
5. Cadmium Yellow 150
6. Burnt Sienna 150
7. Alizarin Crimson 141
8. Burnt Umber 126
9. Black 98
10. Raw Umber 97
11. Raw Sienna 81
12. Cerulean Blue 79
13. Cobalt Blue 73
14. Viridian 64
15. Naples Yellow 60
16. Sap Green 56

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4. Custom Watercolor Sketch Kits

In the 1830s, J.M.W. Turner carried a watercolor sketch kit in a wallet. "It's a simple leather case with gauze that Turner would have literally stuck the pigments onto," says Julia Beaumont-Jones, Collection Registrar for the Tate Britain.

Some of you have been sharing the amazing sketch kits you've made.

Joe Ongle says: "This is my custom Altoids mini palette, using self-hardening clay and tube watercolors. Half pans work as well."

Chuck Pell says: "My kits are compact for pockets, using custom leatherbound archival sketchbooks and repacked watercolor chips...."

Michelle Spalding made one from a mint tin, "with a retractable cosmetic brush - keychain size with half-pans"

Carlos Huante adapted a cosmetic style brush kit. "I bought this set for 40 bucks back in the day and use it all the time."

Carole Pivarnik made one from a Hello Kitty tin: "It has just three primaries: perm yellow, magenta, and cyan. It uses water bottle caps for pans. They are essentially free, hold a generous amount of paint and with less adjacent edges than rectangular pans, there tends to be less color pollution. A little blue tack holds them in place. I would like to add a dollop of neutral tint in one corner for faster mixing of darks but I can mix just about anything with these three colors. I carry this tin, a mini waterbrush, a mini black Sharpie, and a short HB pencil in a little pouch. Very portable!"

Have you made an unusual watercolor kit? We'd all love to see it. Please share yours with a link in the comments.

Plus: I'm honored that Marc Holmes of Urban Sketchers wrote a review of my DVD "Watercolor in the Wild."

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5. Micro Watercolor Kits

How compact can you get with your watercolor set? Here are two of the tiniest I've seen, the Pocket Palette and the Winsor and Newton Bijou Box. 

At left is "The Pocket Palette" by artist Maria Coryell-Martin  It's based on those metal business card cases, with shallow metal pans that fit inside, held in place by a magnetic backing. She uses it on her painting expeditions to Greenland and Antarctica. 

The book behind it is a 3.5 x 5.5 inch Pocket Moleskine. It's similar to one called "The Perfect Sketchbook" being Kickstarted by an artist named Erwin Lian Cherngzhi with just 5 days to go.

On the right is 30 year old pocket set called the "Bijou Box," which I used when I was on assignment for the National Geographic in the Holy Land in the 1980s.  

The Bijou Box has 18 colors. It's a nice selection... 

New Gamboge, Raw Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Light Red, Permanent Rose, Cobalt Blue, Paynes Grey, Cerulean Blue, French Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna, Scarlet Lake, Sepia, Winsor Green, Winsor Blue, Burnt Umber, and Black

But I think that's too many colors for such a small box, resulting in pans that are only a half inch square. If you begin with fewer colors in larger pans, you're more likely to get harmonious color and more generous paint application.

This video (Direct link to YouTube) is an excerpt from my 28-minute video called "Watercolor in the Wild: BONUS FEATURES."

If you liked the 72-minute main feature, you'll love this one too.
Here's how I shot the dinosaur skeleton sequence
in the Bonus Features video.

This supplement has 12 short segments, delivering bite-size inspiration that you can take anywhere on your portable devices or watch at home in HD.

It consists of 1080p HD releases of my most popular YouTube videos on watercolor painting, some with newly recorded commentary, plus an exclusive video where I use watercolor to render a dinosaur skeleton in a museum.

"Watercolor in the Wild: BONUS FEATURES" is available only as a download from the following:

Previously on GurneyJourney: Watercolor Materials

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6. 'Girtin-spiration'

In the "Greenhouse" segment of my new video, Watercolor in the Wild, I mentioned that I ignored the green colors and painted the scene with browns, ochres, and blues instead. 

Why would anyone want to do that? Why not paint what you see? Let me explain that decision a bit more. 

Here's a photo of the scene as it appeared to the camera, with fairly strong greens.

This was the gamut, or range of colors, that I was interested in painting instead. It's a complementary slice of the color pie that ranges between blue and yellow-orange. Greens and reds are excluded.

What I was after was the most basic color scheme possible, just one step away from a monochromatic rendering.

I wanted to focus on the most basic dimension of color, warm vs. cool.

As I was painting, I was thinking of (though aware that I was falling far short of) one of my favorite English watercolorists, Thomas Girtin (1775-1802). Girtin was a friend and rival of J.M.W. Turner, but, sadly, he died young, just 27 years of age.

Thomas Girtin, Interior of Lindisfarne Priory, 1797
His skills were so formidable in his short life that Turner said, "Had Tom Girtin lived I should have starved".

Girtin's paintings have a wonderful otherworldliness that I adore. Part of his appeal is the way he restricts his painting to those bones of color.

Thomas Girtin, Guisborough Priory, Yorkshire 1801
How did he arrive at that? He must have been looking at greens and ignoring them.

But wait—Is it possible that he used a wide range of bright colors, and that the greens have faded? Well, yes, there might have been some color loss, especially in the reds.

Thomas Girtin, Ouse Bridge, York
But if his palette was anything like Turner's, according to Winsor and Newton, there really weren't that many reliable greens available at the time. There were some green earth pigments, but none of the greens that we're most familiar today. 

Copper arsenates, Emerald green, Viridian, and Phthalo green all came into use after Girtin's death.

Girtin, Dover
More than that, artists of the day were quite deliberate about restraint of color in landscape.  Here Girtin gives just the barest hint of green. The painting's reserve gives it a quiet dignity, a storybook quality.

You can find this chromatic reticence in the work of Claude Lorrain and Richard Parkes Bonington and so many others. In our own time, artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Erik Tiemens, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, and J.B. Monge have worked in very restricted palettes with wonderful emotional effects.

The way to get those effects is to either 1) Bring fewer paints in your sketch kit or 2) Ignore the colors you see and paint the colors in your head.
To watch the greenhouse segment and the rest of my new video, pick up your copy of "Watercolor in the Wild":
HD download: (Credit Card) 
HD download: (Paypal) buy
DVD: (NTSC, Region 1) 
Digital creators: Learn more about selling content on Sellfy.

Previously on GurneyJourney:
Watercolor Materials
The Green Problem
Read more about Girtin and Turner's colors in "Palettes of the Masters: JMW Turner, via the Tate"
Winsor and Newton's essay about Turner's palette
Catalog to 2002 Girtin Exhibition: Thomas Girtin and the Art of Watercolor

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7. Civil War Portrait from Life

I'd like to share one more sample clip from my new video "Watercolor in the Wild." I painted this portrait of Civil War reenactor John O'Brien, who is a member of the Salem Zouaves. I met him by chance at a steampunk festival in Waltham, Massachusetts. (Link to YouTube video)

I shot a lot of this episode in time lapse to suggest how a non-posed model in normal conversation will move around a lot. When I first started painting impromptu portraits, I found that movement disturbing, but now I've grown to like it so much that I have a harder time with a model that holds still.

Here are a couple things I didn't mention in the voiceover. The initial pencil lay-in is drawn with a reddish brown water-soluble colored pencil, which melts nicely when hit with water. I was actually using a sable brush dipped in water at this stage, not a water brush.

I'm using a Rublev historical set of colors. Mine was a custom set that I've since changed, but as best I can recall, it was (left column) Cobalt zinc blue, Nicosia Green Earth, Cobalt Yellow (Aureolin), French raw sienna, Italian Raw sienna, Indian raw sienna, and Van Dyke Brown. In the right column, I think it was Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, Venetian red, Indian red, and Italian Burnt Umber. I've since switched back to a more normal palette, closer to the Schmincke set.

Here's a super close-up to show how the red, yellow, and cream-white colored pencils look over the painted blue and the brush-pen black.

To learn more about the 72-minute video "Watercolor in the Wild":
HD download: (Credit Card) 
HD download: (Paypal) buy
DVD: (NTSC, Region 1) 

GJ Blog Post about Watercolor Materials

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8. Fast technique for rendering textures

During this "Watercolor Week," I thought I would share just two of the 5-minute demo segments (Tortoise and Zouave) from the new watercolor video "Watercolor in the Wild." If you have purchased the DVD or download, thanks!—and don't worry: I'll hold back the four remaining longer segments (Miniature Horse, Carriage House, Greenhouse, and Churchyard)—which actually translates to more than 3/4 of the running time that you can see only if you purchase the video.

Sharing these sample clips on the blog gives me a chance to amplify them with closeups, and it gives everyone an opportunity to comment and ask questions so that these blog posts can be more interactive.

For example, yesterday in the comments after the art supply list, Irene mentioned that you can get woodless watercolor pigment sticks or crayons, something I didn't discuss in the video. Thanks, Irene. As she indicated, Derwent makes Aquatone Woodless Pencils, which are like pencils made of solid pigment, and square pigment sticks called Derwent Inktense BlocksCaran d'Ache makes round water-soluble pigment sticks called Neocolor Pastels (shown above)

These are shorter than the colored pencils and a bit softer, like crayons. Lyra's have a bit more the feel of wax crayons. But they're all a good value because you get a lot of pigment for the price, and although I didn't use them on this drawing, I do use them occasionally for creating rough textures.

Whether you use the wood pencil or the crayon version of these water-soluble drawing tools, they offer three big advantages over a pure watercolor rendering.

First off, they're a fast way to get texture. I used the colored pencil dry over the first base layer of watercolor.

Secondly, as you can see in the little round scales above, you can add water later to soften or blend the pencil. That's how I made those smooth dots: just a touch of water on each. And I used the water brush to group them together into a shadow, as along the right side of the form.

The third virtue of the colored pencils is that you can draw lines with exactly the color you want. You're not limited to black or brown, as with most pen lines. In the case of the growth rings on the shell, the lines looked gray in the upper areas, and they got darker on the sides. So I switched the color of the pencils as I went down the side of the shell.

Some of you asked how I shot the video while doing the drawing. For the tortoise segment, I used one video camera and one tripod. I held the camera off to the side with a "camera extension bar" that I made out of 1/4 inch plywood. This holds the camera over my lap without getting in the way too much. I also used this for shooting the miniature horse sequence.

The camera extension bar has a wooden wedge on the side that fits the quick release slot of my tripod.

To learn more about the 72-minute video "Watercolor in the Wild":
HD download: (Credit Card) 
HD download: (Paypal) buy
DVD: (NTSC, Region 1) 

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9. Watercolor in the Wild Materials

(Link to video excerpt)

Here's a complete list of materials and a buyer's guide for plein-air watercolor painting.
This is a supplement to my instructional video "Watercolor in the Wild."

I carry these art supplies practically everywhere. The basic elements are pretty simple: a sketchbook, a paint box, a few brushes, watercolor pencils, a rag, and some water. They're all listed in detail below.

Watercolor Sketchbook
• I have often used the Moleskine Watercolor Album (5 x 8.25 inches)  I like the fact that it opens flat and I like the horizontal (landscape) format. It has 36 pages—72 if you paint on the facing pages. It has a fake leather hardbound cover, an elastic strap, and a pocket in the back. The paper is 90-pound weight, which is rather lightweight for very wet watercolors, but it's OK if you're doing mostly drawings rather than juicy paintings.

• I also recommend the Pentalic Aqua Journal (5 x 8 inch), which is priced about the same as the Moleskine but has better paper — 140 lb (300gsm) cold press, acid-free paper. With the heavier paper, it has just 24 pages. But they'll hold up to wet washes or even light impasto, such as with casein. It has generous extras, such as an elastic strap, a back pocket, an elastic brush-holding sleeve, and a placeholder ribbon.

• The Global Art Materials Watercolor Book (5-1/4 by 8-1/4 inch) is another alternative with a linen cover. The linen cover is attractive if you want to do a little acrylic or oil painting on the cover.

• The Stillman and Birn Beta Hardbound Sketchbook (5.5 x 8.5 inches) is a vertical book with 26 pages of cold press 180lb. archival paper. The paper is substantial, but it doesn't open flat easily. It can be held flat with clips. If you're thinking of working in casein, the heavier paper reduces the chance of impastos cracking.

• The Pentalic Watercolor Field Book (7 x 10 inches), is well suited those who prefer a spiral binding. It's bigger, so check to make sure it will fit in your belt pouch or purse.

To decorate the cover, I use the oil-based One-Shot Sign Painter's Lettering Enamel, which is very opaque. Paint markers also cover fairly well, but they tend to wear off faster. I usually title the sketchbook with a phrase taken from the first page of the sketchbook.

Watercolor Sets

Quality Metal Pan Sets
Rublev natural watercolor pigment basic set (12 full pans of historical colors)

Custom Sets Made from Empty Pans
You can get exactly the colors you want by buying an empty metal box and filling it with colors that you choose. When the colors run low, you can refill the pans with tube colors.

Large size empty box. In my videos, I'm using an old Talens box from the 1960s. You can get a similar large empty metal watercolor box, which holds 24 half pan colors or 12 full pans. This box opens up to 9 x 8 x 1 inches. You can combine half pans and full pans in the same box, using full pans for colors you use more often. Sometimes I put in two pans of the same color if I use them a lot.

Small size empty box (left). The smaller empty metal watercolor box opens up to about 5 x 8 inches, which fits the left side of a Moleskine or Pentalic sketchbook. This box will hold 12 half pans or six full pans.

Empty half pans. The most economical route is to buy plastic empty half pans and fill them with tube colors. The empty pans cost only 34 cents each. For students or anyone on a tight budget, you can get the 12 Tubes of Student Grade Winsor and Newton Watercolor Tubes for just $30.00. If you have dried up watercolor tubes, don't throw them out; cut them open and scrape out the tar-like pigment to fill empty half pans. Even if they're dried hard you can reactivate them with water once you cut the tube open.

Alternately, you can fill your box with factory-filled pans.

Colors--Here's a basic set of 12 half pans. These are really all you need.
Payne's grey (a bluish black)

Eight more classic colors if you have room for them.

Economical options

If you're looking for a super-compact pocket rig, or if you're a student, a first-timer, or on a budget, I recommend the Winsor and Newton pocket watercolor set with 12 colors, which you can get for around $15.00. This has a plastic box containing Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cobalt Blue Hue, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red Pale Hue, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson, Viridian Hue, and Chinese White. That's a pretty good assortment, and the quality of the paint is OK. Note that when it says "hue," they're replacing an expensive pigment with a cheaper pigment of a similar hue.
A lot of field artists and urban sketchers love the Sakura Koy 12-Color Field Set with Water Brush, which is under $20. It includes the brush and fits in your pocket. The case is made of plastic, so you can't use magnets on it, but the lid has mixing wells, which helps if you're laying down larger washes. Two cautions: the lid doesn't open all the way flat, and when the colors are wet they can spill over into each other.

There's kind of an arms race for small sets. Some of the smallest watercolor sets are the size of a business card, and easily fit into a pocket. At left is the Pocket Palette by Expeditionary Art. The metal pans can be filled with tube colors, and they're held in place by a magnetic backing inside the case. The flip-up metal lid has a white surface for mixing colors. The downsides are: 1. The lack of mixing wells to hold wet washes, 2. The reflective metal, which can be blinding on bright days, and 3. The overlapping flange on the left side that covers part of the pans.

At lower right is a 30-year-old Winsor and Newton "Bijou Box," which they no longer make. It has an enameled steel case with 18 colors and a tiny travel brush. The pans are tiny, and I think there are more colors than necessary. I'd rather see 6 or 8 for a box this size. The lid has four mixing wells, which is a big plus. If you can find one of these used for a good price, grab it, but a comparable super-mini set that you can get in USA is the Winsor and Newton Cotman Water Color Mini, or you can make your own equivalent of the Bijou with an old Altoid tin, some spray enamel paint, and some extra half pans.

The brushes shown above are the Niji Short Handled Water Brush, a small travel brush, and a sawed off brush. The book is the Moleskine Pocket Watercolor Book, 3½" × 5½" (9 × 14cm)

For more on these micro kits, check out my YouTube video "Ultra Compact Watercolor Kits," part of the "Watercolor in the Wild: Bonus Features" video.

Water Cup and Rags
I use a Nalgene 2-Ounce Jar with three 1/4 x 1/16 inch Neodymium Magnets, held on with Magic Sculpt Epoxy Clay. You could also use a generic epoxy plumber's putty instead of the Magic Sculpt. The magnets are powerful, so keep them away from your credit card and phone.

I keep a second jar with clear water handy, and often just a regular drinking water bottle, and I use an old plastic "Tupperware" basin or yogurt cup for a brush cleaning bucket when I'm painting with the tripod easel.

I cut up old cotton T-shirts for paint rags, or use paper restaurant napkins or paper towels.

Here's a good inexpensive starter set of brushes: Richeson Sable Hair Watercolor Brush Set/5

I like sable flat brushes, such as:
1/2-Inch Sable Brush
3/4-Inch Sable Brush

I also use a 1/4-Inch Synthetic Watercolor Flat Brush, which work well for architectural detail.

For laying bigger washes and wetting the paper, a Cat's Tongue Wash Brush is a good tool. It has a flattened ferrule similar to a filbert brush.

Round Kolinsky sables (note: some brands may become discontinued in the U.S. as the Kolinsky ban exhausts stock on hand):
Winsor and Newton Series 7 
Richeson Siberian Kolinsky brushes
Escoda Optimo Kolinsky
Da Vinci Maestro Series Kolinsky Red 

If you have a very compact kit and can't carry a box of brushes, you might want to use a Sable Round Travel Brush, which safely stows the brush tip inside the handle.

Water Brushes
I always try to carry four Niji Water Brushes with large round tips. They're the best brand I've found, and stand up to a lot of hard use. For info about filling them with ink, please scroll farther down this post.

I also carry a tube of white gouache, such as Holbein Permanent White GouacheWinsor and Newton is also good. Sometimes I bring a whole set of gouache colors to supplement the transparent watercolors, but gouache will be the topic of future posts.

Plastic clamps
Here's a 2-Inch Plastic Clamp and a 3.75-inch Clamp. Of all the clips and clamps that I've tried, these seem to be the most versatile for holding the book open or clipping the watercolor box to the easel.

I use a Kum Pencil Sharpener, which not only catches the shavings, but also has a little flap that covers the hole, so the shavings don't leak out and pollute the pages of the sketchbook. 

I carry two erasers, a Kneaded Eraser and a White Latex-Free Eraser.

Water-Soluble Colored Pencils
These add a lot of options and variations to traditional watercolors. I recommend trying a few test pencils from several different brands to see which ones you like. My favorite brand is Caran D'ache Supracolor, but I also like Derwent Inktense Pencils for rich, saturated colors.

I started with a Caran d'Ache Supracolor Set of 18. Over the years I have added and subtracted individual colors from the standard set. Below are the colors I take with me most often. It emphasizes warm colors that I like for portraits and animal drawing.

Caran d'Ache Supracolor watercolor pencils
#001 White

I also often use a Graphite Drawing Pencil(HB, B, or 2B) for the initial drawing.

Pencil Box
The pencil box I use was customized by armorer Tony Swatton. It began as a metal box I bought at a Japanese bookstore called Kinokuniya in Los Angeles. (I painted the Apple logo as a gag.)

Tony then added the hammered brass piece with rivets and I aged it with paint.

Waist Pack / Fanny Pouch / Belt Bag
I use a Black Diamond Spring '03 Waist Bag (Unfortunately it's 11 years old and discontinued, so the photo is for comparison.)
[The Explorers] Multi-Purposes Fanny Pack looks pretty similar. I recommend that you buy the pack at an outdoor store after you select the contents to make sure everything fits. A quiet zipper and minimal Velcro is a consideration if you plan to sketch in quiet places where you don't want to attract attention.

I use a Velbon CX-444 Tripod because it's lightweight, folds small, and reaches up to a reasonable standing height when fully extended.

Three legged stool
Tripod Stool is something I carry in the car or in a backpack when I plan to sit. Sometimes I bring an extra to use as a field taboret for art gear.

Sketchbook Pochade 
The simplest sketchbook holder is a piece of 1/4 inch or 5/16 inch thick plywood cut to the dimensions of the sketchbook opened up flat. I call it a "sketchbook pochade." I drill a hole in the back of the panel and insert a 1/4-20 Tee Nut which will attach to the tripod and securely hold the plywood. The sketchbook attaches to the plywood base with rubber bands or plastic clamps.

Homemade Easel
I made this device, which I call a Sketchbook Pochade Easel to hold the paint set, the water, and the sketchbook. I also use this for gouache and casein. The diffuser frame attaches to the top, and it uses White Rip-Stop Nylon Fabric that I sewed onto an old aluminum Pendaflex file folder frame, a holdover from the dinosaur era.

Here's a clearer shot of the sketchbook pochade. It attaches to the tripod (I use a Velbon CX-444 Tripod) with a Tee Nut, and uses a Southco SC-773 Adjustable Torque Hinge and a furniture slider to hold the parts at the proper angle. The "camera bar" for holding the video camera swings out from the front, held at a constant position by a piece of brass furniture hardware called a Friction Lid Support.

The palette area is made from the lid from a pencil box, primed and then spray-painted with white enamel, and held on with Velcro. That way it can be removed for cleaning, especially when I use it for casein or gouache.

Refilling Water Brushes and Fountain Pens

Water Brushes 
I've tried several brands, but none seem as reliable as Niji Water Brushes. I recommend the ones with round tips, but you can also get them with a 12mm Flat Tip. I normally carry between three and five water brushes. One is filled with water, which fills easily under a normal faucet by unscrewing the handle and squeezing the barrel.

The others are filled with blue, black, brown, and gray. I mix the gray myself, put it in an empty bottle, and mark the bottle. To identify which water brush is which, I paint the back end tips with acrylic (see lower left of photo above).

The ink in a brush pen should be water-soluble so that it doesn't clog the brush fibers. I use Higgins Eternal Ink 0 Comments on Watercolor in the Wild Materials as of 8/11/2014 10:58:00 PM
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10. "Watercolor in the Wild" releases today

Today is the release of my new instructional video called "Watercolor in the Wild." (link to watch on YouTube.)

Dan Dos Santos just reviewed the DVD on the blog "Muddy Colors." He says: "Gurney is an experienced teacher and you can really see that come through here. He is thoughtful and informative, while being very brief and succinct. It's a great companion to his previous DVD 'How I Paint Dinosaurs'."

You can get the video as an HD download or a DVD at the following locations:

HD mp4 download for credit card customers 
$15.00. Available from Gumroad at Gum.com/watercolor

HD mp4 download for Paypal customers 
$14.99. Available from Sellfy at sellfy.com/p/Pvxb/ or use this button: buy

DVD (NTSC, region 1 coded) 
It contains an exclusive slide show of additional sketchbook pages. It's available direct from the manufacturer Kunaki at this link.  
$28.80 today only, priced 10% off its normal price of $32.00, and shipped anywhere in the world for less than $5.00 additional.

Timing: Watercolor in Wild Download
00:00 Intro and Materials
10:12 Basic Techniques and Procedures
15:55 Greenhouse
21:23 Tortoise
26:43 Miniature Horse
40:46 Carriage House
49:52 Civil War Portrait
55:03 Churchyard
Throughout the week, I'll share sample clips totalling about 1/4 of the content.

Tomorrow on the blog, I'll share a detailed survey of 'Watercolor in the Wild' Materials.

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11. Watercolor Week Begins Tomorrow

"Watercolor Week" begins tomorrow, with new YouTube videos every day of the week.

Here's a preview of what's coming:

And tomorrow is the release of the 72 minute DVD and download called "Watercolor in the Wild." See you then.

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12. "Troll Caught Tuna" Contest

I noticed this label for "Troll Caught Tuna" from the "Wild Planet" company, and it got me to thinking in a fantasy vein.

First off, I didn't know trolls worked as fishermen. What would a fishing boat look like if it were run by trolls? Do trolls even use boats to catch tuna, or do they do it some other way?

And what would things be like back on shore on this Wild Planet? How would the other fisherfolk react to the trolls? Would Mrs. Troll be waiting back home with the kids for her husband to return with his catch? What would supper in the troll home be like?

Let's do this as a GurneyJourney art contest.

Categories and Judging
There will be two categories: Illustration and Animation. Entries should answer at least one of the questions above. Animation should be limited to a 7-second "Vine" type gif. Illustration can be in any format, such as book cover art or movie concept art, or a standalone piece. Your entry can be a quick concept sketch or rough animation—it doesn't have to be highly finished or rendered. Sometimes a good idea can win over a good painting.

I will be the judge, though based on the stunning results from the Lionfish Shampoo Contest, it won't be an easy job.

I'll pick one Grand Prize winner and three Honorable Mentions in each of the two categories. All eight of the winning entries will be featured on the blog. First prize in each category is a set of my three DVDs or downloads, including my new one (released Monday) called "Watercolor in the Wild," plus a highly coveted "Department of Art" custom embroidered patch, making you an honorary member of the Hudson River Rats plein-air gang.

Each of the three Honorable Mentions in each category will receive a Department of Art Patch. 

It's free to enter. The deadline is Saturday, September 27. Winners will be announced September 29. 

How to Enter
Email a file (no larger than 800px in any dimension) of your drawing, painting, digital art to gurneyjourney (at) gmail, subject line "TROLL CAUGHT." Or send me a link to a file-hosting site where your image can easily be accessed and downloaded. For animation please use only the links to a public site where the gif can be seen.

Have fun, and I can't wait to see what this contest reels in.

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13. Mead Schaeffer

Mead Schaeffer (1898-1980) was a Golden Age illustrator whose work evoked a lush world of drama, intrigue, and romance. His early oil canvases are reminiscent of N.C. Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, and his teacher, Harvey Dunn, which makes him a grand student of Howard Pyle.

In his paintings for the 1928 edition of The Count of Monte Cristo, he distinguished himself with his carefully composed shapes of tonal values, his handling of light, and his treatment of color.

In his long career, his style evolved with the times, becoming more photographic and more concerned with contemporary themes. He was good friends with Norman Rockwell, who lived in the same town of Arlington, Vermont. 

He was active during World War II as a war correspondent, and several of his 46 Saturday Evening Post covers showed men in uniform.

Schaeffer will be one of the artists featured in an upcoming exhibition of "Harvey Dunn and His Students," at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, November 7, 2014 through May 30, 2015.

More good news for Schaeffer-o-philes is that the current issue of Illustration magazine has a feature on Schaeffer with 57 color reproductions, along with a biography.

Schaeffer is featured in one of the chapters in the book Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked by Fred Taraba

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14. Nude Girls Outdoors and Overcast Light

Today marks a milestone. 

This is the 3000th post on GurneyJourney. I started the blog in July of 2007 and have been posting at least once a day since then. Thanks to all of you who make this blog a part of your routine, whether you're a new visitor or a regular. Stick around and tell your friends about it--there's plenty more to come. Now, onto the post.....

Models painted by Trina Merry in front of the Guggenheim Museum and the Manhattan Bridge. AP Photo
The models in these photos are practically nude, except for body paint. Public nudity is legal in New York if it's part of a performance art piece. To camouflage her models, body painter Trina Merry had to keep backing up to see if the details aligned with the background. You can watch a video of the work in progress here.

You'll notice that no matter how she's painted, the model is always darker than the sky, and that the photos are always taken in overcast light or in open shadow. 

The picture above seems to be taken in open shadow with a sunny scene behind her. She is darker than the sky, despite the fact that, in this case, the illumination on her seems to heightened a bit by a flash or a reflector near the camera—note how the values lighten on the front of her thighs.

The light here seems to be a thin cloud layer covering most of the sky, and the model is lit by that overcast light. She's not casting a shadow, proof that she's not in direct sunlight. However the overcast isn't total: the window is reflecting a piece of blue sky. Regardless, the legs will be darker than the grass no matter what kind of paint you use on them.

Sorry, no nude here. A good rule of thumb is that in overcast conditions, a white local color facing upward will closely match the sky. Not many local colors are lighter than snow, and even bright white snow generally matches the tone of the cloudy sky.

Snow is significantly lighter or darker than an overcast sky only when the cloud layer is thin enough to permit some gradation of brightness in the direction of the sun.

Which leads to the following question: In direct sunlight illumination is there any paint white enough to offset the darkness of the shadow side? And is there a paint black enough to offset the effect of the direct sunny illumination? In other words, could you paint a ball—or a nude girl—in such a way that you could replace the gray-painted ball above, and make the ball—or the girl—disappear?

I don't think so, but I'll have to give it a try. I don't think Jeanette will let me try it on a nude girl, so I may have to settle for the ball.
If form, light, shadow, and paint interest you, you can read more about it in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, available on Amazon— or signed from my webstore.
Thanks, Evelyn Brody

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15. Chopped Straw

Painters of the nineteenth century had a way of building up tones with crosshatched strokes, which they referred to as "chopped straw."

John Henry Hill, "Plums," Watercolor
The technique gives a fuzzy effect reminiscent of engravings of the period. The term was coined by British art critic John Ruskin, an artist himself, whose advocacy of the patient study of nature inspired artists in both England and the USA. Ruskin wrote:
"If a colour is to be darkened by superimposed portions of another, it is, in many cases, better to lay the uppermost colour in rather vigorous small touches, like finely chopped straw, over the under one, than to lay it on as a tint, for two reasons : the first, that the play of the two colours together is pleasant to the eye ; the second, that much expression of form may be got by wise administration of the upper dark touches."
The Elements of Drawing, page 157

Henry Roderick Newman, "Wild Flowers," 1890, Watercolor, 15x10 inches.
Henry Roderick Newman (American, 1843-1917) admired Ruskin's writings and visited him in England. Newman liked to paint close-up views of flowers and plants in their natural setting. In this one, the textures gradate up to a delicate stippled tone at the top. The effect is quite different from what you would get with overlaid wet washes.

Painters used small overlaid strokes not only for grass-like textures, but for other textures as well. One of the strategies is to vary the color from one set of strokes to another. In this detail from a watercolor by William Trost Richards, the small strokes vary a bit from warm to cool, giving the surfaces some chromatic vibrancy.

Ruskin said, "The use of acquiring this habit of execution is that you may be able, when you begin to colour, to let one hue be seen in minute portions, gleaming between the touches of another." He advised his students to work slowly and delicately, using the point of the pencil or brush “as if you were drawing the down on a butterfly’s wing.”

Here's some real chopped straw as a point of reference. 

The look wasn't restricted to watercolor painters. Andrew Wyeth used a similar approach in some of his egg temperas. Aaron Draper Shattuck laid down a scrubby earth-toned underpainting in this detail of an oil painting, and then placed green strokes over it.
I learned about this term from the book The New Path: Ruskin and the American Pre-Raphaelites
Related post: "Small Touches"

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16. Bringing you on six painting adventures

Tobias from Austria asked for more information about my new video "Watercolor in the Wild." I'll be releasing it this coming Monday, the 11th of August.

The video is 72 minutes long, all shot in HD video on location.

I did this study of a taxidermy Galápagos tortoise while sitting in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. I'll show how the combination of watercolor and water-soluble colored pencils is a fast way to capture such a textural subject.

There are six subjects in all:  a greenhouse, a miniature horse, the tortoise, an old carriage house, a Civil War re-enactor, and my wife Jeanette painting in a churchyard—plus an introductory segment on materials and methods. The emphasis is on portability and on working outdoors "in the wild" in sketchbooks.

The segments range between 5 and 18 minutes. Each segment follows a painting all the way through, from the first pencil lines, to the big washes, to the final touches.

I enjoyed the challenge of painting the pictures while documenting them on video at the same time. I did not use an outside film crew, because I felt I could capture the experience and the decision-making better if I did it myself. I got coverage from a lot of different angles, and made sure to show you the subject I was looking at. 

I feel that audio is really important in art videos, too. I accompanied each segment with a clear voiceover that I recorded later, reconstructing the specific thinking I brought to each stage. That voiceover is heard over the background sound of the actual environment, which is very immersive, so you'll feel like you're right there. I kept the music very minimal, just at the beginning and end of each segment, and not running throughout the entire video. 

Miniature horse filly "Rosebud" posed for me during a 12 minute nap, captured in real time.

My goal was to make a video that's practical and specific enough to clearly show you all the steps, but that is tightly edited enough to make it and hopefully entertaining and inspiring, so that it's watchable again and again. 

If you remember my previous post "Video in the Works," I solicited your input about what you like and dislike about art videos. I read those 81 comments very carefully and tried to learn from them.

The video will be released in two forms:
1. A DVD for U.S. $32.00, shipped anywhere in the world for less than $5. The DVD includes a unique a bonus slide show of over 20 of my on-location watercolor studies.  The DVD is NTSC Region 1, but it's supposed to play in any Mac. 
2. An HD mp4 download for U.S. $15.00, which you'll be able to order using either Paypal or credit card. 

To mark the release, all next week will be "Watercolor Week," with a free sample video clip each day of the week. Don't miss the launch on Monday, because I'll have special discounts for GurneyJourney blog readers, and "social discounts" for people who recommend the video to friends on Facebook or Twitter.

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17. Cartoon by F. H. Townsend

Frederick Henry Townsend (1868-1920) drew this cartoon for the British humor magazine Punch. 

Mr. X. (our dear Professor, who always puts things so tellingly): "In conclusion, I can only repeat what I said last Term—'It's all light and shade, Ladies, whether you're painting a battle-piece, a bunch of grapes, or a child in prayer!'"

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18. Sargent Thrashes a Farmer

John Singer Sargent's (1856-1925) biographer Evan Charteris tells the story of one of the oddest episodes of the artist's career, which occurred while he was staying in England shortly before Christmas, 1891.

Towards the end of the day he was riding homeward. He found himself in a field of winter wheat, a part of which he had to cross in order to reach a bridle path.

He was no agriculturist; he probably would have found it difficult to distinguish between a field of potatoes and a field of turnips. In all ignorance and innocence, therefore, he continued his way. His movements had been observed; through the twilight the owner of the winter wheat advanced upon him and without preliminaries launched out into a torrent of low abuse. Sargent was completely surprised. 

He dismounted, and as the man drew near, [Sargent] began to apologize for his mistake, offering to make good any damage he had done. Far from being pacified by his courtesy, the farmer became more incensed. He worked himself into a frenzy of rage and loaded Sargent with every variety of threat and malediction. 

He was well known in the neighbourhood as a surly and foul-mouthed fellow, and Sargent, deeply agitated, mastered his temper and moved away, mounted his horse and rode home. That evening he described what had happened; Mrs. Abbey states that he was obviously in the grip of an agitating distress. At intervals he would return to the subject and discuss what he ought to do. 

For two days he was uneasy and silent and could do no work. Late on the second day he went out. Towards evening of that day Mrs. Abbey was returning from a walk. Her road led past the gate of the house where the farmer lived. As she approached, a figure walked rapidly down the path; drawing nearer she saw in the dusk that it was Sargent. When he joined her he exclaimed: "I've done it — I've done it." 

He was calmer than he had been at any time since the adventure. He went on to tell her that after looking at the thing from every side and turning it over and over in his mind he had settled what he ought to do; he had gone to the farmer's door, knocked, and when the farmer appeared, had said:

"Come outside and defend yourself, I am going to thrash you."

The farmer called on his household to witness the assault, and then, answering the challenge, engaged in a struggle in the course of which Sargent appears to have carried out his threat. Such was the amazing story told as he and Mrs. Abbey walked home.

The farmer at once sought the help of the law. It was doubtful at first whether he would proceed by summons before a magistrate or by a civil action for damages. Sargent put the matter in the hands of Sir George Lewis. On January 21 Sir George wrote that the farmer had issued a writ for damages.

He advised payment into court. £50 was considered adequate. The farmer accepted the sum, and proceedings went no further; and there, so far as Sargent was concerned, this curious episode ended. 

Later an unexpected turn was given to it by an invitation from the farmer to Sargent asking him to dine. Sargent declined, but as a reconciliation was in the air [Sargent's friends] de Glehn and Finn took his place, and found the farmer if not ready to forgive, at any rate determined effectually to achieve forgetfulness by conviviality. Legend has it that Sargent spent the interval between the insult and the assault in taking lessons in boxing. This scarcely needs denial; he spent the interval, it is true, in deep perplexity.

His sense of justice, always lively, but balanced, had been outraged, but his indignation had cooled and had been replaced by a reasoned view of what under the circumstances it was right to do. He acted in a manner which was unspeakably distasteful to him, driven forward by the conviction that no other course was honourably open to him. It was in no spirit of revenge that he acted, it was probably with no sense of personal grievance, but on a conclusion of judgment arrived at on a point of honour. 
John Sargent by the Hon. Evan Charteris
Free download of ebook

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19. Coming Soon: New Video on Watercolor

Two weeks from today I'll be releasing an art teaching video all about plein-air painting in water media called "Watercolor in the Wild."

The 72-minute HD video will cover all the nuts and bolts of materials, including watercolors, water brushes, and water-soluble colored pencils. I'll show a few basic tricks and techniques, and then I'll bring you along on six outdoor painting adventures, demonstrating both beginning and advanced techniques for urban sketching.

The six paintings include two architectural subjects, a figure in landscape, two animal drawings, and a spontaneous location portrait. Since you asked for videos that show the whole process from start to finish, I made sure to document all six paintings from the first pencil lines to the final touches, along with detailed, helpful commentary and plenty of closeup details.

If you're an experienced artist wanting to try more water media, or if you're a beginner interested in taking your art out "into the wild" for the first time, you'll find this video practical, inspiring, and entertaining.

Here's a photo from the episode where I paint Rosebud, a baby miniature horse. She took a 15-minute nap, and I did a painting while she slept. I documented the whole thing on video from start to finish in real time.

I worked hard to make this one of those art videos that you'll want to watch again and again, because it's both entertaining and informative.

The video will be available as an HD download and a DVD. The DVD will have the addition of a slide show of my plein-air watercolors.

Subscribe to the James Gurney mailing list to receive special offers and updates every month or two about all my projects.  

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20. The ethics of sketching on the subway

Daumier, Riders on an Omnibus, 1864

Chuck Klosterman, ethicist for the New York Times, ponders whether it's OK to sketch strangers on the subway. His basic point is that:

"If you’re in public, people are allowed to look at you. This can be creepy and annoying, but it’s not unethical. If the individual scrutinizing you starts sketching your face, you can say, “Don’t do that,” and the person should stop (out of normal human courtesy). But the act is not inherently unethical."

Here are a few excerpts from the many comments after the piece:
  • "I am amused in this day of pervasive smart phone cameras that someone is concerned with the "invasiveness" of a hand drawn sketch."
  • "It's always best to ask permission if the activity is obvious or intrusive."
  • "I am a stealth sketcher. The way I do it, although they know I am drawing, they can't tell who I am drawing. I draw them when they are distracted, sleeping, reading or on the telephone so they don't notice."
I believe it's helpful to consider what might going on in the mind of of the person being sketched:

Why is the artist interested in drawing me? 
Should I hold still?
Will he make me look good? 
How long will it take? 
Will I get to see the sketch afterward? 
If I like it, can I put it on Facebook?
Are they going to try to sell it to me? 
How are they going to use it? 
(Young woman's perspective might be) Is he hitting on me?

If the person being sketched is preoccupied with their phone or their book and doesn't notice the artist, the artist is under no obligation to tell them they're being sketched, and doing so could make the person self-conscious. But once the subject and the artist lock eyes, all the questions start playing in the subject's head. 

The artist can alleviate all the anxieties by addressing the questions in a friendly opener, such as: 

"Hi, I'm just getting some practice sketching people, hope you don't mind. Keep doing what you're doing. I'll be done in five more minutes and I'll show you when I finish." 

If they look annoyed after that, I'd probably try someone else, but nine times out of ten, you will have erased their worries and perhaps made a friend. 

Sometimes you're sitting too far away to make such a friendly request, or you're dealing with a language barrier and in that case, I have held up the sketchbook to face them, smiled, and raised my eyebrows, and pointed from the sketch to them, which helps clear the air a bit. That gives them the opportunity to decline politely nonverbally, by waving a finger or frowning.

If you're in a waiting room where you might wish to do a portrait with a lot more commitment, rather than stealth sketching, it's best to get permission and set the terms at the outset. Then you can say something like, "Hey, are you going to be around here a while? I'm an artist traveling around here, and I'd love to sketch your portrait while we talk." Asking permission up front from parents is also a good idea if you're a man sketching children in public places.

Many times people line up, wanting to be drawn or painted. In this case, I was painting a street scene on a rainy day, and a father and daughter came up to look at the painting and chat for a bit. Before they walked on, I asked them, "After you cross the street and get to the blue sign, would you mind holding a walking pose for a minute or so?" They did so, very willingly, and then turned around afterward to give me a happy wave goodbye.

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21. Curious Spectators: Part 1 - The Problem

Yesterday's post about sketching strangers on subways led to a lively discussion about how best to manage the encounter between the artist and the unwitting model.

Here I am painting at the Platte Clove Community in Elka Park, New York.
Actually these folks were very respectful and asked smart, observant questions. 
Here's another dimension of this issue. If we as artists expect to have the right to look at strangers and draw them in the public sphere, we also have to yield to the right of people around us to watch us paint or draw. Like it or not, artists working in public become a form of entertainment that curious spectators feel entitled to watch.  Drawing or painting is a form of magic that no one can resist.

Anyone who has sketched outside have heard some of these same questions, and probably a lot more (Please tell me in the comments).

These questions unnerve a lot of would-be sketchers, who often feel that they're being judged, or they irritate painters who need to fully concentrate on a difficult step. It eventually wears me out if the comments are too repetitive or inane.

I've gotten plenty of weird comments. A landowner once shouted from his monster truck: "Makin' money off my tree?" A lawyer who owned a property said, "Don't fall into the water and drown. That would be actionable."

Another time I had to jettison a good spot because I realized it was the unloading zone for busload after busload of bored tourists.

Here's Spanish painter Antonio Lopez Garcia facing unusual odds in Puerta Del Sol.
Tomorrow: Some Solutions to the Problem of Curious Spectators

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22. Your experiences with curious spectators

On Facebook people shared many more experiences dealing with curious spectators while painting outdoors. It's a rich topic. Thanks, everybody!

Carl Larsson -- Plein Air Painter, Winter-Motif from Åsögatan, Stockholm, 1886

Phil Mamuyac
"He's a drawer!"

Anath Sheridan
"I can't draw a straight line" is another... Always want to say "well neither can I, do you SEE that horizon line?!"

Timothy Atkins 
"What are you doing?"
"Playing tennis" is my usual half joking/half snide answer. After all, you never know who you are talking to!
I actually really enjoy interacting with people on the street, especially kids, but they have a tendency to turn up just when you're 3 seconds in to an important watercolor wash. And then all is lost.
I liken it to someone walking up to a DJ and ripping the needle of the record, only to ask "are you playing music?" and then you're left to find the exact spot on the record again.

Kathy Partridge
How long does it take you? Do you do sheeps? (Yes, "sheeps"!)

Arun VB
LOL ! "I can't draw a straight line" is very typical and usual question

Thomas Gieseke 
"My mom's an artist. She does macrame."

John Trotter 
HA! I did a fundraiser at Zoo Atlanta in June where a bunch of us worked plein air and the profits went to the zoo. A lot of the artists had never worked in such a public forum before and we got lots of stories. The camp groups and patrons were overwhelming but also very complimentary. (Although I did end up with a child mostly sitting in my lap at one point!)

Phil Moss 
'My sister's friend's brother's third cousin twice removed is studying art at university, you should meet him!' No, it's fine, really!

Sara Otterstätter 
Are those people Mennonites? And one particular story came to my mind:

I was at the local zoo, sketching the rhinocerosses - their anatomy is a nightmare - and in a short distance was an older lady with her grandson. She may have thought that it is better not to talk to me because I might be disturbed while fighting with the awkward rhinoceros-anatomy. So she talked with her grandson about me. But hell, in what way.

"Oh look how nice this lady draws! Does she not draw nicely?! Shall I pick you up that you can see how nicely the lady draws?!....." I really felt like I was merely an drawingmonkey at the zoo and wished she had talked to me instead of over my head. Maybe I should get a "Do not feed the Artist"-sign and put it next to me the next time I am at the zoo sketching.

Simon Schmidt
100% hit. Also the age distribution is nearly perfect. Usually there are a few more elderly people.

Eric Wilkerson 
My favorite is from a time I was painting with Garin down by the hudson. A man came up and said to him "If it comes out good I'll give you a hundred bucks for it".

Harmony Baudelaire Carrigan 
"I can't even draw a straight line" and "I can't even draw stick figures" are the two I always hear.

Laslo Iera 
a classic.

MeKenzie Martin 
That's exactly why I am afraid of painting in public. I'm deaf and that would definitely make an awkward situation where I would have to spend more energy on explaining the fact that I can't hear and have less energy for actual painting time. Awkward, I tell ya... but I guess it's also awkward in your world, having all people watch you painting and have those questions that shouldn't have been asked in the first place. Lol.

Andy Volpe ·
"Oh, can't you let my child/ren draw on the corner of your paper?! They're Master Artists themselves!". It's true, it takes a lot of energy and patience to work in front of the public…A…Lot. But for the most part comments and questions are fairly descent and genuinely curious. It's similar to reenacting/living history, and that "You're wearing wool?! Aren't you HOT in all of that?!" No, I'm pouring sweat because I'm cold….

Andy Volpe ·
I feel really bad for that Spanish artist trying to paint, I've never seen anything like that. It makes me wonder now if the Old Masters who painted outdoors scenes where there's only 2-3 people in the painting, had dozens of onlookers standing behind them that we don't see.

Jasper Patch "that looks good. What is it ?"
"are you painting that?"

Eran Fowler ·
I always get the stick figure comment. Usually accompanied with "I could never in a million years." Makes me wonder if they were too afraid to ever try.

Another case was the crazy dude at the bakery. I just put a link to my blog with the story. It was sort of really uncomfortable and one of the rare occasions where I refused to show my sketchbook:

Dougie Hoppes 
I love painting in public. It's where a lot of my sales comes from. I usually get the request: "Can I be in your painting?" I usually tell them "Sure... if you are willing to stand there for about 1/2 hour or more". I'm sure that, one day, someone will take me up on that!

Shenge Bana Gon Paja ·
Just smile

Ulrich Zeidler 
All the freakin' time

Destinie Janea Carbone 
Still trying to figure out what people mean when they say "Are you an artist?"

Barry Van Clief ·
Mostly people are friendly and pleasant, perhaps many of them would like to do art themselves. I've always thought plein air painting would be a good way to generate sales, if I were less shy and did it more often.

Joe Nazzaro 
'Did you do that freehand?'

Steve McInturff 
...yep...and ...when i set up at an art festival...i have my work on display...people like to ask ..'did you draw all these..?"..."..."...why yes i did"...."Dang!!...you're good.."...the tell me about a relative who draws or paints..."they ain't as good as you, but they're pretty good".....and then they walk away....

Richard Smith
I know I love it. "I can't even draw a straight line"... "no you don't understand I can't draw, I've tried."
I always tell people "good, if it were a straight line it wouldn't be art."
And as for not being able to draw or paint, I usually just say " the only reason you 'can't' is because you simply 'don't'. I try to encourage people..."You could draw or paint as well or better if you'd practice as much. It's not a magical power...talent = desire + discipline".
The world can never have enough artists

Weston Hobdy ·
"I saw a TV program on Ansel Adams a few nights ago, but you.... you do these freehand, don't you?"

Tim Vedel ·
when you blast a wall at 3 am with a spray can people usually keep their mouths shut hahah

Karalyn Johnson 
Them, "I can't even draw a straight line!" Me, " Me either, that's why I use a ruler."

Greg Newbold "did you just start that today?" Yea, like an hour ago. "How much would you sell that for?" In the gallery, about $900. "Yea, right. Good luck with that." Thank you for watching.

Carlos Castañón ·
I had a guy stand behind me for some solid 45 minutes, claiming he "just loves the smell of turpentine".

Danielle Nicole De Shane I still get a crack out of the people asking, "Did you draw that?" While you're in the middle of drawing. My friend had responded with this shocked expression, "OH MY GOD, what's this!? I didn't draw this! How did this get here!? My hand has a mind of it's own!"

Shannon Beaumont
At the Munich zoo people ask "Did you make that yourself?"... I usually say to them "Nope, bought it on Amazon.com..."

Jenny Wolfe First time I was plein air painting a lady stopped her truck in the middle of the dirt road, ran out, and asked "Can I have that? For free? My neighbors would adore that in my house!" Of course I said no, and told her her neighbors could adore it from where I'm painting. Some people.

Mervin LovesZbrush
I get lookers all the time at coffee shops. It turns up the pressure to perform lol

John Cullen
I don't mind curious spectators. If someone comes up to me and asks me 'did you draw that?' (while I'm in the middle of drawing something), I don't belittle them or talk down to them for doing so. They are merely showing curiosity in what you're doing.

Remember that it can be scary for people to approach and talk to complete strangers, so saying things such as 'did you draw that?' or 'I couldn't draw a straight line to save my life' are just easy ways for them to attempt to break the ice. It's the equivalent of starting a conversation with 'how about that weather?'

Yes, it can get a little annoying at times, but people mean absolutely no offense when they try talking to you. The amount of snide and stuck up comments here about such people truly disappoints me.

Patti Glynn Haarz
I am a magnet...that is one of the reasons I don't like plain air. However, I have always wanted to turn around quickly and say, "you can see me!!!" with a wild look in my eye or perhaps a tick.

David Cameron had most of those. I had a young lad say to me once,' wow did you draw that? do you know what, you should become a real artist'!!!

Eric Wolf
No, since I can't paint. But I do get similar comments when practicing archery or when reciting my poems to my girlfriend.

Chithra Mitra can add one more...." can u teach my 4 year old son,tony.......he paints exactly like u "!!! ...lols

Aline Schleger In art school (of all places) I was "in the zone" when I noticed some first years checking as I drew with pastels. I was shocked when turning around an hour after and still see them there (was wearing headphones). I blushed.

Lyn Lull oh yeah heard 'em all and more

Harvey McDowell "never show a fool a thing half finished"........

Cliff Cramp I got, "my 5 year old daughter is an artist too."

Mike Kloepfer 
Currently, 'Stick Figures' is tied with 'I can do that.'
My stock response: "I'll tell you a secret. My stick figures are terrible."

Angela Bell
lol I've had the stick figure comment so many times I've lost count. I also had neck-craners when I was sketching on a train, this lasses head almost fell off trying to see who on the train I was sketching whilst I tried my best to ignore her, then I realised after that she was holding a pose and looking to see if I was sketching her yet...I didn't.

Lyn Lull I took a workshop up in the White Mountains of NH last year. Trying to paint a waterfall and had a steady stream of tourists hiking by and saying many of those comments and many others like my friend, wife husband, cousin etc are artists too and they do this that or the other

Ricky Mujica 
"If I give you a photograph, can you draw it?"

Susan Fox 
"I wish I could do that."

Erik Pen ·
Spectators can be so distracting.

Patrick Hanenberger

Thijs Wessels ·
"Do you also have a real job?" When people ask me this I see it as a compliment

Tracy E Flynn 
you left out....
" my cousin is a natural artist, they never went to school for it "

Barb Cimity ·
Just proves art has a human connection for every person. We should cherish that.

Christopher Radko It's so rare to see ladies in dresses, these days....

Robert Paulmenn ·
i always think of myself as "public domain" when I'm on the street painting. I've had people purchase work on the spot, it's worth a little distraction from time to time.

Raven Amos 
Every. Time. Or "'What is it?' (I tell them) 'Oh...it's cute' !"

Mike Kloepfer 
It's a strange phenomenon, and I've had quite a bit of experience with it.
The way I look at it, most people never have the opportunity to see art being created. So I try to be engaging as possible.
Plus, It's not like they broke down the door of my studio. I put myself out there in public, doing something interesting. Most people are genuinely curious, and that's natural. It's counterproductive to be offended when they engage.
To the vast majority, the art-making process is a mystery, and there is a lot of 'myth' surrounding artists. So you get a lot of interesting, unusual, and sometimes totally unexpected comments. Some are downright hilarious.
For me, it really depends on the person, how they present themselves (some people are nice, some are just rude,) and other factors, like my concentration level, noise, weather conditions, etc. And sometimes I'm just not in a talkative mood. I'm human.
I've noticed that I'm not as talkative right after I've eaten. That's Mikey's quiet, inside-my-head, art-making time. LOL
It reminds me of something Jeff Watts said. (Paraphrasing....) Talking while making art is a unique skill. Some people like it, some don't.

Johnny Morrow
If I had a quarter for every time I heard, "I can't even draw a stick figure!" Oh man

Graham Nightingale
Hold on! you forgot the other inspiring comments James!!
What's that supposed to be?
You should see the stuff my kid paints its way better than that!
Nobody ever made money doing this son, why don' you get a proper job!
etc etc.

Mike Kloepfer Yes, Johnny - I could buy a lot more art supplies! LOL

Mike Kloepfer 
Hey I have an idea... I'll read the blog post. LOL

Virgil Elliott
I appreciate the idea that people are interested in art and artists, so I don't mind the comments. A sale or commission might result from any new human contact. I'm able to concentrate while carrying on a conversation, so it doesn't interfere with painting. Maybe I'll pick up a new student; maybe someone will buy my book.

If I want to paint without people around, I know a wild place that's full of rattlesnakes. They never bother me, and I don't bother them.

Peter Hoss
One of my favorites, "my aunt is an artist".

Leslie Jordan 
That's funny. When I see an artist on the streets like that, I take a quick look and move on. I know they are in a creative zone and don't have time for interruptions, though if I saw you on the street, I would at the very least just say hi.

Andy Volpe
Leslie - Yeah, I try to just say a quick hello, take a quick peak and move on, knowing they're trying to work.

Andy Volpe
The one peeve I have is when I'm doing a demonstration (i.e. Printing) and trying to explain what it is I'm doing, and then someone decides they're going to cut in and explain it to someone else for me. "What are you doing?" I'm inking the plate "See? He's inking the plate!"

Tommy Scott 
That face says, "kill me now."

Johanna Westerman ·
One reason I avoid it. Of course you say, "You realize who I am, don't you?"(haha)

Mike Kloepfer Wow, that guy in the video could sure use some traffic cones. LOL
I've got a plen air outing this weekend (which I am VERY excited about) and this got me to thinking about it. A lot. And a lot of good ideas came out of that thinking.
I posted at length about the subject in the comments on the blog post.
(Mikey said... "Wow. That guy sure could use some traffic cones. LOL " etc.)

Susan Rankin-Pollard
^I like the part of your comment where you suggest a liason. i do this at comic cons where I'm drawing so that I can actually do the work I've got in front of me and take more commissions. Helps A Lot!

Susan Rankin-Pollard When I draw in public, I take stock of how I'm feeling ahead of time and that determines where and how I sit. If I'm not open to chatting, i'll have my back to a corner. Most people are really good about respecting personal space. Earbuds/headphones help too, but I'll always talk to kids. To kids it's magic that they're willing to try without immediately tearing themselves down with I can'ts.

Monarchs Die 
Why are you drawing this you should be drawing bla bla bla ... Coud you draw me? I have a school homework would draw things for me? Etc...

Mike Kloepfer Chithra Mitra 
Maybe her son Tony's last name is Pro. You never know... LOL

Mike Kloepfer Susan - I agree. I was having this discussion with a fellow artist this weekend. We understand that what we do is applied skill, but to the lay-person, it has the same effect as a magic act.

Mike Kloepfer I'll try to gauge my mood and my audience, and if it's right, I'll go for the funny. However, I try to calibrate my humor to be entertaining, not insulting. I try to give them the same consideration I would like to receive.
(I've gotten pretty accurate, but even so, there's times... )

Mike Kloepfer 
Geez, gang - there's some great stories and anecdotes here. Got so entertained, I almost forgot...
Time for me to get drawing!!!

Blanca Plata Ortega
What about this one: if I had money I will bay it from you! But I'm just a kid! LOL

Aline Schleger James, ever thought of putting a printed F.A.Q. somewhere near you? With pamplets pointing to your books,prints,etc?

Eric Bowman ·
Aren't you that guy who wrote Jurassic Park?

Reginald Atkins 
yep.. several times. since taking up digital art and working on a tablet.. less so, since it's not as easy to see the entire thing over my shoulder as I focus on a small detail.

Arthur Machabee 
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked "Did you draw that?" while I'm still drawing, I could buy a whole new set of art supplies (which I wouldn't mind having).

Ed Redgrove ·
Yep, all of them, also while lying in a park, had a grandmother drag her screeching kid towards me with "oh lets see what this man is drawing" a graphic sword fight was what... she did not appreciate it

Mike Kloepfer 
Okay, Mr. G - ya got me thinking. A LOT. LOL
So I started a post on my own blog. Feel free to check it out.
http://mikeyzart.blogspot.com/.../making-art-in-public......See More

J Wm Lonnee "You should do this for a job!"

Carolyn McCully Yes, it really put me off trying to paint outdoors, also got "Is that a paint by numbers", that did it for me.

Maurine Starkey 
My favorite is. did you trace that?

Ed Nickerson ·
How about : my friends daughter is an artist too, she won a ribbon for the art in her 3rd grade class last week.

Rebecca England ·
all the time!

Raphael Schnepf 
I've done some outdoor murals and mostly got good comments. My watercolor teacher in high school used to flick her wet brushes absently to shoo the onlookers.

Cameron Davis 
"I can't even draw a straight line!" Har har

Jessica Boehman 
I couldn't get this to load to the site, but this was my comment: "The worst spectator I ever had was a goose that beaked the paint off the corner of my painting."

Kern Afton 
Those and "My son/daughter is also an artist. You should be friends, you might learn something!" and "So I have this cool idea for a comic book... but I can't draw, so..."

Linda Binkley 
I once had a German tour group surround me in Paris. (I had to leave it freaked me out)

Patrick Waugh 
Usually kids. One time while erasing a kid said "I thought artists didn't use erasers."
Previously on GurneyJourney

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23. Top Ten Ways to Deal with Curious Spectators

Yesterday's post about the challenges of curious spectators generated a lot of interest— 35 comments on the blog.....and on Facebook: 533 likes, 104 comments and 83 shares.

As promised:

James Gurney's Top 10 Ways to Deal with Curious Spectators 

10. Deflect questions by answering them in advance. There's the "Critic Be Gone Shirt," marketed by Guerilla Painter, which has a rather sarcastic tone.....
....and blog reader Christian shared this T-shirt design made by his friend Graeme Skinner for a friend Laura Young.

9. Place headphones on your head, so that you look zoned out, even if you're not listening to any music. Good way to overhear candid comments.

8. If you like to smoke, blow smoke out of cheap cigars. It keeps away mosquitos, too.
The only problem with these first three solutions is that you can miss out on the really rewarding encounters that can come from curious spectators. How do you make the experience work out better for both parties?

Let's remember that most spectators mean well. They're not as judgmental as we suppose them to be. They almost universally admire an artist who is courageous enough to bring their studio outside. Spectators often ask dumb things because they're shy and they don't know what to say to an artist.

If a person comes up and they seem unsure of what to ask, I usually have a stock line ready to help orient them, such as, "Hi, I'm working in casein, which is an old fashioned milk-based paint that people used before acrylic was invented."

In other countries, the language barrier often helps. When I sketched in China, people watched with quiet, respectful absorption, or they would just smile and make encouraging gestures. In my experience, Europeans tend to be really considerate and watch for a reasonably short time, and just saying a kind word or two.  In Ireland everyone is such a wonderful and witty talker that every encounter is great fun, so I love painting in public there.

In Africa, curious spectators have volunteered to be models. In Morocco, kids can't resist gathering very close and even blocking the view.

Most of the time when kids hang around, it make sketching much more fun. If you bring an extra sketchpad to loan to a really interested kid, you might change a life. Long-time blog readers may remember the time I wore a steampunk outfit to Amish country, and everyone totally accepted me.

But being inviting and friendly doesn't always work, and sometimes I get annoyed, especially by questions that obsess over sales and careers and money and commerce, and all the things that stop the wings of inspiration from flapping.

....so, let's continue the list:

7. Let them know it's OK to take a quick look, and invite them to come back later. That gives them permission, but it lets them know implicitly that you may not want them to park too long next to you. If you're in the middle of a difficult passage, and can't talk, just briefly explain that you'd love to chat, but you can't right now because your speech centers aren't working. People get that.

6. Change the topic of discussion away from you, your proficiency, or the price of your painting. Ask the person something about the place you're in or the thing you're painting. For example: "Do you know who owns that old building?" Or: "How high did the floodwaters get here in the last storm?" This often leads to truly interesting encounters, and it lets them do the talking so you can concentrate. I've learned a lot about many of my motifs this way.

5. Before you go out painting, create a web page or blog post with common questions and answers, including information about your galleries or your books, or whatever, and generate a QR code so that they can read your answers on their cellphone. You can put up a sign that just says FAQ and the code, and it will be fun for them to read it on their cellphone.

4. Bring a friend or a spouse along who doesn't mind fielding the questions from the spectators. (Thanks, Mikey!)

Andrew Wyeth en plein Jeep
3. Choose a motif where you can back up to a wall or a rosebush so that no one can get behind you.
Or sit up high. Andrew Wyeth would sit on the hood of his car, with his feet on the bumper so that no one could watch from behind. (image courtesy Making a Mark/Squidoo).

2. Wear a uniform shirt and surround yourself with traffic cones, or crime scene tape or "caution" barricade tape. If there's more than one of you, and you're wearing uniforms, spectators are so bewildered, they don't know what to say. That's what our sketching group, the Hudson River Rats does—we disguise ourselves to look like some obscure municipal department. The "Department of Art" patches add to the official effect. (Thanks, Steve).

1. I mocked up this T-shirt design to suggest a final thought. The challenge of spectators is just one of the things that makes plein air painting so exhilirating. There's also wind, rain, bugs, animals, traffic, and changing light. Dealing with all these issues helps develop our concentration and gives us a sense of urgency that makes us do our best work.

Winston Churchill said about painting: "Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing, which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind. Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen."
Previously: Interview on Urban Sketchers

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24. How to Refill a Water Brush or a Fountain Pen

Here's a still frame from my upcoming video called "Watercolor in the Wild," which releases as a DVD and a download on August 11. The whole first section of the video covers materials and methods.

One segment shows how to fill water brushes and fountain pens with the ink colors you want.

Water Brushes 
I've tried several brands, but none seem as reliable as Niji Water Brushes. I recommend the ones with round tips, but you can also get them with a 12mm Flat Tip. I normally carry between three and five water brushes. One is filled with water, which fills easily under a normal faucet by unscrewing the handle and squeezing the barrel.

The others are filled with blue, black, brown, and gray. I mix the gray myself, put it in an empty bottle, and mark the bottle. To identify which water brush is which, I paint the back end tips with acrylic (see lower left of photo above).

The ink in a brush pen should be water-soluble so that it doesn't clog the brush fibers. I use Higgins Eternal Ink(black), and an old bottle of Sheaffer Skrip Ink. The color in my 30-year-old bottle is mellow blue-black, which I believe is no longer available. The Waterman Fountain Pen Blue Bottled Ink is a bolder blue. For a brown color, I use either the Higgins Sepia Fountain Pen Ink or the Waterman Brown Ink, the latter of which has a redder cast. If you mix two colors of ink, you should mix the same brands.

Refill Tool
Several different tools will work for refilling water brushes. My favorite is a Syringe with a Blunt Tip Fill Needle. You can also use a Syringe with a Tapered Plastic Tip (center of photo above). A Glass Eyedropper doesn't always work as well because the tip isn't small enough for getting inside the chamber of an empty fountain pen cartridge or water brush.

Fountain Pens
I use a relatively inexpensive Waterman Phileas Fine Point Fountain Pen (top) for written notes. In the USA, you can buy refill cartridges in black and blue, but it's not easy to find brown or gray or other colors. As with the water brushes, you can refill them with your favorite color. The pen comes with a refillable cartridge insert, or you can refill empty cartridges with the syringe.

When I need to use waterproof ink for my line work, I like Micron Pens. They come in many colors, and give a constant indelible line, similar to the classic Rapidograph pens. For a brush-style tip, I've used the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, a waterproof brush-tip pen with replacement cartridges. A caution about the Pentel: the ink can bleed through some thinner paper.

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25. Advice for Mark

Andrew Loomis
Mark asks,
"I'm off to university next month and am trying to learn as many techniques as possible, I'm currently going through the Andrew Loomis books at the moment and was wondering what is your process for drawing heads/bodies/objects/environments, etc?"

Hi, Mark,
Wow, those are kind of a big questions. Well, you can't miss with Loomis. His book Creative Illustration is one of the best sources for information about painting technique, color theory, and composition. Figure Drawing for All It's Worth and Drawing the Head and Hands is also full of valuable information, so it's no wonder they've been classics since the 1940s.

A more recent book that's great for composition, especially if you're interested in film, comics, storyboarding, or animation, is Marcos Mateu-Mestre's Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers. For learning about process and environments, I would just go around your world with a sketchbook.
Stan Prokopenko

If you want to learn to draw heads and bodies, and you like learning from videos, check out Stan Prokopenko's YouTube channel. Stan has produced a lot of free videos that break down head and figure drawing into clear and helpful steps.

If you like those, Stan has just released a 5 DVD set of his recent figure drawing series that I can recommend. It's great for beginners or pros who want to brush up on their knowledge. If you prefer streaming content you can purchase premium access to his website, where there's a lot of content added to the YouTube stuff. Don't just binge-watch these; actually do the exercises, and you'll make amazing progress.

I don't know if you plan to study art at the university that you're going to, but if so, I would recommend you read the recent editorial "Is De-Skilling Killing Your Arts Education?" on Huffington Post (Thanks, Bryn).

When you get to the college, "kick the tires" before you sign up for any art classes. Go right to the head of the art department as a new freshman and tell them about the kind of art you really like (Loomis, Rockwell, Bugs Bunny or whatever it is). If they sneer, don't sign up for art there. Use your college time to study art from books and online, and use the university to study English, science, history, and other subjects, which will enrich you as an artist and a person. (That's what I did, for what it's worth).

Oh, and don't worry about learning as many techniques as possible. You don't need to play all the instruments. Get comfortable with a drawing medium, perhaps charcoal or pencil, and a painting medium, such as acrylic or oil. then try to let technique and style happen naturally as you put your focus on nature.
Adolph Menzel
When the great draftsman Adolph Menzel was asked the same questions you asked me, he answered with a single sentence: “Alles Zeichnen ist nützlich, und alles zeichnen auch" which means "All drawing is useful, and drawing everything as well."

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