Category Archives: Painting Materials

My New Favorite Sketchbooks

I recently discovered some nice little sketchbooks by Global Art Materials, Inc., called “Hand Book Journals.” They come in sizes ranging from 3.5” x 5” to about 8” x 10”, and have paper that will take washes with wet media.

Hand Book Journal Sketchbook
I love these little sketchbooks. They have great paper, and fit in my purse.

Now, there are hundreds of kinds of sketchbooks out there, with a variety of papers. Most are more expensive than I want to pay, and many have paper I don’t care for. They’re either perfect-bound (pages glued in) so they don’t lie flat, or spiral bound, so the pages can rub against one another, smearing your graphite drawing.

The Hand Book Journals are different. The Hand Books are sewn bound and they lay flat when you open them. (Note: so do Moleskine sketchbooks [and it’s pronounced mol-a-skee-na].)

But what I really like about these Hand Books is the paper. They say you can use pen & ink, pencil, marker, and light watercolor washes. The paper is lighter than watercolor paper (they don’t give a weight), but it does take light washes very well, and doesn’t buckle.

The reason I like paper that will take water is that I like to sketch either with water-soluble pencils (I like General’s*) or pens (black Tombo pens are great, but I use watercolor paper for them). Now, most teachers will tell you that line is the basis for all painting. OK, fine. But I see masses, so I want to draw (or paint) masses—and pencil points just won’t do. (Yes, I know the arguments against what I’m saying.)

Gateway Sketch by ©2012 Stephanie Benedict
I did this sketch in about 10 minutes using a water-soluble pencil and plastic waterbrush. The paper is more buff-colored than it appears here.

These little sketchbooks are easy to carry, and make it easy to do small, quick studies of whatever is nearby.

And really, isn’t the point to actually do the work? I’ve found that if I don’t like the materials, I’m not going to use them. Perhaps because I came to painting late, I’ve never developed the habit I see in some others of always sketching. I’m trying to become that single-minded, but it’s slow work! I really like these little sketchbooks, and if they get me to sketch more—that’s what’s important.

It turns out several of the on-line retailers carry them, but only in the smaller sizes. I’ve only seen the 8 x 10 at Johnson’s Paint in Boston.

What do you use to sketch with? How often do you sketch?

*General’s Pencils are made in the USA.

Making Larger Paintings

Plein air painting is a race against time. Painters usually have about a two-hour window in which to complete their painting*. After that, the light has changed and it’s best to put the first painting away and start a new one. To complete their paintings within that window, most painters work fairly small: anywhere from 6” by 6” to 12 x 16. (There are, of course, exceptions. On foggy or overcast days, the light stays constant longer. And some painters do work larger. I’ve no idea how they do it.)

But what if you want to work larger?

Around the Bay by Stephanie Benedict, study and larger
Around the Bay, ©2012 Stephanie Benedict. The study is 8″ x 24″. The studio version (here in progress), is 15″ x 45″.

Many artists I know, including myself, do small-scale studies outdoors, often several at one location, and then come into their studios to paint larger works. I often do work small, because it’s faster and because, in this economy, the smaller pieces sell better. But my heart wants to paint larger.

Working larger has its own set of challenges. Things you could indicate in a small piece with just a brushstroke need modeling of light and shadow. Perspective becomes more important in a larger piece: are all elements oriented to the horizon (or false horizons) properly? Details become far more important.

And then there’s the mechanics of working larger: bigger easel, larger brushes, larger canvas, more paint. The amount of paint you need to mix for a small painting is very different from the amount you need for a big piece. I have to stop and ask myself before I start putting that paint on the canvas if I’ve mixed enough for the area I’m going to work on. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes not. (This is an advantage of using a limited color palette: it’s easier to recreate color mixtures when you only have a few choices to start with.)

Finally, larger paintings just take more time than smaller ones do. For me, that’s the biggest challenge. The rest are overcome-able: it just takes work. I find it impossible to work on large paintings for short periods of time—I need 2- to 4-hour chunks, minimum. And that, in our too-busy 21st Century lives, can be very hard to find.

Do you like to work larger?  Do you paint large in the studio or outdoors?  If your a collector, do you prefer larger or smaller paintings?

*That is, unless they don’t care about capturing the actual scene they see before them.

Test your color acuity

Here’s a fun test to take:  Color Acuity Test.  It measures your ability to see differences in colors of the same value. Low scores are better.

Warning:  how well you do really depends on your monitor.  I took this three times, on three different monitors, and got three rather different results.  My best score, on the best monitor, was 7.

Color Hue Test from xrite
Color Hue Test from xrite.

Thanks to Gurney Journey for sharing this originally!