Friday, January 27, 2017

Travel Sketching with Watercolor


Casein has been my primary water medium these past several months, but when I travel I revert to sketching with watercolors. The thing about watercolor is how simple it is. You can carry a small set of half-pan colors, a pocket-size sketchbook and a pen or pencil and you're set. Sometimes on vacation I take along a block of watercolor postcards (you can buy them easily in art stores and online) and use them as notes to mail to friends and family from wherever I am.They like getting a little artwork in the mail.
Not long ago we were in the Seattle area, visiting family. Predictably, winter weather in the Pacific Northwest is gray, cool to cold, and damp. You can't really do much outdoors because of the rain, and the light is quite dim sometimes. We did right the Bremerton ferry one cold rainy day, but otherwise spent much of the time indoors. Nonetheless, I managed to continue my morning sketching regimen with watercolor and my tablet. The landscape there is so different from home in Iowa that the trees and even the skies are more challenging.

For watercolor I used a 3x5 Moleskine sketchbook with smoothly finished pages. The finish stands up to watercolor without bleeding, and you can use ink with it as well. As I sometimes do, the pages were toned with various colors beforehand.

Here's a view of forested land near Redmond one dark winter morning. The bare deciduous trees made tracery against the evergreens and dark sky.

There are rhododendrons everywhere in the region, and they grow to enormous size--more than 6 feet in some places. This second watercolor is of those gigantic shrubs. Rhododendrons don't drop their leaves in winter, so they make great property screens and boundary plantings. One morning these giants were slick with rain and dark, which called for a different treatment. The colors in the sketch aren't the actual colors, of course. It was cool shrubbery against the warmer deciduous trees behind the fence that originally attracted me to this scene. The opened sketchbook invites much wider compositional options.

Finally, after a few days in Seattle, the sky cleared and we had two delightful sunny days. The return of light was exceptionally welcome, almost joyful. That morning I sketched distant trees against the flood of sunshine. The light was warm as caramel against the branches. I caught an airliner, high above besides.

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