Yesterday’s neighborhood journey sketch, some different techniques

This is fun, taking a closer look at things close to home. Yesterday I did my third location, all are listed at Instagram or my FB page. For this sketch i used some techniques that workshop alumni will find a bit different. On top of that I used gouache paint instead of watercolor, the more I use it the more I like it, even though it is taking a major rethink. So here is the sketch, step by step.

I began by using artist tape, peels without tearing (most of the time), to make a block in my Moleskine 5”x8” artist sketchbook. You will see the neat result in the finished painting. The paper in this is heavy, but technically not designed for watercolor, so the pages buckle a bit, that irritates some, but for me it shows the sketchbook is well loved.

Next I did a light wash for the sky area using a grayed Cerulean Blue. I did not have to be too concerned about the outline of the building against the sky as gouache is opaque so will cover over the watercolor. I find thay watercolor is easier for this type of sky wash.

Often when doing a building it is a good idea to do a pencil sketch to get the shapes correct, so I got out my tools. Yes, it is OK to use a ruler, Stephanie Bower recommends it in her book. What about that black and orange thing? Anyone know what it is? I plan to do a blog showing what and how in the near future.

Here is what it looked like when the pencil work was done – notice that it is the major shapes and angles, not the small details. In the finished piece there is a tree in front of the building, I left that out. If I was doing this in watercolor i would have sketched the tree in most likely, but with gouache the building was all I needed, knowing I could paint the tree in over the top; trees can be a bit more forgiving in how they come out.

Here is about half way through with the gouache paint. Using gouache is a bit more like acrylic or oil in that you often work from dark to light, the opposite of watercolor. At this point the windows have been painted dark, I will paint the white molding over them, one of the benefits of gouache. Many watercolor sketchers use a tube of white gouache with their watercolors to highlight at the end.

Here I have started using the white paint to build the windows and door frame.

The finished piece. Added a tree in the front, used a white gel pen for the lettering, highlighted and shaded a bit with a Micron pen.

My plan is to use gouache more, and hopefully get a bit better at it. It flows quite differently, easier in some way, harder in others. One attraction is that it has similarities with how I paint with acrylics. So I will do another today and see how it goes.

As always keep on traveling and sketching, even if it only in your neighborhood,

Posted in ink | 10 Comments

Take a journey near to home, join me

Join me on a journey close to home, sketching along the way

Le Confinement has changed our travel habits,  Tolkien wrote 

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.

Since home is where we are traveling these days, lets explore it as a traveler would. Yesterday I started my journey, it’s not too late for you to join me, we can encourage and exchange experiences along the way.

We begin our journey with a map, identifying landmarks and key sights. Here is the map I drew of my neighborhood. My guideline was about a one mile maximum from home. I was inspired by an article in the NYT

With the map completed, next I will do sketches of the key spots over the next few days, either from photos taken on my walks, or virtually from Google street view. When I am done it will be like a mini-guidebook to my neighborhood, right in my journal, also a memento of Le Confinement.

You can follow me here, and as I post on instagram and FB. Along the way I will offer up some tips on sketching from photos, some new tools to try, and general encouragement.

If this sounds like a enjoyable diversion during this time of staying-in, start by drawing your map. Post it on my FB page, theTravelsketcher, or tag it #thetravelsketcher on Instagram. Let me know how i can help. 

New and upcoming

Recently i proposed doing a virtual workshop, that is still an option, three people have so far expressed interest, let me know if there is more interest.

What would you think about a weekly sketch chat and troubleshooting time? On Zoom we connect and talk about what we have sketched and the challenges faced, then explore ways to overcome them. Or, what if every Tuesday we all sketch then at 2.00pm we met up on Zoom to show and chat? Let me know.

As always, keep traveling and sketching, even if it is near to home.

Posted in Tips for the Travel Sketcher, Travel journal | 4 Comments

Le Confinement, Livre 1

Posted in ink | 4 Comments

Staying-in and sketching an update

Le Confinement continues, all things considered we are doing quite well. I am experimenting with some new techniques, getting my Pochade Box out for some Plein Air painting on the golf course, and I am almost finished with my 30 days of sketching from travel photos.

How does a virtual workshop sound? I know a lot of tutorial videos are getting posted these days, but i am thinking of doing a Zoom meeting where you can follow me in real time, ask questions, and attempt the sketch along with me, all in real time. And for free. Let me know if the idea sounds interesting and I will work on the logistics.

If you are sketching we would love to see your work and hear your stories. Either Instagram with #thetravelsketcher tag, or post them on my FB theTravelsketcher page. A couple of people have sent sketches and we have discussed ways to solve sketching problems, I am available for more.

Here are a few sketches from last week. The first is an acrylic I did at the golf course, it is for sale. The rest are travel sketches.

One of my favorite places in France is Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Find it on a map if you can.

This is the entrance to the chapel at the Chateau D’Angers, from just over a month ago, seems much longer than that with all that has happened.

Remembering a wonderful time at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, if you have never been there add it to your list for a road trip once we are free to roam.

Stay safe, keep sketching and traveling, even if it is only in your mind

Posted in Travel | 8 Comments

Pallet reset, rethinking my colors

If you want tons of comments on a FB post just ask, “What is the best…” color, paint, pen, brush, pallet, paper, sketchpad, ink…? A myriad of sketchers will eagerly give you the right advice, while of course clarifying why the comments of others are not the best. However through it all, learning what others do is a good way to pick up ideas. So it is in that spirt that I write today.

My travelsketching pallets were due for a cleanup and reset. So, with the luxury of time while in Le Confinement,  I jumped in, and am liking the results, passing it on to add to the body of discussion and confusion on the topic.

When it comes to which colors to include in a pallet there is a bit of theory, a lot of preference, and some logistics involved. 

It is pretty tough to paint without at least three colors, some version of red, yellow, blue. Of course it is nigh impossible to get any paint that is just pure color. This of course is where the debates and preferences enter. Often mired in discussions of “warm and cool” colors. 

Colors that look like the sun are warm – reds and yellows. Colors that look like water or ice are cool – blues and greens. Oops, first confusion, green is not a primary, you get it by mixing yellow (warm) with blue (cool). Then the theory folks will tell you this means you can have warm greens (more yellowish) or cool greens (more blues). You see where the problems start? In theory all colors tend toward warm or cool, lemon yellow is a warm yellow, Cadmium Yellow is cooler. Are you confused yet? I am. 

If you want more on theory, read up on it, just don’t get obsessed by it. Van Gogh was a lover of complimentary colors, Monet did more with harmonious colors. I think both ended up with some pretty good art. Thus I find preference and logistics are more important in my decision making process.

Logistics deal with the simple question of where do you sketch and what do you want to carry. Since I earned the moniker “theTravelsketcher” by spending 25 years sketching while flying all over the world, size was a primary concern.  For many, many years I carried the Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket box, it served me well. It is still the one I recommend to new Travelsketchers at my workshops due to its size, broad mix of colors, and price. 

About four years ago I discovered the Art Toolkit, designed by Maria Coryell-Martin of Expeditionary Art. I own three of her palettes and can’t imagine using anything else. 

First off a disclaimer – this endorsement is entirely mine, and completely unsolicited from Maria. We follow each other on Instagram, have exchanged a few messages over the years but these are my thoughts that I pass on because when you find something good you want to share it.

Why the devotion to this pallet? Size, design, flexibility. The standard pallet is the size of a business card case, the Demi version even smaller. Yet you can carry up to 28 colors depending on which size of pans you use. Since you fill your own pans the color choice is yours, back to the preference part of the discussion. 

So here are my two pallets and their configurations. I am redoing a third one, will write on that one later.


First the small pallet, the Demi. It measures 55mm x 45mm x  7mm. It will fit in the smallest of pockets, thus I am never without my paints.

As far as the colors go, this is loosely a “primary color” pallet. The paint companies love to come out with new colors, they know us artists are attracted to any shiny new object and will part with cash for it. (That is why we all have more pencils, pens, brushes etc. than we will ever use or need.) Over time, like many other artists, I realized that a limited pallet has a lot of advantages, and actually produces better results than trying to carry every possible color.

So here are the colors in my Demi Art Tool Kit – all Daniel Smith brand

  • Ultramarine blue
  • Perylene green
  • Sap green
  • Cadmium yellow
  • Yellow Ocher
  • Pyrrole red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Sepia 

Here are a few thought behind my selections. Most of what I sketch are either landscapes or urban settings, these colors work well. Ultramarine can go from a light blue for sky, or mixed with sepia makes dark almost black grays. Traveling in Europe I find that yellow ocher works well for castle walls, or highlights in fields, Perylene green works for distant hills. My red choice is not a common one, but I like an intense red for flowers. 

The empty square in the center is for additional mixing space.

My full size pallet has two mixing areas and in addition to the colors in my Demi:

  • Cerulean blue
  • Bismuth Yellow –  (Graham not Daniel Smith) I like the intensity
  • Pyrrol Orange
  • Indian Red (works well for stone and bricks)

I also have another full size pallet that I am redoing with colors for gardens and flowers, more on that to come.

As with so many things in art, there is not one right answer, we are all on a quest to capture a moment. I am sure I will tweak these again in the future, but for now this is just right.

As always, keep travelsketching, even if only from your living room,

Posted in ink, Tips for the Travel Sketcher | Leave a comment

5 Tips for Creating Depth in a Sketch

We may get the shapes right, the colors right, and yet the sketch looks flat, why? Objects need context for them to make sense to our brain. Here are few tools to help add depth and dimension to your sketches. You may not use them all in every sketch but knowing they are there gives you tools to draw from.

I will build a simple sketch, showing how each techniques adds to the sketch, it is not  necessarily the sequence I would use in real life, so feel free to adapt as you see fit.

Here is a tree. Shape and color tells me it is some kind of fir tree, that is fine as far as it goes, but lets see how to make it better.


Look what happens with just one simple line, the horizon.


Now instead of just floating in space the tree begins to feel like it is touching the earth. If we add some background, in this case distant hills, notice how the tree seems to move forward.


Because we are giving our eyes and mind some context the tree starts to make sense. Now add a bit of detail around the base of the tree, showing that it really is attached to the ground, and add a bit of color to the sky to make it all stand out. It is starting to look more like a scene than a floating tree.


So far we have:

  1. Added the horizon line
  2. Showed background hills
  3. Loose details at the base of the tree
  4. A bit of color and texture to the sky

However we need to do more. Right now the tree is flat because it is all one color. We need to tell our mind that the tree is round, we do that by shading. In reality there are times when we will observe objects that are the same color all over, to sketch it that way makes for a really boring sketch. The side away from the sun in always darker. So lets add some color to one side fo the tree. Shade and shadows can be daunting for the best of painters, for us travelsketchers often just a second coat of the original color will do the trick. With buildings remember that one side is always a bit darker, it shows perspective, and if the sun is coming from the left, then the right side of everything will need to be a bit darker.


If we stopped now the sketch would remind us of when we were there, a perfectly satisfactory job of capturing the moment. But let’s show what happens when we take it a couple fo steps further.

One way to enhance our original tree is to add more in the foreground, other objects that give us even more context. How about a tree much closer to where we are standing? If there is no such tree and we want to stick with the reality of what is there, then a shrub, or a rock, or a flower will do the trick. Notice how the tree in front is greener. Also note how it pushes the mountains farther away, more depth.


Look what a fence can do to show us the distance and depth of the sketch, along with using our Micron for some texture in the grass.


I am sure this is some wonderful field in Central Oregon, where we stopped to have a picnic on the way to Bend. Well at least it sounds good, even though I conjured up the image in my mind.

So to recap. Whether the object is a tree, a building, or a cup on the table, even a bit of context gives the sketch depth. Use whatever works:

  1. Horizon
  2. Background
  3. Sky
  4. Foreground details and colors
  5. Objects that allow mind to compare. A closer tree, the fence, flowers, etc.

Give it a try and post some of your sketches on Instagram #theTravelsketcher, post on my Facebook page, theTravelsketcher.

Keep sketching,

Posted in Tips for the Travel Sketcher | 5 Comments

How to sketch a tricky scene

Some of the scenes before us are more challenging to capture than others; we sketch then we are frustrated. Usually it is because we fail to follow the tried and true steps that have brought us success in the past. Shirley sent me a photo of such a scene. I am going to break down the process step by step, most of which should be used for any sketches we attempt.

Here is the photo


It is the horn that captures our initial attention. An easy error with this is to end up with the man too big and the horn too short and too fat. Our brain starts defining and gets it wrong.

The first step in any sketch is to ask, “What is it that makes this worth sketching?” “What is the focal point?” “What is the moment?”

Then, as we should always do, but often don’t, some analysis before we start. One important thing is to have a reference in the scene for size.


The man’s height is a good reference point. I measured his height from his shoulders to his feet; then all other measurements will be based on that length. The first thing I noticed was that the distance from his shoulders to the end of the horn is almost exactly 2x his height. This will help when we lay out the sketch.

Next I found that the length of the horn, from his hands/mouth is also 2x his height, the same length we just measured.


What we then need is a way to reference these when we sketch. In my workshops I talk about drawing a box and or drawing a cross on the page. I usually start by visualizing this on the scene in front of me. If you are sketching from a photo, print it out and actually draw the guidelines. Remember a lot of the classical artists used this kind of tool for reference, if it is OK for Van Gogh to do it, then it is good enough for me.


I purposely used the left edge of the man, then drew the horizontal line across at his feet. Doing this on the drawing will make the sketch work much better. Now you can get out your sketchpad. Start by either drawing a box or a cross, or both.


With the cross in place I sketched the man, keep it loose at this stage as we are trying to get sizes and proportions correct, not the final draft. I also realize that my first tendency might be to start by drawing the horn, which would most likely not work out well, remember we are using the man as the reference point. Also, even though the horn is the key item in the sketch, we have more leeway as far as length and shape than with the man; if the horn is a bit off no one will know.

Since I drew, or visualized, the cross before I started, it was pretty easy to get the rough shape of the man right. The next thing is to get the angle of the horn laid out. Using a pencil, or ruler I measured the angle by laying it on the photo. Transferring that angle to the sketch I made a small mark on the horizontal axis where the lower edge of the horn will cross the line, starting from the mans mouth.

What was left was to measure down vertically 2x the height of the man and make a mark to show the length of the horn. With this layed out sketching in the lower edge of the horn was easy.


Next came the opening in the bell of the horn. My brain, and thus my initial attempt, made the circle about the same size as the mans head, too small. In reality the circle is almost the same size as the width of the mans chest. What is going on here is that our brain knows the horn’s bell is probably no bigger than the man’s head, so it tells our pencil to draw it like that. But, objects that are closer to us “appear” bigger, this is called foreshortening, a topic for another day. Once again we remind ourselves to draw what we see, not what we think we see.


We have the basic sketch done, but it looks a little strange, a man and horn floating in the air. We need to add a bit of background and foreground detail to give context. Erase a few reference lines, though often leaving them ads character.


Maybe a bit of watercolor, some shading, highlights with ink and a gel pen, and you have your sketch.

One other consideration would be to move the men and their horns back into the distance. It would make them part of a bigger scene, and possible capture the place easier.


Let me know if there are more questions. Better yet, give the sketch a try yourself and send it to me.

Keep sketching,

Posted in Tips for the Travel Sketcher | 1 Comment