To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brand New Watercolor Pencil Workshop!

Last week's workshop was exciting for me. It was a new, expanded version of the introductions to watercolor pencils which I've been doing as part of the basic and intermediate nature sketching workshops for quite some time.

I'll still continue to introduce watercolor pencils in those classes, but if the students want detailed instruction, they'll be able to attend this new Watercolor Pencil Workshop for LOTS more good stuff.

In the past, the color session has only been a one-day thing, but this workshop extends the color instruction to two days, with time for many new and exciting projects. I took a chance and just barely touched on drawing basics ~ I figured that anyone brave enough to take watercolor pencil instruction would have at least the rudiments of drawing, and I was right (this time!). I had five students, two who listed themselves as beginners and three intermediates. The lovely thing was that they were all returning students who had taken nature journaling or basic sketching with me. Loved that!

One of my projects was to get my students sketching with ballpoint pens. If you are painting with watercolor pencils, an underdrawing done in pencil tends to fuzz and fade, but waterproof ink stays crisp and clear. In my new workbook for the first day, I included a page for them to try pencil, ballpoint, and waterproof fiber-tip ink.

Sketching in ink is pretty intimidating, but they gritted their teeth and bent to the task, finding it surprising rewarding.

The subject was a boringly brown eucalyptus seedpod. The assignment was to try the different underdrawings, then experiment with peculiar, "unnatural" colors to make it look good. The results were fascinating. Here are some photos I took of the process.

This got the students comfortable first with ink drawing, then with mixing colors from opposite sides of the color wheel (with which we started the class) plus thinking out of the box with regard to how to achieve natural colors. It's not intuitive to get brown from purple and yellow, red and green, or blue and orange.

At the same time, I was introducing the students to the many ways to pull color from the pencils: drawing into a wet spot, laying down color with the pencil then wetting it, and lifting color off the end of the pencil with the brush, as shown here.

You'd think a single assignment would elicit similar results, but this class produced the entire spectrum. Here are seedpods from all five students. There is one actual seedpod in the picture. Can you tell which one it is? (click for a bigger image).

We touched on a number of concepts over the course of the two days. One was how to depict a white subject so that it's not blah or just shades of gray. A good way to demonstrate what we actually see (and don't realize) was to place a white object on a brightly colored surface, then look at the color bounced back up onto its underside.

This sea shell set on a chartreuse band of color was definitely greenish underneath, and if you slid it across the bands of color, the effect of the changing colors was even more dramatic.

Here are some of the results the students achieved by shading white subjects with color/s.

I also thought my students would also enjoy learning how to make waterdrops. Susie Short has a wonderful tutorial on her website here. With her very generous permission, I included her page of instructions in my workbook (along with credits and her URL so my students can look up her website at home ~ there are LOTS of neat things there) and we produced some pretty juicy dewdrops, which can really liven up a flower or foliage picture. While it's intended as a watercolor technique, it adapts to watercolor pencils perfectly.

On the second day we were one student short (it was the first gloriously springish day we'd had, and she couldn't resist an invitation to go painting plein air). But the remaining four arrived raring to go. We tried out the dewdrops again, in order to confirm the technique, then got seriously into how to render fur and to realistically color trees, landscapes and foliage.

[BTW, in this shot of my classroom, you can see how I arrange tables for a small class. I can enter between the two tables for close-up one-on-one instruction from directly in front of each student].

We worked on brush technique and quality with my standby orchid project, then got down to business after lunch with our piece de resistance ~ watercolor pencil paintings of gorgeous red and yellow apples.

Each student had a different style and method of working, and it was fun to see how each approached her apple project. Here's an apple in three steps:

Watercolor pencils are notorious for not allowing white highlights to be added after you are finished, so we also experimented with resists, applied before coloring. I felt the "resist masks" used by serious watercolorists (the liquid kind you daub or paint on, then rub off later) seemed a bit daunting for beginning students, although I've used them for years, so we experimented with white china markers with a certain amount of success.

I'd never taught the technique of applying china marker resists before, and I still have some improvement to make on that. I think next time I will have the students do some tests with the china markers and watercolor pencils before applying highlights to their subjects. It's two different things to a) be able to do something proficiently and b) teach someone else the same technique. I learned a lot about teaching resists last weekend!

It never ceases to amaze me that most students will jump right in, applying colors, techniques, or things like the resist without making a test patch off to the side. I really encouraged color-testing this time, and I think the students got more predictable results. Here a student has done some color tests before starting, and is referring to them as she adds green to her apple. Good!

And here are their final apple results. These definitely look good enough to eat, don't you think? The third one from the left is the one underway in the photo above. And actually, those white resist highlights look pretty darned good for a first try!

As always, I ended the class with evaluations. I was delighted with the answer one student gave to the question "What is your favorite medium?" She said "It was pencil... but I'm becoming a convert to ballpoint and also really enjoyed the waterproof fiber-tip pen."

I was also pleased with one response to a question asking them to tell me about their experience of the class: "I loved this class. It was great fun to learn how to use the pencils, waterbrush, china white, etc. I felt more confident after all working together on the same structured project instead of being told to just pick something and paint it without a clue at how to proceed."

This encourages my opinion that people learn best and most confidently when given specific goals to accomplish and specific instructions on how to achieve them. Once you have the technique under your belt, you can go any direction you want with it.

My next workshop is another new one: Sketching Wildlife. It will be May 2-3, starting at the Siskiyou Field Institute's Deer Creek Center (in Selma, OR) with a day mastering sketching techniques for drawing animals ~ fur, feathers, birds and mammals, and moving subjects, etc. The second day will be spent at Wildlife Images Rehab Center, at Merlin, OR, putting that new knowledge to work drawing raptors (hawks, eagles, owls), bears, wolves, foxes, and whatever strikes the students' fancy. This workshop should be a real kick! I've been creating the workbooks for it all month, and finished them last week, ready for printing.

Check it out here. Then come join us. It should be great fun!

Gotta go. There's a Pacific Treefrog pair croaking amorously by the pond outside my studio door, and it's almost 7pm and I'm starving. Ciao!

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