After I began learning to draw, I quickly discovered that there was much more to art than simple graphite and charcoal. I worked with inks. I then moved on to colored pencils and conte. I tried different pastels. Watercolors. Acrylics. Oils. Within a few years, I’d tried almost every medium there is. I wasn’t very good with any of them, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn as much as I could about as many different things as I could.
Gradually, though, my focus began to narrow a bit. I discovered that I didn’t care for acrylics or pastels. I put my colored pencils away, using them only occasionally. Instead of trying different media, I then began trying out different subjects. I did portraits, studied a bit of art anatomy, did gesture drawings and figure drawings. I tried still life painting, and of course, I tried a lot of landscape drawings and paintings.
Once again, my thinking was that the more I learned about different things, the stronger my art abilities would become. I still believe this is true, but more and more I’m moving away from certain things so that I have more time to devote to the things I love most in art.
- Graphite drawing
- Loose watercolor
- Landscape oil painting
Last fall I settled into a bit of a routine, choosing these three areas for my primary art focus. It’s been a good approach. I’ve found that what works best for me is to rotate between these different areas, doing a graphite drawing project, then moving on to watercolor. After I’ve finished a watercolor project, I move on to landscape oil painting. And then I start back again with graphite drawing. This focus has done two things: it has helped me develop the skills that are most important for me, and it’s given me a greater awareness of what I want to create as an artist and how I want to create it.
I also have my sketchbook project, my way of “warming up” each morning. Sometimes I use pencils, sometimes I use pens. I’ve played with different markers. And sometimes I’ve used watercolor.
Since today was a “watercolor day” in the studio, that was what I chose for my sketchbook warm-up. Circles, you know. Lots of circles.
When I opened my watercolor supply box, the first thing I saw was a small box of watercolor pencils. A cheap box. Crayola brand. I’m guessing that I bought this set at Walmart so that the grandkids could play with them.
I do have a good set of watercolor pencils — a student grade. At some point in the future, I’ll invest in a set of “professional artist quality” watercolor pencils.
But this morning, I shrugged, grabbed this little $4.00 set and decided to use them for my sketchbook warm-up.
I made a few circles, grabbed a watercolor brush and added water. It was fun because using the inexpensive pencils gave me that sort of “What, Me Worry?” attitude that would have made Mad Magazine‘s Alfred E. Neuman proud.
So what if I wasted the pencils? It was all in good fun. And, although my warm-up page was nothing to write home about (you’ll notice I’m not sharing it here), I enjoyed playing with my Crayola pencils. I was surprised that they did have a lot of pigment and produced nice colors.
I then read the information on the box and learned a new technique: dipping the pencil in the water! In the past, I’ve used watercolor pencils by laying down the marks on the page then applying water, or by wetting the brush and running it across the tip of the pencil. Never once had I ever read about actually dipping the pencil in the water.
Of course I tried it. It was such fun! I used that technique to “embellish” my circles, and I resolved to keep it in mind the next time I was working with watercolor pencils.
It was time then for me to settle down to actual painting. I’m learning on my own now, mostly through experimentation. I had an idea in mind — a simple landscape with a large area of sky, a few trees, and a bit of foreground. In other words, more or less my usual landscape fare, but done with more thought, a bit more planning, and with a few ideas on how to best approach the painting.
I opened my watercolor box again, planning to get out my Cotman pocket set. But then I saw that cheap Crayola watercolor set that I’ve played with in the past. This, I decided, would just be a Crayola Day. I’d have fun playing with the most inexpensive watercolors I had.
Like the watercolor pencils, the watercolor set came from Walmart. It costs very little, but it’s actually surprisingly good. I’ve used it in the past for a lot of my fun watercolor projects, like making colorful bookmarks.
I’d outlined a plan — starting with a lightly drawn “tic-tac-toe” grid to assist me with my focal point, then sketching in the basic shapes. Afterward I would wet the paper and lay in a light wash for the sky. Next would be the mid-range values. Finally I would paint in darker values. Once dried, I would “re-touch” if need be, to create stronger lights and shadows.
That was the plan, and I followed it a bit. Instead of sketching in the scene with graphite, I grabbed those Crayola watercolor pencils instead! Perfect. With an initial drawing to work from, I then proceeded with the sky. There are three different blues in the Crayola watercolor set, and I used them all.
Things were going according to plan except that I didn’t have any dark green in the set. Nor did I have a black watercolor. I just used a lighter green, a yellowish ochre color, and a dab of brown here and there. I was disappointed. My scene just looked … well, mediocre comes to mind. It was just a dull, lifeless watercolor.
Oh, but how about grabbing a black and a nice brown from the set of watercolor pencils? With those I drew in the trunks and branches of the trees. I added little marks to suggest grasses. I played with adding shadows. It was looking much better!
I erred in trying to use a green watercolor pencil to create more leaves. I did my best to wipe the marks away, but that didn’t work. So, yep, there are some green lines there that don’t add to the effect, but that’s how we learn, right?
I grabbed a bit of a deep blue and made a few strokes in the foreground. And, you know what? I liked the way it all turned out — all except for those green marks. Once dry, I made a photo of my completed painting.
I’ve found it impossible to get a good photograph of this painting. My scanner turns the sky white. My smartphone camera shows everything too dark. The paper has buckled slightly, so that’s a problem too when taking a photo.
I gave up even trying to crop this. The painting really is much lovelier than it looks in either the scan or the photo. Hopefully you can see how the watercolor pencils worked with the loose colors. It’s a bit like an ink-and-wash technique, and that’s something I really like.
As I continue learning on my own and trying out different techniques, I’ll be figuring out for myself what I like and don’t like, and hopefully learning, too, how to make all those things happen with watercolor. With this morning’s “Crayola playtime” I came away feeling pleased. It’s not perfect, but it’s another step closer to a style of my own.
And so, today I’m celebrating Crayola. I’m celebrating playtime, too. What are you celebrating?