Spring is here, and that means I can finally start getting together again with my sketching buddies outdoors. Yay!
A group of us took full advantage of a stellar spring day this week and met up at Enlow Fork Natural Area (in Greene County, PA) to sketch the wildflowers.
It’s been more than a year since I’ve seen some of these friends. They used to come to my house every month for painting classes, and we were a huge part of each other’s lives. How we’ve missed each other!
After a round of enthusiastic hellos and safely distanced air hugs, we set out on the trail. We ambled through woods that are just starting to show the first hints of green in the treetops, pausing to take a closer look at blue-eyed Marys, trillium, larkspur, phlox, and violets along the way.
We found a spot to settle in and sketch where Virginia bluebells and buttercups carpeted the ground. Sitting companionably, chatting and painting, catching up on our lives – it felt so….normal. And normal feels wonderful!
I put together a video to give you a peek into the beauty of this unassuming little corner of our world…
Since many of you have said that you enjoy and learn a lot from my longer step-by-step painting posts, I scanned and took photos over the course of a day as I finished up the sketch I started at Enlow. So, settle in with a cup of coffee, tea, or vino, because this is going to take awhile! (You might need a cookie or some chocolate, too, to sustain you as you read.)
I did a little pre-planning the evening before our field trip and drew a rough page layout in my 5.5″ x 8.5″ Stillman and Birn Beta Series nature journal. The design featured spots for individual flowers plus a larger landscape scene. Having a rough idea of what I wanted to do with my page meant I could dive right in and start sketching when I was on location.
We spent an hour or two drawing and painting (and yakking!) that day in the woods, and I got each of the four corner circles filled with a wildflower: phlox, Virginia bluebells, blue-eyed Mary, and wild geranium.
Finishing up at home...
I wanted to include the names of the flowers I had drawn, so, back home in my studio, I added curved guidelines for the lettering, creating an interesting pattern in the border.
I selected one of my photos to use as a reference for the large central image, one that included some of my friends sketching. I knew they’d be tiny in the finished sketch, but they were one of the best things about that day, so of course they needed to be there!
I used a Sakura Pigma Micron 005 pen for all the drawings on the page. I wanted a light line that wouldn’t attract attention. The color was more important than the line work.
I gave the sky a cursory treatment with a few strokes of blue (Cobalt Blue + Ultramarine Blue) on pre-wetted paper. Then I dove into painting the woods with shades of green: a deep blue-green (Ultramarine Blue + Sap Green + a hint of Van Dyke Brown), a medium green (Sap Green + a touch of Yellow Ochre), and a yellow-green (Yellow Ochre + Diarylide Yellow + Sap Green). I find it’s always helpful to pre-mix my colors, so I don’t have to stop to mix more when I’m in the middle of applying a wash.
Using a size 8 round Princeton Aqua Elite brush, I began working my way across the page using the yellow-green toward the tops of the midground trees and moving into the darker colors on the lower part of the section. I applied the paint on dry paper and allowed the colors to blend wet-in-wet. Here and there, I dropped in pure Ultramarine Blue and Dioxizine Purple to give me deeper darks.
As the paint began to dry just a bit, I went back and touched in more paint to create texture and suggest individual clumps of foliage. Note the wide range of values I was able to achieve with just one pass. The key is to use saturated colors for the darks.
After the midground woods were dry, I used the same wash technique to paint the more distant hillside. I neutralized my greens by adding touches of red or burnt sienna to the original mixtures, so the hillside would visually recede.
The tricky part of this process was in painting around the tree trunks and branches, but I just took my time and enjoyed the process. I didn’t have to be too careful, because I could always lift paint or touch up edges later on.
Although you can’t see flowers in the reference photo shown above, they were there in abundance, so I decided to record my impressions, rather than copy the photo. I mixed up puddles of Daniel Smith Wisteria and a combination of Opera Pink + Permanent Rose, and painted clumps of flowers using my round brush.
Next, I painted the road with a variegated wash of Yellow Ochre, Van Dyke Brown, and a hint of Permanent Rose. Touches of green were dropped into the wet paint to indicate grasses growing down the middle and along the sides.
Then it was time to tackle the foreground hillside.
As I painted around the flowers, I dropped touches of Permanent Rose into the green to suggest more flowers without carefully defining them. I like using a mix of hard and soft edges.
I thought I’d paint the light haze of new leaves in the treetops next. For that, I brought out my secret weapon…
It’s an old flat brush that I practically destroyed (but not quite!) by chopping into it with scissors.
It works great for painting irregular dots of color when you dab it on the paper, and for painting grasses when you stroke it upwards. It was a good choice for indicating the pale, wispy new foliage on the trees.
While the leaves were drying, I inked the flower names and the cute little decorative element that connects the words.
I thought the road could use a bit of texture, and spattering would be an easy way to add it. I tore a piece of scrap paper to create a mask and laid it over the page to protect the areas where I didn’t want paint spatters.
I used shades of brown, pink, and lavender, spattering with both a brush and a spatter screen.
Finally, it was time to paint the painters! I switched to a size 2 round brush for the detail work.
Not bad for being less than 1/2″ high…
It was finally time to start wrapping things up. I had originally planned to have some sort of a drawn border design around the central sketch, but at this point, I decided the sketch would benefit more from a little extra breathing room. I erased the pencil line that I’d drawn earlier and suddenly the page opened up. A frame of white space was what this painting needed after all. (That’s why it’s a good idea to use a pencil when laying out the page, rather than boldly inking everything from the beginning. A page design morphs and changes as it develops, and it’s nice to keep your options open.)
I added the title and date to the page with my Pigma Micron 005 pen. (I like the control I have when I use a fineliner for lettering – no worries about ink blobs!) I just stylized my everyday cursive handwriting and then thickened the downstrokes on each letter to create a calligraphic look. The flower names were treated the same way.
What else would you do next to finish off this sketch? Or does it already look finished to you?
Well, I was feeling that the lettering in the outside border was drawing attention away from the watercolor sketches. I needed to tone it down a bit. I thought maybe applying a wash over it would help to push it into the background.
I mixed up a big puddle of Ultramarine Blue + Cobalt Blue and brushed on a juicy wash with a squirrel mop brush. I loved the result…
One last decision still had to be made, and it would have an impact on the overall look and feel of the page. I needed to choose a color for the narrow border around the circles and the large rectangle. To test some colors, I pulled out my Dura-lar Wet Media Film and started painting.
Laying a sheet of Dura-lar film over a page gives you the option to test various colors before committing to painting them on a sketch. Here, I used painter’s tape to hold it in place, then painted directly on the Dura-lar. First, I tried pale yellow…
Then green, which was too awful to even bother taking a picture of.
The pink picked up the color in the flowers, but, as much as I love pink, I thought it was too sweet-looking and didn’t really complement the rest of the page.
The winner was yellow! It makes the page feel as warm and sunny as a spring day. And it brings out the yellow-green in the trees and grasses.
The final step with each of my paintings is always to take a good look at it and make any needed adjustments. With this page, I…
- Added a few more leaves in the tree canopy
- Added a bit of detailing to the wildflowers in the circles
- Lightened and softened edges on some of the patches of flowers
- Added darker values to some of the flowers
- Lightened some of the deepest darks at the base of the distant hill
And then I took a step back, looked it over, and smiled. It was finished.
It’s not perfect, but I love it. It feels happy and brings back memories of a special day with beautiful flowers and even more beautiful friends.