Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Creating Backgrounds on your Sketchbook Pages

Winter Blues

This is a recent sketch (Feb. 26, 2014) that shows what happens when the winter drags on and I'm starved for green and sketching time outdoors. I start to do all kinds of crazy things in my sketchbook.

Sketching nature is my favorite subject, but as the winter drags on and the snow is deep and the temperatures barely pushing above twenty  I'm forced to sketch the same views from my windows or find something else to sketch.

That's actually a pretty good thing because when I look back at my sketchbooks from years past I find that my February sketchbooks are often the most interesting and creative. Happily, adversity begets creativity.

So here's whats happening in this sketch. I'm working in a 7x10 Stillman & Birn spiral bound Delta series sketchbook.  It has lovely heavy weight 180 lb paper, ivory in tint and similar to cold pressed watercolor paper in texture.

 When I'm feeling cooped up or just plain un-creative and need to add some pizazz to get me going I will create backgrounds on my sketchbook pages to work on top of.

How to Create a Background for your Sketchbook Pages

I've tried a bunch of different things and like using Golden High Flow acrylics best. This is the High Flow not the Fluid acrylic. The high flow is ink like, very thin. Even so I tend to thin it down more so that the paint is very transparent and the grain of the paper shows through. Here, because it's still the dead of winter and I'm desperately in need of some sparkle I've thinned the high flow with Utrecht's  Illuminating Medium 
which along with thinning down the paint add just a subtle bit of shimmer to the paint. I squirt the paint and medium out on a plastic palette and use a brayer (like you'd use for printmaking) to roll the paint onto the page. That's a fun way to do things because you can move the paint directionally, and have areas that over lap and create layers and textures. Don't stress about this part, if there are darker blotches created when the brayer first hits the paper or if the paint runs out and the application get raggedy that's all good stuff, it's what will make the page interesting and visually rich.

Working  over the Background

If you intend to use watercolor or gouache over the background be sure to keep the layer of high flow thin or you'll have a problem getting the watercolors to adhere, they may just bead up on the acrylic. If that happens then I'd suggest that you switch to Faber-Castel brush tip pens, they're pigment india ink, transparent and look a lot like watercolors. I used both in this sketch.


Stencils are fun and make me happy. Sometimes I make my own but the one I used here (which is supposed to depict cracked glass but I think looks like a spider's web) I bought.

White over Dark in your Sketchbook

Using white over a dark area always brings a "pop" to a sketchbook page and I try to incorporate that as much as possible. White markers can be hard to come by and some work better than others. The whites in the sketch were created Using Daniel Smith titanium white watercolor and Uni-Ball Signo White pen.

Sketching Inspiration

Nature is glorious and inspires me. Snow is wonderful, the first couple of times in the winter, but frozen snow and freezing temps lose their appeal after a couple of months. The great thing about keeping a sketchbook journal is that it helps you find inspiration in every day things. The play of thin wintery light through the empty wine bottles and the little plant silhouetted on the studio window sill, plus  the incorporation of the endless snow outside and the cobwebs which perfectly captured the cobwebs in my mind at the end of this long, long winter helped me create a page that captures the essence of this moment in time and that makes me happy!

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