Tag Archives: sketch

Letting my mind, and eyes, wander while looking at random textures or patterns is something I really enjoy doing. Growing up, my bedroom had both textured walls and ceiling so I had all sorts of creatures and scenes to look at.

James Gurney did a great post on this in 2008 titled Pareidolia and Apophenia: http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2008/06/pareidolia-and-apophenia.html

According to Dictionary.com:
1. the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features"

I enjoy finding things in old concrete, wood panels, anything with some sort of texture, or strange shaped vegetables long lost in the potato drawer.

I've tried making random scribbles and then making something from them but for some reason I find that particularly challenging and it seems to work better for me if someone else makes the scribble. Just closing my eyes while scribbling helps a some but not much if I'm holding the pencil in a regular writing or drawing grip.

I've been experimenting with ways to lessen my control of the scribble and mentally detach from it more. Holding the pencil loosely by the end, then closing my eyes and scribbling with a fully extended arm helps some. So does using my non-dominant hand with closing my eyes. Lately I've been experimenting with another way. I drop or drag thin threads on a piece of plexiglass spritzed with water. The water catches the string at random points so helps create a less controlled scribble.

Here's the latest one. What do you see?

thin thread or string dragged over a wet piece of plexiglass

pencil doodle drawn from random string

I went out with a local sketch group this last weekend and took the kit I mentioned in my last post with me.

Plein Air Watermedia Setup

Not bad. I ended up putting the little kit in my backpack stool. I decided to take the backpack so I could bring a water bottle, some sun screen, and a jug to carry my dirty water, plus a 12" ruler to measure off my working area. Sorry but the dirty water jug is in the backpack. It's an accordion storage bottle I bought ages ago from a photography supply shop. I take the dirty water home with me.

The pack is still pretty simple. Very nearly something I can just grab and go sketch. I'll need to use it a bit more to decide if there's anything I'd like to change.

gouachestudy_mitzukHere's my little painting: 5"x7", gouache on Jack Richeson Finest Studio Watercolor Paper. Roz Stendahl has a thorough review of the paper on her blog. It's a recycled paper made of 100% post-consumer waste, Cold Press and acid free.

Next I have my eye on a very small tin of mints that has been lying around our house. It's about the 1.5"x2"x.375". I figure I could put a dollop of a brown or sepia gouache in it. Paired with my Niji Waterbrush in my little sketch kit I'd be off and sketching.

Anybody else have a favorite combination of tools?

I like sketching. In my explorations to keep it fun and simple, there are a few technical issues I'm trying to resolve. Part of the "issues" have to do with personal preference for comfort, ease of use, and immediacy of art making. Plus exploring different options and combinations of tools is fun for me.

  • I want to be able to grab my sketch kit and just go. All the stuff in one place, ready to go. Not a lot of prep time to get out the door and sketch.
  • I want to have the option of making mini paintings or just playing around. If I like how they turn out I can sell them. If I don't like how they turn out I can just flip over the paper and take another crack at it. Personal preference: I don't like the idea of cutting a sheet out of a sketchbook.
  • Pages not laying flat in a bound journal. I could solve that by using a spiral bound journal, but for me the spiral interrupts the page too much.
  • Not having a sketchbook/journal that can handle gouache. There are some nice ones out there now, but I'm not quite willing to shell out $15-$20 just yet.

Several things came together for my current sketch kit to solve some of these "issues". I rediscovered this blue pack I had laying around. It's from the North Light Book Club (got it years ago). The paper pack a friend gave me fits perfectly in it (thanks Roz!). I just needed a surface to put the paper on. I did some brainstorming and kept my eyes open when I was out and about in case I came across something that might be a solution.

Here's where a trip to a local second hand shop came in handy. I was so excited! I found a coated, cardboard clipboard for just $0.79. The clip part is a flat design so it fits in the pack. Since it's cardboard I was easily able to trim it down with my utility knife to a size that would accommodate the paper and fit in the pack. Excellent.

My Sketch Pack as of June 2015

  1. Whiskey Painters Standard Palette filled with M. Graham and Schmincke gouache (bought the palette from Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN). Colors left to right, top to bottom: Quinacridone Violet; Naphthol Red; Gamboge; Hansa Yellow;  Sap Green; Cerulean Blue; Ultramarine Blue; Dark Blue Indigo PB60 (Schmincke); Burnt Sienna (Schmincke); Quinacridone Rose; empty space; Titanium White.
  2. Viva paper towels or something equally sturdy and absorbent
  3. Plastic water cup with screw on lid
  4. 2 oz. tube of M. Graham Titanium White Gouache
  5. Niji Waterbrush (flat and medium round)
  6. Pencil and sharpener
  7. Flat synthetic brushes (1/4", 1/2", 1")
  8. Round Utrecht Traveler Brushes (size 1, 5, 8). The brushes are in 2 parts. To store them, the brushes and handles separate and then you tuck the bristle end inside the handle.
  9. Pack of paper just a bit larger than 5"x7". I've been liking the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper. I'm also trying out the Richeson Recycled paper with gouache.
  10. Cardboard clipboard trimmed down

So far I like the set-up. I'll give it another try this weekend at the MetroSketchers meetup at Coldwater Spring.

Out and about at the local zoo. Penguins, giraffes, and kudo. The wolves were even out.

Here's a page from my sketchbook. I drew with some old colored pencils in a Paperblanks brand notebook (Very thin but smooth paper. I like how the pencils feel on it but not the slight transparent nature of the paper).

Now I'm looking for ways to incorporate this critter into a dragon. Part stately creature, part comedian. It sat very still and regal looking and then waggled its tongue at us out the side of its mouth.

kudu sketch by christine mitzuk
Kudu Sketch

pencil sketch on vellum
Larger sketch. Pencil on vellum.

Sea Daydream: Process Part 2
What's wrong with this picture?

As I wrote in part 1, I was repurposing a rejected sketch and aiming for a dream-like quality. The larger sketch just wasn't "it". Something wasn't sitting right for me. At this point I was stubborn and decided I was going to solve this my self so didn't bother bouncing ideas off people. (I'm glad I stuck it out. I needed the visual problem solving practice)

mitzuk_seadaydream_thumbs3I decided the problem was the symmetrical arm placement so started playing with arm and hand poses and positioning of the figure within the frame.

I thought I had a solution so I started another large sketch (pencil on vellum again).


pencil sketch on vellum by christine mitzuk
Larger sketch. Pencil on vellum.

I liked the new hand placement and the morphing into waves/sky. The fish got more attention. I made sure to overlap the fish with other elements and tried to make an interesting arabesque of their contour. At this point, the idea of scales on her face started to creep in. I had also fallen in LOVE with the goldfish.

But something still seemed off.

I decided there was too much separation between the elements. No real flow throughout the piece. There was a little flow up through her arm/hands/tilt of head, but everything else fought that flow. There were also 3 layers: jellies; goldfish/head & hair and none of them were really interacting with the others. I thought, "I need something to connect those layers. A visual bridge of some kind."

pencil sketch on vellum by christine mitzuk
Larger sketch. Pencil on vellum.

Lion Fish! Of course. Larger bodies and fins that extend up, down, and out. Perfect. Okay. Now I felt like I was on a roll. I still needed to figure out what the hair/sea/sky was doing and get some reference for a face. But I thought I had it. (Poor goldfish.)

I showed this version to some of my trustworthy critique people. They suggested maybe giving her something to hold (shell, starfish, or sand dollar). So I tried a few of those out. Instead of redrawing I made drawings on tracing paper of just hands holding things. No destruction of the sketch plus I could tilt and turn the tracing paper to try out placement of the hand & object. Also, as I did more research I learned that sand dollars are thought of as coins lost by mermaids. Interesting. I liked that idea so now she's holding a sand dollar.


pencil sketch on vellum by christine mitzuk
Larger sketch. Pencil on vellum.

Great! I've got it! I was feeling pretty good. I could finally move on with the piece. But there was so much stuff in the picture. So I let it rest for a bit to get a fresh look.

When I came back, yup too much stuff. Still no flow. The main focus of interest was lost. The fish were competing with the head. The "story" was muddied (there was no clear idea). My eyes felt like they were in a pinball machine bouncing from shape to shape.

pencil sketch on vellum by christine mitzuk
Fifth and final larger sketch. Pencil on vellum.





So I stripped it down. No jellies. No big fish. Just the figure holding a sand dollar, the dream-like quality, and the sea. I went back to my notes to see what else I could use to set the scene (kelp, little fish). I started making abstract shapes with the lasso tool in Photoshop. I tried to keep flow in mind, and the hierarchy of information: figure 1, sea things 2, hair/waves/sky 3, supporting details (small fish, gulls, wave crest).

That's how we got here and what would soon be a painting.

Next week: preparatory studies and paint.

This year's summer illustration workshop is coming to a close. Only one day left and there will be donuts. Thanks Julie!

Here are a few shots of some of the projects where they stand today. I'm really enjoying seeing what folks are coming up with. Fun!

What happens when you cross Joan Crawford with a Borg? Julie is finding out. Here she's experimenting with a color study.
Lisa Marie, a.k.a. LMNOP, is illustrating her alias. Here she's adjusting the P (platypus wearing a pinafore, on a pogo stick). At the left edge of the image you can see a corner of one of her favorite sketching tools, her Samsung Note 2.


I wanted practice drawing people. What better way than to combine learning with fan art of Doctor Who?

drawing in pencil and gouache or doctor who wearing a fez and bow tie
Doctor Who with bow tie AND fez. Done with pencil and gouache.

In the past when I've kept a sketch book the pencil would rub off on the adjacent page. This has always frustrated me. Capturing a likeness can be frustrating, why compound frustration with materials issues? I wanted this to be FUN.

I used my little watercolor Moleskine notebook because I liked the thickness of the paper and I could do washes if I wanted. Next I needed something to reduce or stop the smear. My first thought was tracing paper because it's cheap, but it has some tooth so I thought it might pick up some of the graphite. Plus it isn't acid free or pH neutral or "archival". Glassine was my answer. It's smooth and pH netural so it won't contribute much to the deterioration of my notebook paper (the Moleskine paper is acid free, according to their Website).

To keep the little sheets of glassine from slipping out of the notebook I decided to glue them in. I have some pH nuetral glue (used in book binding) lying around so I used that to glue the edge of the glassine into the gutter of my book. I did this between every drawing. Pretty easy.

Moleskine with glassine between pages
I glued the edge of a piece of glassine (cut slightly smaller than the Moleskine) in the gutter of the pages.

Yeah it's kind of an involved solution compared to just spraying the drawings with something, but it solves several things for me.

1. Reduction of pages rubbing together.
The book style binding is tighter than a ring bound book so there's less shifting and rubbing of pages.

2. Keep adjacent drawings from rubbing off on each other. The glassine picks up a little of the graphite but nowhere near the amount of regular paper. What graphite does get picked up doesn't seem to smear the drawing.

3.  It's not a stinky solution. Yes I could have used spray fix, or hair spray (not "archival"), but I hate the smell of both.

4. It makes for a less frustrated Christine who can enjoy drawing more!

doctor who character sketch in watercolor moleskine
This is where I left off. I'm waiting for the new season with bated breath!

P.S. Doctor Who is © BBC