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Drawing Tools

Here are some basic tools to get you started sketching. Brand quality isn’t super important in your sketching pencils. I use a variety with my students, Prang, General’s, Blick – whatever is convenient and on sale when I need to replenish my studio supply. What you do want is a few different lead types. For the most part, you can get all you need done with just an HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B. (We’ll talk more about those below.) Sets will usually come with a nice range, so you don’t really have to put too much thought into which ones to get to start out. You may want to later experiment with more variety like F and H. But I’m getting ahead of myself again, we’ll get to pencil lead at the end.

Don’t skip on the drawing board purchase! I know you might have a nice, smooth table to draw on but you still need a drawing board. Why? Because of perspective. When you draw flat on a table you are looking at your paper at a fairly sharp angle, then you hold up your picture (or put it on the wall) and the viewpoint is suddenly shifted. You can end up with a lot of distortion which is not a problem with your skill but with your position.

Below is an 18″ x 24″ drawing board with attached clips (it also has a handle cutout). You can also build your own with a piece of masonite from a home improvement store and a couple of bulldog clips. (You can see a 3″ bulldog clip in the image below.)

You’ll want a nice, smooth eraser too. Test it out to make sure it doesn’t leave behind any smudges or tear the paper.

I also like to use a big mop brush for flicking off the eraser crumbs. This is the best way to clean off your paper without risking any damage to a delicate drawing. If you brush off the eraser remains with your hand you may smudge your drawing and if you blow it off, well, it might get wet.

Now more about the pencils. Pencils are made with a mixture of graphite and clay. The ratio determines how hard or soft the lead is. A 6B pencil is softer and will have more graphite and less clay, a 6H pencil is harder and will have less graphite and more clay. A soft pencil will get you a thicker, darker line while a hard pencil will be thinner and sharper. Pencils on the B side will also be more shiny than the Hs.

So how do you use these pencils? The quick study below shows how you might use a few of these pencils. First, I sketched out a basic cone and cube shape using the 2B pencil. 2B is easy to erase and light. Works well for laying down some shapes. (I would also use this pencil to start a watercolor painting.)

I switched to the 3B to start building up some mid-toned shadows. I used the 5B and 6B to layer some darker areas. Then I used an HB to draw some light, thin outlines and again the 5B and 6B to build darker shadow tones.

In a refined drawing I would keep going with blending, smoothing, adding layers to darken the darkest areas, and finish the cast shadows.

These tools will help you get started in your drawing practice. Don’t worry about what brands you are using as you are just starting out, just draw, draw, draw!

Great colors from a cheap watercolor set!

Yes, you can use a cheap watercolor set and still make beautiful paintings! In this post I will show you just a couple of neutral colors you can mix that would work great in a nature painting.

I am using a set my kids have used just to show how you can use what you’ve got – even if you have to borrow from a preschooler. I did have to clean out the colors a bit since the yellow was that special shade of “toddler has been here.”

Here is a little sample of the colors straight out of the pans. Green is pretty much gone. We can mix some greens from this same set in the next post.

For this post, I’m going to use only the orange, yellow, blue, and purple. Look at those nice, subtle colors. Just perfect for your nature journal!

Starting a New Painting

This is how the visible start looks (after my perfectly executed mental painting, of course). I’ve got my book pages down and I’ve drawn my dragonfly. I am trying out a new idea with the pages arranged haphazard – like a gust of wind blowing them away.

I usually have my whole composition decided before I start on the final piece. This time, I kept making decisions and changes as I drew! I didn’t want to damage the watercolor paper with multiple drawings and erasing, so I used tracing paper to sketch and then transferred the final lines onto the watercolor paper. For this painting, I placed the dragonfly first, then made the eucalyptus branches work around it.


Laying down some background color…

Painting, painting, painting…

Some definition and texture using Prismacolor and Derwent
colored pencils.
On the easel but ready for framing!

Watercolor Books

I don’t know about you, but I love old books. When the vintage typography, and beautiful language combine with engaging and informative writing my brain lights up. And if that subject is art? I just can’t resist. Just such a winning combo is found in these three books by Eliot O’Hara from early 1900’s: Watercolor Fares Forth, Making Watercolor Behave, Making the Brush Behave.

“Quote from Book”

Eliot O’Hara

More stuff to write here….

Mixing Your Own Gray in Watercolor

Here is what I use to make one of my favorite grays – and some other lovely neutral colors: Ultramarine (Green Shade), Jaune Brilliant No. 2, and Light Red. I am using Da Vinci and Holbein watercolor paints here, but you can use a different brand or a student grade paint or even a similar color combination from a Crayola watercolor set!

I like to have a little porcelain palette for mixing special color combinations like this. It keeps my main palette more organized and clean.

I’ve squeezed a tiny bit of each color into their own wells in my mini palette. Add water and transfer just a bit of the Ultramarine (blue) and Juane Brilliant (peachy-cream) into a new well. Playing with the pigment ratios I can create a whole new array of gray tones! (You can see just five variations to the left of the paper pictured below). If I want a darker, warmer option, I can do the same process with the Light Red (seen with the angular swatches to the right in the photo below).

This is a really fun exercise to try and see how many different colors you can make from just these two or three base paints. Once you become familiar with the types of neutral colors you can create, you can go back to that color for a painting. Just mix up a big batch in a fresh well!