How I Use Pencils in Watercolour Portraits

Continuing my “how I use the stuff I haveposts, I thought that I’d show how I use pencils when I’m working on a series of portraits of the same person.

Since I work in watercolour which is notoriously not great for correcting and changing your mind mid painting, when there’s a face that I know that I’ll want to explore I usually create a “construction” sketch which I transfer to paper several times. I can then paint the portrait in different tones, or focus on a certain aspect that interests me, or take it to really wild places without spending too much time on the technicalities of the preliminary sketch.

I start the “construction” sketch on newsprint paper. It’s much more detailed and “searching” than it needs to be, but that doesn’t matter much. Ultimately only the lines that will help me construct the face and note where the major light and dark transitions are will remain. I draw this with a Faber Castell 9000 2B or 3B pencil that’s sharpened with a pocket knife to allow me to use it without having to pause for sharpening. Newsprint paper is pretty transparent and also generally too fragile for regular erasers, so I use a kneaded eraser to lift off unnecessary lines, or simply ignore them.

Once I’m done with that, I flip the page to the other side and scribble on it with a Faber Castell 9000 6B or Palomino Blackwing MMX. These are again sharpened with a pocket knife, and the point is to get as much coverage as possible. If I’m doing a lot of transfers then I might have to repeat this process, adding more graphite to the back of the sketch.

I then transfer the most important lines in my sketch on to a piece of watercolour paper. This is done by placing the newsprint paper with the sketch over the watercolour paper and going over the lines in the sketch with a 2H pencil (I use a Faber Castell 9000 2H, but this isn’t that important). The pencil needs to be a hard pencil for the lines to transfer to the paper below, but it can’t be too hard or too sharp or it will rip the newsprint paper. It’s also important to put just enough pressure when you’re tracing so the graphite on the underside of the sketch transfers to the paper, but not too much to bruise the watercolour paper. Using a 300 gsm watercolour paper helps protect it, but it’s mostly a matter of practice. When you’re done you get something like this:

The lines are pretty faint, which is great when working with watercolour, because they don’t distract too much from the figure once you start working.

I created about five watercolour portraits of Dame Judi Dench from this sketch so far, and there’s a good chance that I’ll go explore her some more in the future.

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How I Use Pencils in Watercolour Portraits

Moleskine Basquiat Limited Edition Notebook Review

It is rare that I start using a notebook the moment I unwrap it, but the Basquiat Moleskine limited edition had that effect on me even though I originally didn’t plan to buy it.

The colour of the cover is what drew me to this notebook. It’s a purplish blue that contrasts beautifully with the orange elastic closure. I didn’t even pause to take a picture of notebook when it was still wrapped. That periwinkle cover makes Basquiat’s handwriting and art just pop. You can see the character in each line and it really does inspire you to grab a pen and write and draw and doodle.

The back cover (a little smudged from my enthusiastic use, but nothing that a wet-wipe can’t remove) is understated, with just the Basquiat signature. I think that I’d prefer the Moleskine logo to just be debossed in, like they did in several other recent editions, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me that it’s boldly there.

The front endpage echoes the front cover, with the addition of a pretty fitting Basquiat quote. I had already filled in the “In case of loss” details, so I hid them.

Look at that back endpaper. Is it not well designed? I like that they let the piece “breath”.

Unlike most Moleskine limited editions that come in lined paper, this notebook comes with blank pages. I like the choice, as it frees you to do whatever you want with the notebook: drawings and words will feel equally welcome here. Also, there’s an orange ribbon bookmark. What’s not to love about that?

The stickers are a bit of a disappointment in my opinion in terms of colour choice. I would have liked it better if they kept to the orange and periwinkle colour theme. As it is, they clash a bit with the rest of the notebook.

The B-Side of the paper band gives a little background on Basquiat, who he was and how he worked. It’s a nice little add on.

There are times when a notebook just makes you want to start using it, start writing and scribbling in it, start creating. The Basquiat Moleskine did that for me, and it is a fantastic addition to the Moleskine limited edition lineup for the year, and definitely a notebook that I recommend that you try.

 

Moleskine Basquiat Limited Edition Notebook Review

This week’s long run: baby geese

I went for a long run yesterday, the first after a week an a half of hiatus due to muscle inflammation. It was good to be back, even if only for 8k, and even if this run was slower than my usual pace.

Caught the sun rising just over the river at ebb. The clouds made it particularly beautiful.

A little bittern and a night heron were fishing next to two fishermen as the sun rose:

I encountered a family of Egyptian geese both on my out and on my way back. The baby geese run out front and their parents follow, keeping an eye on them at a more sedentary pace:

The female is the lighter coloured goose, and the male is all decked out:

A little bittern was out hunting during the ebb tide:

Look at that sunrise. Is it not worth getting up early and going out for a run for that?

This week’s long run: baby geese

How I Use My Notebooks: Running Planner

The thing that you learn very quickly about running is that no matter which Couch to 5k plan you started with, if you want to have any hope of persisting with your running you are going to have to tailor make your own running plan.

I make a fresh plan every three months or so, and I always create it in my current Moleskine journal. In the spirit of showcasing notebooks in use, that are not created for Instagram, this is my latest running plan:

Things are penciled in with an H pencil, and I ink them in with gel ink pens as they happen. Green highlighted blocks show me where things went according to plan, and other blocks represent where things had to change due to injuries or circumstances.

I’ve been running for 8 years now, and I have around 6 years of running plans in all my previous notebooks, each one looking pretty much the same: messy and functional.

How I Use My Notebooks: Running Planner

How I use my notebooks: Tournament of Books tracking

Most stationery blog posts focus on reviewing products and less on how people actually use all the paper, pens and inks that they buy. I thought I’d try to write a bit more about how I use my stuff, and not just on how cool is all the stuff I have.

This is my latest Field Notes, the Campfire Night. I use a binder clip to keep it closed as it bashes around in my backpack. Without the clip the pages get crumpled and torn after a few days of use. The clip used to be nice and copper coloured but now is just nice and worn silver.

Apart from my day to day to do lists, this notebook currently hosts my Tournament of Books trackers. There’s a list of books that are participating in the contest, divided per round. Those that I’ve read are marked off with blue pencil. This is for my personal use, so you’ll not see any Instagram level calligraphy here. I wasn’t planning to photograph this and blog about it when I created these.

This is where I’m logging who I think should win each round. When the tournament starts I’m going to log who actually won each round on the opposite page.

Since doing this challenge means reading 18 books in a very short period, I’m tracking my reading progress in this notebook as well as in my reading journal, just to make sure that I’m on track (I won’t finish reading these in time, as I’ve started too late, but my goal is to finish reading them all by mid April).

That’s it.

How I use my notebooks: Tournament of Books tracking

A few journaling tips

Notebooks are meant to be used, and I use many of mine for journaling. Here are a few journaling tips that I’ve found useful over the years:

  • Don’t constrain yourself to pre-dated or restrictive formats, just pick a not too fancy lined or blank notebook (or dot grid or squared). The notebook just needs to be nice enough and special enough for you to want to crack it open and write in it, but not too nice to be intimidating.
  • Start with a title and a date. The title is a neat way to get yourself writing, and to help you search through previous entries later on.
  • Even lined notebooks can be doodled in.

  • Stick bits and pieces of things into your notebook to make it come to life. Business cards are great for this (restaurants usually make their cards extra interesting and colourful), as are ticket stubs, clothing tags, labels, etc. Write a little something about what you put in, or just let the graphics speak for themselves.
  • If you just feel like writing a line or a paragraph, then do it and don’t beat yourself up about it.
  • If you’re having an extra busy day that you want to remember but don’t have time to fully log, bullet points are your friend. You can always go back and flesh them out later if you feel like it.
  • Write 2-3 things as topics for each day to avoid describing your breakfast and what you did at work. Just document a few things that made the day memorable, special, interesting, fun, unique, or even just a thing or two that are on your mind right now and you want to hash out.
  • Did you see a TV show or movie you liked? Read a good book or went to a good restaurant? Write about it as a way to relive and capture your good experience.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. Put cringeworthy things elsewhere, or you won’t want to open that notebook again. I work through pain and loss in my journaling sometimes, but never anger. Obviously your milage may vary on this one, just be careful not to make yourself be afraid to open a pandora box that you created with your own writing.
A few journaling tips

My 2018 Journals

I managed to journal almost every day in 2018, a tremendous personal achievement considering the chaos that was the latter part of the year for me. I use Moleksine large lined limited edition notebooks for my journals and Ti Arto/Ti Arto EDC/Ti Pocket Pro with Uni-ball Signo 0.5mm refills (UMR-85).

The four notebooks I filled in 2018. I filled five notebooks in 2017.

Why do I use Moleskines when I have better quality notebooks (Rhodia, Tomoe River Paper notebooks, Leuchtterm, Baron Fig)? Because they’re notebooks that I want to use. I love their limited edition notebook designs. I used to use Baron Fig notebooks for my journals but I like the Moleskine format better and since I switched to journaling with gel ink pens instead of fountain pens, Rhodia and Tomoe River Paper notebooks are pointless. Moleskine notebooks were easier to obtain than Leuchtterm notebooks, and Baron Figs were slightly bigger, bulkier and with thicker paper, that I no longer needed.

The point is, garbage paper or not, Moleskine’s make me happy every time I open them, so that’s why I use them.

 

First two notebooks of 2018. I was journaling a lot more then, so each one contains two months of notes, bits and pieces that I glue in, plans and doodles.

Why don’t I use my fountain pens for journaling? I used to, during the first two months of journaling, and then I switched them out for my beloved UMR-85 and BIGiDESIGN Ti pens. I love my fountain pens, but they are not the best EDC pens, to say the least. A lot of them are expensive, most of them are vintage, and so unlike the Ti pens which I just toss into my bag or carry in my pocket, I baby them. I don’t want them to get damaged, I worry about them leaking after I carry them around in my bag (my consistently ink stained fingers attest to how often that has happened). I can’t use ballpoints (I hate them and they cause me severe RSI flareups), rollerballs like the Retro51 are almost as bad as fountain pens when it comes to leaking and being finicky about paper, so gel pens it is. The Uni-ball UMR-85 is an excellent gel refill, and the Ti pens are fantastic and can take everything you can throw at them, so I that’s what I use.

Last two notebooks of 2018. I managed to lose the Star Wars one on a plane, but I got it back, so I finished the year in it. 

I’ll make a post about my new journal for 2019 and how I start a new journal probably later this week. My posting schedule is a bit erratic lately, but I’m dealing with serious family health problems these past few months and so this blog has suffered somewhat, I’m afraid.

P.S. Say what you will about Moleskines, these notebooks can take a beating, I’ve carried and used these daily for eight months (four months each), and they are bulging and a tiny bit battered at the very edges, but otherwise like brand new.

My 2018 Journals