Tag Archives: sketches

Keeping an art journal

Last year I talked about taking a sketchbook with you wherever you go.  (September 2019) But today I’d like to elaborate on that a little. 

A day at the lake. Loved the fall colors which were more brilliant than I could capture. Many of the boats are readied for winter but there was still a fair amount of traffic on the lake for a beautiful fall day. This is the elongate sketchbook, about 5 x 7, opened to 5 x 14, perfect for landscapes.

This week the temperatures were up in the 80s here in southern Indiana.  My husband and I decided to take the day off (heh heh) and go to the lake.  We took breakfast sandwiches.  He fished while I painted.  Later, as we were waiting for the paint to dry, I showed him some of my other sketches over the years.

This particular book is an elongated one, perfect for landscapes.  I’ve captured scenes from vacations and travels in many places over the years.  He asked if I would ever consider selling the book. After a little thought, I replied, no. It has too many memories. 

One word of advice.  Date your sketch and make a note of where it was done.  Our memories get fuzzy over time and this really helps.

Gare de Lyon. One often has plenty of time to wait in airports and train stations, but this was one of the more beautiful ones that I have been in. What you can’t see are the jillions of people milling about, on their way here and there.

The primary difference between a sketchbook and an art journal (in my mind) is that the journal may have much more extensive writing, like a diary, along with sketches, and even things that have been glued inside.  One of mine has the label for a special chocolate shop in Paris.  I will visit that if I ever go there again.  And I sure would not have remembered exactly where it was.  Tickets, photos, postcards…even pressed flowers have all ended up in my art journals.

This is a view of Avignon taken from the hill where the Palais des Papes is. I later used this in a large watercolor painting.

You may wish to keep a running commentary in your various journals.  But one thing that I’ve found really enjoyable is to create a dedicated book for a special trip or event. 

A museum visit in Paris. I wanted to remember the general layout of these paintings and they didn’t allow photographs. So, I made sketches. AND…recorded the artists’ names.

One of my favorites is a bicycle tour I took through Provence a number of years ago.  The journal wasn’t very large, only about 5 x 7, but was easy to slip into a purse or my bike pack.  And it really turned out to be more of a diary with sketches than a sketchbook.  But it has been so fun to pull it out every once in awhile just to read about my trip and think about where I was when I made the sketches. 

I loved this small marble bust of a boy with a wreath in his hair. Sketched at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. You have to get used to people leaning over your shoulder when sketching in a crowd, but really, most people are very polite and may not even notice you at all.

I know we are all feeling the angst of staying at home these days, but do you have any ideas for an art journal?  Maybe a gardening one or something dedicated to the holidays?  What do you see out of your window?  Activities at the park?  Let your imagination roam. 

Picasso exhibit at the Guggenheim. It was truly a memorable exhibit, but again, no photographs. I completed several sketches under the watchful eyes of the security guards.

There are a number of books about art journaling which might give you a few ideas. Here is one of my favorites by Danny Gregory. He has actually written several books on the subject. Check them out here.

An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration from the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators, and Designers.

The importance of preliminary work

Green and Yellow, 20 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. Intimate Spaces series

I recently posted a step-by-step outline of my painting A Day at the Beach (4-10-2019). A critical part of creating a significant panting is the preliminary work. I sincerely believe that the more thought I put into the piece at the beginning, the more I can work out the problems ahead of time, and the better the final result will be.  Well, that’s my theory anyway.

Green and Yellow, detail.

This is another painting in my series Intimate Spaces, all about the territory that people carve out when they visit the beach.  In this painting, I was sitting behind a couple who staked out their space early in the day with two chairs and an umbrella.  They didn’t show up until mid-afternoon.

NOTAN sketches for Green and Yellow. This is where I work out basic shapes and composition. As you can see, initially I intended this to be a rectangle shape but then changed it to a square shape.

I liked the near silhouette of the couple with the contrast of the kids playing in the surf in front of them. Maybe they were grandma and grandpa.  I don’t know and never did figure it out.

Large graphite sketch of the main characters for Green and Yellow.

As with most of my paintings, I begin with a NOTAN sketch, just hard contrast of black and white to get a feel for the composition.  Then I did a large graphite sketch of the couple.  I didn’t feel a need to sketch the kids as they’re just notes really.  They were painted directly.

NOTAN sketches of past couple of paintings. Working in black and white allows me to focus on the shapes and composition.

Here are a few more examples of NOTAN sketches.  You’ll notice the one from my last post of A Day at the Beach and how I was focusing on the interlocking umbrella shapes.

More NOTAN sketches from Jump.

And the two pages of NOTAN of Jump which I created in February.  With some of the bigger pieces, I’ll also do a color sketch but not always.

The final conclusion is that no matter what style of art you create, you will often have better results if you put in more thought and work into the beginning of your work than having to correct problems later.  Indeed, sometimes you may discover that the scene or piece doesn’t merit following through.  Or you may decide to attack it from a different direction.

Preliminary work

Beach girl, color sketch. 16 x 12, acrylic. Kit Miracle

I often have mixed feelings about the importance of creating preliminary sketches and paintings.  Sometimes I just want to grab the brush and dive right into a painting.  This is especially true of my plein air painting although, usually I at least do a few value sketches before I put any paint to the canvas.  Usually.

Beach girl, pencil sketch. 18 x 24, Kit Miracle

On the other hand, I know from experience that when I want to create a large piece, results will normally be better with more planning.  Preliminary sketches and paintings basically create a road map for a painting or work of art.  If you think about it, you wouldn’t build a house without a plan.  Probably wouldn’t take a vacation without a map.  So it makes sense to do some support work before you begin a major piece of work.

Notan sketches for beach painting.

I’ve been working on a large beach scene lately.  First I started with some sketches for the layout or composition.  Then I did a few Notan sketches in black and white.  Sometimes I’ll add a middle grey value but usually not.  Next I did a large pencil sketch of the main figure.  This helps me to address any problems and get to know the scene.  Finally, I did a fairly quick color sketch (acrylic) of the little girl.  This was, in fact, much larger than the final figure in the painting which is not necessarily how most people would work.

I’ll post the final painting and more sketches next Sunday.  I really like this preliminary color sketch but I’ll let you be the judge.

As an aside, most famous artists of the past spent quite a bit of time and effort to create their masterpieces, including numerous sketches.  This is still quite common for artists who practice classical education in ateliers.

To learn more, check out the work of John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla y Batista, Anders Zorn, Cesar Santos, Norman Rockwell, or Juliette Aristides.