Sketchbook Watercolour Tulips in 3 steps

Sometimes a quick sketch gets us started in the day. In this case, dying tulips caught my interest – for some reason more than newly opening ones. There seems more depth of colour, more character, more expression in those petals that are almost falling. So, I grabbed my sketchbook.

Tulips Photo

My sketchbook is a Moleskin watercolour book (that is, it has a nice texture from cold pressed paper and I think the paper is about 60 lb weight (though not sure). The book (closed) is about 8″ x 5″ in size.

Step 1: Using a 2H pencil I decided on layout. I did this first by putting in oval shapes to represent the flower heads. I am working from the life plant in front of me so the sketch will retain some “life” to it (even if the flowers are dying, haha). Note that none of the stems are completely vertical – the angles tell a story of their own. And I like uneven numbers so I decided to include 5 flower heads. Initially I thought I might turn the sketchbook so its length is vertical, but I realized that would allow limited flowers and would show a lot of stems and leaves. My real interest was in the flowers. The leaf tips add some dynamism and context and that’s all I needed.

Using a 2H pencil (or H or 4H) allows me to lightly sketch in the image. What is important at this stage is to ensure that the overlaps are correct. Everything makes sense. It is possible to understand what is in front of something else. For each flower head, the pistol and stem went in first to align the angle of the flower. Then, starting from the centre (where the stamen and stem meet), I drew the petals in front on either side, then progressively filled in the petals all round. Note that if I was drawing this as a final pencil sketch, I might use different lines, different weights and certainly 2B, 4B and 6B pencils. But this is an undersketch so I am more interested in getting an accurate idea of the flowers, stems and leaves. One of the petals fell off just as I finished that flower head. Lucky I captured it before that happened.

First Step
Sketchbook Pencil Sketch Tulips Step 1

Step 2: For this kind of quick sketch, this step is fairly simple. Still, there are some important considerations. I used a black ink Micron 05 waterproof pen. This pen is going to give a design-like image, not so much expressive in the lines as we would get if we used waterproof ink and a drawing nib or other implement. Because I am going to paint over the ink with watercolour, I want the ink to be waterproof. An interesting variation can occur if we use soluble ink, but that is a different kind of look and has its own tricks to master. Bear in mind that you can still get a bit of expression in this ink sketch. The lines that overlap other lines can be a bit heavier. In order for the image to “read” properly, I ensured that the lines met each other so the sketch has a look of completeness (is that a word?). The image is now a much stronger statement. I waited a few minutes to ensure the ink was completely dry. Then, I used a soft malleable eraser to erase the pencil undersketch.

Step 2
Sketchbook Tulip Ink Step 2

Step 3: My goal in applying the watercolour is to loosely apply the colour, remembering this is a sketch not a painting. I don’t want to spend all day on this. I deliberately allow the paint to move outside of the lines a bit, apply the paint quite wet and let it flow, while dabbing in some more intense colour in places. I do aim for accurate colour where I can. For this painting, I used my Winsor & Newton professional quality watercolour palette.

For the stems, I used Aureolin and then, while still damp, I ran my brush down the right side of the stems with a bit of Cerulean Blue mixed with just a touch of the Aureolin to create a slight shadow. Because the paint is going over an ink sketch, the result is always going to be flatter than if I used paint alone. Since this is a sketchbook sketch, I am fine with that.

The leaves were painted with the same colours, Aureolin & Cerulean Blue, with a bit more intense colour mixture was added on a second pass while the leaves were still damp.

Starting with lighter colours is a good idea. So, with a clean pot of water and a very clean brush, I used a yellow mixture of Aureolin and Cadmium Lemon Yellow for the centre of the flowers. I applied a light wash, then added a more intense mixture (less water) to get more concentrated yellow in places. I did much the same with the purple petals, using Dioxazine Purple (be careful! this is a very powerful colour) quite diluted, then dropped in a more intense mixture while the petals were still wet. Because the petals had a rosy hue in places, I dropped in some Permanent rose in places to capture that sheen.

The the pistol had a yellowy-green round tip, and the stamens were more yellow. I didn’t want to dwell on all the subtle differences, so made the pistol a pale green with Aureolin and a tiny touch of Cerulean Blue, and the stamens yellow with the Aureolin and a touch of the Cad Lemon Yellow.

Step 3
Sketchbook Tulips Watercolour Step 3

So, there it is. I captured some energy of these dying tulips and got a good exercise in at the same time. I can now decide if I want to make a larger polished painting of this subject matter. I have captured some important information if I decide to do that. A photo of the subject matter can come in handy too in case I decide to create the painting which would focus more on light and dark, foreground and background, highlights, and depth of colour.

Let me know if you find these steps helpful in considering watercolour. Have a great spring day!

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Shibori experiments

The pieces* above were made using three different shibori techniques on a light cotton muslin and dye. Shibori is the Japanese term for multiple methods of creating resist in a dyeing process. Great precision can be created using these techniques. Right now, I am just experimenting which is allowing me to see where precision can be introduced. I love the drama of the process. It can be quite laborious to prepare the fabric for dyeing. The dyeing itself is reasonably quick then, shazaam!, the resist is removed and the beautiful patterns are revealed. While I can control quite a few things in the process, I can’t control it all. So, every piece is different, and every piece is a surprise. Love it!

*These large squares make beautiful three season scarves. The one with triangle shapes has a lace trim sewn on (dyed to match). They would make nice summer picnic cloths as well.

Next experiment will be to stretch one over a painting stretcher so I can hang it on the wall.

Above are some pics of the prep, the dyeing, and the reveal process.

Furokshiki – great for wrapping a wine bottle and easy to carry

These smaller squares (and one longer sample) are what is called Furoshiki – they are traditional gift wrapping cloths in Japan. These were done in a variety of techniques, stitching, tie-dyeing, pole wrapping, clamping. They work well as cloths in which to wrap a dish for a pot luck or a bottle of wine or . . . I use one as a cover for my printer. Versatile.

More Furoshiki examples above.

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These required a different approach compared to a pineapple. And they were fading fast in my painting space! Started with some small sketches, then the large sketch and went from there. Final image is 17″ x 17″ on 30″ x 22″ Arches watercolour paper. Click on pictures for a clear image.

Preliminary Sketch
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Tropical Thoughts

Perhaps the cold Canadian winter has got to me more than I think? Anyway, now that it is spring, I latched onto this beautiful tropical pineapple and decided to do its portrait. After beginning, I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew, so to speak. The sketch alone took me 4.5 hours – trying to get all those discs lined up according to Fibonacci was more challenging than I thought. While I don’t normally erase, I needed to redo some placement quite a few times to get it right. It’s still not perfect but I think it’s passable. And, of course, the pineapple started to dry up and shrivel during the week of painting it so I had to work as fast as I could. All in all somewhere between 25 and 30 hours. Four pics attached:  preliminary under sketch (you can see it a bit better if you click on it), stage 1, stage 2, and final. It’s much larger than your average pineapple – the image itself is roughly 24″ x 10″ on 30″ x 22″ Arches watercolour paper, 120 lb. Next time, I might splurge and put it on 300 lb paper even though one sheet costs about $20.


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Getting there, into painting mode, that is

I find the transition from fall to winter quite challenging. And moving to a new community has had its challenges. Discovering new places is one of the rewards though. I found a new place to hike, Starkey’s Hill and, so far, it is my favourite place. I have yet to walk the full extent of it so it continues to beckon. It’s not a great place to walk in the depths of winter nor at this time of year as it is very hilly and can get super icy. This is a plein air sketch from last fall of one view. (Click on the images if you want a better view)








Of course, there is Christmas somewhere in there and all that entails. I resist and resist the dark, the seeming isolation, the gray gray and more gray, the ice and snow, the oppressive “indoorsness” of it all. Then, poof, by sometime in February, I am in the zone. Thank goodness it’s a cloudy day, thank goodness it’s too icy to go outside, and so on.

So, I spent some time indoors just having a bit of fun with my indoor plants and remembering what watercolour is all about.




Then did a couple of small sketches of a trip to Newfoundland that I made a while back. The first is Gros Morne, of course. It’s challenging to paint Gros Morne as it is so iconic. Nevertheless, I think I managed to capture the grey atmosphere and somewhat mystical feel of the place in this quick small watercolour sketch.

The second is a scene from the coast north of Port aux Basques. It was a very interesting environment – these isolated buildings surrounding a lighthouse and a foghorn that went off every time it got in the least foggy which was all night, naturally. The land just in from the edge of the cliffs was boggy and full of amazing plants, Pitcher Plant, Labrador Tea, Bog Cotton, and many many more.

I can’t resist including another sketchbook rough of a scene from Roncesvalles Village during a rain fall construction day. I’ve long been kinda strangely obsessed with pylons and the jauntiness of this one in particular along with the oh so helpful directional signs above were irresistible. This was a good winter warm up as well.





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Colour in Winter Painting

It seems to have been an extraordinarily dark winter, but maybe it seems that way every winter?! Having resettled myself in Ontario for the season, I wondered what to paint. I need colour I thought very loudly. I started with a few landscapes which I will put in another post. Actually tried a large Cape Breton landscape but having not painted for a few months it felt too much, so I set it aside for now.

A new friend here took me on a beautiful walk through a large piece of land (150 acres) that comprises this beautiful place called Yorklands. It used to be a young offenders reformatory and is now being sold by the Ontario government. This friend is part of a group proposing a variety of sustainable, ecological and non-profit activities for half the land. Fingers crossed they succeed.

As I looked around at the beautiful wild plants in their winter guises at Yorklands, I thought of drawing them. And then I decided to paint them. Sharyn herself is a painter and has produced a series of beautiful large scale paintings of various scenes from that property. (You can google her and you will find her own blog but the Yorklands paintings aren’t up on it as yet.)

As for me, I started with a rough drawing in my sketchbook of dried milkweed pods.

Milkweed Pods from Yorklands; graphite; sketchbook drawing

Then I tackled a  small painting of an invasive “weed” called Berberis Vulgaris with its beautiful red winter berries.

Berberis Vulgaris from Yorklands, watercolour, 12 x 9″ 

Then I switched to working on things I could get at the grocery store, hehehe, so then painted some fruit.

And then focused on some flowers.

What’s next you might ask? . . . we’ll see . . . !


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Tea Towels ready for Fibre Festival

The annual Fibre Festival in Baddeck, Cape Breton is held in October in association with the Celtic Colours Music Festival. Fun for us weavers.


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