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I’m looking for One Weird Color :)

July 1, 2017

Full Specturm 24 Palette

Hey watercolorists! I’m looking for advice :)

I want to exile one color from my palette. That will give me a space, that I can use for something else.

What is ONE WEIRD COLOR that I can add?

Something that you use, that you are kind of sure nobody else uses? Something I can have on there just for the hell of it :)

Here’s what I already have, if that helps you choose:


Hit me up in the comments with your ONE WEIRD COLOR.

Oh, and for bonus points – can you guess what I’m going to get rid of?



Workshop Announcement: Painting Brittany with Anne-Laure Jacquart Sept 2-15, 2017

June 26, 2017

If anyone is planning to be in Europe this September, you might be interested in: Painting Brittany – a 12 day watercolor workshop in France with Anne-Laure Jacquart. I first painted with her in Portugal, on my 14 day workshop, and later in Manchester at the ‘before and after painting’ surrounding the Urban Sketchers symposium.

After I was unable to take a trip to India this spring, Anne-Laure stepped in and took over leading the expedition. I very much wish I’d been able to go.

Anne-Laure is a patient and supportive instructor, with a fearless approach to direct sketching in watercolor, offering plenty of important skills for beginner and intermediate painters alike. And if you’re an experienced watercolorist, her infectious enthusiasm and first-hand artist’s knowledge of Brittany, will give you plenty of opportunities to bring home some paintings, and maybe challenge you to break out of your comfort zone.

I’d go myself to the Brittany workshop if I could get away, but I’ll have to settle for painting with her after the USK symposium in Chicago. When I find someone who’s both a ‘thinking person’s painter’ and a pleasure to paint with, I try to stick with them.

Click though HERE to find out more about the workshop schedule and location.

New York Botanical Garden Plein Air Invitational

June 18, 2017

We’re just back from the New York Botanical Garden Plein Air Invitational!

It was my first year, but the second time they’ve held the event. So I expect it may become an annual thing. Maybe?

We had a great day, painting alongside some tremendous artists. People working in all media from graphite to gouache to oils. It was great to see a good turn-out from the New York City Urban Sketchers. Thanks to everyone who came to paint along with us :)

This is a view of one half of the conservatory courtyard. It’s a symmetrical  layout, with a mirrored lily pond on the other side, and a courtyard between. I have my back against the main dome of the glass greenhouse.

My view in the drawing doesn’t exactly match the photo – but that’s partially the wide lens, and just where I chose to put the emphasis.  Looks like I shortened the length of the hallways, to give the corner dome more significance.

Normally I might have chosen the more architecturally impressive central dome as my subject, but I’d asked for this spot because of the water feature, and in any case, the larger dome was the only viable source of shade. On a scorching day like this (35C!) you have to take the better part of valor.

I’d asked for this spot for the water lilies, but in fact it was a bit early. They’re just getting started. Looks like the full bloom might be a few weeks yet.

Here’s what my initial sketch looked like, with a little Photoshop magic to darken the line work for you.

I think you can see, my goal with this sort of thing is a very basic line drawing, simply outlining a silhouette of each major form. The white-washed glass roof is a classic example. I’ll draw the outer contour, but I will certainly avoid interior details such as panes of glass, which will get suggested later with color.

In the past I might have tried to draw all the spiky fronds of the water plants – but I lately find it more effective to just loosely outline the mass of the fronds, and again, let the brushwork imply the internal details.

I never want to be trying to color-in a tight drawing of spiky leaves. If you’re painstakingly filling in linear elements – it’ll never look painterly. At best it looks like an illustration. At worst, a cartoon.

NYBG En Plein Air, Stephen Doherty, Photo by Ben Hider

NYBG En Plein Air, Hui Lai Chong, Photo by Ben Hider

NYBG En Plein Air, Shari Blaukopf, and Me!, Photo by Ben Hider

After lunch I stopped by Shari’s spot. The organizers had given her a huge umbrella, providing us a sun-safe space – as long as we didn’t go anywhere. So I painted the same roses she’d done in the AM.

It’s actually kind of a funny story.

I was thinking I only had about an hour, so I really dove in. Seeing if I could draw the roses directly in color. But in fact, I had a lot more time than I thought. So the fresh look of the painting is a result of trying to be completely done in an hour, but then getting a bonus hour to mess around making final touches.

That might be the take away. Aim to be finished in half your total time. Then use the entire second half for small refinements.

Work in Progress Photo by Ben Hider

I’m learning a bit about painting flowers by watching Shari. The trick here was to paint the yellow blooms first! To keep the brightest color clean and clear.

The page is just pale golden blobs at first. Then you begin to cut back in with the dark leaves.

I was fortunate I’d put out fresh color in the morning. It’s the only way to get juicy color – to have fresh wet paint in the palette.

Then, with the 100 degree heat and a light breeze, I could work in lighter to darker layers, without having to wait for passages to dry.

Comparing the painting to real life – you can see I’m taking huge liberties. It doesn’t much look like the real thing hey?  But eeeh – what’re you going to do.  You have to give yourself a pass when you’re dealing with a chaotic mass of flowers.

James Gurney at work on his own yellow roses. Photos by Ben Hider

So, thanks to James Gurney and every one at the NYBG and the Plein Air Invitational team. Maybe put this on your calendar, and come see next year’s artists at work :)

Painting NYC with Rosemary and Co Travel Brushes

June 14, 2017

Getting to be a ways back now, Rosemary & Co sent me a set of their travel brushes, saying, give them a go and tell us what you think. It was winter at the time, so today’s the day I finally get down to a review.

And I’m happy to say, I like’em a lot!

They’re a nice sharp sable brush, just a good as any I’ve tried. But – these are the reversible/pocket brush models, where the brush slips back into the hollow handle. So they’re extra convenient for packing along on a holiday.

Just what the Urban Sketcher ordered.

You can throw them into any old bag or pocket, and they’ll always be protected.

They come in natural Sable (my preference for watercolor) and, quite unusually, Rosemary offers them in a wide range of brush types, including Flats (one stroke), Riggers, Filberts, a Comber (rake), Mops and even a Dagger (in a mixed Sable/Nylon blend). As well, there’s a few sizes of Squirrel mops, if you like the softer hair.

Now, I personally like to do everything with a pointed round, so that’s all I used on these sketches. But for those who want more variety, this is a nice option I haven’t seen in competing travel brushes.

You know, I haven’t really done a lot of street-sketching in NYC. It seems like every time we go, it’s for a museum exhibition. So it’s great to get out on the street at last.

Rosemary NYC Trip 04_Grand Central Station_Manhattan

btw, all the photos on the blog (unless otherwise credited) are by Laurel A. Holmes. Ya’ll knew that right? :)

We took the train in, starting from Grand Central Station, and just started walking with no particular itinerary.

We were there with our painter-friend Shari Blaukopf. She knows the town well – so she made sure we found some great spots – like this cafe in Bryant Park, behind the public library.

I won’t go on any further about the brushes – I’ll be sending a full review to Paint and Draw magazine in the near future. I’ll give you a heads up when that’s out.

But suffice to say, I painted this whole sketch with Rosemary’s #10 pointed round. It does everything I’d ever need, at least at the 9×12″ or quarter sheet size. They don’t quite come large enough for bigger paintings. I go up to a #4 mop or #14/16 round for half sheet.

But for what I’m doing here, one brush handles both broad passages and ultra fine lines, and can be splayed for dragging or raking leaves and branches.

I like to get a lot of mark making out of the one brush – it’s too much trouble to be switching back and forth while sketching on location.

After Bryant Park , we did some shopping at Muji (Shari needed a hat).

And we ended up at the Flatiron.  (There she is with her new hat).

There were huge crowds at the nearby NYC BBQ Festival. I saw squads of photographers standing in the street to get the classic Flatiron shot. Somehow. people didn’t seem to know about this cafe at the base of the building.

Incredibly, they have a sign front and center, declaring “You don’t have to buy anything to sit here.” You can bet I took them up on that.

What a deal! It left me with a much better feeling about NYC than our time in Venice Italy. I’ll tell you. Every square inch of shade, every single chair in Venice – locked down and guarded!

I mean, I don’t mind buying a coffee for the chance to do some sketching in comfort. But hey – free is free.

Thanks NYC! What a great day :)


Skchy App Portrait : Tove Mar

June 8, 2017

We’re heading off tomorrow to New York for the painting event at the NY Botanical Garden.

I’ve been packing my kit, checking three times over to be sure I have everything.

I bring the minimum amount of gear on an outing, but that means I can’t forget even one tiny thing. I leave my binder clips at home and suddenly I can’t paint! I’m so used to using the same setup every time.

I find if I do a little sketch the night before a demo, then I know for sure I have all my usual tools.

I should be painting some flowers or something! I’m a bit worried I’ll be the least botanically-savvy artist in the garden. But I didn’t have a perfect subject handy – so I thought – been a while since I did a portrait from the Sktchy app.

Let’s do one just for fun.

Here’s some still frames from a video capture.

I’m getting pretty good at recording video :) but still a bit slow at processing it and getting it out to you. The editing and voice over is creating a little blockade. So the full video is going into the bank till I have time to get my backlog handled.

This sketch is a classic application of my mantra: Tea, Milk and Honey.

I’ve started the head with wet, diluted, washes of Perlyne Maroon, mixed with Buff Titanium, Naples Yellow, and a new blue I’m testing – Daniel Smith Verditer Blue (PB28, PB36, PW4).

The white cotton shirt is the same mix, in reverse proportions. This keeps a harmony in the sketch – and captures the transmitted color of skin underneath a thin t-shirt.

In my first wash I’m looking for a fuzzy silhouette of the lightest local colors. These days I’m trying to restrain myself as much as possible in the first pass. It should be a fuzzy, light filled shape, with no detailed drawing.

I always want to get to the details immediately. But you have to delay that gratification.

After allowing the first wash to dry, I can begin to lay Milky pigments over top of my transparent Tea.  Sometimes I’ll draw in a form like these lips – then lift or blend parts of it – to soften it into the under-painting.

I’m always trying to see how little I can draw.

I’m trying to do more with incomplete shapes. Leaving gaps of under painting, that bridge a distance between darks. Rather than literally drawing on the features – just imply their small shadows.

As the darks on the face begin to build up,  I transition to Honey mixes – less water, more pigment.

Also using darker colors such as Raw Umber Violet and Indigo. Essentially the same Magenta/Blue color harmony, but one notch darker in tone, and with less saturation.

The darkest darks are in the shadow under the hair – right behind the neck – and the pupil in the eyes.

And the last touch is a few dots of Grey of Grey in the (not quite) whites of the eye. It’s never pure white – that would be too strong.

So, no philosophy today! Just a simple sketch, trying to capture the softness of a young woman’s features.


Kenneth Morgan : Semantic Dementia in his own Words

June 1, 2017

This is a time-lapse digital sketch of my stepfather, overlaid with quotes from a conversation we had, over the course of an afternoon and an interrupted night. This was about six months ago? Maybe a bit longer.

It’s made in the iPad app Procreate. Which generates these time-lapse animations automatically.

Ken has a form of semantic dementia, which affects his ability to communicate, his short term memory, and spatial problem solving. I guess we all know someone, or someone with parents in this situation? These people go through significant personality changes, and a drastic reduction of quality of life.

Today, he would be hard pressed to articulate his thoughts this clearly. Often he is unable to get through a sentence of complete words. At other times, he might read a fragment of text seen in passing, or say a complete greeting. He occasionally does a form of jazz-scat, what wikipeida calls ‘wordless vocables’.

I wasn’t sure if I’d post this. It’s been hanging around my hard drive for a while while I thought about it. But I suppose it’s his last words on the subject, so I felt like I would go ahead and share.


Case of the Missing Mansion : Bantry House, Ireland

May 25, 2017

We’re away from the studio right now for a family reunion sort of thing. So here’s something from the archives.

Sometimes I have this instinct to save my favorite paintings.

To put them on hold. Not show you guys – and maybe I’ll have the chance to use them for something amazing. I don’t know for what. Perhaps they become grist for a making-of article. Or get submitted to a competition. You never know.

But ultimately, that’s a little silly for an art-blogger. By the time any of that happens, you have new favorites. These old gems just get put to the bottom of the stack, never to see the light of day.

So that being said, here’s my absolute favorite sketch from last year’s trip to Ireland.

This is Bantry House and Garden. A beautiful spot a little south of Glengariff, at the base of one of the fingers of rock that make up the Wild Atlantic Way.

So. What do you think about this one?

I couldn’t really defend it as a portrait of the house could I? It’s very much a dashed off impression.

There was, of course, rain approaching. This is Ireland after all.

If you’re in a rush – the clipped maze in the hedge garden is enough to make you despair. It’s something that should not be tackled casually.

Yet – it’s this very urgency that I love. The simple fact that it’s unreasonable to even try to get this one – is why it’s so fun to do. This painting symbolizes the reason I paint, even when clearly it’s a fool’s errand.