In the Land of the Big J

I have a number of Dover clip art books with decorative letters or initials. I’ve used bits of them for redwork embroidery for purses and quilts, and I use snippets of them for drawing. While browsing for inspiration to test out Winsor & Newton Gouache, I came across an exuberant floral initial that I liked from the book Decorative Letters that I bought for 75% off years ago before Dover clip art really took off.


It’s an old black and white engraving and my illustration is in colour but I like the way it turned out. The original length was 7 cm and my larger drawing is about 14.5 cms. This is in my Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook which has ivory-coloured paper and is hard to scan, so it’s not quite as clear as it is in person.


It’s a charming blobby flower picture, my favourite! It’s very easy to overwork gouache and make it messy looking but this was good practice.

The background lines were drawn with a Prismacolor Verithin navy blue pencil. This motif would like nice as a cover or first page in a journal. You could use it as a drop cap too on a title page.

Actually, I’ve still got a few blobs of gouache in the palette, so I might draw up a couple of small drop caps and paint them to go with some text.

Why not?






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Stricture and Stasis

It became obvious to me a couple of months ago that my shoulder injury, nerve pain, and tendinitis was not going to allow me to do artwork on a regular basis. This has really been getting me down, because I read books on visual journalling where people sit for 3 to 5 hours and draw fantastic things in their sketchbooks, and I feel left out, incapable, the stricture of pain holding me in stasis.

While looking through my Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook, I realized that I had not done swatches for new art supplies. What heresy, I always do up little palette pages! So yesterday while we were watching golf on TV, I sat there with my portable desk and drew up swatch pages. I also finished the Winsor & Newton swatches I started ages ago, filling in the last four colours I purchased to bring them up to twenty-four.


I did swatches for eleven Winsor & Newton Gouache colours, and swatches for forty-two Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolour Pencils, and swatches for the two sets of Daniel Smith Watercolour that I am waiting to be delivered in the mail. I coloured in the ones I had and labelled everything, and now await the twelve Daniel Smith colours and a tin of empty half-pans. I am interested in trying the PrimaTek mineral pigments that Daniel Smith makes, they look pretty interesting.



I had a few smudges of gouache left on the palette, so this week I am drawing and painting something to use them up in a sample page opposite the swatches. I’ve got my colour mixing book handy in case I forget how to mix colours; it’s been a while.


It’s not much, it took me five hours and my arm hurt, but it’s a start. I’m creating a General Sketchbook category here just for messing around with what takes my fancy.

I hauled out two sketchbooks, one spiral-bound from Canson with white paper, and one from Strathmore with grey toned paper, that I had never used. I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t get the Strathmore one to lie flat, but it’s a Smythe sewn binding so requires some bending back of pages and gently opening the spine and I finally got it to a flat enough state to use.

I also bought two new Stillman & Birn sketchbooks: one a wire bound 7 x 7 inch book with heavy Beta paper, and the other was one of their new softcovers in an 8 x 10 inch size with Zeta paper. Since I can’t at the minute use my big hardcover Zeta I thought I’d get a smaller one and try out the softcover.


I suppose I didn’t need new art supplies but it cheered me up and got me to use sketchbooks that had been packed away since our move 18 months ago.

Old friends, enticing me to creative projects – not a bad result.



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Overview of My Pretend Travel Journal to Chile

This will be a pretend travel journal for the country of Chile with a 52-week itinerary.

I will be using a hardcover Stillman and Birn Zeta sketchbook in the 8.5 x 11 inch size which has 26 pages (52 double-sided) and front and back endpapers. I painted an impasto strip as a base on the cover and then painted an abstract with acrylic paint including a copper paint that suggests the copper mines of Chile.


I’m calling the sketchbook Terra Advertentia, which means Land of Awareness (knowledge, attention) in Latin, and that is what it will be for me amid my excitement of discovery and study. This is the page with the itinerary.

The endpapers will be used for a title page and concluding page, I am going to push myself to design fuller pages this year, sometimes including the poetry of Pablo Neruda who is a favourite poet of mine, sometimes using other writing or bits from history relevant to the prompt. I also have a discarded library copy of a 1977 edition of the Collins Spanish Dictionary, should I wish to throw in a few Spanish words or titling.

My other references will be Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide and one of my favourite books, The World’s Most Spectacular Reptiles & Amphibians.


As my main guide I am using a DK Eyewitness Travel book called Chile & Easter Island that is divided into 7 zones, so I’m dividing my weeks into 7 sections for these areas. I am also using a book called A Wildlife Guide to Chile by Sharon Chester, and the book 500 Insects: A Visual Reference by Stephen Marshall.

Pablo would approve I’m sure, since all three of his houses are on my itinerary.


I originally developed this idea three years ago, but I was so out of practice with drawing that I couldn’t start it. So I spent the last two years sketching and drawing in an older sketchbook, and now I feel ready to tackle an exploration of Chile with a better sketchbook and better grade of art supplies.

I like to have goals in life!

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Overview of Month 12 – Weeks 49 to 52 – Final

What a journey it has been. Thanks to my friends Rose and Bev for doing this with me. I doubt I would have persevered with the habit without them. Rose dropped out in November 2015 and I pretty much put the project on hold until the latter part of 2016, when I finally finished it. Bev gets a medal for persevering on her own and finishing on time and in the correct year!

Bev went on to create a card deck and booklet called Elements of Recovery after this project. Click on the card on this page to see her artwork for each card. The tenacity Bev has is a good influence on me, a procrastinator who struggles with completing things on time.

So here is our final overview of the last four weeks.

I did a view of a rock face of the Canadian Shield and some wildflowers in a shield shape. Bev did one of those lovely native American pieces of art with symbolism for a shield or amulet.


I struggled with the roof of this darn kiosk and finally gave up, but I created a nice verse to go with it, always a bonus if your artwork doesn’t quite measure up (pun!)

Bev was working on a Christmas theme of a wreath kiosk. Someone has taken a break for a bit of rum punch, or a kiss with Santa, while in the middle of cutting boughs for a new wreath. Funny how that happens.


There is something about cutlery, isn’t there? All those shapes and finishes, leaving you gaping at bundles of cutlery in the shop, wondering if the Japanese cutlery would be nicer to have than the German, and thinking about the varying shapes of fork tines and embellishment on handles, or whether there is any embellishment at all in a brushed nickel minimalist knife compared to a Louis XIV butter knife with fancy scrolls and doodads climbing up the handle. “Hey, you say, that knife would go well with that antique butter plate I found in a shop in Creemore, Ontario”, and you are left finally juxtaposing Scandinavian cutlery with the French and contemplating prices…

Of course this happens to us all.


You know the end of the television version of The Cat in the Hat, when the cat is singing a sad little song as he brushes up all the mess he has made? That’s what I feel like now as I exit the door in farewell contemplating future endeavours.


Goodbye 2015 in 2016, I had such a lovely, lovely time with my human companions and my steadfast art supplies. I felt kind of silly mentioning every time in my materials list the Staedtler 2H pencil I use for initial sketches, but he WAS there and should be mentioned, the dear old fellow has been around since 1982.


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Week 52: Mop

Oh yes, it’s taken me a year to finish up the Sketch 52 project for 2015. Finish I did though, throughout a major cross-country move and a major house renovation and seemingly endless governmental paperwork. I just had to finish so I could go onto my new sketching project. I couldn’t face starting something new without finishing this project which has many happy memories and laughs.

In the words of Iggy Pop:

“I am a passenger
And I ride and I ride
I ride through the city’s backside
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, they’re bright in a hollow sky
You know it looks so good tonight.”


Materials I used:

Staedtler 2H pencil
Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils
Van Gogh watercolours
Faber-Castell PITT pen in sepia, size S

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Week 51: Flatware

I am still struggling with a shoulder impingement and tendinitis, but I only have one more sketch to catch up on and I can start my next project in the new year.

Materials I used:

Staedtler 2H Pencil
Faber-Castell 2B pencil
Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils





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Week 50: Kiosk

Only two more to go and I’m caught up on last years’s sketching project.

I’m still not getting my architectural elements right. I bought a new book on sketching architecture by Liz Steel (of Urban Sketching fame), and Liz is an architect so hopefully she can help me.

I bought a new stencil with a script on it and used it here for the first time. I like it, it makes a nice change.


Materials I used:

Staedtler 2H pencil
Van Gogh watercolours
Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils



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