Category Archives: Travel Journal

Journal Entry 06/16/2017: Quick Sketch in the badlands

Just got back from a couple days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North dakota. Above is a gif of a sketch I did overlaying a photo of the scene I sketched. I used a 9B pencil with a paper stump for blending. The wind was blowing 40 mph—oh the challenges of sketching on site in the elements.

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Journal Entry 11/30/2016: After the Storm

window-veiw-nov2016wp

Finally after a three day snow storm and digging out (18 inches of new snow), I took a minute to sip coffee and capture this scene from the comfort of my living room. Pen/Ink/Watercolor.

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Journal Entry 9/14/16: Viking Cafe

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If you ever find yourself in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, make sure the Viking Cafe is on your list of places to hit while you’re there. I was so impressed by the meal I got there last time that I had to illustrate it (above). This was the Roast Turkey Special for @ $8.50 (coffee extra). As I say in my notes this was a true cornucopia of food: Slabs of turkey (white & dark), mashed potatoes and dressing smothered with gravy and peas (from the can) scattered on top, a roll with butter, two little cups of cranberry relish (surprisingly good) and a custard dessert with whip cream and nuts. If you get coffee it is adequate and fresh, because they make it by the gallons, no matter how many people are in the cafe (always full) your cup will never drop below half. Once you experience coffee at the Viking your outlook on life will always be “the cup is half full and please no more coffee.”

vikingcafe

Not the most attractive building on the outside, a victim of downtown renewal attempts in the 70s and 80s, but don’t let the outside facade fool you. On the inside the cafe is full of wooden booths where the holes for the old nickelodeons are still visible. There is some gratuitous viking decorations on the wall but the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. If all the seats are taken, which happens often, wait patiently at the front by the till for the next available booth. God (or should I say Odin) I love this place.

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Fergus Falls is located 50 miles SE of Fargo, ND and 180 miles NW of the Twin Cities on I-94. The cafe is on main street on the south side. Parking in the back. There has been a Viking Cafe long before there ever was a professional football team called the Minnesota Vikings.

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Filed under Illustrations, Sketch Book, Travel Journal, Watercolor painting

Travel Journal Tip No. 4: Using a 9B Pencil & Blending Stump

Quick sketches done with Derwent 9B pencil and blending stump.

Quick sketches done with Derwent 9B pencil and blending stump.

When I travel the three items I must have besides my sketchbook are a Derwent 9B pencil, pencil sharpener and a blending stump. I use these items to do a quick sketch technique I learned from David Rankin’s outstanding book “Fast Sketching Techniques.”

Fast-Sketching-Techiques

A great reference on learning to sketch from life. One of my top ten books.

Click here for a pdf on fast sketching faces with David Rankin.

Derwent 9B pencil.

Derwent 9B pencil.

For this fast sketch technique I like the Derwent  Graphic 9B pencil. These buggers are hard to find and when I do find them when I travel, I tend to buy the store out. I will use an 8B or an ebony pencil, but, only in a pinch. This 9B has a fluid, buttery feel to it that is unique.

Pencil sharpener that contains the shaving is a must.

Pencil sharpener that contains the shaving is a must.

Of coarse with a wooden pencil you will need a pencil sharpener. Surprisingly I’ve found that most museum and gallery gift shops (like the National Portrait Gallery in London, above) carry pencil sharpeners. It’s important that you have a sharpener that collects the shavings and lead so it doesn’t get all over the inside of your backpack, pocket or plane seat. I usually carry my sharpener inside a zip-lock bag for further protection.

Blending stumps carried inside a snack-sized zip-lock to keep them from marking up surfaces you don't want them to mark.

Blending stumps carried inside a snack-sized zip-lock to keep them from marking up surfaces you don’t want them to mark.

Blending stumps are what makes this fast sketching technique so versatile. Because the 9B lead is very soft it can easily be picked up with the stumps. The stumps then become a pencil (or brush) on their own and the lead can be transferred to other areas on the page. You can create a water color look and create delicate shading. It takes practice but, it is oh so worth it.

A landscape Sketch in One Minute

To follow is a series of images showing how I apply the the fast sketching technique using the 9B pencil and blending Stumps

Pick an interesting scene to sketch such as these Alaskan Mountains.

Pick an interesting scene to sketch such as these Alaskan Mountains.

Step one: Frame your subject. I've done this so often that I can quickly decide what format to do my sketch (landscape, portrait, circle, etc).

Step One: Frame your subject. I’ve done this so often that I can quickly decide what format to do my sketch (landscape, portrait, circle, etc).

Step 2: I quickly put down an outline of the scene in front of me. I squint to eliminate most of the details in front of me.

Step Two: I quickly put down an outline of the scene in front of me. I squint to eliminate most of the details in front of me.

Step Three: Fill in the darkest areas in your landscape.

Step Three: Fill in the darkest areas in your landscape.

Step Four: Once the dark areas have been done, I use the stump to "drag" lead to areas I want to add value to. The dark areas will also become darker when you rub over them with a stump.

Step Four: Once the dark areas have been done, I use the stump to “drag” lead to areas I want to add value to. The dark areas will also become darker when you rub over them with a stump.

Step Five: I now go back and forth between adding lead with the pencil and blending with a stump.

Step Five: I now go back and forth between adding lead with the pencil and blending with a stump.

Step six: With the pencil I will add to the darkest areas and put in a few sharp lines with the pencil to make it look sharp. Then I stop.

Step six: With the pencil I will add to the darkest areas and put in a few sharp lines with the pencil to make it look sharp. Then I stop.

The above sketch took me about one minute. I like to use this technique while riding in a vehicle (car, tour bus, boat). Its amazing how much detail you can record within seconds while going 50 mph.

A Detailed Sketch Using the Quick Sketch Technique

I use the 9B pencil and stumps when I get back home from my trips by using notes and photos I’ve taken. Below is an image I did for my Iditarod sketch book. I was a volunteer for the Iditarod for two years. The volunteers worked hard giving me little time to sketch let alone sleep. I took plenty of photos and notes on index cards. Below is a sketch of fellow volunteer Josh Capps when we were at the Koyuk checkpoint. This image of Josh is from a group photo I took while in Koyuk.

The key to sketching from photos is the same as when working from life—don’t get bogged down in details. Notice the  way the lines are placed on the figure. Good line work can indicate volume, shape and depth.

Step One: I wanted to use both pages of sketch book (called a spread). The first step is to make an outline of your image you want to draw. I use a mechanical pencil for this stage.

Step One: I wanted to use both pages of sketch book (called a spread). The first step is to make an outline of your image you want to draw. I use a mechanical pencil for this stage.

Step Two: Fill in all the darks and outlines with 9B pencil. Notice that I use a clean piece of paper to rest my hand to prevent smearing the soft lead.

Step Two: Fill in all the darks and outlines with 9B pencil. Notice that I use a clean piece of paper to rest my hand to prevent smearing the soft lead.

Darks and outlines are complete.

Darks and outlines are complete.

Step Three: go over image with blending stump. Don't over do it. Go back over image with pencil if it gets to "muddy" looking. The key to a nice sketch is to have contrast (darks next to lights).

Step Three: go over image with blending stump. Don’t over do it. Go back over image with pencil if it gets to “muddy” looking. The key to a nice sketch is to have contrast (darks next to lights).

IMPORTANT: Any pencil sketch should be sprayed with a Fixative as soon as you can. Remember always use a well ventilated area and spray  a test piece first before art work. The fixative keeps the soft lead from smearing and "offsetting" to the opposite page.

IMPORTANT: Any pencil sketch should be sprayed with a Fixative as soon as you can. Remember always use a well ventilated area and spray a test piece first before art work. The fixative keeps the soft lead from smearing and “offsetting” to the opposite page.

The best drawing tool is practice. Use the techniques I’ve covered and practice, practice, practice. Go to your local library and see if Rankin’s book is available. Good Sketching!!!

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Travel Journal Tip No. 3: The Sketchbook

Over the years I have used various sized sketchbooks for different situations — for studio or plain air sketching, close to home, sometimes the bigger the sketchbook the better.

When I travel, I like a smaller sized book, one I can tuck inside a coat pocket or the small of my back. I finally broke down and bought a Moleskine® sketchbook. For a long time I avoided buying one thinking it wasn’t worth the cost. Boy was I wrong. I’m now a convert and moleskine is almost, the only sketchbook I travel with.

Sketchbook Specs

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There are several makes and models of  Moleskine® but, the one I like is shown above and is the the Moleskine® Sketchbook; 104 heavy acid-free, off-white (natural) pages.

When buying paper the higher the pound number the thicker the paper. I would guess this sketchbook at a good weight of 80 lbs or more. The sketchbook paper is opaque, meaning you can’t see through the sheets and can draw, paint, and paste on both sides without bleed through with most drawing utensils (more about what I draw with to prevent bleed through in another tip). Some say only draw or journal on one side of the page and not the other for various reasons. I do both sides and the hight opacity of the pages allow me to do that. To me this is a book and a documentation of my travels.

The 5” x 8.25” pages are Acid-free and sturdy enough to allow the use of acrylics and light water color washes. The pages will buckle a little bit but not bad.

Pages are sturdy enough to withstand warted color washes and acrylics.

Pages are sturdy enough to withstand warted color washes and acrylics.

For me this is a perfect size. It’s large enough to do a decent sized drawing or put several thoughts on a page. If I want a larger sized image I span my drawing across both pages of the open sketch book  for some dramatic effects.

On the inside of the back cover is an expandable inner pocket where I can tuck away small items such as ticket stubs, post cards, plants, etc. 2. I usually empty this daily back at the tent or hotel so I can start all over again the next day.

Expandable pocket inside the back cover allows you to store small items during daily jaunts.

Expandable pocket inside the back cover allows you to store small items during daily jaunts.

It has a hardcover and is perfect bound with a band to keep it closed and a built in book mark. It’s the little things. The hard cover protects and allows for a certain amount of rough use. Even though its perfect bound  it will lay fairly flat to allow for easy painting, sketching and journaling. Its a book that, when filled up with your travels, will look good on the bookshelf.

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Travel Journal Tip No. 2: Using Grids

One way to organize your sketch book pages is by using a grid. Even a very loose grid can be effective. Three grids to consider are a manuscript grid, columnar grid and a modular grid.

Manuscript Grids

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A manuscript grid is the simplest of grids and is basically one column with margins  that keep you away from the edges of the page. The area within the margins is referred to as the content area.

2_travelTip_Grids3Manuscript

Notice that some of the content breaks out of the “frame” and into the margins. Hey its OK to break a few rules once in awhile.

Columnar Grids

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2_travelTip_Grids2column

This page uses a two column grid. Notice the title in the middle and the text block at the bottom of the page spans across the gutter into the second column. This is a great way to add visual interest to a grid and still maintain structure and organization. I always maintain a gutter between the columns, roughly a quarter of an inch. Depending on your page size you can have 5, 6 or even 10 columns if you want. I sketch the lines of my grid in lightly with pencil and erase after the ink is dry. Even though the lines aren’t visible, the presence of a grid is evident.

Modular Grids

Grid_3cleanLR

2_travelTip_Grids2Modular

A modular grid divides a page vertically and horizontally. Each division is called a field. Notice that some of the images span more than one cell. As I said earlier, this makes it more interesting to look at and draws the viewer in. An interesting subject does’t hurt either. Below is another modular grid in a horizontal format.

Grid_4cleanLR

2_travelTip_Grids4Modular2Keep in mind that your creating  an entry in a journal, often times on the fly. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact what makes it unique are the imperfections that are almost impossible to recreate on a computer. Keep Journaling.

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Travel Journal Tip No. 1: Drop/Raised Caps

One way to keep your journal entries  visually interesting and organized is to use Drop or Raised Caps.

DROPSlrAbove: Drop caps drop below the baseline of the first line of text. You can “drop” as many lines as you want. Usually the first letter of the first word is used, or you can drop as many letters or words as you want. Heck you don’t even have to use letters, draw a tree, statue, martini glass, etc. what ever fits with your entry.

RAISEDCAPSLR

Above: Raised caps are enlarged letters or images above the baseline of the first line of text.

You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting raised or dropped caps in just about any publication you pick-up.

I use this technique to indicate where to start reading on a page or for separate entries on the same page or spread (a spread is two pages side-by-side in an open book) . Journaling can be very loose when your on the go, so this technique helps you organize your page and guide the reader. The key is not to over do it, which is easy to do. Too many drops on one page or spread can look gaudy, but for some reason not as bad as you might think in a hand rendered journal. Good luck and keep journaling.

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