Sketch-Tales #2 – Gateways

Doors and gates are popular visual icons here in Santa Fe. A lot of color and personality is involved and they make a great subject for a sketch . . .

I have always been fascinated by gates. Oddly, I think it is more what they represent that intrigues me, than it is how they look. A gate is a division between a “here” and a “there” and that concept is great for “story”. What is on the other side is like a surprise – and how about what is being kept out?

This is an old sketchbook – I was calling them artist journals in those days – and it is a Moleskine Sketchbook. They could not take much water and watercolor paint could not move on the clay coated pages. Ugh. Why did I not use the Moleskin Watercolor journal? The landscape format didn’t work for most of my subjects, so I soldiered on with the Sketchbook.

I did these gate sketches with Winsor-Newton watercolors to see if I could get any brilliance at all. The results were pretty dismal and dull, as you can see. So I kind of forgot about these.

New Gateways . . .

We have a plan for the gallery this year to make original art affordable for visitors to Santa Fe. All of our artists are participating by creating simple paintings in an 8″x8″ canvas format that can be sold for $100. We are all using the same gallery wrap canvases (1.5″ deep) and they are not watercolor canvases. Watercolor canvas does not come in gallery profile, and I am not about to stretch my own for a $100 painting. (And I do not like absorbent ground. It reminds me of the Moleskine Sketchbook.)

So, I made a decision at the beginning of the month to learn to paint in acrylics. My…my…my. It’s only been two weeks, but it feels like a lifetime already.

Not only is the medium SO different in its behavior, the process is backwards from how I have worked forever. In watercolor, I am not traditional. I work from dark to light and that is how I get the brilliant color I am known for. I work an area in a single layer – lifting and adding subtle color wet-in-wet. All one step.

With acrylics, you work from light to dark in many layers and things look horrible until you get all that piled up correctly. Plus, there are a million viscosities, a million mediums, and a million processes. You would laugh yourself silly if you saw my pile of practice canvases. They look like each was done by a different person – none of whom having any idea of what they were doing.

For awhile, I wondered if I would emerge from this fiasco with a new style – all the while listening for my “voice” in this medium – even a whisper. But I couldn’t hear anything through the thickness, opacity, and goopy-ness. I told a friend that it was like working with colored glue. He’s an accomplished acrylic artist with a VERY different style from mine. “It is,” he said. “And your point is?” No help from my friends.

When I discovered Golden High Flow acrylic paint, I felt more at home because you could treat it like watercolor – sorta. I then discovered that “acrylic ink” is basically the same thing and I had a drawer full of that for some reason (I never throw anything out is the reason).

So, I hear a whisper.

And I ran into the old sketchbook page, which gave me an idea for trying this out . . .

Right now, things are very thin and you can see the canvas texture (not like you can in this scan), but I think that is ok. I might not be the goopy type.

And I just noticed I signed this with the wrong year. It’s January and my checks are like that too.

So, I am eager to see what is on the other side of this gate. I’ll keep you posted.



  1. What fun! And I assumed acrylics were so simple…so, you will continue adding layers to this?

  2. I don’t know how I got to be anonymous in my previous comment..

  3. The layers are there already – all just very transparent. All textures and form development (shading) is done with layers. I’m not going for thick. The reason people think acrylics are so easy is that a lot of what’s out there is random, abstract, and the idea is to see what the paint does and go with it. I am into content so I want the paint to do what I want. Not so easy!

  4. How fun! I’m so excited for you. I too have been playing with acrylics lately. I’ve never tried the high flow acrylics but after reading your post I plan on buying some and giving them a go! I LOVE trying new things and love hearing your excitement about your art. 🙂 Art makes me happy too!

  5. Jessica are you use brushes alone with the high flow acrylics or do you also use pens or ??

  6. I really enjoy reading your posts. I almost always learn something – but I read mostly because it’s enjoyable to follow your train of thought wherever it goes. 🙂

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