Artistic Inspiration and Reboot . . .

When I run out of creative fuel, I take myself on an art date. Usually, at least part of that date is at a big bookstore, where I can find the art magazines from Europe . . .

This time, I found a special edition book put out by one of my favorite magazines – Project Calm . . .

Even though I have been drawing and painting my whole life, I find books like this stimulating. There are always triggers that set off explosions of ideas, and often, following along with a lesson or two gets me out of my headspace, and into someone else’s long enough to feel replenished and ready for my own work again.

I love this book for it’s graphics, its simplicity, its photography, its beauty, and the “lessons” are easy enough for anyone to just “do”.

I was thrilled to find a long article on a travel journal artist I admire enough to follow her to the ends of the earth – especially because she mostly takes the backroads. Her name is Chandler O’Leary ( Sketchers, beware! If you go there, you will spend some time, so finish reading this post first. Chandler also has a new book called The Best Coast – a travel journal about the West Coast. Available on Amazon – links on her site.

Onward to making some art . . .

The lesson I decided on was a simple watercolor of a cactus in a pot by illustrator, Esther Curtis. And I recognized the paint she was using from the sliver of the palette showing in her pictures – the Kuretake Gansai Tambi -the same 36 color set I have. So, this post becomes a review of them as well. I used a pocket size Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook. The lesson was about how to do the drawing with watercolor pencil and then add the paint. I have watercolor pencils too!

Although I follow the steps in order, it often amazes me how differently, my sketch looks in the end. That’s the wonder of creativity.

Here is Esther’s cactus pot . . .

And here is mine . . .

See what I mean? This is looser than usual for me, but nowhere near how loose the sample is.

I like the Kuretake paints although they are different than most watercolor. They seem more like a cross between watercolor and gouache – not as dull and dense as gouache, but creamier and thicker than watercolor. Lots of pigment load, and the sets come in large full pans that are not as deep as regular full pans, but contain a LOT of paint, and a little goes a long way. Dipping into a pan with a wet brush over and over is a recipe for disaster if you want a smooth wash, but with this paint particularly, it is advisable to mix a wash separate from the pan.

There is a lovely texture to the paint – even though my sketch was done on hot press paper. At first, I was thinking the watercolor pencil was helping with that, but there was no pencil involved in the foreground and background washes, and there is still a lot of grain texture.

This set of 36 sells for about a dollar per color, and for that price, they are artist grade! This is an ideal set for beginner sketchers who don’t yet know their favorite colors and brands of watercolor. Also for folks who wonder about gouache. This is a baby step in that direction.

In summary, I highly recommend everything I have talked about in this post.

And another thing that fueled my tank on that art date – a surprise chance to have coffee with a close friend – who is also an artist/retailer and even busier than me. While we sipped and chatted, I got a call from my gallery that we had the biggest dollar sales of my art in a single day – ever! Awesome.

Now the inspiration tank is REALLY full.




  1. I’ve been following Chandler for a while—I have fun armchair traveling with her adventures and get inspiration for ideas my own travel journals. Thanks for the rundown on the paints—and best practices for using them. Looking at the photo, I can see how “little” paint you actually used. Wow— theses must be color-packed! And for your own work—well, I like your version better than the book’s. Perhaps it’s because I’m familiar with your style and yours just looks like “you.” I think forcing “looseness” often ends up looking contrived and artificial—even though it’s intended to impart a simple joy. Our simple joys, I believe, are painting our own selves into our work. I admit, though, that it’s educational to to try “new” things, though, sometimes! And congrats on the sale! Wowser!!!

  2. I agree, Tonya – that we should love painting ourselves into our sketchbooks. Every single time I ignore that premise, I end up really disliking the experiment and want to rip the page. I don’t do that, but I want to because the piece has no soul connection – doesn’t even feel like it belongs to me at all.
    As for the “big day” at the gallery – it was three major pieces in one day. I’m very happy!

  3. I too am a fan of Chandler. I love how you use color in your sketches.

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