30-in-30: How to sketch it now and paint it later



Near my house the pond had gone perilously dry until our recent rains. But El Niño has come to the rescue and filled it to overflowing. Last night on my walk, I noticed water rushing through the overflow ditch and into a spillway. It was a sweet scene in the afternoon light, with tree frogs singing, and the rays of sun streaking the water beyond. I whipped out my sketchbook to capture the mood with a pencil drawing.

Pencil sketch
Pencil sketch

Yes, I always carry a sketchbook and pencil, even on my walks. Doesn’t everyone?

My goal for this exercise was to draw enough information so that I could make a painting from it in my studio (where it’s warm and I have hot drinks and a restroom).

What information did I try to capture?

  • A rough idea of composition  I’ve been working on improving my compositions. In this sketch I was trying to see big shapes rather than worry about detail.
  • Areas of interest I liked the water line as it went from the organic shape of the ditch to the man-made hard lines of the cement weir. Then there’s that little corner in the left hand side where the water starts that I also found interesting.
  • Relative values of the whole scene  There was a simple, stark contrast between water and land, but on the cement weir the values grew trickier. I was also trying to think about how the light and dark values could lead the eye and create the illusion of water.

Although this was a quick sketch, it wasn’t quick enough. Suddenly it got very dark, and I realized that the sun had sunk behind the ridge. I was still a couple miles from home, night was falling, and mountain lions were about!

Clearly I made it home (and I wrestled, not with mountain lions, but with my lazy self  as I climbed the hill towards home) and this morning I painted the study at the top of this post, using information I gleaned from my pencil sketch.

For me, art is all about learning to see. It’s good practice to make these little black and white studies and try to paint them later. It sharpens observation skills, and hones the memory.

Plus, there’s a nice cuppa with milk and honey back at the studio.


30-in-30: Figure drawing and composition


Charcoal sketch
2-minute sketch
Charcoal pencil on paper

I didn’t paint today. Instead I hosted a small life drawing group at my house and drew all morning long. We didn’t have a model, so we took turns sitting for others to sketch.

My goal as I began this session was to think seriously about the composition as I drew. My normal approach is one of frantic activity: scratching the pencil over the paper trying to capture the pose or a likeness. I can usually do that, but not much else. Today I wanted to make pictures. This is how I approached it.

  • Include other elements in the scene. Furniture helps place the figure in space, and simple vertical lines act as a framing device. Since we were doing this at my home, there was thankfully more to draw than just a body on a model stand.
5-minute sketch
5-minute sketch
  • Started with a frame. After I drew a rectangle, I forced my figure into that space. I paid particular attention to the relationships between figure and frame, attempting to make pleasing shapes and still stay true to the accuracy of the figure.
Figure sketch
10-minute sketches
  • Give shapes good relations. How a shape interlocks with another shape, or how it contrasts, makes a drawing more interesting. Some shape interplay is a no-brainer: a curve next to a straight line is almost always a tasty combination.


Standing woman
15-minute pose
  • Think in the abstract, draw realistically. Instead of drawing “a leg”, I tried to draw the lines and curves that made a shape that telegraphed “leg.” I aimed to make drawings of pleasing/interesting shapes that just happened to look like a human figure.

One of my goals in the upcoming year is to improve my skills in composition. These are some of the books I’m plowing my way through:

Andrew Loomis’ Creative Illustration
Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting
Arthur Wesley Dow’s Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color

I also hope to find the time to follow along with Paul Foxton’s Creative Triggers website (once I find my password!), a community based study of composition based on Dow’s book. It’s a valuable site; Paul is a fine painter, and has created lots of good exercises to hone your composition skills. I think it’s well worth the subscription price.

30-in-30: How to paint a snow storm

snow storm
White out study
8″ x 10″ watercolor on Arches 140# block paper

A recent photo of a white-out blizzard in the East posted by my cousin intrigued me. A study in high-key values, it called out to me to be painted. Permission to use her photo was granted and here you can see the first pass of the results. (Although deer do roam her property, this little doe is from my own head.)

I love snow. Granted, until this year I’ve never lived where there’s been too much (meaning any) snow, but I live in the mountains now, and this December we had a couple unusually heavy snowstorms. The snow was magical; the cold air made me tingle, the cool light reflecting the sky made my heart sing. But alas, I was too busy to do any plein air painting while there was snow on the ground, but there’s a snow storm promised for next week, so I’m hoping…

The hardest thing for me was keeping my values light. I normally paint with a pretty heavily loaded brush. I also realize that I want to mess with the composition a bit. And it really didn’t turn out the way I saw it in my head, so I think it deserves a couple more attempts, with more time in the planning.

pencil drawing
Pencil study for White Out

30-in-30: Watercolor selfie

Self portrait 8" x 10" watercolor on Arches 140# hot press
Self portrait
8″ x 10″ watercolor on Arches 140# hot press

This is pretty much what I look like, dear readers, although I might have smoothed out the bags under my eyes, and neglected to paint the complete truth about hair color. I come from a red-face family, and my cheeks are often nearly that crimson, although in this painting they might have been exaggerated just a bit by the new tube of Daniel Smith quinacridone rose. Awesome color. I’m afraid to do a light test on it…

I love to draw, almost more than anything else (except maybe eat), but I spent all this morning with a pencil in my hand, and by this afternoon, I was just tired of it. This little painting was done with only two pencil marks, one to mark the top of the head and one to mark the angle of the chin. Everything else was by brush alone.

And after 2 weeks of arguing with Aquabord, I decided to do my daily painting on PAPER! Although it wasn’t my beloved 300# hot press, it was still Arches, cotton rag torn out of a block. Ah, back home again.

Although I tried to limit myself to 1 hour, when the ringer went off, I had to mess with it just a half hour more to bring it into some sort of completion.


30-in-30: Painting in pink

Watercolor on 6″ x 6″ Aquabord

I’ve been wanting to paint this image for a while. I snapped this photo at Columbia Historic State Park last year.

It reminds me of two of my cousins. I’m not going to say they were sweet little girls, although they were. But they were also holy terrors, and a super amount of fun to visit.

30-in-30: Making a nice painting from a bad photo

Watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

Coming clean here: For the last couple days I’ve been painting like crazy to finish a painting for the art show Animalscapes (More about this show in another blog post). Up against the deadline? Yep.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been painting my 30 paintings in 30 days. Just not blogging about them.

Two days ago I painted the tiny study you see at the top of this post. I painted while the fiddler drove. The painting is just a small block of color in my sketchbook of a photo I took at Christmas. The photo is dreadful; I think I dropped the camera and accidentally snapped the picture. But there was something about it that intrigued me. Maybe it’s the angles of the large green carpeted space.

In a class taught by one of my favorite artists, Felicia Forte, I learned to look at these blurry, awkward photos in a different way. Can they be cropped to create an interesting composition? Are there interesting shape or color combinations? Is there something of use?

There is something in the original photo that makes me want to keep playing with this image, and give it a bit more time.

The only baby at Christmas
Watercolor sketch on 9″ x 12″ Ampersand Aquabord




30-in-30: Drive-by haiku

While the fiddler drives, I like to paint. Problem is, the car is moving so fast through the landscape that all I capture are fleeting shapes and color. So rather than write a wordy blog post, dear reader, I give you some classic 5-7-5 haiku with my little sketches. Happy Tuesday afternoon!


Traveling, I paint
wet brown hills fading away
from town cloaked in trees.


The yellow grass, wet
but not yet green, dreams like birds
of El Niño rains.


Two rocks rear above
the road. Wet, the big rock’s head
bleeds to meet the rain


The last pass. Fly down
fast past a parked black-and-white.
Play invisible.


Dry furrows cross fields
newly plowed with hopes of rain
that falls on cities



How to paint a tree?
Edges, texture, size and form.
What’s seen disappears.




30-in-30:Time behind the brush


Deer painting
Deer in landscape study
Watercolor on Ampersand Aquabord

Lately I’ve been working on Ampersand Aquabord. I don’t totally love it the way I love Arches #300 hot press, but I’m fond of the idea that I don’t have to frame it behind glass. That makes it far cheaper, even considering the cost of the board. And I also like that I can rub the paint away more easily to correct mistakes (although it’s surprisingly simple to blot out errors on the Arches).

For today’s painting, I experimented on this 9″ x 12″ Aquabord with some tried and true watercolor cheats techniques: Salt, alcohol, and masking fluid.


watercolor with salt on aquaboard
Detail: Watercolor with salt on Aquabord

Paint doesn’t really soak into the Aquabord, so it was difficult to rub off the salt without rubbing off the paint. But it does make an interesting dark texture.

Watercolor with masking fluid
Detail: Watercolor with masking fluid on Aquabord

I don’t normally use masking fluid, but occasionally I find a use for it. The texture of the board makes it hard to apply the mastic in an even stroke, and the rubber cement pickup picked up the paint too.


Watercolor with alcohol on Aquaboard
Detail: Watercolor with alcohol on Aquabord

I’ve never been happy with spraying alcohol on paper, but on the board I liked the random, irregular marks it made in the paint. It bears more experimentation.


I like these quick little studies. I try not to think about the end result, but rather try many different things. If you’re participating in Leslie Saeta’s daily paint project in January, I hope on some days you’ll just have a fling with your paint. Who knows what you’ll discover?






30-in-30: Deer head study

Deer head
Deer study
Watercolor on 6″ x 6″ aquaboard

I’m challenging myself (yes, once again) to make and post a painting a day for the month of January, and to participate in Leslie Saeta’s annual January Thirty Paintings in Thirty Days. I usually paint everyday (with the exception of Christmas holidays, when painting is bumped off by what seems like round-the-clock cooking), but I don’t post to my blog everyday. We’ll see how I do for the month of January.

I’ve got no theme, other than to try to limit how much time I spend on these daily paintings, so I don’t take away time from larger projects. Today’s painting is a study for a larger painting that involves deer. If you follow me on Instagram (@Margaret.Sloan), I’m posting small bits of this bigger painting as I make them. I have to be finished by the 8th of January (the submission date for the Animalscapes show) so that is when I’ll unveil the whole painting.

I’m working on Aquaboard, a rather new surface for me, and painting a deer is a rather new subject matter, so I’m feeling my way through, making lots of studies.