30-in-30: Going east at dusk, watercolor in hand

Jan22_LandscapeJournalJan21_LandscapesThese are what my car-journal pages look like. The smaller rectangles are 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, and the vertical rectangles are whatever size my little heart desires.

We don’t travel much, so I don’t always remember what colors are in my little travel palette. It helps to make a little swatch palette before I begin (that’s why there are twelve color swatches all in a row on the page at top).

Interstate 680 through Pleasanton at dusk
Interstate 680 through Pleasanton at dusk

Watercolor car kit travels small but paints big

TravelWatercolorKitMy last post about painting in the car got a lot of interest. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’ve got my system down pretty well. This is my kit for painting while in the passenger seat.

  1. A Windsor Newton travel paint box. You want something small, something that will fit on your lap, or on the verso of your journal. I use an old Windsor Newton travel palette; unfortunately the little paint holders don’t come out of the box. This set came with Cotman Student Grade paints, which are okay as far as they go. Over the years I’ve used them up (or scraped them out) and filled the pans with higher grade paints in colors that I use more often. I wish it were easier to change out the paint. If I were to buy a new one, I’d buy an empty watercolor tin, and fill it with my own paints. Or something slightly larger: the Guerrilla Painter Backpacker Watercolor Palette. I’ve tried to make my own using old Altoid tins, but they’ve never worked quite like I thought they should.
  2. A Windsor Newton travel bag. You can still buy these, fully equipped, but you’ll pay through your pierced little nose. I bought mine at a deep-discount sale years ago when I had more money than sense. It’s great, but I think a quick trip to a few thrift stores might have yielded something almost as good at a fraction of the price.
  3. 6-inch ruler. It really comes in handy when you want to make boxes of a certain size, make straight lines, or scratch your back.
  4. Micron pen. For making notes, drawing cartoons, etc. I don’t use it that often, as it requires far too much looking down, which would make my stomach do the hootchy-kootchy in the car. Not a pretty site for heavage.
  5. Aquash watercolor brush. No, it’s not like painting with fine sable brushes, or even not-so-fine synthetic brushes, but it keeps the water contained in the handle until you squeeze the soft plastic. I’ve gotten pretty good at regulating the flow of water.
  6. Pencils. These are fancy art pencils. One is a 2h and the other is a 2b. I don’t do much drawing in the car, other than a few lines to mark the big shapes that I’m going to fill with paint. My favorite pencils for car painting are the Sakura Sumo Grip mechanical pencils, with big, soft .9 mm lead. But they’re the fiddler’s favorite pencils too, so they tend to—ahem—disappear.
  7. Pencil sharpener and kneaded eraser. I don’t really need these when I can find my the Sakura Sumo Grip, but, um, fiddlers…
  8. Eye dropper for filling the watercolor brush. Before I had the eyedropper, filling the brush was exciting, especially when the fiddler was navigating badly maintained state highways.
  9. Small container of water (that doesn’t leak). Coffee will work, in a pinch, if you don’t use sugar and cream, but your colors will suffer for it. Don’t use soft drinks.
  10. Spice jar. To store the eye dropper. This keeps the inside of your kit dry.
  11. A Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media soft cover journal. I love these. The paper takes watercolor really well, the binding really does lay flat as advertised, and the cover makes me feel like I’ve got a special book.

30-in-30: Plein air watercolor painting at 60 miles-per-hour

Distant water 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Distant water
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

This week I had to make a sojourn to the Bay Area. The fiddler likes to drive, so while the fiddler steered the infernal combustion machine, I painted.

I love passenger-seat painting. Give me a wide enough view and a straight enough road (I suffer from motion sickness), and I can paint for miles.

In the studio, it’s easy to get in that zone of hyper-focus where thought takes a backseat to conscious action. If you’re a painter, you know what I mean. Pick up some color with the brush, dab it on—ooo pretty—dab some more—ooo pretty pretty—dab, dab, dab—pretty pretty pretty—dab, no, wait, dang it, arggh! What have I done? If you don’t pause and move back, pretty soon you’ve created a muddy mess.

Green Hill 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Green Hill
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

Painting landscape studies in the car (while someone else is driving—duh!) is a good way to break that kind of zen-zoned out paint daubing. You can’t focus for very long on one scene, because the scene changes minute-by-minute. So you have to make your decisions rapidly and correctly.

Fallow field 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Fallow field
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

All you have time to do in the car is decide on a quick composition, draw the big shapes, get the right color and value on the palette, and paint the shapes. I start with the sky first usually, the brightest and lightest shape. The jiggling of the car prohibits any attention to detail; it’s all about composition, color and shape.

I love these little watercolors. The challenge is to bring this freshness and life into larger studio paintings.

Winter trees 3" x 6" watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Winter trees
3″ x 6″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal