Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Joshua Tree: Sketch Kit Follow-Up

The fistful of colored pencils that went with me to Joshua
Tree -- and that go with me everywhere.

Given the brevity (five days) of my recent trip to southern California, I made no changes at all to my sketch kit and hardly gave it a thought. I carried everything I always carry day to day, nothing more. One notable omission, however, was watercolors: This was the first time I traveled since I took up sketching that I brought no watercolors at all.

Ever since I returned from the UK in August, I’ve been committed to giving colored pencils a try as my only coloring medium (except for a couple of waterbrushes filled with inks), so I took the watercolors completely out of my bag. I haven’t missed them at all, and I’ve been enjoying experimenting with colored pencils in various ways to become faster at using them. Whenever I travel, though, I start second-guessing major sketch kit decisions (looking for watercolors in the Mojave Desert would be time-consuming at best). But after all, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not as if the lack of watercolors would keep me from sketching. So I resisted the urge to put the watercolors back in.

A couple of times when I was using my landscape-format sketchbook, I missed the speed of making a swish of color across the page spread, but since I always carry a waterbrush of blue ink, I could at least take care of the sky with liquid ease.

The really significant benefit of colored pencils over watercolors is how easy they are to use while standing, which was almost the entire time I was in the desert. (Given the warnings about scorpions and snakes, I wasn’t interested in sitting on the ground or on rocks!) Whether I was using my regular sketchbook signatures or my Stillman & Birn landscape Beta, I felt completely unencumbered using colored pencils. Later in the car, I sometimes used a waterbrush to activate colors or darken shadows with a few more layers of pencil, but often I finished while still standing. While watercolors can be faster, colored pencils are giving me more mobility and options, such as staying on my feet. (I did wonder how watercolor painters manage painting in the desert; every time I used a sprayer or waterbrush, every drop of moisture evaporated immediately!)

11/16/16 Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park
I’m still not happy with the wimpiness of some of my colored pencil applications; I need to work on getting the intensity I want, especially in the field. (I have a much easier time applying sufficient layers of intense color when I’m sitting at my desk.) Still, I’ve not often achieved the level of color intensity I want with watercolors, either, so it’s not a medium-specific issue. I’m sticking with colored pencils, because the only way to improve my use of any medium is to stay with it for a while. 


  1. The colored pencils were a good option for the desert. I painted and sketched in Sedona once and the paint dried before I got it on the paper. lol I think you get a nice intensity of color with the pencils. Standing up to sketch isn't the easiest thing to do...you have to be so good at balancing things, but better than sitting down with the scorpions.

    1. I was wondering if you'd ever tried painting in the desert! Must've been quite the challenge!

      - Tina

  2. Really love the fude pen that I read about on your blog! It is by far one of my favorite pens to use!
    I am just starting out with watercolor pencils due to your inspiration, would you let me know what colors are best for sketching? Thanks!

    1. Glad to hear you have been inspired to try watercolor pencils! The colors to use are really determined by what you like to sketch and what your typical urban sketching landscape looks like. I recommend just taking a small palette of a dozen or so pencils out in the field, and after using them for a month or so, you'll probably start to see which colors you are always wishing you had. So you can add those in. You'll also start to see which colors you never use. That's really the best way to figure out your own personal palette. Have fun!

      -- Tina


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