Sunday, May 13, 2018

Another Storybook Tudor (Plus Grisaille Demo)

5/7/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Whenever I’m out walking in the ‘hood, this brick Tudor catches my eye. Although it was too small to show the details, the tiny window in front stands out from the wall in a pyramid shape and has its own little roof. In addition, the brick façade in front of the porch has an interesting stair-stepped shape sloping down from the roof. This house is straight out of a storybook.

Grisaille demo

Recently during lunch with a few other sketchers, I was asked about the shading method I’ve been using on my series of house sketches. As I explained it, I realized it might make an informative demo. While sketching this Tudor, I finally remembered to take a few process photos.

Step 1: I use water-soluble colored pencils to lightly draw the contour of the house. If you look closely, you’ll see that I’ve restated a few lines, but I always leave the wrong ones in, just like I do when I’m sketching with ink. Colored pencil is difficult to erase without damaging the paper’s surface, and it’s easy to cover up any bad lines later. (Look at the finished sketch at the top of the page – the restated lines have disappeared, right?)
Step 1: Draw contour lines lightly with colored pencil.

Step 2: Here’s where the grisaille comes in. I learned this method of developing tone several years ago from Steve Reddy in his workshop on illustrative drawing. He uses diluted India ink, which he paints onto his drawing in one or more layers, building darker and darker values with each layer. While I certainly appreciated learning this eye-opening method (which is apparently a technique used by painters, especially working in oil), I could never get over the mess and fuss of trying to juggle small bottles of liquid ink (a permanently staining one, mind you), which is impossible to do without sitting, so I never used his ink method.

Instead, I started using various gray toned markers for the same effect. Markers do not flow as nicely as liquid ink, so I admit that the result isn’t quite as polished as Steve’s grisaille, but the tradeoff of ease and convenience is worth it to me. In the past, I’ve used Tombow Dual Brush Markers, Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush Markers and many other brush pens and markers for this technique, but my favorite is Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pens because they’re waterproof after they’ve dried. And just like diluted India ink, Pitt marker ink can be layered to create increasingly darker tones. I’ve used Pitt pens on and off as a primary drawing tool, too (influenced by Pitt master Don Colley), but I get better use of them as a grisaille. I used to prefer the Pitt standard brush pens for portability, but lately I’ve been using the chunky Big Brush version because it’s so much easier to cover a large area. (And portability is less of an issue since I got my new sketch tool organizer with slots that accommodate them!)

So, once I’ve made the contour drawing, I use a relatively dark value (I like cool gray IV in the winter and warm gray IV the rest of the year) to put in all the shadows at the same time before the light shifts (that’s something I learned from Shari Blaukopf).

Step 2: Use Pitt Artist Big Brush Pen to put in shadows that serve as the grisaille.

Step 3: I start putting in color using water-soluble colored pencils (mostly Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles), including right over the Pitt marker shading.

Step 3: Start putting in color with water-soluble colored pencils.

Step 4: If I activate the colored pencil with water, I can do it without worrying about inadvertently washing the grisaille because the Pitt ink is waterproof. (I’ve made some muddy messes attempting this with markers containing water-soluble inks.) I usually add another pass of colored pencil for deeper color and details.

Step 4: Activate pencil pigments

Step 5 (finished sketch at top of page): I finish by spritzing the trees and foliage and painting the sky (see how-to on both techniques). The very last thing is something I’ve only started doing with this house series: When I’ve done an entire sketch in nothing but colored pencil, sometimes the main subject seems to get lost in the background. To bring it forward again, I crisp up a few key lines (like the roofline and corners) with a fountain pen.

It’s kind of the reverse of what I’ve done for most of my time as a sketcher, which is to draw the contour lines in ink and then color them in afterwards (what I call the “coloring book” method). That’s a tried-and-true method used by many sketchers, and I still use it most of the time. But when I’m less confident about the linework (as I always am with architecture), it’s a lot easier to hide mistakes (like the ones I pointed out in Step 1) with pale colored pencils than with ink.

Who did I learn that technique from? Kumi Matsukawa, who follows this same principle when sketching with watercolor. She does her initial drawing with a brush and a pale wash of watercolor. She then adds successive passes of paint, and her final touch is to put in selective linework with ink. I had observed her doing this through process steps she had shown on social media, so I asked her why she did the linework last (which seemed “backward” to me). She explained that when she’s unsure of the line, it’s much easier to fudge it with a pale wash of watercolor. By the end of the sketch, she knows clearly where the line should be, so she can confidently put it in with black ink.

Her idea makes so much sense that I had to smack myself upside the head!

Sketching in the 'hood.


  1. I sure would like to try this method next time when sketching a complicated subject!

    1. Please give it a try and let me know what you think! I think it would work even better with watercolor.

  2. Great to see your steps and read your words. This makes a lot of sense. It is nice to have a strong internet connection tonight so I can catch up a bit.

    1. Thanks for reading my demo (and for keeping up while you're traveling!) -- glad it makes sense!


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