Monday, May 18, 2020

Demo: Planning the Dry/Wet Sequence

Here's the scene: Half of Mt. Rainier visible from our upstairs sundeck on a
remarkably clear afternoon.

After I’ve finished a sketch, I sometimes think that the process I used for that sketch might be helpful to someone else if I explained the steps, but I don’t think about that until after the sketch is finished. Last week while I was standing in the blistering heat, sketching Mt. Rainier from our unshaded sundeck, it suddenly occurred to me that if I took photos along the way, the sketch could become a demo. I wrote a more thoroughly detailed demo on my urban sketching process a few years ago, but that day was cool and comfortable, so I could be leisurely. This sketch happened more quickly because I wanted to get out of the sun, so the demo emphasizes the importance of planning the step sequence to save time as well as to achieve better results.
Steps 1 and 2: Blocking, rough drawing, "licked" wet-on-wet sky

Step 1: Blocking and rough drawing
Using dry watercolor pencils, I blocked in the composition – Rainier, the utility pole, the rooftops and the foliage (see palette below) in my Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook. In retrospect, I would have left the utility pole for later, but it was such a prominent structure in my view that I drew it without thinking strategically. (I never seem to learn this lesson.)
These 7 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils comprised the palette used in this sketch (and probably 75% of
my urban sketches).

Step 2: “Licked” wet-on-wet sky
(Sorry that I don’t have a separate image of this process; at the end of Step 2 was when I got the idea to take process photos. However, a previous “licked” sky demo has more details about this technique.) Since I knew I wanted to eventually draw power lines over the sky, I needed the paper to be completely dry by then, so I chose this point to work on the sky. Using my water spritzer, I sprayed the top half of the page generously. (My favorite spritzer is a small bottle that used to contain hand sanitizer.) Using a waterbrush, I pushed the water around the mountain and foliage line as closely as possible. Then I quickly “licked” color from the pencil tip (Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle 660) with a waterbrush and washed color onto the wet page.
Step 3: Selective activation

Step 3: More dry color; selective activation
Using dry watercolor pencils, I continued adding more pigment to the rough drawing, mainly on the foliage. At this point, I’m always tempted to activate the color in the foliage because that’s the most fun part. However, after being premature with this step many, many times, I’ve finally learned to wait until after I’ve selectively activated the parts that I don’t want to turn into a blurry mess.

In this case, I wanted the blue base of the mountains and darker blue land below it to remain distinct, so I used a waterbrush to activate just those parts. (This was the point when I wished I had waited to draw the utility pole; it is dark enough that I could have drawn right over the blue instead of having to tediously cut around it as I did.) Once dry, the activated parts are not waterproof, but they remain stable enough that they will not blur when more water is spritzed over them.
Step 4: Spritzing foliage 

Step 4: Spritz foliage
When the selectively activated parts are dry, it’s time for the fun step: spritzing. First, I spritzed into the air to see which way the wind was blowing, if at all. (It’s annoying to aim at your sketchbook, fire, and have all the water blow back onto you.) Holding the book at arm’s length, I sprayed the foliage areas lightly and evenly. The first bursts of activated colors are so exciting and rewarding that it’s always tempting to keep spritzing repeatedly, but resist. If the page gets flooded with water, all the colors run together into a big muddy mess. If you see unactivated areas later when the initial spritzing is dry, you can always spritz again.
Step 5: Add final details

Step 5: Details
Using dry pencils, I added a few details to the houses and finished with the utility wires. The completed sketch is shown below. It took about 45 minutes.

Completed sketch


  1. What a good demo...clear and to the point. Well done, master!

    1. Thanks! Writing these demos helps me to articulate the steps that I otherwise don't think about consciously, and that actually helps me later when I'm sketching! I guess I'm teaching myself with my own demos. ;-)


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