Perspective With Just A Pencil!

If you are painting outdoors or attempting to paint a still life in front of you, how would you go about drawing realistically with just a pencil and paper? How could you transfer what you see to your painting surface? How can you judge proportion and perspective without error?

To make a drawing look right, we must understand that all parts of a scene (or landscape) are LOCKED into a proportional relationship which doesn’t change. When drawing, your job is to observe carefully what the relationship is and reproduce it accurately. You don’t want to guess what the proportions MIGHT BE or assume what  they SHOULD BE. Instead you want to replicate what the proportions actually ARE.

In my last blog, Use The Low-Tech Grid Method To Transfer Your Image, 4/8/20,  https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/04/08/use-the-low-tech-grid-method-to-transfer-your-image/, I explained how to use a grid to judge placement, angles, and proportion in a drawing.

However, using just a pencil and paper for drawing is even simpler and faster! The pencil you draw with becomes the tool for comparing and SIGHTING how shapes relate to each other. You take your sighting by holding out the pencil AT ARM’S LENGTH. (Your arm is locked straight out from the body.) You look down your arm and slide your thumb to measure the approximate length of an object. (Your thumb is a SLIDING MEASURING GAUGE.)

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In this way, you measure first one portion of a scene or object, while you extend the arm holding the pencil. Hold your thumb steady on the pencil to mark the measure, move your pencil while keeping your thumb in place, and compare the first measurement to the size of a second portion of the scene or object. For example, to find the relationship (RATIO) of the top width of a chair to the height of the chair, place your thumb on the pencil to mark and hold the width. Turn your pencil without moving your thumb, to compare the height to the first width measurement. (If width measures ‘one’, height might be ‘1.5’. In this case, the height of the chair is 1.5 times width of the chair.) You could then easily use this information to create a drawing of the chair.

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Continue to measure and compare other areas within your scene to the first measurement in order to figure relative sizes and relationships throughout the picture. Angles can be determined using this method as well.

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Once SIGHTING with a pencil is learned , it quickly becomes an effective way to check size, distance, and angles in a drawing. You can scale an image up or down in size while maintaining proper proportions. The technique will become automatic and indispensable as you gather information and look carefully at your scene. The more you look into your subject, the more you will see!

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For a quick video explanation of sighting with a pencil, watch this YouTube by Chris Triner, Drawing With Simple Sighting Technique, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Otv_l_qkML4

Use The Low-Tech Grid Method To Transfer Your Image.

The most useful tools are often the most simple and easiest to use!

Several of you have recently asked how to transfer an image to your watercolor paper when you have no graphite tracing paper or already enlarged template to trace. Here is a simple way to accurately transfer your image.

The grid system of drawing or transferring an image to paper (or other painting surface) has been used for centuries by many artists, including Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer. It is a low-tech, inexpensive tool used to reproduce, decrease, or enlarge an image.

Overview.

Draw a grid of lines over a reference photo, then lightly draw a larger grid (of equal ratio) on your work surface. To calculate the size of the second grid, work backwards from the desired final size of your drawing.

Method. Draw first grid and label.

To use this method, you will need watercolor paper, ruler, pencil, pen, and eraser. Try to work from a black-and-white original image. Draw a grid with pen (so it’s easier to see) directly on your black-and-white template image. You can decide arbitrarily on the size of the squares in the grid, but they must fit evenly on the image. For example, with a 5X6” image you might draw 1” squares – 5 squares across and 6 squares down.

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Example of grid over template, 4 squares across, 3 squares down.

When the squares are drawn on your template, LABEL the boxes on left and top, to help you keep your place as you proceed to transfer your image onto your watercolor paper (or other painting surface). You might label boxes down the SIDE with letters – A, B, C, etc. You might label boxes across the TOP with numbers -1, 2, 3, 4, etc. In this way, you keep track of the lines you are transferring from each box to its corresponding box on the second grid. In other words, if you are duplicating box E3 from your template, you will look to work on box E3 on your work surface.

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Labeled grid.

Figure and draw second grid, then label.

To create your second grid, determine the final size of the picture you want. Then you’ll need to make some calculations. Will you need to double the size of the original grid squares? Perhaps make them three times as large? What about making them on and a half times as large?

Measure and lightly draw the outer rectangle (or square, whatever your shape) for your final image. Use your ruler to determine the new size of the grid. You want the same number of squares in your second grid (not the same size as the original unless your final image will actually be the same size as your template), with the SAME RATIO of width to length. So, what size squares will fit EVENLY within your rectangle? For simplicity’s sake, let’s decide your final image will be 10’X12”. This would make 2” grid squares a good choice. Lightly draw out your final grid with PENCIL on your paper, and LABEL the new grid in a way similar to the original grid, e.g. with letters down the side and numbers across the top.

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Example of original grid, and enlarged second grid with same proportions.

Then, square by square, transfer the same line details to the second grid, one square at a time. Follow the details, from box to box. You look at where the lines start and progress, say in square E3, and approximate the same line placement. Your aim is to recreate similar lines you “see” WITHOUT interpreting and drawing what you think you see.

Get the large shapes penciled in, then begin adding some details. Keep looking at grid labels to keep your place and check placement. When your drawing is finished, check it over. Catch any mistakes now! Smooth out lines in your image and erase grid lines as carefully as well as you can, without damaging your watercolor paper. Then, it’s time to paint!

A final lesson.

Using the grid method encourages the artist to draw what is there without struggling with concepts of how things “should” look. While the grid might seem to be a constraint, it, in fact, liberates the artist from making unintended misperceptions relating to the way they think something looks. See my related blog posts:

Painting Begins With Looking and Seeing…, published 12/18/18, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/12/18/painting-begins-with-looking-and-seeing/ ,

Avoid Painting Lollipop Trees! (Parts I, II, and III), posted 3/13/19, 3/19/19, and 3/26/19, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/03/13/avoid-painting-lollipop-trees/ , https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/03/19/avoid-painting-lollipop-trees-part-ii/ , https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/03/26/avoid-painting-lollipop-trees-part-iii/ .

In summary, the grid prevents an artist from changing or misinterpreting important information. A grid can help you measure relative proportions to sidestep any distortions. And, finally, the grid also insures that you observe and take into account necessary constant vertical and horizontal references.

In the next blog post, let’s move beyond the grid method to learn HOW TO DRAW and to transfer perspective and proportion using just a pencil, as a moveable, low-tech “grid” for drawing, perfect for using out doors. The method allows you to transfer what you see without any template. Keep watch!

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Ten Fun Things To Liven Up Your Art!

Don’t know what to paint? Disappointed in your last paintings and feeling inadequate? Bored with your art? Need some inspiration? Craving some creative calm? Try something new!

Here are a few things to excite you and help you change your art up:

1.) Invest in a new brush! But, don’t buy just any old brush. As a watercolorist, it’s so much easier to paint well with a decent brush! Here is my new favorite brand. Give yourself a boost with an ESCODA Versatil brush, a SYNTHETIC brush designed to have the attributes of a natural kolinsky. These brushes hold a lot of water, have a firm spring, a sharp point, plus durability. A size #10 pointed round sells for about $20 (on dickblick.com, jerrysartarama.com, or cheapjoes.com). Nothing makes play more fun than a new toy! What a treat!

2.) Take an actual (or virtual!!!) trip to a museum to get inspired. For instance, the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, Belgium, currently has a Jan van Eyck exhibit up ( through April 30, 2020) entitled “Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution”. While the actual exhibit is closed until April 5, zoomable images can be found at closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be and on their Van Eyck page.

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What art did you enjoy looking at? What did you especially like? Can you borrow some ideas about technique, treatment of light, or use of color to adapt to your own paintings? Track done another museum you’d like to check out. Look at the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibits (https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions), The Worcester Art Museum (https://www.worcesterart.org/exhibitions/), or The Wadworth Atheneum Museum of Art (https://www.thewadsworth.org/), for example.

3.) Try a new brand of watercolor paper. Make sure it is ARTIST GRADE 100% cotton fiber (NOT cellulose), such as Arches, Waterford, Fabriano, Lanaquarelle, or Indigo Handmade. Most of these brands can be found online (dickblick.com, jerrysartarama.com, or cheapjoes.com). Remember that you can sometimes buy an assortment of different papers, or a pad or block of a different brand – you needn’t buy full sheets. I recently got some Indigo paper from amazon.com and am looking forward to giving it a try. These papers made of cotton absorb paint much more evenly and make it easier to paint well! They are definitely worth any extra cost. Experiment!

4.) Find some inspiration by buying yourself a new or used watercolor book to immerse yourself in. Learn about all the critical ingredients that turn paintings into art with Joseph Zbukvic’s Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor or Thomas W. Shaller’s Architect of Light: Watercolor Paintings By a Master. Or look into the amazing John Singer Sargent: Watercolors (https://www.amazon.com/John-Singer-Sargent-Erica-Hirshler/dp/0878467912/ref=sr_1_6?crid=2FWU61E1CBLTR&keywords=john+singer+sargent+books&qid=1585064924&sprefix=%2Caps%2C162&sr=8-6). Looking to shake things up? Try Mark Mehaffey’s Creative Watercolor Workshop. Or, if you’re a beginner, check out Watercolour For Starters by Paul Talbot-Greaves, Let’s Get Started by Jack Reid, or Painting For The Absolute and Utter Beginner by Claire Watson Garcia.

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5.) Gift yourself a new tube of watercolor paint in a color you might like but do not have. Wouldn’t Daniel Smith’s Lavender be beautiful? Try a tube of Cobalt Teal Blue, Quinacridone Gold, or Bloodstone. Fun!

6.) Look at your paints in a new way by arranging them in a round palette (see robax.com) in a color wheel format. To learn how much easier color mixing can be with a color wheel format read my recent blog post Color Choices For a Circular Palette, published 2/11/20, https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/02/11/color-choices-for-a-circular-palette/.

7.) Sign up for a watercolor workshop with a talented artist. Now is the time to plan! Get a couple of your friends to go with you, if you want, and make a day of it. I’m really looking forward to a Robert J. O’Brien workshop with two of my friends at New England School of Fine Art, Worcester, MA., http://www.nesfa-worcester.com/index.html, entitled ‘The New England Landscape’, on May 30, 2020.

8.) Or perhaps you’d enjoy taking an online workshop. Many artists offer online instruction. I have been developing several online art workshops that will be available in the near future. Stay tuned for news, or contact me to express interest. In the meantime, look at the offerings from artists Angela Fehr, Rebecca Rhodes, Anna Mason, or Birgit O’Connor. Courses are also available from Artist Network, https://www.artistsnetwork.com/, or Art Tutor, https://www.arttutor.com/classes. Some classes can also be found for free at jerrysartarama.com. And finally, YouTube has many free videos on watercolor technique.

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9.) Find yourself a new piece of art equipment to help you paint better and LEARN TO USE IT. A gray scale or value scale, for example, can help you create more dynamic and effective paintings by improving your light and dark contrast. Don’t know what a gray scale is? Read my blog post Why Should I Bother To Use A Gray Scale?, posted 5/21/19, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/05/21/why-should-i-bother-to-use-a-gray-scale/, for more information.

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10.) Finally, try something NEW or BREAK SOME RULES! Don’t take things too seriously. Paint with some unexpected colors, or unusual color combinations. Add some complementary colors that you don’t actually see in your reference image to add interest to your painting. Or zoom in close to your subject to crop out unnecessary details. Change your viewpoint in your picture to either raise or lower the horizon line. Try looking down on your subject, e.g. painting a lake looking down from a cliff. Alter the mood in your painting, perhaps creating a more somber, dark, heavy, moody image. Or try charging your colors ON your paper (see the watercolors of John Singer Sargent, especially his images of sunlight on stone, one of which is below) to add life to your picture and prevent a flat lifeless wash. Or exaggerate your lights and darks. Above all, focus on the PROCESS of painting without worrying about (or even considering) the result.

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John Singer Sargent watercolor.

Choose one of the ten above suggestions to try – begin with the one that excites you most. Then try another – just keep painting or thinking about your art. Strive to keep calm through your creativity. And ENJOY your painting!

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Have You Seen The Painting Palettes From Robax?!?

As some of you know, I’ve been using the Stephen Quiller palette, with paint wells arranged in a circle (like the color wheel), to hold my watercolor pigments. The Quiller palette is large (14” in diameter) with 32 wells to hold paint. I’ve found that organizing paint in a circle helps to think about color relationships and to more easily choose colors for mixing. I can SEE how each color might behave when mixed with other colors, taking a lot of guesswork out of color mixing. I love the Quiller palette!

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Here’s my Quiller palette.

But, I recently heard about another selection of circular palettes produced by Robax Engineering. (See https://www.robax.com/palettes.html.) There are several wonderful variations/sizes of Robax palettes to choose from. Some are ideal for studio work, others would be perfect to use for outdoor painting or to take to a workshop.

Robax has created six different sizes of ROUND palettes that allow you to set up your paints in a way similar to the color arrangement in the color wheel. Sizes range from 12” to 18” in diameter, some with SMALL WELLS, others with LARGE WELLS for paint. The number of paint wells ranges from 12 to 85! Yes, room for 85 colors!!! All of these palettes come with a tight-fitting lid. 

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Robax Circular palettes.

In addition, Robax offers each palette with a removable MIXING INSERT for easy cleaning. For artists who work on more than one picture at a time, mixing area inserts  can be removed and kept with the unfinished paintings. Also useful is that the mixing inserts can be washed clean without disturbing the paints in the palette. You can purchase ADDITIONAL round mixing inserts to switch in or out of your palette, as needed. I’m really excited about this option – When each of my three watercolor classes is painting a different image, I will be able to easily grab the appropriate mixing insert of paint I have mixed previously and saved for later use. No more piles of smaller, tipping mixing palettes for me! 

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Robax mixing insert.

Optional is a CAROUSEL that fits the round 12, 19, 36, 42, 64, or the 85-well palette, and allows the palette to spin.

Robax conveniently makes WELL LINERS that hold pigment and that fit perfectly into their palettes. This would allow you to easily move colors around (or change or add a new color) by snapping the liners out and rearranging.

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Robax well liners, sized to fit 85-well palette. Other sizes available.

If you prefer, Robax also offers a variety of unusual RECTANGULAR palettes, with 12 to 58 wells to fill with color. Different inserts are available for the rectangular palettes in different configurations. All include covers. Design and order what works for you!

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One of Robax’s rectangular palettes, with some insert options.

Finally, Robax offers several types/sizes of PALETTE BOARDS – one has wells for pigments, another includes a small, low wooden stand to slant the board, or you may choose the basic ABS plastic board.

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One of Robax’s palette boards.

Check out the innovative circular (or rectangular) Robax palettes to see if they can add ease and convenience to your painting! Let me know what you think of them.

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Help! I Don’t Know What Art Supplies To Buy!

So many different watercolor art supplies are available that choosing supplies can be overwhelming when a student is just starting out. So much to choose from! Some artists suggest that you need to buy this brand and never that one.  Some teachers hand out a materials list with 25 different brushes, 30 other pieces of equipment, and dozens of paint colors. Nobody seems to agree. And the costs can be astronomical! What can you do?

START SLOWLY.

First, be assured that you DON’T have to buy everything at once.

DON’T BUY THE CHEAPEST.

Second, however, DON’T buy inferior equipment, whether brushes, paper, or paint, to try to save money! You need the right tools to have success in your painting. If you buy the cheapest brush you can find, for instance, because you don’t know whether you’ll like watercolor, I guarantee you will struggle with painting. Even an experienced artist will have trouble painting well with a cheap brush. It is so much easier to paint with the right tools for the job! Therefore, instead of buying lots of inexpensive materials, buy FEWER items that are BETTER quality. (You need not buy the most expensive equipment, either, as you can work up to the best quality as you go along.)

But how do you know what is ‘good’ quality? You probably can’t afford to try everything or experiment.

SUGGESTIONS BELOW.

Below are my suggestions. I offer the ‘Bare Bones’ and ‘Extras.’ The lists are not written in stone; often I will tell you several good choices  you can try. It’s fine to pick and choose – if you try something and it doesn’t work for you, try another option. After all, your goal is to make watercolors work for you. Don’t, however, give up prematurely or without giving yourself the chance to practice with these materials.

FROM WHERE?

But wait! Where do you find art supplies to buy? While you can pick up some materials at local art supply stores, I LOVE to buy my supplies online! The variety offered is amazing! And prices are often cheaper online. My favorite site is jerrysartarama.com.  Order online, or call in an order if you prefer (800-827-8478). Other excellent online sources include dickblick.com or cheapjoes.com, and sometimes amazon.com (although amazon can be more expensive!); the different sources often carry a slightly different selection of items, although there is a lot of overlap. (Hint: If you think you might like to continue buying art supplies, make sure to sign up to receive emails from the first three companies – they offer REGULAR sales!)

‘BARE BONES’:

PAINT and PALETTE – The easiest and quickest option is a travel palette already filled with pans of paint. (I would recommend a Winsor-Newton Sketcher’s Pocket Box with 14 half pans for $12.98 fulfilled by Amazon from Supplier Central, or $16.97 from amazon.com.)  Also recommended is Daniel Smith’s excellent, higher-quality travel palette – Sketcher Set of 6  (with 9 convenient pans for later filling) – Extra Fine Watercolor Half-Pan Set (which is available online for $35.95).

You can buy palette and paint separately also. The John Pike palette is a great option – it is very sturdy and has a cover, in case you want to paint outdoors or take your supplies to a class or workshop! (It is available from all of the above-mentioned online art suppliers. Today at jerrysartarama.com the price is $15.48; Amazon’s price is $37.20.)

Paint in tubes to fill your palette could be limited to five colors to start out, especially if you are willing to begin learning the fun of mixing your own colors. You DO NOT ever need any white or black! As you progress, you can add more varied colors. (Available from jerrysartarama.com in 5ml. tubes, I recommend either Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Hansa Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow, Payne’s Gray, and Quinacridone Pink costing $32.71, OR Winsor-Newton Professional Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow Deep, Payne’s Gray, and Permanent Rose costing $32.23.)

BRUSHES – You don’t need to purchase a lot of brushes. Start with these four brushes: size #4 and #10 Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7020 Ultra-round brushes ($5.69 and $8.89, respectively, at jerrysartarama.com). Also purchase a 1″ Flat Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7550 wash brush ($11.79 at jerrysartarama.com). Finally, round out your first brush collection with a Creative Mark Original Scrubber #6 (today for $2.59 at jerrysartarama.com).

BRUSH EASEL – If you can afford it, get a brush easel to protect your investment in brushes. I like the Creative Mark Folding Long Handle Brush Easel (today $5.24 at jerrysartarama.com, usually $8.49).

WATERCOLOR PAPER – Paper could be one of your more expensive purchases. But remember not to buy inferior quality! If you do, you invite unnecessary frustration in your painting and dissatisfaction with your final product. For my classes, I ALWAYS use Arches 300 lb. Bright White Rough watercolor paper, which is sturdy enough NOT to buckle when wet and can withstand rough scrubbing and lifting without damage. (Arches 300lb. paper costs $64.51 for 5 sheets – or $3.23 for each 11X14″ picture – on jerrysartarama.com.)

Yet another good paper option would be an Arches Bright White Rough 140 lb. Block of 20 sheets. The 140 lb. paper is thinner and less sturdy than 300 lb., but since it is a block, the sheets are held together until you separate them after painting, so they do not buckle. (Cost would be $37.25 for a 20-sheet 140 lb. Arches Bright White Rough watercolor block sized 11X14″ at jerrysartarama.com. – or $1.87 for each 11X14″ picture.)

You will also need a PENCIL (H) for sketching lightly before painting. Along the same lines, get a good ERASER that will not scratch your paper (e.g., Factis ES20 Artists’ eraser at jerrysartarama.com for $.89). You may already have similar items.

Some type of WATER CONTAINER is a must, but you needn’t buy one unless you want to. Use a jam jar, mason jar, or any plastic container you have on hand.

You also need PAPER TOWELS, tissues, or rags to use when blotting extra paint or wetness.

‘BARE BONES’ COST.

To start with, these ‘Bare Bones’ supplies would cost you about $80, or a bit more depending on which choices you decide on and where you purchase them.

‘EXTRAS’:

The first extra I would recommend is MASKING FLUID, used to preserve whites before you paint or to protect a painted area when adding darker color. I use Pebeo brand Drawing Gum ($6.85 for 45 ml. on jerrysartarama.com). You could also purchase Winsor-Newton Masking Fluid ($9.47 for 75 ml. on dickblick.com). When you use masking fluid, do not leave it on your watercolor paper for more than a couple of weeks. As time goes by, it gets harder to remove; eventually it will not leave the paper without damaging it!

Clear SCOTCH TAPE #810 (NOT original Scotch tape) is also a very effective way to mask or protect a portion of your watercolor painting. It should be applied when your paper is DRY and can be burnished to prevent any paint from leaking under the tape. It can be carefully cut to the desired shape with an X-acto knife. Remove with a palette knife.

To lift off your dried masking fluid, you will need a MASK PICK-UP, also called a rubber cement pick-up ($1.99 at jerrysartarama.com).

To apply the masking fluid to your watercolor paper, DO NOT use a brush. Even if you apply soap to your brush beforehand as some recommend, your brush becomes ruined; the mask dries on your brush, and you end up with globs of mask and little control in applying the masking fluid to paper. What a mess! Instead, apply your masking fluid with a RULING PEN, which is easily cleaned. A ruling pen is available on jerrysartarama.com for $9.89, or try to find an Alvin 5.5″ #959 ruling pen. Ebay is an excellent place to find a vintage or new ruling pen. (Some of the best ruling pens were made in Germany.) You can also use an Incredible Nib, toothpick, palette knife, even a sharp stick to apply masking fluid.

A Creative Mark Painter’s Edge 15T PALETTE KNIFE from jerrysartarama.com ($2.49 today, usual price $4.49) has many uses.

A CORK-BACKED RULER is an aid to your sketching and, with the cork back, is elevated slightly off your paper to prevent smears and smudges from paint or ink. A 12″ stainless cork-backed ruler is available on jerrysartarama.com for $4.99. On amazon.com a 6″ metal cork-backed ruler costs $4.37.

SPRAY BOTTLES come in handy to soften paint in your palette or moisten watercolor paper. Small spray bottles can be found in the travel sections in drug stores. At jerysartarama.com a Holbein spray bottle sells for $2.49. One of the best sprayers I have found, however, is an empty Windex bottle.

An X-ACTO KNIFE (with cover, or retractable) is a desirable tool for use in watercolor painting. The cheaper #1 X-acto version with cover can be found on jerrysartarama.com for $3.64. My favorite  version is the retractable X-acto #9, available from dickbkick.com for $12.68.

At some point, you will want to have a BAG to help you organize your materials. I like a large carrying bag to corral everything, including my palette, AND a PENCIL BOX to keep my smaller items (pencil, eraser, tape, masking fluid, mask pick-up, 6″ ruler, X-acto, etc.) within easy reach. I got my pencil box at Walmart for $.99. You could use any large tote bag that you already have or get a bag that is designed to hold ALL your equipment and keep your John Pike (or similar sized) covered palette upright to avoid messy spills, such as the Pittman Field Bag (14X18X11″). Get the Pittman bag at jerrysartarama.com today for $19.99, or from amazon.com for $40.96.

Finally, I recommend getting yourself a simple, sturdy ART PORTFOLIO for storage or transport of your art or watercolor paper. Amazon.com carries a weather-resistant Prestige portfolio (23X31X1.5″) for $33.22. A similar alternative, with shoulder strap, is available on jerrysartarama.com – ArtOne portfolio (23X31X1″) for $46.19.

While there are many other FUN tools, like sponges, toothbrushes, combs, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, erasing shields, metal screens, canned air, watercolor mediums, etc., the above-mentioned items are a wonderful place to start your watercolor adventures! Remember to start slowly and enjoy the process.