Buy prints!

I’ve been asked over the years “where can I purchase a print?” To which, embarrassingly, my answer was always “I don’t have any prints for sale yet.”

I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally stepped into the realm of sales for my art. If you see something you like on my blog, there’s a good chance I’ve uploaded it to my Redbubble shop:

Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 11.06.26 AMI’m in the process of finishing up scanning the majority of my art, so if you don’t see what you’re looking for, there’s a chance I haven’t uploaded it yet. Check back often as I’m adding new work almost daily.

You can also drop me a message, noting which piece of art I’ve featured that you cannot find on the shop and I can see about getting the art loaded up.

Thank you in advance for your patronage. Art is a serious love-affair for me, and I love sharing it with the world. If you want a piece of that love in your own space, you can have it now!


Watercolor Bookmark Gifts v2.0 – India Ink and Flower Doodles

Okay, don’t get angry with me for titling this “Watercolor Bookmark Gifts”, because I know these are not actually watercolor, but I wanted to do a re-take on my previous Watercolor Bookmark Gifts post from a few years back. (Wow, it’s been that long?)

That post has been one of the most popular posts on my blog. Doing an image search on Google for “watercolor bookmarks” my post via Pinterest is near the top of the image search list (squee!). So, that’s pretty dang exciting in itself, and I’m just really tickled that so many people feel inspired by that little project of mine.

So why am I re-hashing the post?

Well, if you’ve been to that post recently (and perhaps you came to this post from that one), you’ll notice I’ve added an after-the-fact edit to the post with a couple suggestions.

To my dismay, I found out from some of my friends living in humid areas that the watercolor occasionally bled – sometimes onto their book pages. This really saddened me – I didn’t want to give gifts that ruined people’s books. I had no idea that some of the pigment would re-activate. So, as a result, on that particular post, I’ve added a suggestion that you laminate the bookmarks before giving them out, or, hop over to this post to learn about making them using India Ink.

I played around with India Ink bookmark gifts in the past, and didn’t hear any complaints about bleeding bookmarks that time around. I just never thought to blog about it. I’m not sure how popular a search term “India Ink Bookmark Gifts” is, however. I think most people, when they think of painting a bookmark, they immediately picture using watercolor.

I’m happy to say you can achieve fairly similar results with India Ink, and because it is a permanent medium, you don’t have to worry about laminating the bookmarks or having them bleed all over your recipient’s pages.

Also, if you follow this method, you get to stick with just one medium for the entire project – India Ink. Unlike my other bookmarks where I used a white gel pen for the lettering, markers for the edging, and acrylic paint for the back.

I did these in a couple different styles. One is a look that’s absent any lettering. I just did some large, fun, mandala-style flowers and curly vines on a colorful background inspired by BeCre8ive2, and then cut the page into bookmarks. With the other painting I did my best to replicate the appearance from my original post.

If you have access to India Ink, I highly recommend giving these a whirl. I have a set of Dr. Ph. Martin’s India Inks. Again, you can do this just with watercolor, but as I discussed previously, I strongly suggest you laminate the bookmarks afterward to make sure they don’t bleed all over your friends’ books.

Let’s go over how I did each of these fun designs.

First thing’s first. Protect your painting surface. You are using permanent ink here, this time, instead of water-soluble water color. Once the ink is down and dried, it can be hard to remove, so protect your surface before getting started. When I began, I put down a cheap pillow case that I use as a sort of drop cloth for messy applications with a non-stick craft mat over the top of that for easy cleanup.

For each, I started off using a sheet of 12″x16″ Arches Aquarelle cold press watercolor paper. Yes. The expensive stuff. I wanted to use quality, heavy paper stock, and I have a block of this on hand, so why not?

I thoroughly wet both sides of the paper. You can do this a couple ways: Use a spray bottle and spray the surface until its saturated, then run a large paint brush or a foam painting sponge over the top to mop up excess water and evenly distribute the water. Or, just dip your large brush or foam sponge into a cup of clean water and mop it on that way. Just make sure you wet both sides of your paper.

Now I’ll discuss how I did each style.

First, the floral mandalas. You don’t have to do a design like mine. Really, any kind of doodle that appeals to you will work with this. By all means, you can copy this if you want if you’re only planning to give these out as gifts, but please give credit where it’s due (I do not give permission to copy the design for sale). I just love doing flowery things, so this method was my choice. I would just say that for whatever you choose, try to have large and small elements on your layout so that when you cut out your bookmarks, you have varying sizes that create interest.

Before I began with the doodles, I first put down the color. I dropped copious amounts of India Ink from many colors from the dropper all over the page, then tilted it around to get the color to flow. I manipulated the ink in some spots with a paint brush to get it closer to the edges of the paper or to cover odd white spots in the middle of the page. I think, to be honest, I added too much ink. I found I had to dab off a lot of excess water and ink with paper towels.

I did this to one side and then allowed it to dry part way before getting impatient and using a heat tool to dry the page the rest of the way.

I then flipped the page over, wet it with water and repeated the same process again.

Again, I dried the page. When it was thoroughly dry, I doodled the flowers and vines onto the side that I liked the color on the best. I used my Pentel Aquash water brush filled with black India Ink for the majority of the black outlining. I then treated any shading I did like I would with watercolor, wetting the surface and charging in color from the areas that I wanted to have darker. Once all the additional color application was finished, I went back over the top with white India Ink and my ruling pen to add highlights.

Now, this is where some patience needs to come in. As you can see from one of my photos, the page was definitely buckling and curling. No one wants a curled up bookmark, so to flatten the page, I flipped it over with the back facing up and then sprayed the back thoroughly with water. I put a hand towel over the top of that to absorb excess moisture and then put a flat surface over the top of that – I used the removable surface from my Orbital Easel, but anything that is flat and is as large as or larger than your page will work just fine, like a piece of plywood or an extra-large cutting board, etc. I then weighed that down with a couple of hand weights. If you don’t have hand weights, just stack on a bunch of heavy books, canned food, etc.

Depending on how heavily you wet your page, and how warm and humid your environment is, this can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to dry completely. Yes. That’s why I said patience is necessary. I use this same procedure to flatten out single-sheet watercolor paintings, as well.

If this is just intolerable to you, I encourage you to research “flattening watercolor paintings” and see if there’s something that appeals to you more. I’ve seen some people use irons, etc. Since I don’t have an iron, this is what I do.

After the artwork has dried completely and there’s no further risk of the page curling, I then cut the page into bookmark-size pieces using my Fiskars rotary trimmer. This made sixteen 2″x6″ bookmarks. Make them slimmer or shorter if you want more out of the page, or to whatever size you desire.

After cutting, the exposed edges of the bookmarks were white. I covered the white edges very quickly with a quick swipe of my aqua brush filled with india ink. You could also mask the color using permanent marker (although these may fade), Pitt Artist Brush Pens, or Sakura Pigma Micron pens. Whatever works for you.

I then punched holes in the tops with a standard hole punch and tied ribbon around the top.

Round one done. On to round two. Version 2.0 of my original watercolor bookmark gifts post.

I followed the same procedures as mentioned earlier with wetting the page. However, this time I was much more conservative with the amount of ink I used. I just dropped it on in spots over the page in a pattern that supported the original spectrum appearance. I dropped clean water on the page in areas to help provide a splatter effect, then allowed the page to dry, again hitting it with my heat tool to speed things up. I wasn’t quite able to achieve the pastel effect from my previous post, but I was happy with this, nonetheless, and knew that the white lettering would really pop against it when I applied it.

Afterwards, I flipped the page over and did a more even wash of color over the back, trying to somewhat match with what would be the color on the opposite side of the page.

After that dried, I then followed my aforementioned flattening procedure. This time I cut the bookmarks first before applying the writing, so I wanted them to be flat before I began the work.

I then painted on the same inspirational words after having first drawn them out with a pencil. I used a small round paintbrush and white India ink. My brush lettering skills are quite rusty. I found I needed two layers of ink. The white India ink I have isn’t quite fully opaque. (I really want to try Dr. Ph. Martin’s White Bleedproof Ink sometime.) When finished, I hit the edges of the cut bookmarks again with more ink. Finally, I gave them another weigh-down treatment (this time without adding any water) to help make sure they were good and flat.

It was fun to re-visit these bookmarks. Partly because I know I’ll have more gifts now to give out for birthdays or to send in Christmas cards. My friends all really loved them and seem kind of sad if I neglect to send them a new one during the holidays.

This time I made sure to keep a couple for myself. Hey, I read a lot of books, too, and why not enjoy something pretty when I need to find where I left off?

I hope you give either version a try or do something completely different. If you share it on instagram, please tag me so I can take a look!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Dr. Ph. Martin’s India Inks
Non-stick craft mat
Arches Aquarelle Cold Press Watercolor Paper
Foam painting sponge
Heat tool
Pentel Aquash water brush
Ruling pen
Orbital Easel
Fiskars rotary trimmer
BIC permanent markers
Pitt Artist Brush Pens
Sakura Pigma Micron pens
Dr. Ph. Martin’s White Bleedproof Ink

World Watercolor Month 2019 Recap

Is 2019 really already half-over? I’m still reeling from it and just now starting to get used to the warm weather.

Summers here in Colorado feel very fleeting and winters feel like they go on and on and on…

But here I am, and this July I decided to participate in another #WorldWatercolorMonth put on by Doodlewash.

I love and hate these daily art challenges.

I’ll get the ugly out of the way and explain why I dislike them. Primarily, for me, it’s because I have a full-time job plus other service and social obligations every week, not to mention daily “adulting” responsibilities like… oh… Vacuuming. Paying bills. Cleaning the bathroom. Cooking meals. Feeding the cat, etc.

So when I tag doing a daily watercolor painting on top of it, I start to get a bit frazzled. My days quickly turn into a pattern of wake, work, exercise, omgineedtopaintsomethinginjustanhour, service/social/responsibilities, sleep.

Have I mentioned I get up obscenely early every day, too? So bedtime is, like, when you put your 8-year-old to bed so you can finally sit down to wind down and watch your favorite TV show.

This is where I’ll morph over to the love of doing a daily art challenge. Aside from my TV exposure getting pretty limited, I get to take time to be really present and creative. I get to play with color and feel that little glow of satisfaction when I watch the watercolors play and mingle with one-another and my creation starts to become something recognizable.

I also get so much practice doing this. Sooooo, so much practice. My skills improve, I get more confident with my brush strokes, I know better how to predict what’s going to happen with certain pigments, and I get a better sense for my water-to-brush-to-paint ratios.

I get to fill up another sketchbook, too. If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know filling sketchbooks is something I have a reverence for. And this year I’m happy to be playing around with the new Etchr Watercolor Sketchbook. This one has 100% cotton paper in it (at last!) and it’s actually reasonably priced, too. Now that’s a combo I can be excited about!

Last, but not least, I get to make beautiful things. I still get kind of shocked when I finish something and I look at it and wonder to myself how on earth I managed to do it. I also get some sense of satisfaction filling my Instagram feed with pictures of colorful paintings.

So I’ll explain a few of my favorite paintings from the month. I finished 25 in all. Just six shy of the total for the month, but am I going to get down on myself for that? Heck. No. 25 paintings in a month is nothing to sneeze at.

My absolute favorite painting was the panoramic I did of Crystal Lakes above Breckenridge, CO. I used a reference photo I’d taken a few years back from a 4-wheeling trip up to there in the autumn. I loved the warm colors of the bushes and shrubs against the cool, towering peaks and the technicolor blue sky with bright, white, fluffy clouds.

For this painting I did a lot of wet-on-wet work, allowing the colors to mix on the page instead of pre-mixing them in my palette. The 100% cotton paper in the Etchr Sketchbook accommodated this beautifully.

I so loved the color combination that I made sure to later swatch out and list the colors on a page towards the back of my sketchbook in case I want to do something similar in the future.

My next favorite was a monochromatic painting of a photo I’d taken of some aspen trees while on a hike at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. This one made me do a double-take after I finished the painting and took a photo of it. It really almost looks like a black and white photo, not a painting – to me, at least.

For this, I used my favorite Daniel Smith color: Lunar Violet. I love the granulation in this color and the violet hues that emerge at random. The granulation did a great job of giving the impression of leaves in the background.

If I were to pick just one more favorite, it’s of the little cute, chipmunk. I did this one super fast using a limited palette with QoR and Mission Gold watercolors. I really lucked out when I got a photo of him just after he had stuffed his pouches with some food, his little mouth was partly open showing his cute little teeth.

All in all, I did a lot of different styles, approaches, and techniques through the month. I really had fun playing, and while maybe not all the paintings turned out quite the way I wanted, I still learned something in the process.

I started off using my 24 half-pan palette of only QoR watercolors, but later on I swapped over to my more hefty 48 half-pan palette which holds a mix of QoR, Mission Gold, Daniel Smith, and Winsor & Newton watercolors.

Finally, I want to give two thumbs up to Etchr Labs for their new 100% cotton sketchbooks. No, this is not a sponsored post. I am just so happy to finally have access to a reasonably-priced sketchbook that contains 100% cotton paper. The paper held up very well to pretty much all techniques I threw at it.

If I had any complaints, it’s just that I noticed some paper fibers pulling up when removing my tape along the edges of the page. It also did this a little with some of my masking fluid when I removed it. But it wasn’t terrible and didn’t downright tear the page to shreds.

Also, the paper is very soft, for lack of a better description, and when I did my mandala painting in it, the point of my compass pierced through several layers of paper while I was making the circle guides. I didn’t realize this until I turned the page for my next painitng and saw that the heavy wet-on-wet washes I’d done on that painting leaked through the puncture by several pages. It wasn’t terrible, but I just need to know to put something under a page if I’m going to use the compass in it again to prevent the compass from piercing more than the working page. I can put a small piece of tape behind the hole then before I start painting.

My final complaint with these sketchbooks is that you can only purchase them in packs for the time being. I believe that’s to help offset shipping costs. So it’s a bit of an investment up front, but in the end you end up with three fantastic sketchbooks with great paper, whereas you could pay the same price for three of another brand with cotton-blend or cellulose paper.

As for my final thoughts on participating in World Watercolor Month, I feel I can see noticeable improvement with my paintings from day 1 through the last day. That’s always exciting and rewarding to see.

Did you participate in #worldwatercolormonth2019? If so, what’s your take on it? Leave your comment below.

If you see anything you like in my art, remember that the majority of these paintings are available at my shop as prints and on other products, such as throw blankets, coffee mugs, and more.

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Etchr Watercolor Sketchbook
Daniel Smith Lunar Violet
QoR Watercolors
Mission Gold Watercolors
24 half-pan tin palette
48 half-pan tin palette

An A to Z-ish List of Favorite Watercolor Supplies

I’ve been doing a lot of fine art now in the past four years. Of course, I’ve always been an artist, but lived most of my artistic life in the world of digital art in a career as a Graphic Designer.

It was when I found myself between jobs that I ended up with lots of free time in which I could get back to my love of fine art.

I started off primarily doing mixed-media art journal work, sticking to more abstract sorts of concepts, working mostly with acrylics as the main medium and adding touches of ink, etc. here and there.

Then, at some point, watercolor came back into my world. I hadn’t done much work with watercolor in the past. The last time I did anything with watercolor, I was in High School art class.

But I was so enchanted by watercolor’s randomness. It meshed will with abstract and how I loved to play with colors and let them blend and see what materialized.

More and more over the past couple of years I started leaning towards watercolor as my primary medium of choice. I did less and less abstract work, also, enjoying painting recognizable, relatable scenes and subjects and the challenges they provided.

Over the last couple years, I’ve done quite a bit of experimenting and a lot of learning. In so doing, I’ve acquired some favorite supplies that help me with my painting, and I thought I’d share my favorites here in an A to Z-ish list. Perhaps you may find something helpful here.

Where applicable, I’ve supplied direct links to where you can get these items.

Without further ado, let’s get on to the supplies!

Binder clips – I do most of my artwork in sketchbooks. Their portability and immediate, organized storage really appeal to me. The problem with working in sketchbooks is that the paper can buckle and curl on you while you’re working in the book. Enter binder clips. I just clip my working page down to several underlying pages with several binder clips and I don’t have the issue of the paper curling up on me. Binder clips also come in handy if you’re doing any plein air or urban sketching. They hold your page down so it doesn’t blow in the wind. They’re also a great on-site tool to use to clip down your wash cloth or to clip your travel palette to your travel easel or sketchbook. Having them in varying sizes is always a bonus, too, depending on what you’re trying to clip. Amazon has some pretty sets. 150 Pieces Binder Clips Paper Clamp Clips Assorted Sizes (Multicolor)

Brushes – I use a mix of watercolor brushes. I haven’t yet shelled out the big bucks for the top-of-the-line brushes so I make due with mid-level quality brushes. The ones I find myself reaching for the most are my Grumbacher Goldenedge brushes and Master’s Touch (Hobby Lobby brand) brushes. I primarily use round brushes. I like their diversity, but occasionally I’ll pull out a rigger for fine lines like tree branches and twigs or to outline something. I love, love, love my mop brush from Winsor and Newton to quickly wet a page when I’m doing wet-in-wet work. Also a bit out-of-place, but I like to use a stiff flat acrylic brush to help wipe away eraser crumbs if I find myself using a latex eraser. Ruined brushes with frayed bristles are a great tool to use when applying masking fluid or making spattered, random texture with your paint. A large, fun ceramic mug is my favorite storage vessel for my brushes. This one is a pretty old find, but these ones on Amazon could be fun. Whatever floats your boat!

Brush cleaner – While water usually does a good job of cleaning your watercolor brushes, occasionally it’s good to give them a more thorough washing using a gentle cleanser. I’ve heard shampoo can do the job, but I ended up purchasing a little pot of Master’s Brush Cleaner after watching a YouTube video from Steve at Mind of Watercolor where he talks about how he takes care of his brushes. I was convinced this soap would be good, and it really does work very well. I try to give my brushes an extra good cleaning after I’ve done several paintings with them. You’ll be amazed at how much pigment comes out of your brush when using the cleanser.

Color wheel – I occasionally like to make one of these, especially when I’m using a limited palette. I generally follow Lindsay’s procedure (from The Frugal Crafter) in making a color wheel when I’m using both cool and warm color variations. I have one color wheel that’s on a loose piece of paper and I pull it out and use it where ever, but sometimes if I’m using a particular limited palette in a particular sketchbook, I’ll paint it directly in the sketchbook for reference. These are nice to have when you’re wanting to see how the colors mix together from primary to secondary to tertiary.

A color chart is something else that can be helpful, but I personally don’t use these much. I’ve made one in the past, but I find that while it provides a great guide, it is a very time-consuming task to do, and because I can tend to jump between different colors and palettes kind of frequently, making a color chart for each of my palettes just isn’t something I find myself wanting to spend time on.

Colored pencils – Use of these will automatically disqualify your work from being a labeled as a genuine watercolor painting, but that’s really only important if you’re selling to a buyer who is particular or you’re trying to win at a watercolor show. Colored pencils can be a real life-saver at times, especially if you’re finding that you’re not getting the details or shading you want from your watercolors alone. I’m here to say, it’s perfectly okay most of the time to use supporting mediums to enhance your work. Plenty of extremely talented artists do mixed media work with watercolor as the base and colored pencils or gel pens, gouache, ink, etc. to add details and finishing touches. I have a set of Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils that I use for touch-ups. It’s one of the larger sets with a high variety of colors. I purchased the set long before watercolor became my interest. I used to be pretty obsessed with art in colored pencil. I recommend getting pencils that are a good artists quality if you plan to sell your originals. That said, if you really want to raise your watercolor game, it’s best not to fall back on colored pencils all the time as a crutch. The more you push yourself to get the details you want with watercolor alone, the better you’ll be at using watercolors.

To store my colored pencils I use this wonderful wooden art supply box. It can hold pastels or markers, too, if you want. I like having the colors organized neatly in this setup.

To sharpen my colored pencils, I use this iPoint electric pencil sharpener. I know a lot of people complain about electric pencil sharpeners breaking their colored pencils, but thus far I’ve found this sharpener works great and I’ve never had a problem with it breaking my pencils. Just make sure you sharpen a standard lead pencil in it on occasion to help clean the blades from the wax of the colored pencils.

Compass – This may sound like an odd tool for watercolor painting, but I find a compass invaluable when I’m in the mood to throw a mandala over the top of an abstract work. Also just extremely handy if you’re drawing anything that needs to be perfectly round.

Erasers – Erasers are real-world “undos”. At least when it comes to your initial pencil sketch or any subsequent sketches you do over the top of your painting to hash out more details for your additional layers. My favorites to use are kneaded and white, latex-free. Kneaded erasers are my primary eraser of choice as they don’t leave eraser shavings all over the page. Think of them like silly putty – you just touch them to your pencil lines and the lead comes up with the eraser. Depending on how light your pencil work is, this means you can put very minimal pressure on the page to pull up the lead. This preserves your paper, too. Even though quality watercolor paper is pretty sturdy, why scuff it up with a rubber eraser? Kneaded erasers also don’t smear, and their pliability makes it so you can squish them into any shape you need to fit between narrow lines, etc. Just gently dab the eraser to your lines or very lightly pull it across the page and your pencil lines are gone. While I love kneaded erasers, I sometimes prefer a good old white, latex-free eraser at times. They’re a good backup if it seems like my kneaded isn’t doing it’s job. One of my favorite discoveries is the Mono Zero Eraser from Tombow. It’s extremely small which means it can get in and remove fine lines in really detailed drawings without erasing everything around them. There’s also the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Look below for a detailed description on that one.

Full-spectrum light – This was a huge life-changer for me when I finally invested in a full-spectrum light. I cannot imagine doing art without it now. While I have a sunny, south-facing window in my office, the variations of the natural light will throw things off. A cloud might pass in front of the sun and suddenly make all the lighting in my room cool… or the sun might suddenly come out and cast bright intense light on my painting. Or I might find myself working late into the evening and be turning on my desk lamp or overhead light which lean on the warmer side. The full-spectrum light tackles all of these problems for me. I purchased mine as a floor lamp with an adjustable neck. This model allows me to dim or brighten the light as I see fit. I use it day and night – any time I’m working on a painting. It gives me accurate light and therefore accurate color. It’s also at a handy angle where I can see if my page is properly wet, looking for the water sheen.

Gel pens – Like colored pencils above, I use these on occasion to add fun highlights and details to my art. Again, use of these will categorize your work as mixed media. I pretty much only stick to using white gel pens to enhance white areas of a painting. My two favorite brands are Gelly Roll and Uni-Ball Signo.

Gesso – This probably sounds like an odd supply in a list of watercolor supplies, but hear me out. Gesso comes in handy if you find yourself with a sketchbook or surface that’s not really watercolor-friendly (meaning the moment you touch the paint to the surface, it just soaks in and doesn’t move.) Prep your surface with gesso and happily paint away, or put down an ink sketch and cover over the top with clear gesso and paint on that. Just note that watercolor behaves differently on gesso than it does on watercolor paper, so there’s can be a learning curve there. If gesso’s not your thing, you can also try watercolor ground. I’m not going to say much about that here as I have very limited experience in using it, but I hear it’s great.

Heat tool – I initially got a heat tool when I was doing lots of mixed media work in order to dry layers of acrylic paint or gel medium quickly so I could move forward with my next layer. Lo and behold, this works just as well with watercolor. Use it to dry layers quickly and move forward with the next. However, if you’re wanting to allow your watercolor to do its magic and slowly blend with other colors on the page in wet-on-wet techniques, I’d recommend being patient and allowing the page to air dry, else drying it super fast will stunt the flowing of the pigments. I sometimes meet my watercolor half-way and allow it to air dry most of the way, and then when it seems like there’s not going to be much more movement in the pigments, I hit it with my heat tool. Be wary when using the heat tool. As its name implies, it gets HOT. If you have masking fluid on your page, holding to tool too close for too long may adversely affect your masking fluid or make it difficult to remove later on. An alternative to the heat tool would be a hair dryer. But note that hair dryers primarily dry using forced air. They’re less hot than a heat tool and the air coming out of them is much more forceful so it could move your paint around. Alternatively, of course, the forced air in a hair dryer could also provide you with some fun effects. Just play around and see what you like.

India ink – As mentioned earlier under colored pencils, use of this medium will categorize your art as mixed media (unless you’re doing a full painting using only India ink, but then it would be an ink painting, not watercolor.) I like to use India ink primarily in black or white to do outlining, add highlights, etc. White India ink is fantastic to use to make stars on a galaxy painting. I also have a water brush pen filled with black India ink to use for outlining, occasional brush lettering, or filling in black silhouettes in a painting if I want the silhouette to be jet black. Note, I recommend getting separate paint brushes to use with your India ink. If you don’t wash your brush thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly – you’ll find yourself with a ruined brush or one that’s just not quite the same anymore. Even when you do wash your brush, if you only use water, I find that some of the ink residue can remain behind on the brush, both staining it, and altering its texture and ability to absorb water and distribute pigment.

iPhone – While it doesn’t put paint on the page for me, my iPhone is a valuable tool for me with my watercolor paintings. I do a lot of painting from reference photos. This means having a good-quality camera with me at all times is a must because I’m one of those people who’s always stopping to take photos of random things, exclaiming “Oooooo! Pretty!” Since I don’t have a working printer, my iPhone also serves as the display for my reference photos while I work on a painting. If I had the disposable income, I’d consider getting myself an iPad so I could have a larger screen as I work from my references. The iPhone is also great for taking pictures of your finished art and sharing on social media like Instagram. Of course any smartphone can do this, so don’t feel like this can only be accomplished with an iPhone.

Isopropyl alcohol – Also commonly called “rubbing alcohol”, isopropyl alcohol is just a fun substance to use when you’re wanting to create some interesting effects, textures, etc. in your art. You can drop little droplets on your wet watercolor and watch it push the pigment away, forming a sort of crater in your color. You can also put some on a cotton swab and draw over your painting with it, watching the alcohol chase the pigment away from it. I don’t use this very often, but I’d like to find more fun uses for it, for sure.

Lead pencils – I use both standard wood and mechanical pencils. I’m not a particularly picky person when it comes to pencils. So long as it’s something that can put down an erasable line that doesn’t activate with water, I’m good with it. I’m not adept at using water soluble graphite pencils – that’s a style/technique I’ve yet to really play with, so I have no recommendations there. A box of standard #2 pencils works for me, or if I’m feeling special, the Uni Ball Kuru Toga self-sharpening mechanical pencil does a great job.

Masking fluid – I’ve been finding myself using masking fluid (also called “drawing gum”) more and more often. It’s a wonderful tool that’s pretty versatile. Use it to mask out specific shapes, or help create texture by applying it randomly to your painting with a cut-up sponge, frayed brush, etc. I started using it more since I discovered applying it with ruling pens (see below). I like using Pebeo drawing gum because it has a light blue cast to it that helps me to see where I’ve laid down masking fluid more easily than clear or white.

Micron pens – Much like India ink, I like to use Sakura Pigma Micron pens for ink detailing on my paintings. The ink is pigment-based and permanent so you don’t have to worry about it lifting up and smearing if doing watercolor washes over it. It’s also archival so you don’t have to worry about it fading away one day. Again, this will classify your work as mixed media, although plenty of watercolorists – specifically urban sketchers – use micron pens for their ink and wash works which I see them classify as watercolor paintings all the time.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser – I have pretty limited experience with using this, but the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser really can be quite magical in lifting paint from your work when normal lifting techniques with a brush and water don’t work.

Old plastic drink cups – I use a couple old plastic cups from Starbucks Frappucinos or Panera smoothies. They’re not particularly aesthetically pleasing like the mason jars you see some artists using, but their bonus is that they’re light compared to the mason jars, especially if you find yourself running to the sink with them very often. I’ve been using these same cups for several years now. I’m happy these at least didn’t end up in a land-fill somewhere (although I do recycle the others.) Side-note – I don’t buy that garbage any more. Sugar and me are no bueno. Regardless what type of rinsing vessel you choose to use, just always keep two: one to hold all the dirty water, the other for a super-clean rinse so you don’t contaminate your paints.

Orbital easel – While I don’t use mine as often as I should, the Orbital Easel really is an ingenious desktop easel. Adhere your paper to the surface with painter’s tape and then adjust the angle to suit your needs. Twist it, turn it, tilt it. It’s great. I say I should use mine more often because honestly, painting on a flat surface is not good for a couple reasons. First, it skews your perspective and your view. You’re not looking at your art straight on. Second, painting on a flat surface can mean back, shoulder, and neck pain. Especially if you’re spending lots of hours sitting in front of your work. Using an easel can tilt the painting up to an angle where your perspective isn’t skewed and you can sit in a more ergonomically-friendly position. I just don’t use mine as often as I still do a lot of painting in sketchbooks and they’re more difficult to attach to the surface. I need to get myself some heavy-duty elastic, I think, to attach my sketchbooks to the surface.

Sorry if this picture isn’t very good. It’s really difficult getting a picture of the easel in the space I have available.

Pandora – Every artist really should have a set of music they enjoy listening to. Creativity begets creativity, after all, and art and music are a perfect pairing. I prefer listening to streaming music on Pandora, but occasionally if I come across a specific artist I like, I’ll look up their album on YouTube and play it there. My favorite music to listen to while creating is usually Chillstep by artists like Blackmill, Ulrich Schnauss, Odesza, etc.

Plastic wrap – If you’ve not played with plastic wrap for underlying texture in your watercolor paintings, you’re missing out. This is one of my favorite tools to play with as it creates such fun variation. I typically use it as a first layer texture then paint additional layers over the top to downplay the texture and make it more subtle. It’s pretty simple to do. Just take a sheet of plastic wrap and press it down and mush it around on your wet watercolor paint. Allow the paint to thoroughly dry before removing the plastic wrap, else all the texture will disappear if you remove it too quickly.

Rulers, protractors, triangles, etc – Straight edges come in handy if you’re trying to create a straight horizon line or draw angles on a building. My protractor gets the most use when I’m drawing a mandala to measure out varying angles. You can generally find sets of these in most stores, including art and craft stores.

Ruling pens – I was ecstatic to learn about these for applying masking fluid. Ruling pens function kind of like a fountain or dip pen in ways where the liquid gets caught between two pieces of metal and dragging it across the page draws the liquid out. I love these because they’re hundreds of times easier to clean than a paint brush and you can get really fine lines with them if you know what you’re doing. These are adjustable, too, so you can vary how much flows out of them. You can also use these to draw or write with ink, if you feel so inclined. I’ve not experimented with them in that way just yet. There are lots of artists who like to use a paint brush to apply masking fluid, but I just feel I’m not careful enough to preserve my paint brush by soaping it beforehand and washing it after using the masking fluid. Ruling pens are the perfect solution for me.

Salt – Every watercolorist worth their salt uses salt. Okay. That’s complete unsubstantiated fallacy, but it was fun to write. I personally enjoy using salt every now and then. It creates fun texture. I use it similar in how I use the aforementioned plastic wrap – meaning I usually put it down on a base layer to let it do its magic, remove it, then paint more layers over to make the effect more subtle. Salt can be tricky to use. Your paint can’t be too wet or too dry. It needs to be just right in order for the magic to happen. I find, too, that some pigments react better to salt than others, and sometimes the paper has a say in how well your salt will work. So, if you’re really wanting the salt effect to be a key feature in your painting, I encourage you to experiment first before you’re half way through your masterpiece only to find the salt will not cooperate. I use both table salt and flaky kosher salt.

Scanner – If you have any aspirations to sell prints of your art, a scanner is a must. Especially if you do a LOT of art (like me.) Yes, you could bring your work to an office supply company or a specialized printer and have them scan it, but I find it invaluable having one of my own. My Epson Perfection V600 supports pages up to 8.5″ x 11.7″. If I could afford it, I’d get a much larger one to scan my 12″x16″ pieces. It’s a good practice to scan your art, regardless. This way you have digital copies and back up of the art should you lose the original. If you’re using fugitive colors or displaying your art in an area that gets a lot of direct sun, your art could also fade, so having a digital backup of the art can help you to go back and see all the bright, beautiful glory that the piece once was.

Spray bottle – My spray bottle has a few uses for me. First, I use it to wet my watercolor palette. Yes, water gets everywhere while I do it, but I find it’s much faster than using an eye dropper. Just pull it out and spray spray spray and everything’s ready. My second use for it is to quickly add water to a page. It comes in handy if I find part of my page is starting to dry faster than the rest. Just give it a quick spritz and I have a wet surface again. It’s also great for helping paint to blend or drip, depending on my desired effect. Just wet the paint and watch it move as I tip the page around. It’s also a great tool to create branchy/leafy tendrils of paint. Just spray the page conservatively then touch your watercolor down into the wet areas and watch it crawl out to meet the rest of the areas that were touched by the water droplets. This works best when you have watercolor with active pigments like QoR watercolors (see below for my favorite watercolor brands.) Finally, it’s great for adding little spatter effects when your paint is almost dry. For this to work, make sure your spray bottle has an adjustable nozzle and it’s not one that only mists.

Stock photos – If you want inspiration or your personal library of reference photos seems to be lacking that one special photo of a great white shark (because how many of us find ourselves diving in shark cages dangling bait out for hungry sharks?) then stock photos are your answer. Do not – I repeat DO NOT – pull random reference photos from a simple image search term in Google or from Pinterest or Instagram. Why? Because most of those photos are likely copyrighted – meaning a photographer, artist, or business (small or large) went through the efforts to set up, compose, and edit those photos you see and they’ll be pretty unhappy if you take their photo, copy it exactly and then claim the work as your own (and you can add insult to injury and a possible lawsuit by selling it.) Use stock photo sites like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, etc if you want to grab a royalty-free image to use for your reference. Just be forewarned, however, that some other artist somewhere may be just as impressed with the same stock photo you decided to reference and they paint it, too. It’s always best to work from your own reference photos where ever possible. This way you know you have full rights to the image and it’s unique. If you do come across a gorgeous photograph that you’d love to paint, but it’s not a stock image, reach out and request permission from the photographer. You may be pleasantly surprised with a “yes” from them. Just be polite and let them know you’ll be crediting them and tagging them back if you share the finished painting online, and if you intend to sell the painting, get their okay on that, too. Else use it only for your own practice and enjoyment.

Straws – Another fun tool to get fun splatter effects. Drop a puddle of wet paint down on your surface, grab a straw and hold one end of it close to the puddle then blow through the other end. Practice using varying strengths and angles to see what happens. And please, please either use paper straws, or purchase a single straw that you plan to keep indefinitely. There’s some pretty fancy re-usable stainless steel ones out there, for example.

Swatches – These are really an invaluable tool for me. They show me what the paint colors look like in their truest form. I don’t rely on trying to remember what a color looks like from the name alone, or rely on the printed color on the side of a tube. When in doubt I pull out my swatches. Swatch maps of my palettes are also important. They provide a road map of what’s where in each of my palettes. This is extremely helpful when you have several of the darker colors that dry to an almost black appearance and you’re not sure which is which. Each time I make a new palette and/or change out my paints, I make a palette swatch map that I cut to fit inside my palette so it is always available to me whenever I’m working. Usually, I hand-draw mine, but if you’re into stamping you can also buy stamp sets to quickly create outlines for your swatches.

Tape: washi or painter’s – Tape can serve a few purposes other than just affixing your latest masterpiece to the refrigerator door. I use tape to secure larger paintings to the surface of my aforementioned Orbital Easel. I also use it to mask and create clean edges in my watercolor sketchbooks. You can also use tape as a quick means to mask off large sections of a painting instead of painstakingly filling areas in with masking fluid. I find washi tape is less tacky than painter’s tape, so it’s better to use on paper that perhaps tends to tear with painter’s tape. You can use standard masking tape, too, but I don’t because it tears paper very easily. I’ve heard of people using a trick where they take a strip of masking tape and press it onto the leg of their pants or sleeve of their shirt to pick up lint which will reduce the tack of the tape and reduce the risk for tearing. I personally like washi tape, if only because it comes in so many fun colors and patterns. Perhaps not so great if you’re really particular about not having colors and shapes influencing the color of your art while you paint. But it works for me, and I find its narrow width works well in my sketchbooks.

Transfer paper – This is an invaluable tool if you’re trying to copy something exact onto your targeted painting surface. Be it a photograph for a portrait or an enlarged sketch from your doodles during your meeting the other day. While it seems an expensive investment for such a small roll, know that transfer paper is reusable. You don’t just trace with it once and then have to throw it out. You can use it over and over again and again before it starts to lose its effectiveness. This is best used when you just want to get to the actual painting process instead of stressing for hours over your initial sketch trying to get it perfect. The transferred lines are erasable, too, so if you make a mistake, it’s easy to correct.

Wash cloths – Another environmentally-friendly supply for me. For the longest time I kept using paper towels to mop up my excess paint from my brushes or to help dry them off. Of course this meant I was going through a lot of paper towels. Finally one day it dawned on me to just get some cheap wash cloths that I can then run through the washing machine on occasion. Yes, the paint does stain the cloths, but that’s why I get cheap ones. I’ve been using the same set now for I think the last three years. If you want to take environmentally-friendly to the next level, then cut up an old cotton t-shirt and use that in lieu of paper towels. These, along with the spray bottle, also make for a great quick wipe down of your desk, cleaning off any random drips or splatters of paint. They also work great to mop up excess paint or catch drippings if you’re tilting a really wet painting around.

Watercolor brands – I can’t have a list of watercolor supplies without watercolors making an appearance. I’ve played with many watercolor brands over the last few years. I’ll say that I’ve found I prefer the artist quality ones over student grade. But remember artist quality is more expensive than student grade, so bear that in mind if you’re planning to purchase any of these. A list of my favorite brands follows, with number one being most preferred. Note there are many, many, many watercolor brands out there. To figure out which ones you prefer, you just have to try them. If you want intense in-depth detail about watercolor brands and pigments, swing over to Denise’s YouTube channel, In Liquid Color, to get some more ideas. She has experimented with way more brands than I have.

  • 1. QoR – These are fairly new to the game and by the same company that produces the well-known acrylic paints and mediums: Golden. They use a synthetic, proprietary binder that makes the pigments extremely active. These jump across the page when you do any wet-in-wet work. This is a feature I personally like. Some artists do not like this because it can really wreak havoc if you’re trying to be really controlled with your painting. They also have a remarkably minimal color shift to them, meaning they don’t fade near as much as other watercolors when they go from wet to dry, making the results of your work more predictable. These are fairly pricey, so consider yourself warned.
  • 2. Schmincke Horadam – These are a well-known brand that has been in use for a long, long time. They use honey as the binder. Probably my favorite thing about these (I only have them in pan form) is how quickly the pigments activate. All they need is a little touch of water and you’ve got juicy paint ready to go (who came up with that “juicy” term for watercolor? I feel awkward using it as a description, but it’s a popular term.) Most artists rave about their amazing transparency. These tend to be on the high end where expense is concerned.
  • 3. Daniel Smith – Another brand popular among watercolorists. They have one of the largest color selections around. You can order dot sample cards from them to test each of their colors if you so choose. I like this because I can see what the color looks like in person instead of making guesses based on photos online (which can skew the true color depending on how edited the photo was, what your color settings are on your monitor, even your ambient light.) They’re reasonably-priced. Still more expensive than student-grade, but not quite as expensive as Schimincke or Sennelier. I don’t believe I’ve seen these come in pan sets, but they do have introductory color sets in tubes that you can purchase. Or you can purchase single tubes. My favorite color of theirs that I have is Lunar Violet. It’s a great grey-tone that leans violet with amazing, heavy granulation.
  • 4. Mijello Mission Gold – Another brand that is fairly new to the game. They’re manufactured in Korea. They really are quite beautiful, rich, and bright. I do find some of the pigments to be kind of dead – meaning they don’t move like QoR – which tends to disappoint me, but is a big plus for artists to don’t want lots of movement in their colors. One of the drawbacks, if you’re particular about this sort of thing, is that many of their colors use multiple pigments. A lot of purists prefer their colors to be single-pigment.
  • 5. Winsor & Newton Cotman – I’ll not leave you hanging with just expensive artist-grade watercolors. If you’re wanting to get started but don’t want to invest so much, then Winsor & Newton Cotman student-grade watercolors could be a good starting point for you. Just know that the pigments can be difficult to activate when dry. But they do a decent job for an inexpensive price. These were some of the first watercolors I played around with when I started back to painting.
  • 6. Finetec Mica Pearlescent Watercolor – I hesitate to categorize these under watercolors, but they call them a watercolor. They do activate with water, for example. I find they don’t blend like watercolors do. But wow, are they pretty! I enjoy using these to add special metallic/pearlescent embellishments to paintings or to add extra sparkle to things like galaxy paintings. I would also like to note – don’t be fooled by other brands of mica pearlescent watercolors. Cheaper brands tend to be very difficult to activate and put down very little magic in comparison to Finetec.

Water brushes – I admittedly don’t have a lot of practice with water brushes. I prefer traditional brushes over these as you can control the water better. But these are certainly handy to use if you’re traveling and find yourself without a little container in which to hold rinsing water. Lots of artists, specifically urban sketchers, swear by these. I feel I have a difficult time getting them clean without wasting all the water in them to do so. I think the one that gets the most use from me is the one I filled with India ink.

Brush on the right filled with India Ink.

Watercolor paper blocks – These are great to use if you really don’t want to attach your paper to a surface. The brand I’m most familiar with using is Arches Aquarelle. They’re glued on all sides save for a small gap on one edge where you can stick something like a palette knife in and drag it around the edges to release the paper from the block. These aren’t infallible by any means. Your top sheet of paper will still warp and cockle if you’re using heavy washes. These come in all sorts of sizes, however, and you can even make your own with your own paper at whatever size you desire. Lindsay at The Frugal Crafter has a great tutorial on how to make your own.

Large block beneath is Arches. Block on top is hand-made following Lindsay’s YouTube tutorial.

Watercolor sketchbooks – I’m going to admit, I’ve become a bit of a sketchbook snob. Especially when it comes to watercolors. After fighting with a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, I definitely developed a high opinion about what’s good paper to work on and what is hair-pullingly frustrating. When you consider the price you pay for some of these sketchbooks, too, it’s unbelievably infuriating to find yourself working on “watercolor” paper that doesn’t play nice with watercolor at all. I put together an in-depth post/review on some of the more popular brands if you want to take a look. Suffice to say, if I’m going to pay money for a watercolor sketchbook, it must have 100% cotton paper. I’m not going to waste my time or my money any more fighting with anything else.

My favorite 100% cotton sketchbook brands are: Etchr Lab Watercolor Sketchbook, The Perfect Sketchbook, and Arches Aquarelle Watercolor Sketchbook. Availability of most of these is pretty touch-and-go (thus no link at all for the Arches book), but I will say as of my writing this post that it looks like, at least, the Etchr Lab sketchbook is here to stay (hooray!).

I was recently gifted a small Winsor & Newton 100% cotton watercolor sketchbook which I’ll be trying after I finish filling my A5 Etchr Watercolor Sketchbook. I’ll hold my opinions on it – good or bad – until I’ve played around in it.

The sketchbooks I would warn you away from: Moleskine Watercolor Sketchbook, Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Journal, and Canson XL Series Watercolor spiral-bound pads. I’ve not played with any other watercolor sketchbook since I always check its contents now, and if it’s not 100% cotton, I don’t waste my money. I won’t even sully my blog with links to these products.

From top to bottom: Winsor & Newton, Etchr Lab, Moleskine, Strathmore, The Perfect Sketchbook, and barely visible is the Arches sketchbook.

Watercolor tins and palettes – If you want to customize your own palette, then an empty watercolor palette or tin is the way to go. While I have a couple of larger-size plastic palettes with full wells, I currently prefer smaller, more compact watercolor tins. You can put either half pans or full pans into the tins, as well. Because the pans clip in separately, you can easily customize your palette on the go, as well. Just remove the pan you don’t want and replace it with your new favorite color. The larger plastic palettes don’t give you this kind of flexibility. For me, there’s an aesthetic value to working in a tin, too. Now, if someone came up with a light-weight customizable porcelain tin with removable half pan sizes, I’d be all over it. I’ve not tried it yet, but I’ve seen a lot of beaming reviews for The Portable Painter. This one is plastic, however, but it’s got a lot of neat features to it if you’re a traveling / plein air / urban sketching artist.

I hope you feel inspired and want to do some painting of your own.

What are your favorite watercolor supplies? Did I miss anything in my list? Is there something here you weren’t aware of or haven’t thought to use? Leave a comment below!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.

List of materials (in order of appearance):

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Binder Clips
Grumbacher Goldenedge Watercolor Brush
Master’s Touch (Hobby Lobby brand)
Ceramic mug
Master’s Brush Cleaner
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils
Wooden art supply box for colored pencils
iPoint electric pencil sharpener
Kneaded erasers
White, latex-free erasers
Tombow Mono Zero Eraser
Full-spectrum light
Gelly Roll white gel pens
Uni-Ball Signo white gel pen
Gesso, white
Gesso, clear
Watercolor ground
Heat tool
Hair dryer
India ink, black
India ink, white
Isopropyl alcohol
Standard wooden lead pencils
Uni Ball Kuru Toga self-sharpening mechanical pencil
Pebeo drawing gum/masking fluid
Sakura Pigma Micron pens
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
Mason jars
Orbital Easel
plastic wrap
Ruler, triangle, and protractor set
Ruling pens
Table salt
Kosher salt
Epson Perfection V600
Spray bottle
Paper straws
Stainless steel straws
Swatch stamp sets
Washi tape
Painter’s tape
transfer paper
Wash cloths
QoR Watercolors
Schmincke Horadam Watercolors
Sennelier Watercolors
Daniel Smith Watercolors
Daniel Smith dot sample cards
Daniel Smith Lunar Violet Watercolor
Mijello Mission Gold Watercolors
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors
Finetec Mica Pearlescent Watercolors
water brushes
Arches Aquarelle watercolor paper block
Etchr Lab Watercolor Sketchbook
The Perfect Sketchbook
Winsor & Newton 100% cotton watercolor sketchbook
Tin watercolor palette
Plastic watercolor palette
The Portable Painter watercolor palette

Out of Darkness

Available for purchase. See below.

Good things come to those who wait.

Would you believe I started on this painting around two years ago? I suppose it took me that long to build up the courage to complete it. At that time she had only started out as a very light sketch on my Arches Aquarelle watercolor block.

At the time, other inspiration hit and I found myself needing to peel her off the block to allow myself access to a fresh page. I tucked her away on a flat surface and then forgot about her. On occasion I would think about her in moments of recollection, or when I found myself digging around in the same drawer she was stored in, but I would still decide not to proceed.

She sat in the dark for far too long until at last I started feeling inspired enough – or perhaps capable enough – to tackle her and let her shine in full daylight.

Part of what lit a fire under me to get her completed was being lectured by many acquaintances – new and old – to start selling my art. I would groan that I couldn’t because the vast majority of my art is tucked safely away in sketchbooks. Selling an original from a sketchbook would mean I’d have to destroy the book plus lose what art was on the back of the intended sale.

Let this be a warning to those of you who do most of your art in sketchbooks. If you feel like you’d like to sell it at some point, it’s going to cause some difficulties.

While I addressed some of the issues of my art residing in sketchbooks by scanning and selling prints, it still did not resolve the issue of my not having any originals available for sale. One new acquaintance told me flatly in his own way “go big, or go home.” Meaning, tiny art isn’t exactly what art buyers are looking for. They want something sizable for their spaces.

“But what about printing copies of my art on large canvases?”

“No. They want originals.”

Okay, I’m listening. I get it. I understand.

So the girl tucked away in a dark space came back to the front of my mind. Part of why I shied away from working on her was that she resides on a 12″x16″ piece of paper. Twice or even four times larger than what I’ve grown accustomed to working on. But that’s a nice “starting” size for me for larger artwork.

Side note: I do admit I did do something even larger than this painting. It’s a 30″x40″ canvas of gorgeous fall leaves hanging above my bed. I felt daunted by how long it took me to complete it, but I certainly enjoyed the final result. And with the new inspiration I’ve had around selling my art, I’ve even come to a place of being willing to part with it. But I’ll give that piece it’s own attention in another post.

Let’s get back to this pretty girl.

Decision finally made to complete her, I brought her out into the light and attached her to my orbital desktop easel. If that doesn’t say “I’m going to finish this” then I’m not sure what does, because the easel takes up space and isn’t exactly convenient to move out of the way when I need my desk space for other things. (PS – despite what sounded like complaints, I love my easel. It’s extremely easy to tilt and rotate as needed and was the perfect tool and size for this painting.)

I proceeded to finish up the pencil outline first. Easy enough. But then came the moment of panic. What colors should I use? What colors should her eyes be? Her hair? The flowers? This is where art for me comes down to faith and trusting my current preferences. Lately I’ve been drawn to the combination of blue and red. The two colors compliment each other nicely. Red was an easy choice, as well, for the roses in her hair.

Choosing the paint brand was easy. I decided I wanted to play some more with my QoR watercolors. I love their personality and the way they jump across the page in wet on wet techniques. I’m a big fan of their vibrancy, as well, and how they don’t shift quite as much as other brands do when they dry.

I opted to go with a limited palette to keep the decision-making with colors far less stressful, as well. I chose to work with Cerulean Blue Chromium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Paynes Gray, and a touch of Cadmium Yellow Primrose to help create the green leaves and to add some depth to the antlers. While it’s not technically watercolor, I also used QoR’s Titanium White (which is more a gouache) for some of the highlights in her hair. This was an important addition else her hair would have lacked depth and interest. My final additional special touch to the piece was to use Finetec watercolors in silver for the chains draped across the antlers and the special highlights in her face paint. I used Prismacolor Premier colored pencils to fine-tune some of the details in her eyes.

Decisions made, it was time to get to work. And really there’s not much for me to say about the process. She was a typical watercolor painting, building up layers over layers until she finally looked complete. I started off with an underpainting of the blue and went from there… the first layers looking rather alien (especially when doing a portrait), but each additional layer saying “Hey – you could stop here if you want… but… just think if you added a couple more layers! How cool that would look!”

I admit I had fun texting progress photos to a couple of friends who would “ooh” and “aah” over them and ask if I was finished yet, to which I’d answer “Not by far!”

I really enjoyed working on the roses – or how they turned out at least. At times I was feeling like they were looking “off”. But part of that, again, was just the simple fact that they needed just one more layer of red over the top to really make them amazing, or just a little more contrast to give them proper depth.

Yes. Contrast.

I pride myself in not being afraid of contrast. I think that’s a pitfall many new artists find themselves in. They put down light layers of color and feel happy with what they’ve got so far, yet know if they really want their piece to pop they have to add some extreme contrasts – and I fully admit that’s scary stuff. You think if you get too heavy-handed with the contrast you’ll ruin all that pre-existing work you’ve done. Be brave, my friends. Embrace the darkness (at least in your watercolor paintings)! You’ll be glad you did.

I would estimate a good 10 accumulative hours were spent on this painting, not including waiting for layers to dry (although at times I helped the drying along with my handy heat tool.)

It was so, so satisfying when I finally peeled off the painter’s tape that had been holding her to the easel’s board. Seeing the clean edges just gave her such a beautiful, finished look.

My favorite part of the finishing process was taking some photographs for my Instagram feed. While the art is beautiful in person, there’s something aesthetically pleasing to how the camera pulls everything together. Especially when you add a few props for whimsy and context.

Would you like to have her in your home? Well you can have her several ways. Prints are available at my Redbubble shop.

However, if you’d like to give the original a loving home, she is available for sale right here for $592.00. Contact me to arrange for purchase. (Price excludes shipping and handling.)

Out of Darkness
Day of the Dead-inspired watercolor painting

12″ wide x 16″ tall
QoR watercolors on Arches Aquarelle cold press watercolor paper

$592.00 +shipping and handling
PayPal only
Contact to inquire about purchase

Thank you again for your support and patronage and following my continued artistic journey. I hope to have more originals available in the future.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Arches Aquarelle Watercolor Block
Orbital Desktop Easel
QoR Watercolors
Finetec Watercolors
Prismacolor Premier colored pencils

30 Days (or thereabouts) of Watercolor Flowers

img_8594I finally hopped back into—and stuck with—another 30 day art prompt on Instagram.

During the month of April, I joined the #drawriotdaily challenge which consisted of painting or illustrating 30 different flowers. You could design the flower in any way you chose – a lot of people used mixed media, for example. I decided to go primarily with watercolor.

This was a stretch for me, which is interesting to say, when I think it was two years ago I participated in #the100dayproject and created something just about every single day for 100 days. I have definitely stepped back from such intense creative endeavors for quite a while now.

I admit with this current challenge I was getting fed up at times having to bend my schedule around on weeknights and weekends in order to squeeze in another painting (sometimes two!) However, in hindsight, I’m glad I did it. I received far more practice this way in a short time period compared to my sporadic 2 to 5-ish paintings a month.

I did the majority of these paintings in my Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, although the first five or so were in my traditional pocket Moleskine sketchbook. I used them as a quick means to filling and completing that particular sketchbook, and that was the overall goal for the watercolor sketchbook, too.

I still really, really dislike the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, but after so many paintings in it, I finally grew accustomed to (painfully) working with the awful paper and was for the most part able to accomplish what I was looking for more and more often. Still, I will be glad to be done with that sketchbook once it’s completely filled. I have around 20 more pages (front and back) to fill, though. *cries*

I figured I’d share all my illustrations/paintings from the project for your enjoyment.

As I mentioned previously, I started off with some sketchy paintings in my pocket Moleskine sketchbook. At this point I was trying to find a “style” that I wanted to go with. There was a lot of experimenting, and for several of these I utilized colored pencils (Prismacolor Premier) to fine tune the details since the paper in the pocket Moleskine is definitely not made for watercolor (and I understand this, so this is why you won’t hear me crying about how the traditional Moleskine paper doesn’t do well with watercolor.)

I also jumped around with different watercolor palettes. You may recognize the Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolor palette in the crocus photo, which was the palette I started with. I then utilized my set of QoR watercolors for a time period, then eventually jumped over to my “beast” palette which contains 48 half pans with mixed brands ranging from more QoR watercolors to Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton, and Mission Gold.

By working with so many subjects in so many different colors, I got to discover a few favorite shades to work with. Particularly, I really enjoyed using Daniel Smith’s Lunar Violet. It was fantastic for grey tones and I just loved the granulation it provided. (I received a tube of it from winning an art contest a few months ago with Artists Network.)


I accompanied each flower painting with some brush lettering listing the flower name. Not sure I totally care for having that text there, but it is helpful for looking back and recognizing what the flower was for each particular painting. I primarily used my Faber-Castell PITT artist pens for the lettering.

On about my last painting in the pocket Moleskine, (the poppy), I was starting to feel like I’d found a “style” to try and stick with. I was going for kind of loose but with detailed line work around the main shapes. I decided to try the outlining with a metallic marker and then added highlights with white gel pen (sometimes Uni-Ball Signo, sometimes Gelly Roll.)


Pocket Moleskine finished, I reluctantly pulled out my Moleskine watercolor sketchbook thinking “By God, I’m going to finish this dang thing and these paintings will help me get through it!”

I did more experimenting at first. I used the metallic marker some more (Sharpie brand), but then my tax returns came (huzzah!) and I immediately splurged and purchased a set of Finetec Pearlescent watercolors. I’m glad I did because WOW those made a huge difference. Those are some seriously shimmery, beautiful colors.

Towards the end you’ll see that I didn’t outline all of my paintings. Some I felt like they were detailed and defined enough and adding that outline would have just detracted from the image rather than enhance it.


First painting with the Finetec Pearlescent watercolor outlines.

I did attempt to be more loose at first, but as you can see, while I progressed, my style “tightened” back up. (You loose watercolor artists are amazing.) It was fine, however. As long as I was making recognizable flowers, I was happy.

I think I had some of the most fun playing with the backgrounds. A lot of the time I utilized salt and squirts with a fine-mist spray bottle to create texture. A couple of times I even used cling wrap. Vague backgrounds are fun to do – they can remain abstract so there’s not a ton of pressure to get them “just right”, unless they get so busy they start to compete with the main subject of the painting.

I feel I had a few misses with my paintings – some I didn’t care for too much, or some that didn’t come out the way I was hoping they would. The tulip, dogwood, and fritillaria in particular come to mind. But that’s all part of the process. Sometimes you have some real wins, and sometimes you don’t.

final-19final-18img_8684img_8693My favorite paintings, however, definitely had to be the hellebore and the echeveria. Not surprisingly, these were towards the end of the 30 days so my skills had improved a bit by then (not to mention I finally got into a groove in figuring out how to deal with the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook’s paper.)

I was happy with the details I managed with the hellebore, plus I really admired the gradient colors found in their petals. In fact I was enjoying working on the hellebore so much that I took my time with it and didn’t complete it fully until after two or three days from when I started (it put me behind on the challenge, but so what!) I’m particularly proud that in this painting I didn’t feel like I needed to pull out my colored pencils to finish off any details. It’s 100% watercolor, baby!

The rose and the peony get honorable mentions. I liked the closeup aspect of them, especially with the rose.


I admit I didn’t do three particular flowers. I found that I really disliked working on any flowers that were made up of tiny little clusters of multiple flowers and petals. I did push through most of such flowers, but when I got to a prompt for snowball I decided not to do it. I’m an impatient artist, and tiny flower clusters are labor-intensive in my mind – mostly on the part of sketching out the line drawing. Too many parts! haha


My grande finale was the echeveria (succulent). As you can recall from a previous post, I’ve painted one of these before, and I had just as much fun painting this one as I did the last. This one in particular was fun to add the Finetec embellishment to, as well. It just worked perfectly for the edges and those little blemishes you see on the plant. I just love all the colors found in these beautiful plants, and bright, colorful things are my favorite.


The echeveria was also another reminder to not give up at the start. The colors were looking so crazy at the beginning after I’d applied the second layer on top of my initial wash. I was looking at it thinking I’d screwed up. But I decided I needed to add more shadows and depth and I’m glad I did. Those final layers pulled everything together.

Now the question is, what will I do next? I am going to be out of town for the weekend, so I don’t see myself participating in any particular new challenges just yet. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping I’ll at least be able to get in one or two paintings while on my trip  (not sure, though—it sounds like I’m going to be pretty busy!)

In the meantime, I did start working on a small mandala in my pocket Leuchtturm1917 sketchbook. It just felt so freeing to be working strictly in ink. No pulling out paints, preparing water and washing my brush in between areas of the illustration. Just straight ink right down onto the page.

Alas, I know watercolor’s siren call will pull me back, however.

Just what shall I do to fill up the rest of that darn Moleskine?

I hope you feel inspired and the art brings a smile to your face!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Moleskine Art Plus Watercolor Album
Moleskine Art Plus Pocket Sketchbook
Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Hardcover Sketchbook
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors
QoR Watercolors
Mission Gold Watercolors
Uni-Ball Signo Broad Point Gel Pen
Sakura Gelly Roll Pen, White
Sharpie Metallic Permanent Marker
Finetec Pearlescent Watercolors
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils
Faber-Castell PITT Artist Brush Pens
Daniel Smith Watercolors

Watercolor sketchbooks – the fantastic, the okay, and the downright unpleasant


Preface: I think everyone has to experience a product for themselves to see, ultimately, if it’s going to be the right fit for them. You don’t know until you try. Even for me, when I watched many professional watercolor artists give demos and their professional opinions on the best paints, brushes, and papers, I still took their advice with a grain of salt and had to experiment with the products myself so I could have real-life experience with them and see if they fit my needs.

This is not a push to get you to invest in an expensive watercolor paper, but a recap of my experiences using several different brands/types.

Once upon a time, I received a 12″x16″ block of Arches Aquarelle watercolor paper as a Christmas gift. If you’re an experienced watercolor artist, you’re likely nodding your head sagely, thinking “Yes, yes. A very nice gift.”

I used it occasionally, but, I feel, not under a heavy degree of layering and washes. I enjoyed the paper enough, but I was still pretty new to my whole watercolor journey, so I feel like the paper’s quality went under-appreciated by me.

About a year ago I discovered a brand new appreciation for the Arches Aquarelle watercolor paper. I was partaking in Angela Fehr’s Watercolor Summer Challenge (now since closed), and for the particular challenge I worked on, I decided to pull out the Arches paper as I wanted to work in a larger format than what I’d been doing previously in my smaller 5″x8.25″ Moleskine Watercolor album.

It was a hallelujah moment for me. After slugging through my Moleskine for a few months on various watercolor paintings, the Arches paper was a dream come true. And in comparison, now, I really have to say it…

Moleskine’s watercolor paper is absolute crap.

I was annoyed I’d been fidgeting with it for as long as I have (and, being a glutton for punishment, I’m still working through the awful thing to this day—trying to fill it up as quickly as possible following daily art challenges on Instagram. Once I’ve finished filling it, I don’t intend to ever waste my money on a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook again. The only caveat to this oath is that when I first purchased this particular Moleskine, I had also purchased a pocket version. Ugh. Since I don’t want to waste it, I’ll likely drag through that one at some point, too, although I might use different media in it than watercolor.)

So why do I detest the Moleskine paper so much? So many artists use this very sketchbook all the time. It can’t be that bad, can it?

I cannot speak for other artists and assume I know their reasons for using the Moleskine. Not every artist uses the sketchbook in the same way I use it. In fact, in a lot of cases, the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook is a very good, practical solution for many people. Just remember, I’m relating my own personal experience.

I find the paper in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook is extremely unfriendly to any layering/glazing. The paper is not very absorbent, so the pigments don’t soak into the fiber like they do in artists-grade papers. They seem to just kind of sit at the surface like it’s non-porous, which turns into a real disaster when you’re wanting to go back over it with another layer of color. The pigment activates again and depending on how wet your brush is, you either end up moving the pigment all around or you end up lifting the pigment altogether. The word “frustrating” is putting it mildly.

Detail of a painting in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

The significant warping found in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

The Arches paper, however, does not do this. The water soaks in and disperses evenly, pigments lay down smoothly and settle into the fibers. Once dry, they do not reactivate and move all around or lift as though they’re sitting on a non-porous surface. You can reactivate the pigments and lift them to a degree on this kind of paper, but it’s done under your own control. There’s far less guessing if something’s going to start moving on you.

Arches watercolor block.

Detail of painting on Arches paper.

Detail of painting on Arches paper.

So, what is the difference between the Arches paper and the Moleskine paper?

I’ll put physical dimensions aside for this and focus on the makeup of the papers themselves.

Arches Aquarelle cold press paper:
100% cotton
300 gsm / 140 lb

Moleskine waterclor album cold press paper:
25% cotton
200 gsm / 135 lb

The obvious differences here are the paper’s cotton content and weight.

You would think a 5-pound difference wouldn’t be that big a deal – but it’s huge. The Moleskine’s paper is comparatively lightweight, and it warps and buckles significantly under moderate amounts of water. The percentage of cotton used in the paper also plays a role in how much water the paper is able to absorb, as well as how much it will buckle.

To be fair, where the buckling is concerned, the Arches paper I have is on a watercolor block, meaning all four sides are actually glued down on the edges, where the Moleskine is only secured on the bound edge. Having all edges secure helps reduce buckling, and yes, even the Arches paper buckled a bit under heavy washes of water – but it certainly took a greater volume of water to get to that buckling point than what the Moleskine would have taken.

Let’s throw another watercolor paper into the mix here. I would call this paper an intermediate-level. It’s not as good as the Arches paper, but it was way more forgiving than the Moleskine: the Strathmore 400 series paper in their Watercolor Art Journal (I finished filling one of these about a year ago.)

Srathmore 400 series watercolor art journal cold press paper:
100% high alpha cellulose (wood pulp)
300 gsm / 140 lb

As far as how paint flowed on these papers, I feel the paint flowed similarly between the Moleskine and the Strathmore (most likely because of the wood-pulp makeup of these papers.) The Arches paper just had a different feel to it, probably because the paper would stay wet longer than either the Moleskine or the Strathmore.

The Strathmore paper buckled far less than the Moleskine, however, and I think that primarily had to do with the weight.

Painting in Strathmore Watercolor Art Journal.

A look at the minimal buckling on Strathmore’s heavy paper.

Let’s look at one more watercolor sketchbook. One that I’ve been loving. The paper behaves like the Arches paper because it’s made of 100% cotton artist-grade Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper. This sketchbook is named, quite appropriately, “The Perfect Sketchbook.”

I hate to dangle this one out there because it’s not available for purchase. It was a kickstarter campaign and a limited number were created. There wasn’t really a decent return on investment for them after the project was said and done, so I’m not confident they will make another batch of these again. But I want to put this sketchbook in the mix as an example of what a difference good watercolor paper makes, and hopefully, someday, someone else will figure out how to mass-produce something of this caliber in the future.

The Perfect Sketchbook cold press paper:
100% cotton
200 gsm / 135 lb

In this sketchbook, I still have buckling issues like I had with the Moleskine, but not quite as pronounced due to the paper being 100% cotton. Best of all, I absolutely have much better paint-flow on this paper than what I had in both the Moleskine and the Strathmore, thanks again to that 100% cotton make-up.

Painting in The Perfect Sketchbook.

Painting in The Perfect Sketchbook.

Detail of painting in The Perfect Sketchbook.

Fabriano Artistico paper featured in The Perfect Sketchbook.

A look at the warping in The Perfect Sketchbook.

So what will I do once I fill up my Perfect Sketchbook? Will I go back to using the Strathmore?

No. In a perfect world, I’d find a watercolor sketchbook made out of 300 gsm / 140 lb 100% cotton paper.

Since I’m not currently aware of one of those out in the market, I see a new homemade coptic stitch watercolor sketchbook in my future…

UPDATE: July 2019 – I’m really excited to say that there’s been some new developments in the world of 100% cotton paper watercolor sketchbooks. Earlier this year Etchr Lab acquired The Perfect Sketchbook. They developed a less-expensive series of (non-branded) 100% cotton sketcbhooks. This started off as a Kickstarter campaign, and I’m happy to say it was a roaring success. So much so that they’ve decided to offer the sketchbooks for sale in an on-going basis, now. So, no having to wait around for a special, limited run.

Additionally, Etchr is going to do another stab at The Perfect Sketchbook with Fabriano Artistico paper. I’m not sure if this is still meant to be only a limited run or if they’re looking to see if it’s possible to develop these to sell regularly. One can hope!

Finally Winsor & Newton has come out with a 100% cotton paper watercolor sketchbook. I received one as a gift this month and I plan to play around in it and perhaps write a review of this compared with the Etchr Sketchbooks later on. Stay tuned!

From top to bottom: Moleskine Watercolor Sketchbook, Strathmore Watercolor Art Journal, The Perfect Sketchbook.

List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Moleskine Art Plus Watercolor Album
Strathmore Watercolor Art Journal
Arches Aquarelle Watercolor Block
The Perfect Sketchbook

Etchr 100% cotton sketcbhooks

Winsor & Newton 100% cotton paper watercolor sketchbook

Completed Moleskine pocket sketchbook Flip-through

At long last and well over a year of use, I finally finished filling in my second Moleskine pocket sketchbook. I can’t believe how long it took me to complete the sketchbook from cover-to-cover.

To be fair, if I’d put every piece of art I’ve worked on over the past year into it I would have finished that sucker up in like a couple of months. However, I keep alternating between sketchbooks and art journals, depending on my mood and what mediums I’m using.

What finally pushed me to fill it was jumping in on another daily art challenge on Instagram. This one is for the month of April by Tori Weyers of @drawriot, a very gifted mixed-media artist whose completed sketchbook/art journal collection is a thing of envy.

Her challenge for the month was various flowers every single day. I decided to join in since flowers are not too intimidating and because they’re just plain pretty.

Not much else to say about this one. It was great to close up another sketchbook for good. Always a great sense of accomplishment in doing so.

Watch the flip-through below, and I’ve included some various still shots of the work I put in it since October of 2016.

I hope you feel inspired and the art brings a smile to your face!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.


List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Moleskine Art Plus Sketchbook, Pocket
Sakura Brush Pen
Sakura Micron Pen
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors
Mission Gold Watercolors
Daniel Smith Watercolors
QoR High Chroma Watercolors
Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Watercolors
Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils
Pentel Aquash Water Brushes

Completed Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Journal and Flip-through

I’m having a bitter-sweet beginning of May.

I’m supposed to be in Hawaii right now, visiting with friends and enjoying the ocean air.

But I’m not. I’m home, instead.

About a couple weeks ago, I contracted a nasty upper respiratory infection, and it was stubbornly hanging on. To make it worse, the more stressed I got about getting well by the day I was supposed to fly, the worse I felt. (We probably all know how well stress and illness go with one another…)

I made the difficult decision to cancel my trip at the last minute and instead use my already approved time off from work to just stay home and rest up.

It’s been a blessing in disguise. I am still shaking off the last remnants of the cold, and I was certainly verifiably ill enough on the day that I was supposed to fly to feel pretty justified in my decision to cancel my trip (the thought of spending nearly a full day of traveling in flying petri-dishes was certainly a determining factor for me to stay home.)

But, wow, I sure needed this down-time. Along with just resting and relaxing, I was able to leisurely catch up on chores and errands that had gone neglected during the peak of my illness. I even managed to transplant a couple basil starts and get my containers ready for my tomatoes.

Best of all, I had time to complete the last painting I was working on in my Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Journal (link in materials list below). I’d been working on it for what felt like at least a month (between work, other obligations, and being ill.) I’m really happy with how it came out, too.

This one has a story behind it, too. Corn isn’t exactly something I ever feel compelled to paint. I barely even eat it. But I was introduced to this type of corn, called “Glass Gem” by my work. I was actually almost given the opportunity to create the piece specifically for my job, but one of our established (and way more talented) botanical artists heard we were going to be featuring this corn and really wanted to do it, so we gave her the commission.

I was still very intrigued by the corn, however, after seeing photographs of it, and decided I wanted to do a composition just for my enjoyment. I’m very happy I pushed myself to complete the painting (it sat as just a line drawing in my journal for at least a couple weeks as it was.)

And with the completion of that painting also came the completion of the watercolor journal. Huzzah!

If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you know how satisfying it is for me to complete a sketchbook from cover-to-cover.

What’s even more great is that because I’ve had all this time off, I’ve also had time to record and post a flip-through on YouTube, plus I actually have some time to blog about it. Whoopee!

This watercolor journal took nearly a year to complete. In no small part because I obviously jump between other art projects, particularly focusing on filling up other sketchbooks, like my pocket Leuchtturm1917 sketchbook, and now my current pocket Moleskine sketchbook.

As you also know, while I love watercolor, I don’t like to be completely obligated to using just that single medium so I often work in different mediums. When I felt the urge to just do a watercolor piece, I would jump back to my Strathmore watercolor journal and do it in there (and that was also if I was not in the mood to gesso pages in my Leuchtturm1917 or Moleskine sketchbooks.)

Overall, the Strathmore was a very nice journal to work in. (I’ve just swapped over to Moleskine’s equivalent watercolor journal, and I’m admittedly already feeling a bit disappointed with the Moleskine’s paper quality in comparison – it’s far less heavy, so it warps pretty quickly. I’ve also discovered that paint easily bleeds through the binding, as well. Drat!)

The Strathmore’s paper was nice and heavy—300lb—and the binding is nice and tight so there was never any problem of paint bleeding through the binding to other pages. I actually did already purchase another Strathmore watercolor journal to work on in the future. But that will come after I finish up this new Moleskine.

It was fun to watch my flip-through, however, and see how my art continues to progress. I’ll post up a few photos of my favorite pieces in the blog, although if you follow me on Instagram, I’m sure you’ve seen these images before.

In any case, very happy to share this with you.

I hope you feel inspired and the art brings a smile to your face!

Be sure to follow my Instagram account @kellyro77 to stay up-to-date on my creative endeavors.


List of materials:

Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.

Strathmore Watercolor Art Journal
Moleskine Art Plus Watercolor Album
Sakura Brush Pen
Sakura Micron Pen
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors
Mission Gold Watercolors
Daniel Smith Watercolors
QoR High Chroma Watercolors
Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Watercolors
Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils
Pentel Aquash Water Brushes