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Keeping A Watercolor Journal

Updated on May 16, 2009

#10 of 100!!! 1/10 there!

Tenth in my 100 Hubs Challenge!
Tenth in my 100 Hubs Challenge!

Why keep a watercolor journal

 Because you'd rather be painting than writing longhand? It's a thought.

I'd always meant to do one. I've seen them in print. Someone who lives somewhere wonderful and far away, like a little town in the UK, will spend a year or two puttering in their garden and sketching the local landscapes, buildings, people and then sell it to a publisher that culls out their best sketches and adds a little text and makes that artist or hobbyist a lot of money. Of course being published professionally, it gets edited.

The bad pages with scratch-outs and bad drawings or the latest color chart (colour chart in UK) or the blobs of color resulting from testing a mixture before applying it to that tiny area on one leaf of a different plant that shows through behind a flower do not get put in these books. The impression created is of some brilliant artist who never, ever does a bad drawing or even makes a spelling error when writing out the amusing anecdote around seeing that butterfly land on that flower.

They make it look so easy.

They make it look so challenging. They set up the perfectionist dream that someday I will do a watercolor (watercolour) journal and when I happen to visit the UK on holiday (vacation) (UK folks get actual holidays whenever they want them, they don't just pack up and grimly take off on packaged tours for vacations that are more work than pleasure. Or at least describe them as holidays when they do). When I do finally get to visit that blessed land full of lovely wildlife and serene ex-wilderness with centuries of gardening going into parks that aren't quite wild but more set up to look the way the wild should've been... then I can just casually show it to my friends and not feel like an inartistic American who always goofs up.

At least until I sit down with them to draw the next beautiful sights and completely goof up in my inking and make the first scratch-outs in my text and get the shocked looks from all of them and their perfect journals. Or more likely, a big smile and "Don't worry, mine's full of those, they just didn't put it in when they published it. I had to rewrite that part of the page and the compositor put it in so cleverly. You should see the real one."

I have real UK friends so this impression of UK perfection is really just a matter of good editing.

At least I tell myself that and try to Americanize my spelling when writing online or for US publishers. Somewhere in my heart, I love the English language in its native form. I think I watched too much BBC on public television and read too many UK authors not to just find the spelling more aesthetic.

What happened to make this vague fantasy of a watercolor journal turn into a reality, scratch-outs and all, was that in October 2007 my daughter bought me a present for my December birthday and gave it to me early. That is our family tradition. Her birthday's in June and I've been known to give her presents in February for it. We just do things on days not the scheduled days of it. This gives my daughter and her husband several anniversaries throughout the year since they do also celebrate it on the day of. But also whenever they think of it and each other.

My watercolor journal is every bit as classy as any of the ones that I've seen in print books. It's a Moleskine one with a black leather cover and thick, heavy warm white rich paper inside, with a pocket in the back of the binding where I could slip my passport and other vital papers just in case I lost it and got arrested for being in the wrong counry without papers to put a screaming ad in the papers begging someone to find this blank black book bound on the short end with my name in it and please sell those important papers back to me instead of to whoever needs to pretend to be American, I'll pay the going rate.

It's about 5" x 9" in American non-metric reckoning. Let me check the centimeters please. 12.4cm on the short side, 20.4 cm on the long side, and that's the outside cover so the pages are a bit smaller. Each page is perforated for the ultimate publishing cheat. Just rip out the nasty page with the scratch-outs and do it again. Then only the original journal will show that your gorgeous 20-page watercolor journal actually started with 37 usable sheets.

The paper can be used on both sides. I've been using it on both sides because I'm insanely daring and haven't ripped out any pages with scratch-outs or bad paintings. The inside flyleaf, on the same cream colored paper as the endpapers, is printed with a place to put your name and address and a line for how much reward you're willing to offer to get it back with a dollar sign because this one was made for the American market. I used the back of that page for a page of text that amazingly got no scratch-outs, because I was careful.

Then on the very first page, I did something sensible because my daughter has one of those and uses it constantly. She puts her color charts (colour charts) in it whenever she gets new watercolor pencils or other watermedia. So I charted my Winsor & Newton Artists' Field Box, the watercolours that I expected to use most in it even though they don't have Sap Green and do have Ivory Black, don't have Burnt Umber and do have Raw Umber like the Cotman Field Box that was my favorite watercolour set for 30 years till I replaced it and upgraded.

I am still getting used to the new palette, so I thought charting it on page one would give me a chance to start finding out how to get around the two colors I used most in the old set. Burnt Umber mixes beautifully with Ultramarine to get black of any shade you want, including Paynes Grey. The student set includes it so that you have to learn to mix your blacks. Presumably skilled professional artists already know how to mix black, so they cleverly leave out one of its major components and put in actual black for you to do monochrome black or neutral-color sketch washes. Or some such reason.

And then I did a self portrait off a photo she took of me so that I could let people know that if they did return it hoping for a reward, they'd found the right bloke. It worked and is actually the first watercolor portrait larger than my thumbnail that actually worked and has the likeness. I was always able to do them well about the size of my thumbnail if I sketched first in pencil.

The First Perfect Page In My Watercolor Journal

The very first perfect page in my watercolor journal.
The very first perfect page in my watercolor journal.

The Catch -- How Do You Follow Up On Perfection?

 There it is. The very first page of my very first-ever watercolor (watercolour) journal... and it was beautiful. I was intensely proud. This page could stand up to anything in print, given that colour charts (color charts) are a legitimate bit of content in watercolor journals. They are definitely handy because having them where you know where they are instead of shoved into a folder of old paintings in the bottom of a stack of other things for years before finding them makes them a lot more useful.

I knew from then on that I'd keep those color charts (colour charts) in my watercolor journal and try to consolidate them so that I could always find them. A good decision, so on the back of that page, I continued it. I'd bought some Winsor & Newton tube watercolours (watercolors) and carefully charted them and painted two color wheels based on the colors recommended on <a href=""></a> for the best mixing primaries.

That solved a big problem I had in mixing watercolors.

You'd think that if Winsor & Newton knew that Permanent Rose mixed with French Ultramarine gave the best mixed purples, and Alizarin Crimson made murky grayish purples, that they'd have put Permanent Rose into both the student Cotman sets and the important professional artist grade Artist sets. Nooo. They assume you don't care about purple nearly so much as you do about assorted recipes for mixing black, where Alizarin Crimson with its wide value range is a more important darkener. I found out by testing that the website is right.

If you want to paint with only three tubes of watercolor, get Lemon Yellow, Permanent Rose and French Ultramarine. That trio gives a good mix for bright versions of orange, green and purple. Anything else is a combo that uses all three.

If you want a bit more room to experiment, also get Winsor Yellow or a warm buttery yellow, Scarlet Lake and Winsor (Phthalo) Blue, Green Shade.

So I bought those six and some other colors, charted them, that page still has some space in case I buy some new tubes in other beautiful new colors and I did get Burnt Umber and Hooker's Green in the tubes. Hooker's Green is a bit like Sap Green but goes darker. It's a good color. By then I had also discovered that putting some yellow ochre into the Winsor (Phthalo) Green Blue Shade would bring it down to a nice approximation of Sap Green and that it's actually the formula for Sap Green in some brands.

Winsor & Newton at least chose the right green to leave out if they're going to make you skip one of the two important greens. The one that's mixed from two other colors can be replicated, the one that is a pure pigment will give you fits trying to get it right.

I also bought Opera Rose, the screaming bright hot pink watercolor that isn't quite as supremely lightfast but still pretty good at a B grade for lightfastness, and makes up for it by doing screaming fluorescent color when you do florals or bright plastic doodads that get stuck in little girls' hair or waved in your face by granddaughters who want your attention.

The problem with the First Perfect Page is that I was afraid to do anything but color charting in the book afterward for fear of doing the First Horrible Mistake Proving I'm Not One Of These Great Painters Great Britain Grows Like Weeds.

I let it sit off to the side, looking up colors in it and painting on other things, for months and months. Sometime late in the summer I noticed I hadn't used that wonderful gift, felt guilty about that, the day was nice outside so I grimly picked it up, grabbed the W&N Artists' Field Box determined to master its weird palette and headed into the yard toward a sycamore tree that I'd always been fascinated with.

Sycamore trees have weird bark. It's peeling off like the entire tree has vegetative psoriasis. They have big spiky vaguely roundish leaves and grow to be quite large trees giving lots of shade. I loved this house and the tree and wanted to remember its wonderful shady presence. In winter its bare branches have white patches where it's bald and lost all its bark, in summer the patches stand out stark against the bark which also gets reddish and grayish patches and dappled sunlight and shadow patterns from the leaves. The tree is magnificent and so unique I really wanted to remember it.

So I did the first Less Than Perfect Page Reminding The World I'm Human...

The Less Than Perfect Page

Loose, expressive, not absolute botanical perfection but pretty decent sycamore branch, Robert A. Sloan
Loose, expressive, not absolute botanical perfection but pretty decent sycamore branch, Robert A. Sloan

The Less Than Perfect Painting

 It's not as bad as all that. The branch itself came out very accurate, with all the peeling bits coming off in the real curving strange shapes that they do, the leaves are placed well, and the mixed green created with Winsor Lemon and French Ultramarine got the colors of the leaves pretty well -- as well as I could've done them with Sap Green. I discovered that mixed green worked pretty well and Winsor & Newton's site was right to say you could paint just using those two and Permanent Rose, which isn't in the kit.

Where this rather nice looking painting falls short is that it's not the absolute botanical realism I set out to do. The vein patterns are accurate but they're dark lines of Ultramarine where really I should've done a thin wash of mixed green, put a line of masking fluid over it and then painted over with more mixed-green washes to make them pop out as light against dark. I know how I could do that in the studio.

I know that if I sat down at my table and used this to paint from for the shapes, I could create the careful little botanically accurate perfect painting I wanted in the first place. But instead I gave up on it outside and just described it rather than showing it, put lines where the veins went in the leaves in hope I'd someday develop it into a more accurate painting and remembered where I went off.

I'm a long, long way from scientific botanical accuracy and I had not actually thought of the obvious solution. That came much later, after two more color charts pages and nearly a year of procrastination. The beautiful watercolor journal that should've been filled with paintings of my grandchildren and daughter and son in law and cats and dogs, everyone in the family I love and sketches of the house and yard wound up neglected again except for charting my Yarka Professional set of 24 watercolors and all the Daniel Smith tube watercolors I started to accumulate, including the iridescent and duochrome and interference colors that are so handy for weird special effectsl.

Jump to April 2009.

I Lightened Up On Topics

Page with art challenge paintings from by Robert A. Sloan
Page with art challenge paintings from by Robert A. Sloan

Maybe I Went About It Wrong...

 First off, some of the procrastination wasn't psychological. My watercolor journal joined the sedimentary formation of art supplies and sketchbooks in reach. I'd change medium and stack a pad of pastel paper on top of it. Get out a different set of something else and stack that on top. Stack a watercolor block on top of that. Stack the graphite pencils tin on that. Move the stack to make room for some colored pencils tins. Move that stack... it did get buried because it's small and thin and I kept doing other things.

Most of all I got horribly disorganized and couldn't find anything. It resurfaced in April 2009 because I was fed up with not finding anything and actually reorganized my art supplies so that I could find things -- and remembered I had this beautiful journal dedicated to chronicling my life visually withouht any 5,000 word essays on chronic pain interspersed.

I thought maybe if I didn't try to stick entirely to life paintings of real things but also included things from my online social life, I'd use it again and enjoy it. I also realized belatedly that much as I love it, if I actually used it and finished it I could get another one. Heck, if I used it and finished it, Kitten (my daughter) would see how much I liked it and some future birthday she'd get me one again -- that my staying out of it because it was too good to use and ruin might have given her exactly the opposite idea of what I thought of the gift.

So I used it the next time I wanted to paint anything and did a couple of watercolors for an all-media Weekend Drawing Event challenge on WetCanvas, dated them and listed whose photos I used. WetCanvas member Elainepsq hosted the Weekend Drawing Event that week, and I enjoyed it immensely. This also broke the block against doing things that weren't from life and I relaxed, kept it out handy on top of everything and shuffled it to the top when it threatened to get buried, so it's actually growing again faster than before.

A day later I painted the view out my window from the bed, getting a weird tree branch before all its leaves came in. I'd looked at that particular odd branch all through the seasons for three years running and loved it, so started doing this seasonal view -- winter view because it didn't even have leaf buds at the time. Then did some seasonal trees from imagination on the next page. I started just having fun with it.

After all, maybe the Perfect Painters From The UK didn't publish their very first watercolor journals. Maybe if someone kept one every year for some years, they would start to be that spectacular with realism on every page and no scratch-outs in the text. I'd also succeeded in avoiding scratch-outs by doing text in careful block lettering in the style of map legends from my dad's science illustrations, a knack I picked up as a little kid but really should underline in pencil and erase if I want them to stay mechanically on a line. My texts were legible and my journal was looking good if not perfect.

Then I got the book by Claudia Nice that I'd been drooling at on Amazon and wish listed too many times: Painting with Watercolor and Pen & Ink.


It wouldn't be cheating if I did some penwork on the paintings in order to get realism. It wouldn't even be cheating to use colored fine point pens to get really interesting penwork into it. That was another style of realistic journal-keeping that'd help me get the kind of thing I always wanted -- and while I'd still do some as pure transparent watercolor, no one was standing over me saying I couldn't use a spot of Chinese white here and there either. In fact, all my Asian watercolor and Sumi-E sources were saying "Yes, use the white when it's needed."

The following page was a stunning success:

There Is No Cheating! No One's Going To Grade It!

Glass and Birds Page, Pen & Watercolor, Robert A. Sloan
Glass and Birds Page, Pen & Watercolor, Robert A. Sloan

There really is no cheating! Put in everything you love!

 If your watercolor journal includes things from your head space like a fascination with nature and waterbirds that don't live in your part of the country, or you're housebound and can't go out to observe them in nature -- then use photo references and enjoy them. The two waterbirds on my Glass And Birds Page are both from Artist's Photo Reference: Water & Skies by Bart Rulon, North Light Books.

I'd love to be strong enough to go out to the shore, to travel to places that have those pelicans and sit there sketching them in my watercolor journal. I'm disabled and can't do that. I might in future years if I get a power chair and really work on building my health. So this represents a dream of things I may do someday -- because I have traveled much farther than many nondisabled people I know and seen things this beautiful in person back when I couldn't draw well enough or fast enough to render them in person from life.

The glass paperweight is from life. It's a gift a friend gave me that she bought in Czechoslovakia when she visited a famous glass factory. It has a dark spot inside that looks like an eye -- turn it a certain way and it looks as if it's looking at you through a haze of orange gas swirling around. Something like an alien from Jupiter or a Guild Navigator from Dune. It has become a meditation object for thinking of science fiction story ideas and a reminder there are beautiful places in the world that I've never been and still want to see in person.

I did the penwork first and then enhanced it with the watercolor, shifting values and in a couple of areas completely obliterating some careful penwork in orange ink because the color was stronger. I added a little more penwork after it dried. It worked and I succeeded in getting that kind of realism.

I did another sketch of the tree outside my window as it was leafing out, this time doing a pen sketch on my back laying in bed and coloring it later. I put in a color chart of another birthday present from my daughter, a 48 color Lukas 1862 watercolor pan set that is absolutely splendid and not Too Good To Use -- something else that I shuffled to the top of the stacks to use and enjoy more often. It's a lot easier to use it now that I can see what some of those black-looking pans look like on the paper.

Artist grade watercolors don't always look like the color they are when they're washed. A good many medium and dark colors just look black until dissolved, usually they are the more transparent ones. It's a good sign if the pan looks black because that means the color has a strong value range and can get very dark with strong applications or multiple layers. It won't always go to black though because the color in the pan is 1/4" or more thick and you can't always put THAT much on your painting.

But it's kind of important to tell if that chip is blue, red, brown or green when you want to just dab at it and put a wash of it somewhere -- you need the blue-black wash of Payne's Grey but putting in Burnt Umber or green would just not be right. So color charting is absolutely vital on the black chips in any pan watercolor set. Tubes, you can look at the marker on the label unless the label came off, and then you really need to chart them!

Anything can go in your watercolor journal.

It doesn't need to be nature paintings. It can be stuff on your desk like my glass paperweight or the page after the color chart - another ink and watercolor page featuring my new Acer Aspire One netbook, where I spend a good deal of time every day going online to wirte Hubs, or a red catseye marble I posed on the silvery matte lid of my old laptop and did very carefully for realism.

Netbook and Marble Page

Netbook and Marble Page, pen and watercolor by Robert A. Sloan
Netbook and Marble Page, pen and watercolor by Robert A. Sloan

Don't Take It Too Seriously And Perfection Will Come

 I finally learned the lesson of my watercolor journal. If I don't take it too seriously and approach it with joy, use whatever watermedia or wet media come to hand, keep on color charting anything I'm going to use in it so that I can tell what I've done when I look back to figure out how to get that metallic-blue effect again, then it's perfect as it is.

It does not need to be pulbishable and in fact it is.

There's nothing stopping me from leaving out pages that didn't work or using them as an example of different, looser styles and serendipity and how to fix mistakes. The captions do not always need to be in block lettering, my handwriting is reasonably legible as long as I use a pen width thin enough for the size I'm writing so the letters don't blur together.

The page layouts are a variation on learning composition and will get better the more journals I do over the years. Using both sides of each page was and is a very good idea -- the paper on a good watercolor journal is thick enough that I can do that. An elastic band holds it shut, so even if a page dries a little bit warped, time will flatten it out again as long as I close it with that band whenever it's dry.

I've started enjoying it for exactly as it is and treating it more like a sketchbook for watermedia. I'm sure I'll do some cool things in it with watercolor pencils and Derwent Inktense too, in fact it wouldn't be a bad idea to chart my Inktense set in it and use those once I get going on a trip.

We're moving to Arkansas at the end of this month. I won't see that sycamore again, or the tree outside this bedroom window. So I'll finish with my latest page, the one that does finally have a good botanical drawing of the sycamore leaves and a twig from the tree I can see from the bed.

It also became the first page with a scratchout in the text -- over to the right under a leaf, you can see a place where I misspelled a word and just scratched it out without thinking.

Let yourself make mistakes and just keep painting and drawing. Perfection happens when it does and if you try but don't flip out when it doesn't happen you'll get it much more often. You can never get perfection by not doing it in the first place.

Botanical Accuracy and the First Scratch-Out Text

Leaves from Life Page by Robert A. Sloan
Leaves from Life Page by Robert A. Sloan

Try keeping a watercolor journal

 You can see above that I finally did show the veins on the sycamore leaves as lighter than the color around them. Their patterns are reasonably accurate -- I brought in twigs from outside and worked at my table instead of trying to sit under it in the wind doing them while staring up.

The twig to the right is from the tree I can see through my window from bed. If anyone knows what this tree is, what it's called, I'm very curious! No one's ever successfully identified it yet, but that's the more accurate painting of the two and the leaves do turn reddish before turning green. They look soggy and limp when they first grow in, dangling down like autumn leaves before flattening and lifting to catch the light as they turn green. I added a small sketch of how they're arranged on the branch to help any botanists or tree fanciers identify it.

I don't know what it is now, but maybe in time someone will tell me.

You can see the first scratch-out in the text next to it too. Don't worry about those. If perchance some publisher loves your watercolor journal or you decide to publish it using Lulu or something, all you need to do is write out the text again nicely, scan the text separately and cut it out in GIMP or Photoshop, then paste it over the scratch-out and fool people like me into thinking good painters never do scratch-outs in text.

Do mention which watercolors you used. Do jot down what pens you used if you try the Claudia Nice style. That helps for future reference if years down the road you want to get that effect again -- or notice that a particular color or brand wasn't lightfast and faded to look ugly.

If it's at all possible, get and use artist grade watercolors with good lightfastness and archival pens that have good lightfastness. Getting a good mixing triad of artist grade watercolor is more effective than a big set of student watercolors because if you happen to luck and get something perfect it will last without fading and your grandkids can show it to their grandkids when they're old.

You don't have to be a famous painter for your watercolor journal to be meaningful. In 2109, this journal will be valuable even if no one ever heard of Robert A. Sloan and no one saved off anything I ever posted on the Internet, because if my family keeps it that'll reach museum levels of antique quality and people will ooh and ahh over how the 21st century painters and hobbyists were so accurate working by hand when they did.

You don't know that your great-grandkids won't find it and think "Whoa, this is awesome, I wish I could draw like that..." and take it up to continue your legacy.

And of course if you do one and reach the last page, that's an excuse to go out and buy a new one and start over! This Moleskine journal was under $20 on sale -- she mentioned that quite some time before she bought one for me because she got hers for herself and it's the same one.

If you must get student watercolors, I seriously recommend Winsor & Newton Cotman student watercolors because they are very high quality student paint -- they use less expensive pigments but still grind them very fine and for most of the time I had that Cotman field box, I thought it was artist grade. I didn't know there was something that far beyond it as the Artist field box. Also, keep an eye out for Clearance sales and out of season gift sets.

Very often artist grade supplies come bundled in gift sets that change every year. They come out for the holidays and then the following year the companies make new gift sets and the old model gets dumped on Clearance to make space for inventory. Sometimes the older gift sets are actually a bit more generous than the new ones but get marked down to a third or a quarter the retail price when they're new. Then add up all the supplies in them bought separately and even the bundle price when new looks good compared to retail on the components -- it's a good way to get lots of good stuff to get set up fast.

If you like painting and drawing at all, a watercolor journal can be immensely rewarding. So give it a go and see what you get -- most of all paint what matters to you, whatever that is. It doesn't need to be the obvious -- that orange glass paperweight has a wealth of personal meaning about the friend who gave it to me and so does the red catseye marble about another friend. The netbook represents all my online friends. You can explain that in text or keep it to yourself and smile, because your watercolor journal is entirely your own -- it is a place to express yourself rather than what other people expect watercolor journals to be.

Have fun with it. My cat Ari sheds Cat Hairs of Inspiration on you for painting, drawing, writing or whatever you love doing most.


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    • profile image

      Eddie Omens 

      6 years ago

      nice work....i can tell you are talented and work hard.....

      .""Perfection is the prerequest for pain...."

      Be well ...Eddie in San Diego

    • Byron Wolf profile image

      Byron Wolf 

      6 years ago

      Gorgeous work. I especially love the netbook and salt shaker!

      Thanks for sharing. This was inspiring and I might try some myself.

    • profile image

      Rudolph A. Pitcher 

      6 years ago

      Found your article very inspiring and helpful. I have done some journaling but your words have motivated me to return to it without seeking perfection or concern about "ruining" a nice journal with each page. Thanks.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This was a great read. You are very clear with your words. Keep up the great journalling.

    • BrendyMac profile image


      7 years ago

      A really well written Hub...I'm only a newie to it myself and always mess it up!!Yours is the type of hub to aim for (he says enviuosly) and I love the idea of keeping a journal!! I do have many sketch books...a sea one,animals,landscape..and lots of ideas on various scraps of papers containing mixed media ideas,but I never tried a journal...after your article,I will give it a go!! I enjoyed reading this hub very much..and I will try to read all of yours..they are so inspirational!!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have been painting watercolors 15 years and am still fascinated by anything related. This info and the Easy Skin Tones piece are remarkable. What a gift you have when it comes to encouraging and inspiring. Thanks so much for shaing.

    • technorican profile image


      8 years ago from Houston

      This is awesome! There are some nice books about journaling. I have almost 120 journals but I wrote and added articles, tickets, cartoons, stamps, etc. Journaling in all forms is wonderful. I wish I had started earlier. Spread the word!

    • Draconian Rain profile image

      Draconian Rain 

      8 years ago

      This is beautiful and so interesting. I have never heard of it before. I know of sketch blogs where digital artists do similar in blogs (myself included) but I think this is much more interesting.

    • profile image


      8 years ago


      A lovely and inspiring article! The photos of your sketchbook really get me inspired. I painted watercolors years ago, then got wrapped up in other arts for many years. Now I am back to my "first love" and the little sketchbook journals are wonderful. I got a discounted package of 3 (landscape format) from Hand Book (Global Art Materials) and I want the portrait size as well! I will look at Moleskine.

      When I was in art school, we were required to draw, draw, draw everyday and always have at least one sketchbook going. The only rule was never show it to anyone! That way you could do those bad drawings - which probably teach you more than the good ones - and avoid other people's judgement. Of course, many of my fellow art students showed pages of their sketchbooks to each other - we all understood we would make many bad drawings and it was nothing to be worried about. Like anything, you get better with practice.

      I have two sketchbooks going, one for drawing ( and doing value study thumbnails, which I recommend) for painting in the watercolor book. I will try using masking liquid on the next painting, but I worry that the paper in the journals may be too light-weight, and the pages could tear when I go to picking it off. A good tool to use when you have those lighter veins - get some cheap little birthday cake candles - make sure to get the white ones rather than the colored. You can shave off the colored coating and get to the white wax underneath, but the candles are so small, it's a delicate operation. The candle acts as a little crayon, although a colorless one. Draw in your little veins and then paint the leaf. The wax resists the paint and the lighter paper shows through. Rather than the stark white that Frisket preserves, the wax takes enough color to show up as a lighter color of the overlying wash. Don't layer the wax on several times to keep the lines entirely white. It's great for fine lines, grasses, wood grain, etc. I haven't tried painting light color lines and THEN waxing, but it might help get you lines of another tint other than the wash you put over it. And, of course, it saves you all that fine-lining in masking fluid - which can blob and ruin the effect.

      There is a book on this and other tricks from Cathy Johnson using a variety of fun - and usually easy to find - materials. There is also an excellent book by Nita Engle that shows you how to use glazing, blobbing, spraying, throwing, and fun manipulations to get certain effects. And she is an amazing artist! And for anyone wanting to start a pen and watercolor journal, I highly recommend Work Small, Learn Big - which gives examples of several good artists, their sketchbook studies as well as finished paintings. The chapters are in their own words. I don't know where you live, Robert, but if there is a good library system like I have here in Seattle, you can check out some of these books rather than buy them sight unseen. Amazon offers many, sometimes used ones are cheap from the other sellers that are listed on the same page. Amazon also has many books whee they offer several pages for preview.

      Anyway, don't get discouraged! I've assigned myself to fill AT LEAST 2 sketchbooks this year. At year's end, I will start on some bigger-sized paintings. As for publishing, I recently checked out a book titled "A Pacific Northwest Sketchbook". They were DREADFUL! Your pages are so much better! So don't give up on the publishing idea. Also, people are posting their artwork on Flickr, for free.

      Have fun!

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thank you! This is great. Both of you enjoy your watercolor journals. this is so awesome. I'm glad my article inspired you.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm inspired, I will be getting out my sketchbook and watercolors!

    • winter52 profile image


      9 years ago

      I really like this idea and I think that it is exactly what I need right now. My daughter is constantly telling me to find a hobby, but nothing seemed to interest me. I already have some water color pencils and some water color tablets or whatever you call them, so I'm pretty much ready to go. Now I'm going to go back and do a bit more reading so I have some idea what else I'm going to need. Thanks for idea. :)

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thank you!

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      This is absolutely beautiful and inspiring! You are truly an artist. Thank you for writing this up and sharing.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thank you! Yes, it does take energy -- and emotion, and patience. Learning accuracy in rendering is the thing that takes a lot of practice and results in so many people thinking they have no talent. It's as if learning to read were presented that way and only the lucky few got to learn as children. It would be that daunting, and it's a similar process learning to see things to draw them accurately.

      Ethel, some of the best artists I've ever known had poor or declining eyesight, one of them was legally blind. There are things to help depending on what's wrong with your sight, ways to compensate. One hasn't really got anything to do with eyesight per se but you may find it easier to adapt than other watercolorists because it'll make the paintings easier to see.

      Use the paint much stronger than you think you need to. Test through how swatches look wet and dry and get into a routine of mixing more onto the brush or into a wash than it looks when it's wet. Most watercolors will fade to about half their strength once they dry, it's just something about the medium. I had to learn to overcome it and once I did, my paintings were all bright and a lot easier to see. Some artists go direct from the tube without putting any water in other than having a damp brush, that can become too intense but it's one way to go about it and see how it works.

      Magnifiers help me often because I too have some eye trouble. I bought a Daylight lamp with a gooseneck magnifier and also have magnifier glasses depending on what I'm doing, though I haven't used them together. Having enough light helps a lot too. It can make a bigger difference than I expected when I first got those things, just seeing what I'm doing.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      This is so interesting. I love your work. My painting days are mostly behind me these days with declining eyesight. I have tried watercolours but find it hard getting the hang. You have inspired me to try again.

    • C.S.Alexis profile image


      9 years ago from NW Indiana

      Thumbs up to you Robert. Many folks do not realize the dedication of energy that goes in to an artist's work. The journal lays it on the line if you have the discipline to work steady. Great show, thanks for sharing your work.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thanks, Jerilee! I've been inspired by a friend of mine, scattykat, on -- hers is amazing and she's been at it for months now, working on keeping it for a full year. Hers is specifically her garden journal with lots of realistic plants and scenes and her garden looks all historical too. Mine's a bit more open in topic but it's been a lot of fun.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Well, I'm extremely impressed. I've seen commerical copies of such journals in bookstores here in the U.S. but never gave them much thought. I've also seen ones in museums from the 19th century, yet I must have missed something because I'd never heard the term watercolor journal until I read this excellent hub.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      That is so great, Marisue!

      Amanda, don't be so sure. It takes a while to get good at it, but it seriously helps doing pen drawing and then coloring it. You might surprise yourself -- after doing a lot of them, it does take a while to learn. I'd actually suggest starting with the pen and watercolor before doing things in just watercolor because the watercolor took me years and years to start getting to look good on its own.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      You've inspired me Robert. I'm a compulsive doodler who thinks in pictures. At college my lecturers would pounce on my notes and wave them at the class much to my embarassment. My 'notes' were in fact sketches and cartoons. For some reason putting information into pictures made it 'stick' better. I've always intended to start a picture journal, and your article has given me a nudge towards it, although I don't share your gift for watercolour.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      Absolutely, I think journaling is the greatest reads...much of what I write about right now is my life, I've been thru so many things that hopefully will inspire others, and lift them and wake or stir up "feelings" -- and it seems to be working...!!


    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Wow, thank you! Yes, I do know I'm good. My ego is only a little bit smaller than my cat's. >^..^<

      It's taken me since the year 2000 to begin to be able to write How To well and it took me some years to learn how to teach well in person, in the 1980s. But I learned and one thing I have learned is that everything I do improves everything else I do. I write good novels too, I have just had some unfortunate delays in getting most of them into print.

      I've also always wondered why, when so many adults appreciate good illustrations in books, publishers don't do more illustrated adult fantasy, mystery, horror, romance and other adult novel genres. It seems like the idea of "illustrations" is indelibly tied to the idea "kids can't read well so they need pictures." Grownups like them too!

      I might someday publish my watercolor journal and put in anecdotes and memoirs with it, just turn it into a memoir about my life and things I did and how I learned to draw, with a stream of "how to draw" article bits tucked in here and there. It could be fun doing that by way of Lulu or something and see if it sells well.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      Robert, your talent and insight and abilities astound me.  I'm breathless!!  Do you know how good you are??  Talented people seldom do.  I taught school, first grade for 6 years and let me tell you, your journal drawings and pardon me if I'm not calling them the correct name, would make a beautiful children's book , heck I'd love them. 

      I think of Mozart, doodling musical notes on the back of anything, or Beethoven, or famous writers who write story line ideas or themes, or plots, and then file them away and one day they're discovered and treasures are unfolded...your work is one, like theirs...

      I'm speechless.   =))  Please keep doing what you do ~

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Purr thanks! I'm still at it -- just did one on Graphitints. I want to do at least one more today, so I need to pick another weird pencil and maybe do today's daily art for the next one!

    • profile image

      Rose Herczeg 

      9 years ago

      Robert, this is amazing, you are really doing so much work in such a short time. I have lost touch but only because of so much going on with school, the kids, my husband had surgery, my pain, etc. So there has been too much on my plate. But I wanted to commend you on taking on this challenge. If there is ANYONE up for it, it's you. You have the ability to make writing sound so easy, you have a flair for the right balance of humor and fact. I love to read your articles and haven't missed one, I love them all. If it weren't for weekends, I'd never catch up! My hat is off to you for taking this on and I can't wait to see more! Hope you are feeling well and your family is taking good care of you. Hi to Ari and Gem. :) xoxox Rose


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