Drawing Materials and Methods: Five Tips from Drawing Magazine, Winter 2017

How does a light source affect the translucence of an object? Which eraser is right for your drawing? Read on for advice on these and other topics from the artists featured in the winter issue of Drawing magazine, which focuses on drawing materials and printmaking media.

To learn more from these accomplished artists, you can purchase the magazine here, download a digital edition here, or subscribe to Drawing here. Happy sketching!

Drawing Materials | Artist's Network | Drawing Magazine

1. Drawing a translucent object? Pay attention to the light.

Translucent objects are tricky to draw, because their appearance changes depending on whether the light is shining on a form from the front or side or shining through it from behind. A translucent object will often appear opaque when lit from the front or side. This is demonstrated in the drawing of grapes seen below. The light falls between the two groups of grapes, so the front cluster is lit from behind, while the back cluster is lit from the front. The back grapes show highlights and shadows in the same intensity and positions as they would if they were opaque. The front cluster, however, shows the translucence of each grape, with the interior seed faintly visible and a small amount of light leaking into the cast shadows. [–Margaret Davidson, “First Marks: Opaque, Transparent or Translucent?”]

Drawing Materials | Artist's Network | Margaret Davidson

Illustration by Margaret Davidson.

2. Be mindful with how you employ your erasers.

I find it makes a difference what order you employ various erasers when using more than one type in a single drawing. If I try to erase a deeply inscribed line with a kneaded eraser first, the line becomes even more resistant to subsequent attempts by a plastic eraser. I avoid using the smaller pointed plastic erasers on large areas, since they can embed the pigment into the paper; I’ve found the larger plastic erasers better suited to such tasks. [–Dan Gheno, “How Different Drawing Materials Affect the Drawing Process” ]

3. Use frisket to keep your white backgrounds pristine.

In order to keep the background clean while I work, I use Badger Foto/Frisket Film, a low-tack product that airbrush artists use to stencil out spaces. I cover the paper with the frisket and trace the outline of the image on the film with a Stabilo pencil. Using an X-Acto knife I cut out the area where I will draw the image, plus an extra quarter of an inch all around the shape. This keeps the paper in the non-image area protected throughout the drawing process. I can smudge and blend as much as I want and not worry about my hand rubbing on the white background. After the drawing is done, I removed the low-tack frisket and have that pristine background. [–David Morrison, “Beauty Underfoot”]

Drawing Materials | Artist's Network | David Morrison

Bird Nest Series, No. 9, by David Morrison, 2014, colored pencil, 20 x 14. Private collection. Image courtesy the artist and Garvey|Simon, New York, New York.

4. Interested in printmaking? “Just do it!”

Printmaking is so rewarding. There’s that element of chance you don’t have with pencil on paper. And anyone who loves to draw will especially love drypoint because it’s basically drawing—drawing with chance as your collaborator. [–Ellen Heck, “Printmaking Today”]

Drawing Materials | Artist's Network | Ellen Heck

Girl With Heart Wings, by Ellen Heck, 2014, woodcut and drypoint, 14 x 9.

5. If you like to stay in control, engraving might be your perfect medium.

Engraving was developed in the Middle Ages, making it one of the oldest printmaking processes. The artist creates lines by cutting into a copper plate using a tool called a burin. It requires patience, strength and practice. Curved lines are created not by pushing the burin in a new direction but by turning the plate while pushing the burin straight ahead. It is a highly linear process, and shading is accomplished largely through hatching and crosshatching. [–Richard Pantell, “Intaglio Explained”]


Interested in learning about other drawing materials? Check out the following video featuring artist Mark Menendez demonstrating a colored pencil technique, or visit our extensive library of video lessons at artistsnetwork.tv.

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Watercolor Wonder: Watercolor vs. Gouache

A Guest Post by Cassia Cogger

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating.”

—Kofi Annan

How does watercolor differ from gouache? What are their individual characteristics, and how might each best be applied to a mixed-media art practice?

These very questions got me thinking, I wonder what would happen if I painted the exact same picture with each material; how might they differ?

Mixed-media explorations allow the artist to engage and experiment with materials in many different ways; to find new ways of using materials. Before one can find new ways of working with a material, however, one must first know the material’s basic characteristics.

Watercolor and gouache—two paint types often sharing an aisle in the art supply store and often applied in similar ways. A common answer I hear to the question “What is gouache?” is “It‘s opaque watercolor.” Is it really?

Watercolor and gouache are both made of similar materials (pigment, gum Arabic, possible additives), call for similar application and the same cleanup. Watercolor by nature is transparent and often loved for its fluid washes. Gouache, however, has a much higher pigment content and the pigment is ground into larger particles than watercolor. This is what makes gouache opaque and prevents it from granulating, and leads to the finished matte appearance—characteristics very different from watercolor.

The bigger question becomes, why do we care? Because knowing the qualities of each can open up a wide variety of applications in all of your mixed media work.

watercolor vs gouache materials

Watercolor paints and gouache paints

Materials Used

  • gouache paints, Turner Acryl Gouache: Opera Red, Fresh Green, Chocolate, Japanese Pale Yellow, Aqua Blue
  • palettes for mixing paints
  • pencil for sketching
  • watercolor brushes, Royal Aqualon round 4
  • watercolor paints, Holbein: Opera, Leaf Green, Cadmium Yellow Pale; Winsor & Newton: Cerulean, Caput Mortem
  • watercolor paper 90-lb Arches natural cold press and hot press

For this exploration, I used a mix of Holbein and Windsor & Newton Artists’ Watercolors and Turner Acryl Gouache (this paint has an acrylic medium as a binder and dries permanently). I did my best to choose similar palettes in each medium. I drew two images— a traditional floral study on rough watercolor paper and a bold graphic on smooth watercolor paper. I painted one of each drawing with watercolor and the other with gouache.

Exploring Watercolor and Gouache – Wet on Dry – Hot Press

watercolor vs gouache example 1

First I created a bold floral graphic and drew it on two sheets of hot press watercolor paper. For both pieces, I applied the paint using a wet-on-dry approach, hoping for flat washes of bold color. I allowed the first layer of each to dry completely then went back over each section applying additional patterns.

watercolor on hot press

The watercolor went on very fluidly. I allowed each section to dry completely before painting the neighboring section. The watercolor was slow to dry. I was surprised by how well the second layer of pattern held up. The colors dried with a satin sheen, due to the heavy application. Some brush strokes are visible and the green details over the brown base are not as bold as I would have liked, though they are bolder than I would have expected.

gouache on hot press

The gouache had a very draggy sensation as I applied it. Just as I did with the watercolor, I allowed each section to dry completely before painting neighboring sections and the gouache dried more quickly. I was amazed by how bold the second layer of pattern appeared with just one layer. Brush strokes are not visible. Even the green details over the brown base are incredibly crisp and opaque.

Exploring Watercolor and Gouache – Wet on Wet – Cold Press

watercolor vs gouach exploration 2

Next, I created a traditional peony graphic and drew it on two sheets of cold press watercolor paper. I applied the paint using a wet-on-wet approach to explore how the gouache would react. I allowed the first layer to dry completely then went back over each section applying a single contrasting shape to test the translucency of the paint when applied evenly over a clear wash.

watercolor on cold press

As expected, the watercolor went on very fluidly spreading across each wash area. I allowed each section to dry completely before painting neighboring sections and as with the previous drawing, the watercolor was slower to dry. The Cerulean Blue cloud shape is a strong pigment with a heavy application but given the wet-wash application, it still maintains a lot of transparency.

gouache on cold press

This is where I was perhaps most surprised. The gouache behaved almost identically to the watercolor for most of the wet-on-wet application. It went on very fluidly and spread easily across each wash section onto which it was applied. I also allowed each section to dry completely before applying a wash to a neighboring section and the gouache washes were faster to dry. Even with the wet-wash application, the Aqua Blue cloud shape is completely opaque as a second layer.

What have I taken away from this and how will I apply it?


I believe gouache is better suited for flat, colorful shapes. It also dries more quickly. I can see using this as a first layer on multi-layered works or as my go-to for single-layered, bold, shape-based pieces. Gouache also dries with a very attractive matte finish.

I believe watercolor works for flat, colorful shapes but it requires a stronger skill set to achieve an even application. It is perfect for multiple layers, allowing the story of what came before to show through. When applied heavily it dries with a satin sheen.

R1984_Cogger-headshot_200Cassia Cogger—artist, teacher and author of Creating Personal Mandalas—is inspired to create artworks, creative courses and experiences that allow individuals to enter into greater relationships with their surroundings, becoming present to that which is essential. As much as she is excited by color, shape, pattern and beauty, she is more excited by what the creative process reveals.
Her work has been featured at the National Academy Museum of Design in NYC, in Watercolor Artist magazine as a rising star as well as in a host of other galleries and private collections.
Learn more about Cassia and her work at www.cassiacogger.com.


To see a technique for using gouache in action, watch this short video featuring Jean Haines


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Breaking the Rules When it Comes to Photography and Fine Art

Painting from photographs

Painting from Photographs Makes Sense

In this popular article, Timothy Jahn raises a few good points on why we should be open to painting from photographs, what kind of things to be watchful of when you do, and the different kind of images you can get from point-and-shoot, phone, and DSLR cameras. All his insights serve as a great warm up to Johannes Vloothuis’ Paint Along 33: From the Photo to the Painting: How to Simplify, which is taking attendees right now. Teach yourself alongside Johannes and see if painting from photographs is right for you and your art. Enjoy!



It seems as though people have been arguing about the use of photography in fine art since it even became an option. Many artists feel as though using photography or painting from photographs is cheating or they are misled regarding the use of the tools. I’m reluctant to learn new technology, but happy when I do. Yes, I use digital photography as part of my reference gathering techniques. And while it’s true that digital photography was not available to Rembrandt, that’s not going to stop me. I also use Penicillin, multivitamins, and light bulbs. Some inventions just make sense to utilize. We all have to make a choice between the tools available to us and our enjoyment of our process. If you get excited about only working from life, by all means keep doing it.

Tips for using photography in fine art

Venice Love Letter (oil, 5×7) by Timothy W. Jahn

Now that you all know that I am a big giant cheater, here are some of the tools I have used and some suggestions for those of you who are considering dancing with the dark arts of photography. There are so many choices in cameras that looking at all of the options can be overwhelming. Many of the sites about cameras are written for photographers or photography students. While many artists quietly work from photo reference, they don’t often share opinions on the tools they use because they want to stay out of the debate on the subject. Consequently, there is little sharing available to aid in your research. Your primary decision is between a point-and-shoot camera or a Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera.

If you’re pursuing painting as a hobby and are looking to use photo references, a simple point-and-shoot camera may be a good choice for you. There are many wonderful choices and even some that work really well underwater. There are advantages to a point-and-shoot camera. Due to the size, it’s easy to slip one into your pocket and head out looking for great subjects. You can get in the habit of bringing one along for any sudden inspiration (scroll down for another solution for this). The next big advantage is price. For the most part they’re cheaper than a DSLR, although there are some options at the high-end. With your point-and-shoot, you will be able to take pictures in auto mode, and while the quality of images produced varies greatly from camera to camera, they generally shoot quite well in this way.

Finding a Balance: Photography and Fine Art

Venice Love Letter (above) is a painting I completed from a series of photos taken with an Olympus Tough TG-310. During my honeymoon I had a problem with my DSLR—I left the battery charger on my kitchen table. Fortunately, my wife, Holly, always travels with a simple point-and-shoot and I was able to create a painting from photographs when I got back into the studio based on several nice photos I shot with her camera. As Holly and I walked around Venice, I found many fantastic spots and so much inspiration for paintings.

If you’re pursuing an art career and are willing to take the time to learn how to operate a new piece of technology, a DSLR might be a good choice. Due in part to the larger sensor size, the DSLR camera has the advantage in image quality. You also have the option to use a multitude of lenses, which makes a DSLR hugely adaptable, and allows you to get a higher quality image for the subjects you’re painting. I use an 85mm lens to shoot portrait and standard 50mm for still life. If I were interested in doing wildlife images, I could use the same camera with a 500mm lens to shoot animals from a great distance.

Breaking the Rules: Photography and Fine Art and Painting from Photographs

Audience With the Emperor (oil, 14×11) by Timothy W. Jahn

Above is a figure in an interior that I completed using photos from a relatively simple Canon 300D Digital Rebel. While I may have really enjoyed painting this from life, the situation didn’t allow it. I had limited time in this space and my model was living in Atlanta, so it became necessary to work from photos. The camera I used was the first DSLR I owned and while it was not anywhere near as advanced as the current entry-level cameras are, it worked very well and was wonderful to learn on.

Many cameras have predesigned automatic modes that do a lot of the work for you. The DSLR, however, is designed with a photographer in mind and allows you to control your own settings in manual mode. You will be able to fully adjust the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. This is really where the learning curve is, but if you invest the time, the control is worth it. As you gain skills and confidence with the camera, you will be able to minimize the adverse effects of creating paintings from photographs.

Cameras for Artists

There are many wonderful camera companies, although I’m most comfortable with Canon. Some of my apprentices have recently purchased the Canon EOS Rebel T5 and it takes great photos. Nikon makes wonderful products as well. Our studio uses an entry level DSLR D3100 by Nikon and the images are easy to work from. Keep in mind that if you buy a DSLR, learn how the operation system works and purchase lenses for that system, you are setting yourself up with the chance to upgrade within that company. So you may want to have a long-term look at the situation and pick a company that you can grow with. I purchased my first Canon in 2004 and have gradually upgraded. After getting accustomed to the first camera, I purchased a 85mm lens for portrait photography, which I still use.

Photography and Fine Art, still life by Timothy Jahn

Serum of Fools (oil, 8×10) by Timothy W. Jahn

The final image I wanted to share with you was completed with a photo from an iPhone. You probably already own a piece of technology such as this, which allows you to become very reactive to your impulses. While I had several methods available to complete this painting, including doing it from life, I wanted to see if I could get a good image with the camera I have at my disposal every day.

Art has always been intertwined with technology. There was a time that frescos were the best thing in art and some crazy monk came up with oil paint. Could you imagine if Da Vinci was like “Nah, I’m not going to use that new oil painting stuff because fresco is the real art?” Don’t feel guilty if you want to explore or utilize technological advancements or create paintings from photographs. Just remember why you started to draw in the first place—likely it was for fun and expression. If your artworks display what your true interests are, the viewers will enjoy them immensely!

See Timothy W. Jahn’s work in Strokes of Genius 3, The Best of Drawing: Fresh Perspectives. Visit his website at TimothyWJahn.com.






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San Diego Watercolors | Keiko Tanabe Gallery

Well-traveled watercolorist Keiko Tanabe finds inspiration in her own backyard.

When she isn’t traveling the world, Tanabe is a passionate plein air painter on her home turf—San Diego, Calif.— where she has lived for almost 25 years. “I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else,” she says. “Even growing up in Japan, I lived in several different places. When I’m here, I love to paint outside. The weather is almost always ideal for it.”

Tanabe acknowledges that the warm climate attracts many tourists and visitors to the area, but as a resident, she understands that the city is large and complex. “It’s a travel destination, but it’s also a military town,” she says. “There’s plenty of industry. San Diego is the second largest city in California, larger even than San Francisco. For a landscape painter, there’s a variety of subjects: beaches, mountains, hills, deserts. This suits me, because I love painting many different things.”

Tanabe’s choice of subjects reflects this interest in the variety of life in and around the city. She chooses views that incorporate some of the rich layering of the city—with its juxtapositions of economic, tourist and social life—where palm trees and beaches exist alongside construction cranes, working docks and office buildings.

Tanabe shares some of the San Diego watercolors here and in the June 2017 issue of Watercolor Artist, available at northlightshop.com and on newsstands April 18.

watercolor_landscape_little italy cafe san diego_keiko tanabe | artistsnetwork.com

Little Italy Cafe, San Diego (watercolor on paper) by Keiko Tanabe

watercolor_landscape_Little Italy Alley San Diego_Keiko Tanabe | artistsnetwork.com

Little Italy Alley, San Diego (watercolor on paper) by Keiko Tanabe

watercolor_landscape_San Diego Library _Keiko Tanabe | artistsnetwork.com

San Diego Library (watercolor on paper) by Keiko Tanabe

watercolor_landscape_San Diego Old Town Street_Keiko Tanabe | artistsnetwork.com

San Diego, Old Town Street (watercolor on paper) by Keiko Tanabe

Jean Haines shares how to discover negative shapes using watercolor:

Learn more from Haines at artistsnetwork.tv.

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Stig-Ove Sivertsen Watercolors Explore the Mutable Medium

Working in watercolors, Norwegian artist Stig-Ove Sivertsen recalls the Pablo Picasso print that hung in his childhood home—a reproduction portrait of Picasso’s muse, Sylvette David. The work shows her in full profile; while representational, it betrays a primitive abstract quality that recalls his earlier Cubist-inspired works. The work’s lasting impression on Sivertsen is telling. Picasso explored a wide range of styles and subjects throughout his career—nothing was exempt from his search. Moving easily between abstract and representational modes, Picasso fearlessly sacrificed one reputable style after another in pursuit of a genuine and “in-the-present-moment” expression.

Sivertsen does, too. “I find it difficult to talk about genre or style in today’s art world,” he says. “Picasso was light years ahead of his time. Today, there are almost no rules. Maybe that ‘everything goes’ attitude is the current movement? For my own part, I, too, have a ‘schizophrenic’ expression that ranges from abstract to photorealistic. The times I feel most successful in my painting are when I work intuitively and start without a preconceived point of view.”

The overriding consistency in Sivertsen’s watercolors is an exploration of the medium. “I suppose I like watercolor because of its challenges and difficulties,” he says. The mutable quality of watercolor and the random nature of its chance effects complement his adventurous spirit. “The medium forces one to work more freely; it’s how an artist should approach work: curious and playful. You must be bold to succeed, especially on a large format. You need to force some bravery into the painting.”

See more of Siversen’s diverse work in the June 2017 issue of Watercolor Artist, available at northlightshop.com and on newsstands April 18.

watercolor_landscape_mountain_stig_ove_sivertsen | artistsnetwork.com

Mountain (watercolor on paper) by Stig-Ove Sivertsen

watercolor_still_life_melancholy_stig_ove_sivertsen | artistsnetwork.com

Melancholy (watercolor on paper) by Stig-Ove Sivertsen

watercolor_landscape_a_rock_through_space_stig_ove_sivertsen | artistsnetwork.com

A Rock Through Space (watercolor on paper) by Stig-Ove Sivertsen

Absence-of-Presence_Stig_Ove_Sivertsen | artistsnetwork.com

Absence of Presence (watercolor on paper) by Stig-Ove Sivertsen

Get inspired! Jean Haines shares a watercolor challenge:

Learn more from Haines at artistsnetwork.tv.

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Window Reflections Using Watercolor| Robin Erickson Cityscape Gallery

Robin Erickson finds the extraordinary in the ordinary by painting window reflections using watercolor. While others dash past cityscape windows to their destinations, she watches and waits with her camera. Through those windows, she sees everyday sights: racks of clothing on display, a pizza maker plying his trade, an empty café table ready for guests. Once she glimpses the goings-on outside reflected in those windows—a couple strolling in perfect sync, a metro bus buzzing by—she knows she has a complete story to paint.

Erickson’s “love for a challenge” is what first drew her to try painting window reflections in watercolor. She believes that in our busy lives, we often pass through our surroundings without really seeing what is all around us, but that “some views are pretty magical and deserve a second look,” she says. 

Look through Erickson’s storefront reflection series in the June 2017 issue of Watercolor Artist, available at northlightshop.com and on newsstands April 18.

watercolor_cityscape_coffeehouse_window_30x20 | artistsnetwork.com

Coffeehouse Window (watercolor on paper) by Robin Erickson

India Street Reflection (watercolor on paper) by Robin Erickson

India Street Reflection (watercolor on paper) by Robin Erickson

watercolor_still_life_9th_avenue_door_robin_erickson | artistsnetwork.com

9th Avenue Door (watercolor on paper) by Robin Erickson


Paul Jackson shares how to paint the illusion of glass using watercolor:

Learn more from Jackson at https://www.artistsnetwork.tv.

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Scale It Down–Way Down!

 Joyce Washor is all about painting small. This work shows how "big" the possibilities are if you approach your composition the right way.

Joyce Washor is all about painting small. This work shows how “big” the possibilities are if you approach your composition the right way.

Painting Small Means “Pay Day”

Do you know painters who have been working on the same painting for months? Years? Maybe you are that artist? If you want an enriched understanding of the whole process of painting, you have to change up your game if you have been plodding along before now. That’s why painting small is one of the fastest growing trends we have seen lately. Painting small allows you more freedom and ease in the studio. Instead of getting bogged down for hours upon hours, weeks and weeks, you might have a finished painting at the end of one studio session!

That means you get to go through the whole painting process a lot quicker–learning things you may never have before simply because you have gotten through the whole process. I know that my biggest self-criticism is that I have a dozen pieces I’ve started, and very few I’ve finished. Sound familiar?

Painting small is much easier if you tape your board or surface to a larger piece of cardboard so you can hold the work comfortable and with control.

Painting small is much easier if you tape your board or surface to a larger piece of cardboard so you can hold the work comfortable and with control.

But in the time it takes to do one large painting, you could have dozens. That means dozens of possible opportunities to sell your work and a whole body of work to show a gallery or exhibition space as opposed to a single image. You get to “pay day” much quicker as you sign your name and send a miniature masterpiece out the door to a waiting client or buyer, and you are fueled with the knowledge of the entire painting process because you actually experienced it.

Here are three tips on how to start painting small to get you started.

+Good paintings, especially those on small canvases that have to pack a lot onto a little, begin with good drawings. So remember your drawing to-do’s: draw through the objects you can’t see so that their hidden edges line up correctly, use a center line with objects that have identical sides so you get them matched up right, and measure one object in a composition and use its size for reference when drawing other objects.

+One of the best things you can do to render what you see as life-sized into a small format is to draw the composition as a single unit, not as individual items.Look at your still life set-ups as one big shape instead of a collection of objects, so you can draw accurate representations at any size.

+Use a viewfinder, or even two L-shaped pieces of paper, to help you see what you can fit in a small-scale painting. For an abstract art exercise, you can take your scaled down viewfinder and hover it over any reference image you have, then use that small section in your next warm-up. Taken out of context, this small image will allow you to think about color, gesture, and form much differently.

If painting small sounds right to you, then Think Big, Paint Small is our top resource recommendation bar none. You will teach yourself how to shift your mindset from maxi to mini–giving you the opportunity to paint like you have always wanted to, but with an amazing increase in output and self-knowledge based on the most important kind of painting experience–your own! Enjoy!



And enjoy this adorable (as all mini things are!) infographic on 10 Ways Small Paintings Rock. Share with all your painting friends!

Painting small infographic: 10 Ways that painting small ROCKS for artists.




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