Several months ago I went looking for the one and only egg tempera I ever completed. As I rifled through every portfolio and possible drawer of art I should have also looked for some unused pieces of my beloved Strathmore cold press illustration board. That illustration board used to be the staple of many of my watercolor landscapes. In fact, when you look at the homepage of One CA Girl, you see myself and my son (when he was little) looking out at the J Lohr vineyards on the east side of 101 in Paso Robles. That was done on this same illustration board. The heavy paper has just a bit of texture, compared to a smoother hot press paper surface, and that open texture allows for the paint to nestle in very nicely, while the colored pencil scoots on the surface, leaving behind tiny bits of white. As it is a board it doesn’t warp when you get it wet. Even good watercolor paper can warp a bit if you don’t wet it all over and stretch it before painting on it. Back in the late 80s I learned of this wonderful board and technique (Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor) from a scientific illustrator at the CA Academy of Sciences. She did wonderful and richly colored pieces of “space” art for the Morrison Planetarium.
I used to have no trouble finding this paper as I had a hefty package of what seemed like countless 30 by 40 inch sheets that I cut to whatever size I wanted as needed. The all over dark blue package it came in was easy to spot and it seemed that every time I looked into it there was always more. Until one day there wasn’t, and sadly that large blue package disappeared. I thought maybe I had used it all up, but was almost certain I still had a few smaller pieces tucked away into random places. Yeah, yeah, I guess I could buy some more. But, ever the optimist, I went looking for some because I wanted to do this piece for a friend for his birthday and didn’t want to wait for a paper delivery.
I was delighted to find several pieces—none very large, but all would do well for what I call my smaller “jewel” pieces. For this one I grabbed some colored pencils that I thought would make a lovely backdrop of the two paintings that flanked the kitty—nothing too dark, but just enough color and ambience to make the dark and luxurious colors of the cat come alive and jump off the page. Then I brought in the darks/shadows of the cat. I have my all time favorite colored pencils that I use to get that color. And the final shade I get is dependent on the order I use them. I usually see a kind of final “glow” color and that will be what goes on last. Those “go to” colors include blue indigo, Tuscan red and dark brown. Sometimes, if I think green is needed I will add to this deep mix of loveliness forest green or even grass green. But for this one, the top pencil color is Tuscan red.
As far as the watercolor goes I use that to help with the shadows and sometimes the texture of the whole piece—background as well as focal point. So, I mixed a pale grey that I used to tone down the two paintings as well as shading for the kitty. It becomes a kind of layering of pencil, then watercolor, then pencil, and then watercolor. I did the same thing with his eyes—giving depth to that amazing blue with a light touch of blue indigo and then a water color wash of cobalt blue and cerulean, layer upon layer.
There is only one problem you really have to worry about with this kind of technique and that is you need to be careful with adding too much “waxy” colored pencil. Over time you can get what’s called wax bloom. That’s where the paper gets a kind of filmy white coating in the parts you’ve scrubbed in the color too much. So, don’t press too hard. I will say, that I actually kind of like having some of the areas get kind of smooth and shiny, it adds a nice texture to certain areas of interest. I think the kitty’s face and some of the background pieces, like the poppies on the left and the eucalyptus on the right, are enhanced some with a more smooth and silky surface.
Here’s what else I found while digging around…
Now, I am not a pack rat for most things. But when it comes to my art I have kept a lot of the work I have done over the years, including a mountain of sketches—some very rough, but many very finished and complete. In fact, I did a complete and detailed sketch to scale for this one. And I used it as a template for the finished piece, transferring the drawing directly to the illustration board. So this takes me to something else I found myself looking for—the transfer paper I made in the late 80s and have used countless times to do such a transfer. Luckily I found that paper in an old sketchbook from that time. Looking through the sketch pad it took me back to not only the landscapes I just described, but to some close up botanicals I did at that time as well—some of my other small “jewel” paintings of mostly flowers. And it was funny, but the minute I looked at the outside of the pad, I knew the transfer paper I was looking for would be inside.
Finally, as I was digging around, I found about a zillion fashion sketches/paintings I had done. Most of them had been created in the mid 80s when I was making clothing for sale and thinking about becoming a costumer for movies or theater or television. Some were very complete as large watercolors on lovely watercolor paper I remember soaking in my bathtub in Long Beach. Some still had traces of the brown paper tape I used to attach the paper to the hollow board used for this medium. Some were done with colored markers.
Oh yes, there are more people than you might imagine who come to SoCal to be in the movies. I know of a pool guy who wrote screen plays and a waitress who wanted to sing. Then there was my grandma. She had come to California from Canada in the 1920s, and she and her sister wanted to be in the movies too. I was a special education teacher working for Long Beach Unified School and I had thought about it too—seemed way more glamorous than teaching. I’m not sure if I was really that serious about costume design, but that’s probably what we all say when it doesn’t happen and your life takes a different turn. It is fun to have the art that has somehow recorded a California time and place for me. The best part is that now when I look at this recent piece it reminds me all over again of that art and those times. And I don’t have go digging for it. It’s right here!!
Happy Birthday Kelly, 5/29