Heart of Soil sketchbook

Settle down with a cup of tea or something because there are lots of pictures today.

You might recall I enrolled on the Heart of Soil online workshop last month – you can see my earlier post about it here. I collected all the lessons into a little sketchbook, and it’s been a lot of fun to revisit some techniques I haven’t used for a while. I particularly liked the limited colour palette – just blues and yellows – and the pages in the resulting book are nicely coordinated.

Front cover with strip of hand dyed silk wrapped around
Front and back covers
String of Hearts class taught by Tiffany Sharpe
Bluebird of Peace class taught by Megan Quinlan (mine is a blue tit, since I think that’s the closest thing we have to a bluebird in the UK)
Buds class taught by Michelle Schratz

I went a bit off-piste with some of these and added some lines from a vintage poetry anthology to some of the pages, and I added a teabag pocket to this one too. I made a stencil from Tyvek for the background leaf and flower images.

The lines of poetry on the page below are from a Rupert Brooke poem, mixed up to create a found poem.

Pebbles and Peace classes taught by Leaca Young
Paper doll class (I adapted this one a fair bit just to get it on the page) taught by Kim Smith (@slaphappystudios on Instagram) and painted watercolour tubes class taught by Kelly Hoernig (@kellyhoernig.artist on Instagram)
Watercolour wildflower garden class taught by Tracey Wozniak
Watercolour/mixed media backgrounds and mark making class taught by DeeDee Catron
The one-page journal technique, shared by Kiala Givehand (@kialagives on Instagram) and a sunflower for Ukraine taught by Lorraine Bell (@lorraine_bell on Instagram)

Of course the sketchbook itself is based on the one-page sketchbook technique (you fold a single sheet of paper, cut it strategically and fold it into an eight-page booklet) but I thought it would be fun to make a tiny sketchbook to tuck inside the bigger one. The smaller version is made from a sheet of A4 paper; just me enjoying myself, really.

Collaged pages in mini-sketchbook with various marks and papers
Pages from mini-sketchbook, collaged and painted, with lines from a vintage poetry anthology

I thought it might be fun to include a little video run-through but then I noticed the colour of my hands and thought I ought to explain. I did some dyeing this morning and – I do it every time – forgot to put the gloves back on when rinsing. My hands are not normally purple, just in case anyone is worried.

A very happy collection of classes and I enjoyed them immensely. Next up, I’m doing the Traveller Blanket course with the lovely Dijanne Cevaal and am looking forward to that. Next year I hope to be teaching online classes myself, and I’ve figured that the best way to see what works is to sign up for a few myself. And of course there is always something new to learn.

Blue buds

Still having lots of creative fun with paint and paper in the Heart of Soil class – it’s a lovely course and for an excellent cause – there is still time to sign up, which you can do here.

Accidental discovery of the day is that you can very easily make your own stencils from Tyvek. Apparently Tyvek is used for making envelopes in the US but you’re more likely to find it in a DIY shop in the UK – I think it’s used in building/construction and in PPE, but it’s also been used in mixed media art for several years now for its propensity to shrink and bubble when heated. It’s about as thick as copy paper but is much more durable, and very easy to cut with a craft knife.

Simple stencil made from Tyvek, coloured with watercolour paints
Heart shape cut from Tyvek used as a stencil with dry-brushed watercolour paint

This page is based on a technique taught by Michelle Schratz (if you’re an Instagram person you can find her here.)

A6 sketchbook page based on Michelle’s Heart of Soil class

I found a couple of lines of poetry (Rupert Brooke, from a vintage anthology) and used an old teabag as the pocket for the cut-out flowers.

Teabag pocket with flowers cut from sketchily-painted vintage papers

The yellow ribbon, saved from something many years ago, is exactly the right colour, which is proof that you should Keep All Your Collage Supplies For Ever. One of these days I will need a bigger house.

Yellow and blue flowers

I am really enjoying the limited palette and am already thinking way ahead with ideas to try this in various other colours and media. Also it’s immensely enjoyable to make something just for the fun of it, without any pressure for it to turn out ‘right’, whatever that is. Wishing everyone a happy week.

He(art) of Soil

I have given myself too many things to do: no surprises there. I have signed up for three online courses, all running at the same time, while continuing to work three days a week at the desk job. I did know what I was doing, and all of it seemed like a really good idea at the time, and I’m already slightly behind. But then I get lifetime access to all three courses, and you can do them all at your own pace, so there is no rush really.

One of the classes I signed up for is a delightful mixed media watercolour course called He(art) of Soil, organised by Leaca Young (you can find her on Instagram here). It’s very accessible, with ten mixed media artists each contributing a simple project, and there’s still time to sign up if you’re interested – go to Leaca’s website in the link above for more information. All the proceeds go to World Central Kitchen, in aid of the conflict in Ukraine. The projects in this course are based on a very limited palette: just three shades of blue, and three shades of yellow, for the Ukrainian flag. The paints are made from soil and pigment and look really beautiful. You can see more about how they’re made here. I didn’t purchase the paints – it would have been very expensive to have them shipped from the USA to the UK, and I don’t need more watercolour paints, so I’m adapting what I’ve already got. You can see my substitute palette below.

A6 folded sketchbook for The Art of Soil online class

I don’t need much of an excuse to splash some paint around, so I had a very happy hour or so this afternoon painting some collage papers in these colours.

delicious pile of vintage and modern papers painted with acrylics and watercolours

I’m collecting and completing all the lessons in a little folded A6 sketchbook made with three sheets of A3 paper, folded and cut to make a little zine-type booklet. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you can find instructions for making a one-page booklet here. One of the tutorials in this class includes instructions for making this kind of booklet, which will be perfect for keeping everything together.

The projects are very simple and suitable for all abilities, and I guess you could make them as quick or as complicated as you like.

Page based on Tiffany’s Hearts project – find her on Instagram here

It’s really interesting to work with such a limited palette, and surprising to see just how many shades of blue, green, and yellow you can actually make. A lot of the artists remark on the texture of the watercolours that they’re using, describing them as quite gritty. My paints are all very smooth, so I might try using some watercolour texture medium for some of the classes, just to see how it turns out.

Loosely worked page based on Megan’s Bird of Peace tutorial. You can see her work here

Regardless of how long you might have been making art, in whatever medium, I love the fact that there is always something more to learn, something more to practice, and plenty more ways to grow. I really like the fact that this online class supports a great cause, and that the artists have given their time and skills so freely. I’m looking forward to completing more of the classes in this course.

Colours

I’ve been taking some time out this week, just to look and think, and it’s been immensely restorative.

I like playing with watercolours, though with no real expertise. I normally use a student-grade Cotman set, which I’ve had for about twenty years, and they are generally fine just for rough sketchbook work. I also have a small portable set of Sennelier professional half pans, which are better quality than the Cotman. I think tubes are better than pans for larger or more experimental work, so I thought it was perhaps time to invest in some professional quality tubes. I bought a set of Daniel Smith dot cards, which are basically a small but useable dot of paint in every shade that they make. You just add water so you can see and feel how each colour behaves. You can see the dots of paint in the photo, and a little goes a really long way, so there is plenty left. I have spent two entire days looking at them, and they are beyond beautiful.

Daniel Smith dot cards and colour swatches

Colour is really magical. It lifts the spirits, it calms and soothes, and it energises. The science of it is baffling. We are capable of seeing only a tiny fraction of the whole spectrum, in which objects absorb some wavelengths of visible light and reflect others. What we see is the reflected light that hasn’t been absorbed by an object. You could say we see the colour it isn’t.

Delicious greens, splashed and splattered

I had assumed that Daniel Smith paints were going to be much the same as any other watercolours but my (admittedly limited) experience is that they are far superior to any other professional colours I’ve tried. I think watercolour is quite a forgiving medium anyway, in that it’s difficult to make watercolours look ugly. These paints are a dream to use, even for a novice like me. They dilute immediately, they are beautifully smooth, and they are really easy to handle. The range and quality of colour is amazing. I made some swatch cards, and then I made lots of samples on 300gsm watercolour paper cut into 2” x 3” pieces.

Little samples, Daniel Smith watercolours
Samples, 2” x 3”, Daniel Smith watercolours. The sample bottom right is watercolour over white oil pastel. I have got some masking fluid somewhere but I was in the zone and didn’t want to disturb myself

I even like the newsprint drop paper that I used to protect the drawing board.

Over the edge: sheet of newsprint

I completely love these paints. Whether they will make me a better artist is absolutely debatable, but the pleasure of using something of this quality will far outweigh any disappointment in the results. The joy is always in the doing rather than the having.

Strips of cotton rag paper with paint applied in rows using a half-inch straight brush

Several of the samples are iridescent. They are interesting but I’m not sure I would use them – though of course, never say never! I’ve cut them out and threaded them onto a bit of cotton yarn just in case. There is also plenty of useable paint on these, so I will hang on to them and wait for an opportunity to present itself. You can get watercolour iridescent medium, so really you could make anything sparkly if you wanted to.

Daniel Smith iridescent colours

I will probably cut the others up into little tags when I’ve exhausted all the paint. Now I just have to narrow it down and choose some colours…

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