Tuesday 27 May 2014


I have a confession. I have been somewhat obsessed with sketching and sketchbooks lately - and I love it. I've been sketching for years, sometimes more sometimes less and I thought I would write a bit about the books I have used.

Sketchbooks - bottom to top - Fabriano Venezia A4 and A5; Daler Rowney Petrol; Blank Magneto Book; Stillman & Birn A5 Beta; Moelskine Sketchbook and Daler Rowney Eggshell

Over the years, my medium of choice has been a pen, usually a fine liner or pencil. This was governed by the type of books easily available in South Africa. The ones used most often were simple blank books A5 and A4 from Exclusive Books. The paper was most likely only about 110gsm and not suitable for watercolour. Pencil is fine but unless the drawings are fixed, the pages get very messy, so ink is a better option. 

Occasionally, I would be able to get Daler Rowney's Ebony and these were better and could cope with a light wash. Then I found the Moleskine Sketchbooks but unfortunately not the ones with watercolour paper! The paper in these is lovely for ink and coloured pencil but is averse to watercolour. However, manufacturers have to change things and as I write there is new packaging and I believe different paper. For up to date reviews of these changes,please check Katherine Tyrrell's blog Making a Mark as she will be posting her findings.

I also have an A4 Moleskine watercolour sketchbook that I am using. I'm not too sure how I feel about this one yet... The landscape format makes it a large rather cumbersome surface to work on. It's certainly not the book to pull out when you are trying to be discreet about sketching. And since it appears that the paper in this one has also changed makes my findings above rather irrelevant!

A good value for money sketchbook is the Jasart Sketch and Write, especially when they are on special. These have 150gsm paper, are hard bound and come in a variety of sizes. The book opens flat and is strurdy. The paper accepts a light wash, and can be used to test oil colour mixtures without bleeding through to the next page. The price allows one to be extravagant with page use so I use these for daily studio work. (This satisfies my semi-frugal nature)

A lovely book for ink, gouache, and watercolour is the Fabriano Venezia. It's a bound book, is sturdy and I like the cover. Since the paper is 200gsm it takes a fair amount of punishment. These come in both about A5 and about A4. I say "about" because these are slightly larger than A5 and A4 which comes with challenges when scanning as the page doesn't fit an A4 scanner bed. Another grumble I have is that the book doesn't open completely flat which causes problems when working across the gutter and creates a strong shadow when scanning.

 My basic sketching kit - Fabriano Venezia with a white Lamy Safari for drawing 
& Waterman for writing.

This brings me to the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. I have used a number of these and like all of them very much for use with various mediums. The books all open flat so good to use a double spread and for scanning. 

The first I tested was the Beta 270gsm Weight: 180 lb. – 270 gsm; Shade: Natural White
Surface: Cold Press Media: Watercolor, Dry Media, & Ink
It's lovely for watercolour, though it has a bit more tooth than I like for pen work but still workable. But - the "but" is because the paper is thicker there are fewer sheets in the book so it's not that economical a choice.

Figs - watercolour and pencil Beta sketchbook

The Alpha Weight: 100 lb. – 150 gsm  Shade: Natural White  Surface: Vellum  Media: Dry Media,  Light Wash, & Ink
This is the one I would choose again as a daily sketchbook. It's 150gsm and because of the sizing copes well with a lot of abuse in terms of water. It's receptive to pen and a good number of pages per book so good value.

A favourite for pen is the Zeta Weight: 180 lb. – 270 gsm Shade: Natural White Surface: Smooth  Media: Watercolor,  Pen & Ink, & Dry Media and I do enjoy the rather crazy way watercolour behaves on the paper. 
The Epsilon Weight: 100 lb. – 150 gsm  Shade: Natural White  Surface: Smooth  Media: Pen & Ink,   Dry Media, & Light Wash has similar surface - smooth, 150gsm and copes with quite a lot of water. It's one I'm using at the moment.

Another new one that I am trying is the Hand*book sketchbook and find that I spite of not being a watercolour paper, it is handling paint well - more on that as I do more sketches in this book.

Hand*Book Journal - Ink and Gouache and small watercolour palettes ready to be filled.

Disclaimer: I am not associated in any way with the stores or manufacturers where links have been provided.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Sketchbook Skool

For many years now I have had sketchbooks. Previously the ritual of drawing daily was really only adhered to if I was away on holiday. I have a number of these and they are in effect travel journals, a wonderful reminder of great holidays.

At home in the studio, my sketchbooks had became messy work books, filled with rough sketches, measurements of planned paintings and the odd written note. I seldom dated anything and wish now that I had coupled the drawings with more written annotations to record more of my thinking or at the very least added the date.

These days, although I am a working artist, I had forgotten how much pleasure there is in daily drawing. I had forgotten the ritual of meditative sketching; of experimentation and discovery; the pleasure of filling a book with your images, thoughts and ideas. I like the idea of working through my creativity in both words and images, with each enhancing and enriching the other.

The Living Room ink and watercolour Zeta Sketchbook
  © 2014 Carol Lee Beckx

At the beginning of April I enrolled for an online course, my first ever. The first six week semester of Sketchbook Skool has been something of a revelation to me. The online camaraderie that has developed through posting ones sketches, seeing other people's work and giving and receiving comments has been so rewarding. I filled an A5 Fabriano Venezia sketchbook during the course, as well as using a number of pages in other sketchbooks.

I have started to post the drawings on my Flickr page as a separate gallery - SketchbookSkool

At the end of the course I made a few notes (the notes became an essay) and posted this on the group's Facebook page. Danny Gregory, who initiated the course together with Koosje Koene, asked if he could quote me. He posted my thoughts on his blog -The six weeks that changed my life

The second semester starts on July 4th. To cater for the tremendous interest in this course the first semester will run again also starting on July 4th.

If you would like to learn how to make daily drawing and keeping a sketchbook part of your life then do yourself a favour and enroll.

Click here for more information about the course.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Research for painting cakes

Recently I posted the completed still life paintings for Deja` Bru Café. I spent an afternoon doing a quick sketch of the cakes so I had some reference for the oil painting. I thought you might like to see the preliminary sketch.

Cakes at Deja` Bru Café - Ink and watercolour - Fabriano Venezia Sketchbook
 ©2014 Carol Lee Beckx

Then a few days ago I went for coffee but couldn’t resist the Sticky Date pudding. There’s always a conflict when you decide to sketch your treat and there’s a strong temptation to forget the drawing and enjoy your treat. I’ve solved this partly by asking for extra hot coffee but the warmed pudding would just have to wait. At least until I have completed a quick ink sketch. The practice of the past weeks when I have been drawing daily has given me the courage to go straight in with pen and to live with the lines that may be in the wrong place.

Sticky Date Pudding & Cream at Deja` Bru Café - Ink and watercolour - Fabriano Venezia Sketchbook ©2014 Carol Lee Beckx

Both sketches were completed using Black Noodler’s ink in a Lamy Safari pen with an extra fine nib. Watercolour was added after the coffee and pudding was enjoyed. This also gave the ink time to dry.

I must add that the when I did the first sketch with the different cakes, the lovely staff at Deja` Bru Café brought each cake to me on a plate and then wisely removed one and replaced it with the next cake. So no cakes were harmed during the painting of these.

There was no such restraint with the Sticky date Pudding and cream!

Friday 9 May 2014

Paintings for Deja` Bru Cafe`

At the end of March - whew that seems a long time ago - I wrote about painting at Deja` Bru Café. This week the paintings were delivered. I thought you might like to see the finished paintings.

Deja` Bru Café - Coffee - oil on canvas - 300mm x 300mm © 2014 Carol Lee Beckx

Deja` Bru Café - Cakes - oil on canvas - 300mm x 300mm © 2014 Carol Lee Beckx

Deja` Bru Café - English Breakfast & Choc Muffin - oil on canvas - 300mm x 300mm 
© 2014 Carol Lee Beckx

It was a great experience to paint in the Cafe particularly since delicious coffee was constantly available.

Disclaimer: With great restraint, and tremendous willpower, the delicious cakes were used as subject matter only and were not consumed by this artist.