A year of traditional art: Intro

I enjoyed working in traditional media so much during Inktober and NaNoManGo 2019, and work on Cultish Manners really picked up speed when I committed to working primarily on paper. But I soon got dissatisfied: my inks were often riddled with mistakes, stains and blemishes, erasers covered my inks in grey film, and when I was done, the inked paged didn’t show up as black on white, but rather as washed out grey-on-grey, because that’s what they were. I also had to resize and rework nearly every image in digital after I was done, and what I ended up with was digital pages for which the traditional art, laborious as it was, was mere raw material. The process was inefficient and emotionally disappointing. So I decided to spend 2020 learning more about the things that make traditional art traditional: inks, paper, paints, erasers, and so on.

Art supply loot: paper and paints
Art supply loot, February 4, 2020

I originally thought the project would involve a lot of coloring with alcohol-based markers, because I’ve acquired a lot of them over the past two years. First I started buying them then my wife kept giving them to me. It was Colleen Doran‘s string of Patreon posts and Twitter threads that got me interested in using pan watercolors. What clinched it was not so much the prospect of better fade-proofing (I am under no illusion that 99% of my art won’t be entirely gone within five years from the day I pass away) or more economical long-term use (I think she overstates the case here, because the cost of Copic markers is lower where I live, and they can be inexpensively refilled), but the fact that pan watercolors travel easily: travel-sized kits are more compact than collections of markers, and because the pans are dry, you can take them on an airplane without the risk of safety officials making you throw them out. Because I was going to spend up to a month traveling to and through Spain in a converted delivery van, after which I would travel home by myself and my wife would stay on the road in southern Europe for several more weeks, that sounded like a plan. Last winter, we did the travel thing as well, and I took markers that I barely used. They took up a lot of space, and a small kit seemed like a good alternative.
So I bought a set of 24 Talens van Gogh watercolor pans (link goes to bol.com and is not sponsored, though I did order it from them. If you’re in the US, buying this brand at this site may not be your best option) and took out some postcard-sized watercolor paper I’d bought earlier. It took me a while but I did take it out and started working with it. It was great fun and the initial results were encouraging. The colors were much more vibrant out of the box than I expected, and the choice of colors resembled my standard palette for digital work enough that I didn’t have to do a lot of mixing. I also loved that the colors were transparent over brush pens or India ink. A good choice to get started with. However, when the time came to travel home, it turned out that I couldn’t quite fit the set inside the single, 10-kilogram bag that made up my free luggage allowance, and so, reluctantly, the kit stayed behind with my wife on the Iberian peninsula. As I write this, it’ll be a few weeks before the kit and I are reunited.
I decided to buy a different, smaller kit with fewer colors. It’s a year of traditional art, and I might as well take the opportunity to learn to mix colors accurately. After some back-and-forth with myself, I ordered this Winsor & Newton Cotman 12-pan travel kit (again, Bol.com, previous warning applies), wich is the size of my iPhone 6, roughly. To tide me over until it arrived, I dug out some old watercolors from my wife’s stash; she had a mix of different, mostly school-quality brands in a box in her studio room.

The inside of the Derwent Inktense kit
The inside of the Derwent Inktense kit, with 12 colors, a sponge and a fountain brush

It turns out that I had an opportunity to visit a local art supply store the same day the travel kit arrived, and in hindsight I might as well have bought it off the shelf there. No worries, they’ve been getting plenty of my business and will be getting more of it this year. While i was there, I spotted a Derwent Inktense set of dry watercolor inks (Bol.com again, yadda yadda) and decided that I wanted to think about it for a few days. After thinking about it for a few days, I went back and bought one of those as well. I’d seen other artists do interesting things with colored inks, and I had a fairly random collection of colored inks in liquid form lying around, so I decided it might be a good time to try this kit as well, in case working with inks was a better fit for the sort of thing I was trying to do. By that time, I had settled into a routine of making coloring pages for myself: simple line art drawings in pen and ink that I could color whichever way I wanted without feeling I’d ruined an important piece if I messed them up. Most of these are now on my DeviantArt; I will post those, and a few others I haven’t yet shared with anyone here, as part of this series of posts. What I can say now is that I have used all of my kits, I have experienced interesting technical difficulties, have been making swatches and doing tests to compare products directly, and I’m ready to talk about them at great length for people who want to follow the learning process with me.

This introductory post about my year of traditional art is free for the general public. Future posts, including embarrassingly bad artwork from me and information about my experiences with different art materials from different brands, will appear only on my Patreon and be Patrons-only. For the low, low price of $ 1 a month, you can learn from my mistakes, and laugh at them. It’s much better than me posting my nudes for money. Trust me, you don’t want to see my nudes.