Monday, September 4, 2017

Colored Pencil Comparison: Luminance vs Pablo (Caran d'Ache)

At the time of this writing, I quite admire the Pablo colored pencils from Caran d'Ache. Their transparency, ability to layer and blend, and creamy laydown are wonderful. My 18-pencil Pablo set is sufficient for just about anything, from portraits to landscapes to botanicals, as I mix my colors.

Recently I obtained the Luminance 20-pencil set, which only shares seven colors with the Pablo set. Luminance is highly lightfast across the entire range of 76 colors, in contrast to Pablo, which is mostly lightfast with some exceptions (the 18-color Pablo set is the most lightfast across the board, and unfortunately the ratio of lightfast to fugitive colors drops off rapidly for larger Pablo sets).

Luminance is actually mostly wax / some oil, while Pablo is mostly oil / some wax.

Both Luminance and Pablo have a color labeled "orange", and I decided to compare these two in particular.

Luminance's orange uses the pigment PO62: benzimidazolone orange, an excellent orange pigment with high lightfastness and used in high-grade artist watercolors like Daniel Smith's permanent orange and Winsor & Newton's winsor orange. Luminance's orange is among the most lightfast pencils of the entire line.

Pablo's orange uses a mix of the pigments PY13 and PO13, neither of which are used by any artist watercolors that the handprint website knows of. They seem to be much cheaper pigments, and Pablo's orange is only two stars out of three for lightfastness. (Most Pablo colors have *** or ** lightfast ratings, but there's a significant number of * colors.)

As always, in these tests I apply a colorless blender (Caran d'Ache's full bright) to the bottom half of the stripes.

Layering test of the two orange pencils.

Both Luminance and Pablo layer very well; here is about 7 layers each with distinct shading differences on Strathmore's Visual Journal drawing paper (medium tooth).

You can see that Luminance's orange can achieve a darker value than Pablo's orange.

Oranges laid over violet.

Oranges laid over prussian blue.

Next I wanted to see how transparent each color was. Looking at the ends of these stripes with the most orange pigment deposited, note that both Luminance Pablo are still affected by lower layers even at maximum strength, but Pablo is noticeably far more transparent.

Oranges laid over pink micron crosshatching.

This test cinches it: this particular Pablo color is far more transparent than its Luminance counterpart.

The question becomes: assuming this example holds as a stable comparison for both colored pencil lines, how does this affect layering and color mixing?

I'm amused at the idea that the Pablo line—still artist grade, but not the Ferrari of the colored pencil world like the Luminance line—may suit my needs better than Luminance where line art is concerned.

But I think for just a pure colored pencil experience without relying on line art beneath, Luminance is the best choice for what I want to do. Plus, unlike Pablo, Luminance's color range contains no nasty surprises with regards to any fugitive colors.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Thoughts on Abstract Art and Seeing Beyond Reality

"No, I meant why do they call it a horse? It doesn't look like a horse. It's just... flowing lines..." [said Miss Tick.]

...that look as if they're moving, thought Tiffany.

— Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Some say that abstract art can't communicate to the viewer in the ways that realistic art does, that abstract art is merely a selfish, navel-gazing fancy.

But all art is illusion. To believe that any piece of art objectively represents reality is pure folly, even for the most photorealistic examples.

The sweep and curve of lines, the colors used, the compositional elements—they'll always speak to the audience, whether the forms rendered look real or imaginary.

Some may refuse to take the time to see what's there, and say that if an artist cannot clearly communicate their own vision instantly that the artist has wasted everyone's time.

Yet art is not passive; no art is. Whoever looks at a piece of art still interacts with it—an on-looker's interpretation is all their own, and can never be entirely dominated by the creator, no matter how much we may wish it.

Ibis Arabesque, Ava Jarvis.

What I see in my Ibis Arabesque is grace in the curve of the "head" and "neck", movement in the waves of its body, a delineation of a light, wispy form from the outside world—yet all is of one color, merely in various shades and tints, indicating that nothing is truly separate from reality, even that which is airy and ethereal.

What someone else sees may be entirely different—most likely so, in fact.

At a glance, Ibis Arabesque merely a single shape. Meaning, though, is in the eye of the beholder, and requires introspection to reveal itself.

What do we see when we meditate on an abstract image? Mandalas are no less art than any other art genre, yet they're completely abstract. Stained glass windows of abstract patterns with sun streaming in through church windows—could you stand there and say the creators there committed no art of any worth?

If you can, yet call yourself an artist, I wonder—how much do you really see of the world?

The urban sketcher who chooses the view of a soaring buttress, or the plein air painter who paints the waves crashing against a beach—they must ask themselves: "Now that I have learned to paint a buttress or waves on the beach—what more can I do to reach beyond what the eye merely thinks it sees?"

Tiffany had once asked her father about the look of the Horse, when they'd come all the way over here for a sheep fair, and he told her what Granny Aching had told him when he was a little boy. He passed on what she said word for word, and Tiffany did the same now.

"Taint what a horse looks like," said Tiffany. "It's what a horse be."

— Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I don't talk bunk when I say that seeing beyond what something looks like is true art.

When you paint what is beyond the surface, you don't have to be abstract, realistic, or anything inbetween.

Just paint what you, as your own artist, really see.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Watercolor Palette for 2017 Q3 and Q4

My full watercolor palette for the rest of 2017.

It only took several months but for now I'm "stuck" with this palette until I run down a few colors—but it's difficult for me to be depressed about that because I can get the bright jewel tones I'm fondest of out of these paints.

Also I finally just attached half-pans into the bottom of a square petri dish with blu-tak. It's weird, but I'm happier painting with this than I've been with other set ups, up to and including the portable painter. I use three little solid glasses for my wash water, numerous petri dishes for mixing surfaces, and I'm pretty content.

There are three Lemon Yellow half-pans because I'm trying out this "keep the yellow clean" method I've seen elsewhere—have one yellow pan that isn't used to mix colors, and use another for mixing—heck, maybe have one that mixes warms, and one that mixes cools.

Altogether, this is 12 single-pigment colors: lemon yellow, organic vermilion, quinacridone rose, quinacridone purple, phthalo blue red shade, phthalo green blue shade, titanium white gouache, indanthrone blue, yellow ochre, "burnt sienna" hue (transparent red oxide), permanent brown, smoky quartz (my own mix), and lunar black.

All but two are Daniel Smith watercolors. Winsor & Newton colors are yellow ochre and their "burnt sienna", which is a hue that utilizes transparent red oxide. Not a great fan of Winsor & Newton's naming schemes that rarely indicate when something is a hue; and burnt sienna is one of the last things that should be replaced with a hue.

Smoky Quartz is made from two Daniel Smith paints: mostly viridian with a little quinacridone magenta. Viridian ran out rapidly for me as it tints so weakly that I used what was left to make this granulating grey. I don't think it'll be replaced once it runs out.

Currently I want to replace organic vermilion one day with pyrrole orange, as long as it can mix with quinacridone rose to give me a lovely fire engine red.

Smoky quartz, once it's used up, is going to be replaced with a convenience mix from Daniel Smith—shadow violet.

Lunar black is... sigh. I think it's going to hang around because thus far it's difficult for me to use well. One of my few true paint regrets—as is the "burnt sienna." I really wish I'd gone with perylene green, a single-pigment green that's so dark that it's one of the handiest black paints around.

The "burnt sienna" has already been mostly replaced by the permanent brown, and will not be replaced.

I generally have a difficult time trying to think of more colors to add.

I'd much rather paint.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Intensity Tests

Recently Hajra Meeks discussed the intensity of Inktense compared to professional watercolors.

Spoilers: Inktense isn't really intense. See Hajra's video for more details, particularly on the problems with comparing isolated swatches to each other.

In the meantime, I decided to do some swatches from different lines/mediums overlapping each other to see what's more intense, and what isn't.

Water media comparisons.

I don't own Inktense, but I decided to test out Kuretake's gansai tambi, Daniel Smith's watercolors, and three watercolor pencil lines from Caran d'Ache: Fancolor, Supracolor II, and Museum Aquarelle. I used Strathmore mixed media paper (suitable for both dry and wet media), vellum surface.

For each color, I laid it down at maximum intensity. Watercolor pencils had water applied.

As it turns out, Fancolor and Kuretake's gansai tambi are both less intense than the other brand lines—and since Fancolors are student grade, that rules gansai tambi as such as well. That's actually five layers of Fancolor compared to six layers of gansai tambi to achieve even that amount of intensity.

On the other hand, the rest, all artist grade, are incredibly intense. Museum Aquarelle is two layers, Supracolor II is three layers, and Daniel Smith is also two layers. All achieve better intensity even with less pigment on the paper.

I decided to do a similar test for dry colored pencils, including dry watercolor pencils:

Dry colored pencil comparisons.

Oh Fancolor. It's again less intense, but to be expected from a student grade line, even a really good student grade line. Pablo and Supracolor II seem to be at the same intensity, with Museum Aquarelle one step up, and Luminescence performing the best in terms of intensity.

Again, these are all pretty expected results. I do have a tiny set of generic, non-branded colored pencils as well—they are so terrible that they almost have no color compared to the brands.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Friday, September 1, 2017

State of the Artist: Sep 1, 2017

Why do I blog?

This is a question I hadn't been prepared to answer over a decade, up until now.

In large part it's because I want to share what I learn and what I think with the world at large. I like to help people—and weirdly it doesn't seem to be for any selfish reasons. If the act didn't make me feel great (and most of the time it doesn't—it's fairly neutral for me) and I was being selfish, I'd stop. If I never receive help back, it doesn't seem to bother me. If a person actively hates me, I feel sad that what I provided didn't give them the help they wanted or needed, and made them feel a lack in themselves that I didn't intend to cause.

But the other part is that for the longest time I didn't have anyone else but people online to talk about my interests. And for a long time I ached for human connection, and had very extrovert tendencies.

Naturally social media is an irresistible trap for me, and easily cuts into my own self time without allowing me time to develop myself and my skills. I've had to cut it off fairly entirely.

And both blogging and social media have lead to many non-safe interactions. As someone who just now is able to start to heal from the pain of many years of abuse, not only do I have to deal with the emotional fallout of your average internet trolls, but I also get to deal with people who hunger after my content and start to demand that I stop "acting" sick and use yoga to heal myself and get back to producing articles they like reading.

This hasn't happened in art yet, but... I really don't want that to happen. It's happened to me once already with another interest, which has stopped really interesting me enough to write much about it.

I also trust people too easily. I have everlasting faith that people can be better, even with those who feel perfectly fine throwing racist epithets at me or calling me stupid, mentally challenged, etc. And I feel betrayed every time it happens... I think, "I know you're better than this, why aren't you? Did I do something wrong? Is this happening because I'm a horrible person?"

Everything circles back to: why do I blog?

I have people I love now, who love me back. Who love me like found family, and one of whom is an artist (and my unofficial tutor). I can chatter about art as much as I like.

So the need for human connection outside of that social circle just isn't there anymore.

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be an outlet.

But if it's public, it's not really an outlet, is it. I put on my best face here. I write for an ideal audience. And doing all that costs me a lot in health and mental stability.

So I'll take a break from adding to my queue (there's a few more posts coming) and take a week or two off. And if I choose not to blog regularly again, that will be the right choice for me.

Talking about this has been a weight off my shoulders. I'm so very pleased about that. I think I'll still use a private journal, though. I frequently review my thoughts and progress, which is a definite key to learning more quickly.

Skin Color Experiments with the Pablo 18 Colored Pencil Set

Various skin tones achieved without portrait-specific, skin tone, or other specialized pencils.

I've been enjoying much experimentation and playing around with colored pencils, layering, and blending. I use the 18-color Pablo set here, which is artist grade and layers extremely well—plus all colors are transparent, which means any layer affects the layers above it and below it.

As a result, sub-surface scattering is something that can be rendered well in colored pencil.

For these skin tones, I blended with both with a tortillion—though in my case it was paper towel bits wrapped around the end of a wooden knitting needle and taped—and followed with burnishing with a colorless blender (the Caran d'Ache full bright blender). I use a putty eraser to lift the highlight.

For the lightest skin tones, I used liberal amounts of white pencil (the Luminance white pencil comes in handy, but the Pablo white is no slouch) and even burnish with white for very pale skin.

I'll note also that there's not really a way to create a skin tone recipe that works for all skin tones in specific ranges—people are really different, and the best way to create a skin tone is to look at color photographs of different folks and experiment.

Another note: skin will differ drasticly based on lighting as well. Remember your color wheel relationships, in particular complementary colors.

I also found How to Mix Skin Tones at the Virtual Instructor very helpful. You can mix skin tones with straight red, yellow, brown, white, and ultramarine pencils, or remember color theory to figure out how much of these basic colors are "in" any single pencil you own.

Example: More red, some yellow, a bit brown, lots of white can mix pale pink skin. But alternatively:

  • Two layers of carmine: some red
  • One layer of orange: some red, a some yellow
  • One layer of light olive: a bit yellow, a bit brown
  • Five layers of white: a lot white
This is the basic recipe for the first skin "ball" here. I layer carefully and create a skin tone sundae.

You might ask: why not just buy portrait-specific or skin-tone pencils? 

For myself, it mostly comes down to preferring the complex color effects from layering as opposed to using single color shading. It's the difference between the top green (alternating layers of cobalt blue and lemon yellow) and the bottom green (grass green, layered to the same value): 

A mixed green on top, and a single green on bottom.

I can control the complexities of an area of color if I layer a color with others, than if I use a single color alone. This has huge implications for shading, of enormous use in realism/naturalism—as well as my sliding scale of less representational styles.

Some artists prefer their colors to be smooth and flat; I like mine to vibrate.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Art: Shoes I

Shoes I, by Ava Jarvis.

A colored pencil test focusing on stroke work, without a pencil underdrawing or, indeed, any explicit drawing.

I'm aware that the colors don't run all the way to the edges—I'm actually fascinated by the idea of not having neat edges, and seeing what the results look like.

This is mostly Caran d'Ache Pablo colored pencils plus two Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils.

For the curious:

Size: 7in x 5.75in
Paper: Strathmore Mixed Media Vellum Surface (300 series, 190gsm, cellulose)
Colored pencil sealed with gum arabic (a non-waterproof and non-toxic sealant)

The pencils used:

Caran d'Ache Pablo: Yellow, Orange, Ultramarine, Umber, Burnt Sienna, Black, Grey.
Caran d'Ache Luminance: Alizarin Crimson (Hue), White

For the even more curious, this is the entire piece before the crop:

Shoes I before the crop.

 Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

YouTube Video Recommendations: Yong Chen's Goldfish Painting Lesson for Watercolor Beginners

Yong Chen is one of my favorite watercolor art teachers on YouTube. I've learned a lot by simply watching his process videos, both in their short form on his public YouTube page, and in their long form available for patrons on his website. By the way, he works with some of the safest watercolor paints because he uses his fingers to control brush moisture when blending and lifting, rather than using a sponge or towel.

Chen is a master at suggestion and using watercolor's strengths to that end. He also uses quite large brushes for most of his work, something I've seen fellow art students quail at. Watching his videos and following his techniques will rid you of that fear.

Highly recommended.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Composition Can't Be Taught, It Must Be Learned

I'd put up a cover of Picture This: How Pictures Work, but I feel this would a disservice to the book as a text about composition, because it shares weaknesses with all books (and articles, and videos, and entire art school curriculums) that seek to entirely encompass composition theory within themselves.

Many people want to work with the rule of thirds or the golden ratio because these provide seemingly simple, reliable answers to a huge problem: how do we arrange a picture—whether a piece of visual art, a movie scene, or a photograph—so that the whole thing speaks to some working purpose?

And yet neither the rule of thirds nor the golden ratio—nor breaking things into triangles or using leading lines or paths or anything else—ever really works on its own.

Composition is more complex than the mere placement of objects; it's about the relationships between elements in a scene. This includes every relationship you can think of—from the agnostic facts of color contrast to very culture-specific philosophies of symbolism, and an infinite multitude of possibilities in between.

In other words, composition plays with an uncountable number of relationships.

That's why I say that composition can't be taught, unlike math or language: because any enumeration of its principles is not just technically deficient, but practically and pragmatically so as well.

However, composition can definitely be learned. The difference is that in learning composition for yourself, you discover the relationships between elements that matter to you as an individual artist and human being.

You don't try to find all the rules and then select the ones appropriate for a situation—instead, you learn and formulate which ones that matter the most to you. And because they matter to you, you will learn best how they work, and your work will be elevated because now that work means something to you.

As for how to go about learning composition: you must look at scenes and think about what does or doesn't work for you, how you feel about this particular sort of relationship you've sussed out, and then go and do your own arrangements and experiment.

Observation and experimentation are the only ways to really "get" composition.

You must do both of these a lot.

And while it's true that any composition book, video, or course can help you get started in thinking about composition, only you can finish that work.

Art is about expression. I'd argue that composition, more than anything else, is the soul of art. You can master every element of color theory and medium techniques under the sun, but the problems of composition will always leave you humble.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Two Months without High-Interaction Social Media (and Other Distractions)

I started this blog after departing a lot of HI (high-interaction, a term I just made up as far as I know) social media—a move not recommended by a lot of artists, business coaches, art business advisers, etc.

I'm early on in my career, and I need to concentrate on seriously building up my portfolio. During this time I've found it extremely useful to not be on social media at all, where I often end up spending all my precious few healthy-ish hours. Instagram thus far is safe for me because I just use it as inspiration for less than an hour every few days, and I use Pinterest even less.

But Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, anything involving forums, comment threads anywhere—those all get in my way. I explicitly block these sites on my browser and my smart phone, and I use various browser extensions to remove comment areas from most sites, with the highest priority being YouTube. I can override that extension from time to time, but life has been so much better since installing it that I rarely do so.

Lately I also block news sites. I use an emergency notification app on my phone, and filter my ACLU messages into a separate folder, so I don't rely on Twitter trends or news sites to find out what's going on, and I can set aside a healthy time to engage with recent news.

I've even ended up blocking google search in favor of Duck Duck Go, because I found out there's no easy way to remove recent news and twitter results from all of my google searches.

Every day I meditate for about 3 minutes.

Life has been much, much better ever since.

So yeah—no regrets, and interaction with other artists, if it happens at all, happens only on my own terms.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

State of the Artist: August 27, 2017

Or, "Thoughts on the Management of Chaos in Art and Board Games."

Goodness, I'm tired.

I spent the weekend playing board games. A lot of board games. I've also realized what kinds of characteristics I look for in a game. "Process things into other things" seems to be a large part of it, as is "use the things to then build other things that process even more things into other things." This is probably why I'm super-fond of Uwe Rosenberg games (such as Caverna, Le Havre, At the Gates of Loyang, Glass Road, Fields of Arle, so many more) and a few others (La Granja, Spirits of the Rice Paddy).

I also swerve into other games with somewhat similar mechanisms, which tend to boil down to "process things into points to pay for other things that generate more points" (Shakespeare, Russian Railroads, The Networks), "manage chaos and try not to fall into disaster" (all of the Oniverse games, Grand Hotel Austria) and "build all the things that connect up to other things" (Suburbia, Castles of King Ludwig).

That's not all there is to what I like, though.

I used to love Viticulture, but now I see some of its holes. All of the games I've mentioned do involve luck, and dealing with encroaching disasters created by such, but I always feel like I have a handle on the situation. That no matter how bad things get, I can always pull my bacon out of the fire.

But Viticulture always feels out of control. I think a huge part of that is because the solo mode in the box contains various aggressive AIs you play against. And given that Viticulture is mercurial (you can more easily lose points due to bad draws with little time to deal with the ensuing chaos), defeat due to the hard point limits meted out by the AIs happens so often.

And that gives Viticulture a certain no-win feeling that doesn't allow you to easily think, "Well, I did the best I could, given the circumstances." No—you straight up failed.

These days I admit I prefer to rack up points and build engines to process things in fun ways. Zeal for winning against an AI just doesn't stack up for me. The most I want out of an AI, if one must exist at all, is that it creates problems for me to solve.

In many ways, this is how I approach art as well. I'd much rather figure out ways to incorporate accidents into a finished piece, to solve constantly changing problems of communication and representation, than to see how many "points" I rack up in terms of likes or dislikes.

The only goals that matter, the only measurements that matter, are my own—and they are never simple.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Art Product Review: Silver Brush Black Velvet Watercolor Brushes

The Silver Brush Black Velvet #8 Round, dry.

The Silver Brush Black Velvet 3-round pack was among my first purchases when I started to paint. The brush is cheaper than true Kolinsky sable, and yet it performs so well that I really noticed how much less water control synthetic-only watercolor brushes gave me in comparison.

The Black Velvet line from Silver Brush are thirsty, soft brushes with spring that wear well so far. A year later and it's good as new. This line's measurements also run a couple sizes smaller than other watercolor brush lines, so a size #8 is equivalent to a size #6 in, say, Winsor and Newton's brush lines.

This particular brush line also is short-handled rather than long-handled.

The brush tip itself is made of a mix of synthetic hair and natural squirrel hair. The squirrel hair is what holds a lot of water and paint, with a steady and controlled release; it's also what points very sharply, especially when wet.

The Silver Brush Black Velvet #8 Round, wet. Note the pointy point.
Steady and lovely release of water and paint. Also, black means that this phthalo green won't obviously stain the bristles.

Dotting with the tip, with various sized and shaped dots.

That fine pointed tip can do very fine and thin lines.

The synthetic hairs are what give the brush good wearability, strength, and spring.

Wet brush applied to paper, spreading out. 
And then the brush springs back readily when lifted.

The mix of natural squirrel hair and synthetic hair allow the brush to be soft enough to not disturb underlying layers while glazing, and yet also just hard enough to either gently lift or apply water to dissolve artist grade watercolor pencil.

Lately, this is the brush I always have handy. As I work with water media and avoid using shellac inks with it, I simply rinse it after a work session. No brush soap has been necessary thus far. I work mostly from 2.5"x3.5" to roughly 7"x10" happily with this brush, and it really is my work horse brush.

I also have a #4 round (is the size of a #2 in most other lines), a #12 round (the size of a #10 in most other lines), a #1 script, and a 1" oval pointed wash. All point beautifully and hold such a lot of water. When I'm working at 9"x12" I find that the oval pointed wash is quite suitable because it comes to a cat-tongue-like point.

"Four Cups and Fish", about 9"x12", was painted with a 1" oval pointed wash, accompanied by a smaller round for lifting where necessary. Everything from the table to the thin, delicate fins of the background fish used the 1" oval pointed wash.

Because the #8 round is so thirsty, if I need to consistently paint many small squares with concentrated color (such as for watercolor charts), I use the #4 round to reduce the amount of times I need to run my brush across a paper towel to reduce the water in it.

I highly recommend the Black Velvet brushes.

On Amazon, you can buy:

The Amazon links give Ava a small affiliate fee at no cost to you if you buy the items through the link; this helps Ava stay alive.

 Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Art: Saved Experiment Scrap (Mt. Fuji-san)

Mt. Fuji-san rendered in watercolor and gouache on August 9, 2017, before the Aquapasto had arrived.

I was only able to save this small scrap from a mostly failed art experiment. This piece incorporates watercolors and gouache. I'm happy with the mountain's texture—although it took a bit of tough moisture control as most Western watercolors have ox gall to facilitate spreading rather than preserving texture. (The exception, or so I've heard, are the Holbein western-style watercolors from Japan.)

The white gouache was applied as impasto, but I'm not satisfied with the wispiness of the application. A truly thick application results sometimes in gouache cracking. I attempted to add gouache to watercolors to create an impasto-style sky, but I don't think it works.

I want to try this again with the Aquapasto medium in the gouache and watercolors. I don't know if I want to combine two styles—the subtle shading of the mountain, which can be done with small amounts of Aquapasto medium, combined with the bold strokes of the clouds and sky around it; or simply to bold-stroke the whole thing (though perhaps with smaller strokes for the mountain).

I definitely want to vary the type of strokes, not simply fill in the picture with a single stroke type—and to use strokes to accentuate the chi (spirit) of the subjects—the mountain, the sky, the clouds. And as always, composition.

(I'm fond of asymmetrical composition, which I want to try to break down into principles some day.)

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

State of the Artist: August 25, 2017

I took an art break for the last few days, because creativity requires breaks to keep going.

So instead of investigating the mysteries of brushstrokes that play with the content of an image, rather than simply being utilitarian color fills, or the intricacies of layering and mixing in colored pencil, I played heavy board games. My blog post queue is quite full of scheduled posts for the next week.

Way earlier today I also posted a picture to Instagram that got more likes than the number of followers I have would justify, and I'm not even counting the spambot likes. My followers are in the single digits.

But instead of being excited by likes, I found I didn't care. They don't motivate me anymore, though I don't know if they ever really validated me, or just gave the illusion of validation. At some point in the past year, validation from artists apart from a couple receded in importance. This even includes big tier artists.

And my annoyance with the restrictions imposed by other artists in order for art to qualify as "real art" mostly stems from worrying that they're miserable or making others miserable—but for my own art? I really don't care.

It's not that I don't seek to be a great artist. I just don't think that sticking to the footsteps of any teacher, no matter how exalted, is how I would best enjoy art.

I'm content to post my art to Instagram in case other people find it comforting, but damn I wish I could just turn off all like notifications.

 Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Picture That First Changed My Perspective on Art

Ink drawing by Alphonso Dunn, included in his book, Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide.

Early on in my art development (that is to say, six months in), I bought Dunn's book on pen and ink based on the Amazon reviews at the time. At this point in time I was highly selective about which books to buy, while also being entirely clueless about what to get. Since Dunn's book was highly rated by beginning artists, and since the excerpt seemed to feature someone who knew what he was talking about, I went ahead and bought it—despite being skeptical about how much one could learn from a non-erasable medium.

At the time I was still learning via digital art programs on the iPad, and I was convinced that the only way one could truly learn to create art was through some medium with infinite undo capabilities.

The book included this picture of a simple blush brush changed my approach to art, and my perspective on creating art, entirely.

I knew by this point how difficult it was to draw and render even simple objects, even when I had all the digital tools I could ever want.

But with just pen and ink—not even an expressive brush and ink—Dunn crafted a brush I could believe in. This drawing wasn't even the complex hatching and pointillism in realistic pen and ink I'd seen before, where you fill in the space with the pixels from the model, carefully observed and copied.

Instead, there was a sheer beauty in how Dunn accomplished, with only the "palette of line," something... somehow more real, somehow more graspable, than all the realism I'd seen. There's skill here, exquisite artistic decisions, I'd not seen touched in realism or even naturalism—nor in caricature and cartooning.

Dunn had secrets. I wanted to learn these secrets. There was something there.

Working with the palette of line has been illuminating. Even now I forget how important strokes and texture are, and I find that I need to return to the palette of line to shore up my painting and pencil techniques. The puzzle of how to use strokes to play with the presentation of the subject is one I'm still trying to solve.

I need to return to ink part-time for a while.

The Amazon links give Ava a small affiliate fee at no cost to you if you buy the items through the link; this helps Ava stay alive.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

YouTube Video Recommendations: Alphonso Dunn Perspective Series

Alphonso Dunn's series on perspective.

Alphonso Dunn created the best series on YouTube about perspective. In "15 Tips to Learn from a Cube", Dunn explains single point, two point, three point perspective, and useful foreshortening techniques. Explanations are clear for the beginning artist, and the techniques introduced are easy to implement—Dunn is quite an accomplished teacher.

I highly recommend this series, especially the first three episodes, for anyone who wishes to under drawing with perspective.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Art: Ibis Arabesque

"Iris Arabesque", Ava Jarvis.

An abstract in watercolor crayon (and only one: vermilion hue).

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Not to Do on an Artist Statement

When I visit an artist's site and look at their artist statement, and 80% of it is attacking other artists for not being as profound or thoughtful as that artist, says that their art will never be mistaken for trash, and then claims that their astonishingly rebellious realist art will leave them dying alone...

... I really don't care if you go through my Instagram archive and like my recent posts. Because I'm one of those other artists you're attacking. Because every artist I know, even the ones I don't like very much, are part of the group you're attacking.

I'm no more a realist than old Chinese artists, C├ęzanne, or Van Gogh were; yet you feel perfectly free to dunk on them. In your artist statement. That you actually put on your website. For other people to read.

Yeah, I really don't need you around, and that's why I blocked you on Instagram.

Yes, you sold hundreds of paintings and have hundreds of followers and so on. I literally do not care about that. I do care about whether you have anything of an open mind, and it turns out—you don't!

And no, you don't actually paint well enough that I would put up with knowing just how very little you respect other artists.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Tips for Using Smaller Colored Pencil Sets

With only an 18-pencil Pablo color pencil set to hand, one can make nice art with even more limited palettes—without resorting to, say, fifteen different pencils in gradated shades.

This picture only used four pencils—the colors swatched above.

Fruit still life. The subject used three pencils, the table used another.

This was neither difficult nor over-challenging, as long as you know color theory in terms of color mixing, especially complements. The shading here was rarely achieved by only changing pressure, much less the different tones. 

The following picture used only two pencils: ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, with burnishing provided by a white pencil and a truly colorless blender:

Crashing waves from two colors.

And for those who say that skin tones can only be achieved through buying portrait pencils or pencils within skin tone ranges: this is not true either. Figuring out the right color mix can be challenging, but since every person and lighting situation brings a variety of unique shade mixes, this is the only way to capture what is actually there—whether or not you weigh value before color.

Here is a very light skin tone using only the 18-color set:

Very light skin tone achieved by careful layering of light olive, orange, yellow, and purple; then burnished with white.

Skin tones, even for a pure value study and/or dark skin, are complex. Layering is necessary to add depth—look closely at your face in a well-lit selfie, or your hand against a window. The complexity of color layering for skin is the result of subsurface scattering—layers of tissue and the light bouncing around them.

Experimentation and play are vital stages in learning to mix colors—no matter the medium. The masters of dry media in the past never depended on 100+ color sets.

In particular, mix both tertiaries (orange, violet, green) and complements (browns and grays), even if shades of each come with your set. A lime green resulting from layering yellow and green in alternation will have more depth than a single lime green pencil.

Alter how many layers of each color are in a mix. Try two, three, even more colors. Learn how to use complement logic to soften the brightness of a color.

Record your results for future reference—and with further projects you will find your personal favorite go-to mixes.

Yes, this experimentation is play and not working towards a specific finished piece—most of art is about play. This is the unseen underpinning of knowing art deeply.

How many pencils is decent for a minimal color pencil set? Above 12, usually, and below 36. Go for quality, not quantity—in other words, transparent colors that layer well. Faber-Castell Polychromos or Caran d'Ache Pablo are good to start with.

A white pencil to burnish is recommended for a final stage that lightens your base layers. A truly colorless blender (like the Caran d'Ache bright) is helpful to deepen base layer colors. Other color pencils may burnish as well, for different effects.

As well, pressure control is as vital for colored pencil as moisture control is for watercolors.

Finally, learn patience. Using colored pencils with a goal towards depth of color will always take time, whether you have 10 pencils or 1000, because layering needs care and consideration.

Excellent art takes time, no matter the medium: digital, ink, paints, pencils. Persevere through failure and effort, and you will be rewarded with knowledge and satisfaction of a job well done.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Debunking the "Create Everyday Or You'll Never Be an Artist" Myth

March 2016 versus March 2017.

Yes, I really did that. I went from silly squiggles to art-art in a year.

I did it through applying myself rigorously—but not by doing art every day, much less for hours on end.

Every moment that is available to me to create art is rare, precious, and short. Time for creating art is not an infinite resource; far from it.

Thus every time I did art, I was hungry to explore as much as I could in so short a time. To fulfill this hunger, I had to go beyond my comfort zone every single time. Even if I fail, I learn something to put to use the next time I get to create.

The problem with scheduling large amounts of time to create art is that you lose the urgency to learn. If I knew I could paint for even just two hours a day every day, I would not be as hungry for knowledge every time. As a result, the signal-to-noise ratio of what I learn is extremely high.

This method also avoids art burnout to a large extent.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

There Are No Magic Art Tutors

I often jokingly tell fellow art students that I go to the art school of hard knocks, where my tough-as-nails tutor does things like not allowing me to advance to watercolors until I'd created actual art with my chosen first medium (watercolor brush markers, sigh, I was so unwise), and then not allowing me to add more than just a single blue to my palette box until I could do a successful complex value study.

And after seeing how quickly I improve, people want to know how to contact my magical art tutor. I don't let them, though. I only have this tutor because I somehow proved myself to them that I had the will to learn. A strong, strong will to learn. Like, a will made out of the cores of neutron stars.

Plus my tutor's style would rub (and has rubbed) many students the wrong way.

The truth is, no tutor can ever force you to do something. You can only choose to follow your tutor's suggestions. The same applies for teachers in art schools, or art course curriculums.

There's not a tutor or art school good enough to get you to artistic heights if you don't do the work.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

State of the Artist: August 19, 2017

Exhausted from events yesterday.

On the upside, my tutor and I discussed various directions for me to head towards, and so I have a few challenges to knock through.

One challenge is to use a Valquez-style palette. In my case, that's phthalo blue red shade (PB15), yellow ochre (PY43), and permanent brown (PBr25).

Color explorations between phthalo blue red shade, yellow ochre, and permanent brown.

All of these are colors I've found useful and love, but none are colors that are favorites among most watercolor artists.

They're among my favorites, though. I'm amused that this and my first palettes are created out of bargain-bin artist grade watercolors that nobody else seemed to want.

A tree, forest, and owl creatures in phthalo blue red shade and yellow ochre.

Sugar packet holder and creamer in phthalo blue red shade and permanent brown.

I remember falling in love with James Gurney's limited "Casein 6-Pack" palette: black, white, cobalt blue, venetian red, yellow ochre, and raw umber.

To me it's fairly clear that now, about a year later, I have my own palette of "the color of old memories" to play with.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Tips to Control Watercolor

"Yunnan Grannies", my first watercolor painting, around 5" by 8".

This painting was done over a weekend in early March 2017 as a celebration of one year of pursuing art, with a single color: Phthalo Blue Red Shade. I particularly am fond of studies in blue.

I've been asked by those who find watercolors challenging how I painted "Yunnan Grannies" as my first watercolor painting.

I want to clear up a misconception, which is that what made the painting work was the paint I chose. The truth is that it doesn't matter what paint you use for a value study. In watercolors it helps if the color is transparent and staining, but with practice even this isn't necessary.

What does matter is moisture control in the following elements:

  • the brush
  • the paint mixture
  • the paper
The paint mixture ends up on your brush, which in combination with the water in the brush, results a certain viscosity. Knowing how thick the paint and water is on your brush is a key to control.

It's helpful to wick away excess moisture on your brush (a towel for a bit of extra dryness, or simply using the edge of the water container) before dipping the brush in your paint mixture. This allows for better prediction of the end result.

Now consider the paper. 

If the paper is bone-dry, the paint will not migrate far, and you may achieve sharp strokes and areas. 

If the paper is soaking wet, the paint will flow into the paper, and thus it is easier to achieve a soft wash, and especially to blend different colors in that wash.

The paper's wetness is often between these two extremes, and thus you have a range between tight control and loose washes.

How the viscosity of the paint/water on your brush interacts with the wetness of the paper is something you can practice ahead of time. Make sure to record the results and refer to them later if you need to. 

Note also that different papers will react differently, and different paints will also react differently. This is why it is best to start with just one watercolor paint.

A general principle that will help reduce the amount of experimentation you need: paint/water will flow to the driest location. 

Thus a bone-dry paper will draw in paint from the brush at all times—but a moist paper may or may not do so depending on if it is drier than the brush, or if the brush is drier.

This is the key element of control. Thus you must learn also patience: let the paper dry to the point you need it to. This may include bone dryness fairly often.

For mono-color paintings, it's also essential to learn how to compare an area of color to another to determine relative value. I did a very small thumbnail sketch to work out the major areas of value and their relevance to one another, using only pen and hatching.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Making "Protection from Fate's Seas", Part 3

After the no-tan sketch was done, I used the sketch to base my larger watercolor pencil piece on—though not too large because, again, health issues. I intended this to be a quick value study, and it was! Surprisingly so as this was the first time I'd used watercolor pencils to do serious art of any kind.

These are Caran d'Ache Fancolor pencils, black and gray from the 12-piece set, on Strathmore 140 cold press (Visual Journal). They melt so well, although not entirely, as you can see the texture on the rocks and waves below:

It's an interesting effect and charmed me towards watercolor pencils even more.

I intended to go on to a duotone palette watercolor piece featuring a warm earth (burnt sienna) and a cold (phthalo blue red shade), and only those two colors. However, I got very ill and couldn't continue.

I still really like the way the watercolor pencil study turned out, though.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

State of the Artist: August 17, 2017

Life is terrible. The news is terrible. My heart is still broken.

I ended up buying art supplies instead of working on existing art, but on the up side I only bought a few single pencils and crayons to figure out if I like specific lines or even specific media.

Hopefully in another week I can get back to doing full works again.

Yesterday I tried out:

  • Aquapasto, a gel medium that drastically slows watercolor flow and preserves brushstrokes. The Winsor & Newton version is reworkable with water after drying, so it's less likely to damage a natural hair brush, if it would at all. The medium preserves transparency and luminosity, and in small amounts can introduce a ton of control in brush strokes. In larger amounts, the paint thickens appreciably and you can leave bristle strokes as well inside the preserved brush strokes.
  • Gum arabic, a pure version of an ingredient used with all watercolor paints. Mixed with paint, it makes even phthalo colors entirely liftable and slows pigment flow of fast-moving paints appreciably in wet-in-wet applications. Applied thickly to watercolor paper and allowed to dry, it can mask an area with soft edges by allowing you to lift up the wash that dries on it—admittedly you want to do this with a staining paint since with a non-staining paint all areas wetted & lifted will lift rather than just the mask area.

    I also grabbed this on advice from Hajra Meeks for doing non-waterproof sealing of watercolor/colored pencil work.
  • Beeswax. Gotten on advice from Hajra Meeks for using it to seal watercolor and color pencils. Beeswax will not blend color pencils as much as colorless blenders do, but will still do it a bit. Beeswax also forms a good resist to watercolors, better than colorless blenders I feel.
  • Luminance colored pencils. I currently use Pablo colored pencils, which are oil-based, while Luminance pencils are wax-based. Both perform well, but the Luminance lays down color much faster. Also, Luminance can do much more subtle, lighter shading than Pablo even using the same amount of whisper-light pressure, granting Luminance more flexibility.

    Both pencils actually can be sharpened to fine points and used for detail. Whether Pablo takes longer to wear its point down than Luminance, I can't yet say.

    The Luminance white pencil is indeed more opaque compared to the Pablo white pencil, probably because Luminance lays down far more pigment and can layer more—which is impressive, since Pablo pencils can layer quite a bit.

    Both Luminance and Pablo can layer on top of each other.

    For myself, the Luminance pencils feel lighter and better to hold in my hand.

    In the future, despite the greater expense, I will buy Luminance pencils. I can use them for color mixing as well (or even better?) than Pablos, so I need fewer of them in the first place.

    Notably: the Luminance 20-pencil set and the Pablo 18-pencil set don't actually have much overlap in terms of color! Only seven workhorse colors—white, black, orange, burnt sienna, grass green, lemon yellow, and raw umber—appear in both sets. And they're workhorse colors to begin with. Getting the Luminance 20-pencil set is actually a better deal for me than another Pablo set.
  • Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils. I currently use Fancolor watercolor pencils, also from Caran d'Ache but purely student grade rather than the high artist grade of Museum Aquarelle. I haven't yet tried Supracolor watercolor pencils, which I want to do. Museum Aquarelle delivers a lot of pigment, but since I prefer watercolor paint over watercolor pencils, this alone would not move me.

    However: Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils, painted and blended, can create grisailles after drying that don't completely wash away under watercolor paints. When I tried to do this in the past with Fancolor pencils, the results were depressing—Fancolors easily wash away unless applied thickly, which defeats the purpose of most grisailles. Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils have far more staying power.

    And yet Museum Aquarelles also can wash down entirely to remove pencil lines with application of more water. With the fine water control of a natural hair brush, creating softly blended grisaille work is also far easier with the Museum Aquarelles. I was able to create working grisailles with both grass green and manganese violet. The last is surprising as manganese violet is far from an intense color.

    How Museum Aquarelle compares to Supracolor remains to be seen. In any case, Fancolors aren't even suitable for what little I want to use them for in the first place—though I can create good works with them, doing so requires quite a bit of effort.

On Friday I get to test three Neocolor II watercolor crayons, and on Sunday a single Supracolor watercolor pencil.

I also did some cross-hatching tests with colored pencils. Current recommendations in the colored pencil community tend towards avoiding showing strokes. As an ink artist, this seems a shame, as colored pencils are still pencils, and pencils can show much more expressiveness when stroke work is allowed to show in a piece. Especially with color mixing, cross-hatching can be a way to create areas with interwoven color blending, since you're going to layer a lot anyways.

Cobalt blue and lemon yellow cross-hatched with each other in layers create a more interesting kelly green than grass green does by itself. Increased control over color blending can introduce subtle effects.

Of course, sometimes it's nice to have a pure green available to interplay with other colors for stroke work, as in this pine branch, which only uses scarlet, lemon yellow, cobalt blue, and grass green rather than several green pencils alongside a brown.

You don't need to melt colored pencils with solvents, a blow torch, or an Icarus board to get interesting, good works out of them, which is good news for those of us with breathing and mobility issues to cope with. 

You also don't need 40+ color pencil sets to create excellent art and extract more than 72 colors, which is good news for those of us who aren't middle class. 

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Making "Protection from Fate's Seas", Part 2

My only no-tan preliminary sketch for "Protection from Fate's Seas"

At this point in time I was experimenting with ways to achieve charcoal-style ease of sketching without using charcoal—charcoals, pastels, and other dusty dry media hurt my lungs badly and aggravate my asthma to the point where I end up in the emergency room.

Thus I took out some cream-colored Strathmore 400 series drawing paper and did a rough sketch using a Pentel Pocket brush pen—the tip is actual bristles instead of felt, so it was easy to get dry-brush style effects similar to charcoal, especially on the toothy drawing paper. This allowed me to easily feel out and build up the composition of my no-tan interpretation (white = water and very bright highlights, black = rocks).

This is where happy accidents come in for me. I'd drawn the initial frame for my sketch too tall, so I had to color in the top to get a better sense of the composition below. But the block of black at the top fit in so well that it had to play a role in the final painting.

For more about no-tan, see this previous post.

For the rest of the posts on this series, see the Protection from Fate's Seas label.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Making "Protection from Fate's Seas", Part 1

Before I swore off challenges due to my health issues, I had fun engaging with Yong Chen's first patreon challenge: to capture waves hitting a rocky shore. You played a short video he'd taken, and then selected a frame to do a series of drawing and painting/rendering exercises on.

I wanted to do three of my own exercises, but only got through two—health issues, sigh—but this was a fun experience, and I don't regret doing it.

I thought I'd talk about how I went through the challenge. This mirrors a lot of the initial process I go through for art with a strong reference base (drawing on location, urban sketching, en plein air, etc).

For the record, I have different starting processes for art incorporating multiple references to provide research for a final and different whole, art pieces drawn entirely from my memory, and non-representational abstract art pieces.

Two possible moments I picked from Yong Chen's patreon challenge video.

Step 1: Find candidate scenes. In this case, I selected two possible angles and positions for the shore rocks. But even if I've picked some candidates, I haven't narrowed the selection down to the one I want to use for my art.

What makes for a good candidate scene? This is one that an artist plays by ear, but it's good to have a focal point or two in mind—the left picture focuses on the rock outcropping, but the right picture has more water in it.

Also I prefer scenes that are asymmetrically balanced—e.g., rocks balanced out by waters instead of by more rocks, or small objects balancing a larger object as if the centerpoint of the picture was a see-saw. Mostly I like this because it's challenging, and I like to push myself. This may not be your preference.

Candidate scene crops.

Step 2: Frame/crop candidate scenes until you find a framing/cropping that fits you. This is the first step to refining your composition—although you will likely add or subtract to the composition during the actual drawing and/or painting process, artistic license being what it is (example: I'm probably not going to want the railing or its shadow in my final piece). If you're on location, this is why artists use the index fingers and thumbs to create a "frame" and look through it—that's cropping on location essentially.

On the computer, it's easier of course! I like to use an image editor like Pixelmator that allows me to restrict my crops to custom ratios. Both candidate scenes above, I found I liked the pool aspect the most. And my preference was for the one on the right—a very good focus on the pool in a non-symmetrical manner, with more water present above.

At this point in time I didn't have any particular thoughts in my mind towards the final meaning of the piece.

For the other posts in this series, see the Protection from Fate's Seas label.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts on Sargent, and An Artist's Hardest Question

Sargent did excellent portrait commissions, but some never felt quite alive—just accurate.

"Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes" by J.S. Sargent.

Some portrait commissions looked more lively than others, but even with more dynamic airs and more dramatic lighting, about the best you could say is that they were accurate.

"William M. Chase, N.A." by J.S. Sargent

After a certain point, every artist must ask themself: what separates my work from what a skilled photographer can do?

Portrait shot by Craig Spence. CC-BY-2.0.

An artist who cannot answer this cannot steer their own ship.

Sargent's best works were never his realistic/naturalistic portraits, but his more Impressionistic pieces.

"Market Place", by J.S. Sargent.

Look at the life in these strokes and textures. The composition is fresh and impactful, and even the obscured underlying pencil structure has a dancing quality.

One remembers "Market Place" long after one forgets the portrait of the Stokes.

It's notable that the most moving portrait works that Sargent did were those of his loved ones.

"In the Generalife", J.S. Sargent. Featuring Emily Sargent (his sister) and friends.

Answer for yourself: what do I do that a skilled photographer with access to a number of Photoshop filters could not do?

This is the most important question for an artist to ever answer.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.