Monday, July 31, 2017

YouTube Video Resources: Alphonso Dunn on Inking Without an Undersketch

Alphonso Dunn demonstrates drawing complex scenes accurately in pen and ink without a pencil undersketch.

Alphonso Dunn is one of the first artists I started to learn from. Dunn's YouTube channel is one of the best around for learning drawing, pen and ink or otherwise. I daresay these lessons are useful for every artist, since a strong drawing foundation helps with everything else.

Here he demonstrates drawing confidently in ink without pencil.

To this day, pen and ink is still my go-to medium for art that I can manage when I'm recovering from chronic illness flare-ups.

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, July 30, 2017

Biju: Rusty (Ballpoint Pen)

Ballpoint pen in pocket Moleskine Cahier journal.

It took a while, but I've gotten comfortable enough with art to draw random things in my sketchbook that I don't always show you, my current run of live figure drawing and gestures included. But sometimes I manage a small and presentable biju.

Ballpoint pen is unforgiving in pressure handling—I had no idea before that I had such a heavy hand with a pen still. I thought I'd gotten better, but apparently I only changed my grip to a less damaging one without changing the damaging pressure.

By the way, switching away from my previous grip helped considerably with reducing pain from art sessions. Here's a little graphic I did to show others how to grip a pen/pencil/stylus without pain:

Tripod grips are the best grips.

For more about what biju are, see Biju.

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, July 29, 2017

Ink, Gauze, and Knitting Needle

Urban Sketchers official correspondent Ch'ng Kiah Kiean uses gauze to soak up Chinese ink in a portable ink bottle or small container. The gauze acts like a pad that lets you put as much ink as you want on a dip pen or brush—without having loose ink. Great for portable kits and sick artists who paint and draw in bed.

I used a variant here with a non-stick gauze pad and plastic card box, plus a wooden knitting needle.

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, July 28, 2017

Art: A Jizō For Ava's Birthday

A Jizō For Ava's Birthday: Watercolor pencils on cold press.

Today is my birthday. When I drew and painted this, I did it for myself. I also hadn't realized up until now that I'd progressed to the point where I was butting my head against the limitation of non-artist grade watercolor pencils, even very good ones like Caran d'Ache's Fancolors.

I think I'll go for Caran d'Ache's Museum Aquarelle line, expensive as they are. I came up with a spreadsheet to show which colors are in which sets, which others may find helpful!

I thought about expounding on the creation of this particular piece. But apart from linking to the original photo reference (By Urashimataro (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons), everything else is about this piece is incredibly private to me.

If you'd like to send me a little something, you can donate through Ko-Fi and Paypal.

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, July 27, 2017

YouTube Video Resources: Wisecrack on the Philosophy of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Wisecrack on the Philosophy of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

No artist is complete without a philosophy, and Wisecrack has some fascinating and fun videos on various philosophical topics illustrated by movies, comics, and anime.

One of my own most important philosophical realizations is explained well by their Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood inspired episode, as well as my second (that adhering to a single kind of "truth" is detrimental to both society and oneself).

Spoilers and mention of suicidal ideation follow in 3, 2, 1...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

YouTube Video Resources: Teoh Yi Chie's Bangkok Busy Street Sketch Timelapse

A capture from Teoh's ink sketch video demonstrating the use of thin and thick lines for various purposes like depth.

One of the best demonstrations about the difference line widths can make in a drawing comes from Teoh Yi Chie (who also runs Parka Blogs, featuring a ton of art book and art product reviews).

Here Teoh is showing what even minor differences in a set of Copic Multiliners—0.5mm, 0.3mm, and 0.1mm—can portray.

Notice how he uses the 0.1 both for distant buildings and cars (most noticeable with the buildings) as well as for the thin, more foreground details of the street wires. Also note the use of the 0.5 in the foreground and for the heavier cables.

You can view Teoh's video on YouTube.

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, July 24, 2017

What Duotone Palettes Teach Us

"Eyeshine", a trading card sized watercolor painting of three owl-like creatures in an old tree, and color samples mixed from the duotone palette used for nearly all of the picture (phthalo blue red shade and yellow ochre).

I remember reading about sparse palettes used by old-age artists, from Velázquez in the 1600s (yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue) stretching back at least as far as Apelles in 370 BCE (lead white, yellow ochre, red ochre, carbon black).

And of course, 15,000-year-old cave paintings relied on carbon black and red ochre on light yellow limestone.

These days artists have access to hundreds of pigments, natural and synthetic, so why should we limit our palettes at all, much less to such small numbers of pigments? Also, if you're going to use a three-color palette, why not use a middle red, middle yellow, and middle blue, for more flexibility?

And why in the world would you use a palette of just two colors?

For me, as someone who loves the artistic experimentation and discovery found in adjusting color mixtures, the reason is to really, really get to know color combinations.

Just as pure monotone studies can allow us to know all the different hues and character we can get out of a single pigment, duotone studies do the same for color mixing a pair of paints.

A biju watercolor sketch of a tree against a forest and sky, entirely done in yellow ochre.

You can really deepen your knowledge of the two pigments involved—not just how to mix them to get all the colors you can, but also how they relate to each other in comparison in a picture. For instance, yellow ochre can become orange simply by being placed next to a deep blue.

Detail of a watercolor sketch where the original reference had a red-orange roof. Here, yellow ochre can play the role of the red-orange roof when placed directly next to pure phthalo blue red shade.

My tutor's challenge to me when I came to them with a proposal of concentrating on a tritone palette for a while, was to try just two colors before adding a third.

When I came back to my tutor with my phthalo blue red shade and yellow ochre painting of a post office building, my tutor once again challenged me to not use pure phthalo blue in any part of the next painting. They didn't want me to simply rely on using the blue to get shadows or the sky, you see.

So my next painting had no pure phthalo blue anywhere. And because of this restriction, I managed to extract near blacks and even browns based on additional glazing instead of simply mixing the two colors together.

"Eyeshine" uses no pure blues for shadows, not even in the dark tree hollow. The eyes and subtle light highlights were still done with white gouache. The general mood of the piece is a creepy late afternoon.

Going beyond what I thought was available to me, that sense of discovery—not just pleasantly euphoric, but also incredibly useful for future art (as well as determining what I want in my palette box).

I still use duotone palettes to explore new colors I receive in my palette. For instance, this is done in only phthalo blue red shade and permanent brown (Daniel Smith, PBr25):

My 2017 rendition of "Sugar and Cream" from 2016. It's probably noticeable that I don't use masking fluid. The neutralized blues and browns create a subdued, calm atmosphere.
The only place where a pure version of either end of the duotone palette is used is in the wood design of the counter.

Duotone palettes have a lot of potential when you have one cool and one warm color, but sometimes you can just blast out a duotone palette where both ends are in the warm range and see what happens:

"Beasts and Blood Trees at Sunset" uses yellow ochre and quinacridone rose (Daniel Smith, PV19). I have no idea what this mood is, but sometimes it feels a bit ominous to me.

I'm pretty pleased with my duotone pieces, because wringing out the mood out of a mere two colors. Also it's easier to clean your palette afterwards.

For more about what biju are, see Biju.

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

Bob Davies on Color vs Value

There's a grand article over at Art Tutor on substituting colors that you may not have on your palette. It's somewhat long, but for me the real interesting bit doesn't happen until you reach this section:

Good Tonal Value is More Important Than Good Colour Choices

This is the crux of painting with colors. I think this is also why duotone palettes are great to work with—you learn rapidly how much value matters in terms of getting your audience to parse what your art represents.

Below are a rendition of a sugar packet holder and creamer done twice, once on the left with color accurate to the original reference, and once on the right with color highly different from the original reference. I also included for comparison their value-only, grayscale versions beneath. There's a very palpable difference between the two, even though both are muted in their color palette.

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, July 23, 2017

YouTube Video Resources: Hajra Meeks on Watercolor VS Gouache

Hajra Meeks demonstrating the differences directly between the same illustration in watercolor vs gouache.

Hajra is one of the most thorough and knowledgeable artists on YouTube that I watch on a regular basis. She specializes in watercolor, gouache, and other water media (like Inktense).

She's also the main artist who discusses watercolor versus gouache in the most detail on YouTube. You can view this video and others on YouTube.

Hajra's channel features many other instructive videos, and I highly recommend subscribing to her channel.

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, July 22, 2017

Louis Prang Did Not Die For the Prang Challenge

Louis Prang, Polish immigrant to the US, artist and publisher, inventor of the American Christmas card, supported women artists, pioneered lithographs in the US, and forwarded the cause of art education. He died at the age of 85, but not due to the sins of artists not engaging in the "Prang Challenge."

I've been stewing about this, on my own, for a day or so.

The Prang Challenge started up on some art forums as a fun challenge: use cheap art supplies to paint cool art. In particular, the specification is for Prang paint sets, which were invented by Louis Prang, intended for decent yet bulk-affordable art education in public schools, which is why they are very good but not professional grade.

And that's all it was ever meant to be: a fun challenge for people who volunteered to engage in it.

The challenge was not meant to be used to levy a charge against artists who use professional grade products that they aren't good artists if they can't create art with Prang paints, or to shame people for using artist grade paints.

Look, the saying is that the quality of a craftsman or artisan is due to their own skills, not the quality of their tools. This goes both ways on the quality of tools: a person is skilled whether they use cheap tools or expensive tools.

Let me repeat: a person is skilled whether they use the cheap stuff or the expensive stuff or anything inbetween.

This means that not only do you not thumb your nose at people who don't use artist grade paints, but you also do not do it to people who do use artist grade paints.

Trust me, if someone is truly unskilled, it's gonna show even if they use the "good stuff."

Art is riddled through with reductionist arguments advocated by short-sighted folks, and we don't need even more of that. We never needed any of it.

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, July 21, 2017

The Creative Tortoise: Losing the Meaning of Art in Today's World

My Jizō watercolor pencils (Caran d'Ache Fancolors on Pentalic Aqua Journal) sketch.

A month back, I started doing daily sketch challenges on Mastodon, and what art I made got enough likes to not want to stop. Unfortunately I still stopped, because chronic illness doesn't care how currently buoyant I am on the praise of others.

This sketch of a small Jizō statue was the last one I made for the challenge, less than a week in. It took nearly four hours to do, small as it is (the size of a 3"x5" index card)—twice as long as any of my other challenge pieces. It's the one I'm proudest of, in fact a piece I'm proudest of for the month of July period thus far—but it also sapped what energy I had to create art for the rest of the week, including small sketches.

What can I say? I'm chronically ill and I'm not capable of doing timed marathon challenges. I try very hard each time, yet I can never complete such challenges. It's not that I'm lazy or not good enough—it's just that I'm sick. I have tried to keep pushing myself at the urging of former acquaintances who insisted that if I didn't create every day I not only was a failure but deserved to fail, a defeatist who would never accomplish as much as they would.

I'm a turtle, and they're hares. Of course they would win such races.

But art isn't an Inktober. Art isn't a daily sketch challenge. Art is definitely not competing in giveaways from art supply companies who want you to buy and use their products.

Art isn't even about competing for the admiration of the masses, nor is it about being useful to the entertainment industry.

A neutron star core in the center of a nebula in space, with distant stars. The accompanying poem reads: "My core is made of neutron stars. Yet I am supple enough to not let gravity drown out my light. I can let others know there is a universe." — 赤茶恐竜 AAJ

Art is about self-expression. And that is independent of what anybody wants or expects of you. It's certainly not about what's valuable to society nor to other people.

By all means, do art for all the other reasons. We generally need money to survive and buy more art supplies. Some of us love the inspiration that a challenge runs through our veins, some of us thrive on adrenaline.

But it's okay for me as an artist to not work the same way that others do. It's not like my neuro-atypical brain works the way other programmers' do back in the software industry.

The only way I can defeat myself is to listen to all the immature people who've never been sick, or who are in denial about what it means to live well with disability, tell me that I've defeated myself.

I do regret not being able to participate in giveaways and challenges. But ultimately I have a personality that sets up challenges constantly for myself and generates topics and inspirations from seemingly nothing, so it's not like challenges or giveaways ever gave me anything I didn't already have.

As long as I'm creating art, I'm happy and advancing towards self-actualization (or maintaining it at this point).

The Amazon links above give me a small affiliate fee at no cost to you if you buy the items through the link; this helps me 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, July 20, 2017

My YouTube Playlists of Interesting Art Lessons and Demos

My YouTube playlist shelf of videos I recommend from other artists.

Recently I discovered that YouTube offers a way for channels to organize their playlists into shelves.

So I created a shelf called Recommended Videos from Other Artists.

These particular playlists don't contain any of my own videos—they contain videos from other artist channels that I highly recommend for their educational/informational content, or simply found enjoyable to watch.

I constantly add to these lists. There's a way to get notifications when I update these lists in the YouTube smartphone apps, but I don't know of a way to do so on the website itself as of yet.

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, July 19, 2017

Biju: Jizō Head Sketch with a New 2B Lead Holder

A round stone Jizō statue head, drawn on Moleskine cahier journal paper with a Staedtler 2B lead in a Staedtler lead holder. Euro 2B/Japanese HB pencils are excellent for creating light underdrawings on watercolor paper without damaging it.

For more about what biju are, see Biju.

The Amazon links give me a small affiliate fee at no cost to you if you buy the items through the link; this helps me buy art supplies in the future.

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, July 18, 2017

Watercolor Palette for July 2017

An 8-color palette to explore (not the best lighting) for July 2017

This is my current watercolor palette for July 2017.

I actually work with an additional white gouache pan, so this would be a 9-color palette. I prefer single-pigment artist-grade, highly-pigmented and milled paints. All of these are Daniel Smith, from left to right:
  • Lemon Yellow (PY175)
  • Organic Vermillion (PR188)
  • Quinacridone Rose (PV19)
  • Quinacridone Purple (PV55)
  • Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15)
  • Phthalo Green Blue Shade (PG7)
  • Permanent Brown (PBr25)
  • Indanthrone Blue (PB60)

While other people I learned color theory from supported the idea of the split-primary palette—warm and cool pairs of red, yellow, and blue, for six paints—I ended up rejecting this in favor of the primary-secondary palette, featuring single-pigment primaries and secondaries, which I discovered via the Handprint site. You can see this in the palette above, where I have a yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, and green in that order (assuming that this is a color circle that wraps around so that green is "next to" yellow).

This palette set-up means that I already have the brightest secondaries possible alongside the brightest primaries, and can mix tertiary colors very easily. The more you mix colors, the less saturated and duller their mixes become; split primary somewhat accommodates for this, but a primary-secondary palette works much better to preserve brightness across the spectrum.

With this palette, mixing is rapid to achieve what I want, and this amount of spacing around the color wheel between my main palette players means that I can play with more viable limited palettes (either duo-tone, pairing any warm with any cool, or tri-tone, with sufficient spacing between the three colors to produce interesting mixes).

Of course, this means that I can't easily follow the video tutorials or lessons from other artists, but I always liked to explore on my own anyways.

I learned to add a good, rich brown in order to more easily work skin tones both dark and light—Permanent Brown fills in this role very well. You can think of it as a semi-staining, translucent, non-granulating version of a more reddish Burnt Sienna.

The Indanthrone Blue I added to see if either it or Quinacridone Purple should play the purple secondary in my palette. I really like the extra flexibility it gives me, but it's somewhat extraneous.

Thus far this set pleases me very much. I get a really good range of color:
  • Bright orange-red, middle orange, yellow orange (nearly gold), dull orange.
  • Bright pinks and reds. 
  • A really wonderful range of purples, mauves, and blues.
  • Realistic greens in a nice variety (I think the key to painting a scene full of foliage is to organize a nice set of distinct greens and use them to form patterns).
  • A great range of rich browns to light peaches and tans.
  • Multiple ways to get cool and warm blacks and greys. 

I suppose I can add three more colors for a nice 12-color set. But right now nothing really comes to mind apart from eventually adding Lunar Black, figuring out the right proportions of Quinacridone Magenta to PGBS to create a shadow purple I like very much and filling a pan, and figuring out what creates a grey of grey that I actually find useful. (It's likely to be a mix of Indanthrone Blue and Permanent Brown.)

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, July 17, 2017

There's No Such Thing as a Single No-Tan

A no-tan study on wonderful creamy Strathmore 500 series drawing paper.
Used a Pentel Pocket Brush pen refilled with rOtring technical pen ink.

A no-tan study is a great way to figure out the compositional elements of a piece before moving on to the more expensive, less retractable stages of a project.

The above I did for one of Yong Chen's Patreon challenges; here's what I wrote originally:

This is the first of three exercises I'm using the first patreon challenge for. I wasn't going to show this one, as "notan" is a very preliminary kind of study, but on second thought such a notion might be helpful for folks who want to work out their composition before attacking the rest of the piece. 

One of the hardest things to do is to decide where stuff goes, and a notan study—that is, stark black and white—is a way to do this.

One difficulty artists sometimes have is the desire to capture everything they see—this is not the way to progress. As an artist, you must make decisions, often hard ones, on what to focus on, what to render, what to leave out. A notan study forces you to make these decisions: black and white.

Of course, no scene ever has a single notan rendering; what the black areas and white areas represent differ depending on which aspects you want to highlight. In this case, the rocks are my black and the water, froth, and sometimes sunlight is my white.

I will carry what I gained from this picture to my next ones—not by tracing this or superimposing over it, but by doing it all over again with a different approach, yet informed by what I learned from the notan. Hope this helps.

I ended up only doing two exercises for this challenge, because chronic illness is terrible. However, the second exercise I chose was a value study, and it turned out so well that I don't feel awful about not being able to go on to a chosen third exercise.

This is just so nice. My tutor was also pleased with it, which is always a plus.
For more information on no-tan, see Mitchell Albala's blog post.

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, July 16, 2017

Art: Portrait Study (2017 Jul 13)

Thank goodness for Croquis Cafe—for both timed life drawing videos on YouTube and their extensive photo archive at Also, I need to get two more Aquash waterbrushes to fill with a lighter and darker ink mix (made from Yasutomo's excellent KY6 sumi ink). A simple and cheap Moleskine cahier journal takes both pencil and ink pretty well, as well as light ink washes.

(The pure black is from rOtring technical drawing ink that I use to refill a Pentel Pocket Brush.)

The Amazon links above give me a small affiliate fee at no cost to you if you buy the items through the link; this helps me buy art supplies in the future.

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, July 15, 2017

Exploring Art with Ballpoint Pens (Inspired by Alphonso Dunn)

An eye and surrounding skin rendered in purple ballpoint pen.

If I could travel back to that time when I started to explore art, I would have told Younger Me four things:

  1. Start with pen. Pencils, charcoals, and pastels will aggravate your asthma horrifically.
  2. Buy a good Uni-ball ballpoint pen and you can use all that spare printer paper for practice.
  3. Buy a pocket-sized plain notebook that takes pen well so you can draw everywhere you go.
  4. Ignore the haters who think you're not a real artist because you use ballpoint pen.

This would have saved me a great deal of starting money, a good chunk of health and peace of mind, and given me everything I needed to start building my artistic foundation.

Alphonso Dunn is among my favorite artists to watch on YouTube because he teaches art concepts well and has a very open mind as to what can be used to create art. In fact, of art teachers I've known and watched, he's the only one who ever recommended that starting with a ballpoint pen is a good step forwards (and by no means the only way to start the artistic journey).

In fact, I've seen a lot of artists who ought to know better deride ballpoint pen as Not Proper for Art, even though archival, waterproof, lightfast, acid-free inks are the rule with good yet affordable ballpoint pens these days.

But yeah, it's not a great idea to tell someone who's not flush with cash, who's disabled, or who doesn't want to be overwhelmed by an art store that the only proper pen and ink they can learn is through a dip crow quill nib with india ink.

Plus ballpoint pen is just so wonderfully expressive as a medium, with properties all its own that distinguish it as a unique member of the pen and ink family. If Alphonso's video intro to ballpoint pen techniques doesn't convince you, here's what I've been able to do with old ballpoints I found lying around (some are ten years old):

An example of a cheap Papermate black ballpoint pen (fun-sized gel pen)'s value scale.
Note the uniquely energetic lines more reminiscent of pencils than ink.

You can of course do the standard scribbles and hatching, but that subtle shading is also more pencils than ink.

And of course that eye, plus some very varied cross-hatching textures from light and airy to downright bold—difficult to achieve with technical pens, easily done with a single ballpoint pen and without the steep learning curve of a brush or a nib.

I did not expect a random Papermate ballpoint pen about five years old to be waterproof but there you go—that grey is the ink wash, not the pen itself, which you'll note did not smear despite the watery wash.
If you decide to learn ink washes or watercolors, you could do a LOT worse than this for waterproof line purposes—or even for full archival-level works with the right ballpoint pen.

One thing to watch out for is that older inks or very, very cheap pens can splotch. This can teach you an important lesson about adapting to accidents. For instance, I turned a splotch on a sphere I intended into a splitting of a truffle with some kind of dark, rich fruit-based filling inside:

A sphere became a nice Lindt truffle sort of confection.

An amusing and at times frustrating difficulty with pen and ink is trying to capture the energy of an original pencil sketch with a permanent medium. Ballpoint pen gives you that energy and the permanence from the get-go. Plus you can do all the normal strokes and patterns that most pens give you, which means that Dunn's wonderful book on pen and ink is relevant to learning.

It can be frightening to go forth bravely with a non-erasable medium, but overcoming your fear is a huge step towards breaking out your inner artist.

And afterwards you'll know what you like, and perhaps frustrations you might want to explore—and that means you'll have a better handle on your future personal art lesson plans than leaning on any one teacher's advice—even that of Dunn.

Happy ballpoint pen adventures!

This post was entirely my own idea—no product placement paid for or even suggested by others.

The Amazon links give me a small affiliate fee at no cost to you if you buy the items through the link; this helps me buy art supplies in the future and continue blogging about art.

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, July 14, 2017

Getting the Most Out of Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens

Watercolor mixing chart, using 11 of the watercolor brush pens in this set.

When I first got these, I was extremely frustrated, because their pigments are super-fugitive—any amount of water easily results in pigments separating dramatically. If you don't know this ahead of time, and yet for some reason want to do color mixing and blending, be prepared to slam your head against the wall repeatedly.

However, I have managed to get decent use out of these, once I learned how to work around their quirks. If you have these, don't waste your $25 to $38 investment! Here's how best to use them.

If you're into watercolors, a thing to know is that (a) these colors are all transparent, which is nice for certain effects, and (b) almost every color is a staining color, meaning that they (especially darker colors) cannot lift very well. They're not high-quality staining colors at that, because you need to move that color almost immediately with water if you're going to move it at all. Also (c) all colors are fugitive; expect dramatic color changes to occur within even just weeks to finished pieces. Scan in your pieces!

Because these colors are transparent, they actually mix well (see the top picture to this article, a color chart involving 11 of the colors). As a result, even a subset of these colors can result in vibrant, bold colors. However, note that for the most part you want to mix them on paper, like you would with watercolor pencils—a dry-brush of multiple colors and then immediately activating and blending them with water. An example of this is the two peaches below.

Left: Dry brush of yellow, yellow ochre, and rose madder.
Right: Watercolor applied with watercolor brush to one peach.

Cold press and hot press will give different results—typically you'll get smoother results on hot press and even bristol.

Similar technique as cold press examples above, but on smooth bristol paper (100 lb).

Because these are brush bristles, you can do a lot of fun chinese brush painting techniques, at least for line work and dot work—trying to do color shapes is difficult because these bristles aren't soft or flexible enough to do so.

Bone stroke branches and short strokes for pine needles.
Please note signature was not done with the brush pens, but with a technical pen.

You can also see the ultra-staining, stubbornly-not-lifting nature of the "rain" which was originally intended to be a blended gradient background. (P.S. never let people know you didn't intend the effect... this is like 67% of art, at least.)

One of the easiest ways to have fun with these brushes is to use them like you would water soluble pencils or fountain pens—draw the contour, and then apply water to spread out the color deliberately. Combining this with the light colors that don't stain much can result in neat effects. You can get very delicate petals or light glows this way. See below, in particular the bellflower closer to the bottom of the paper and the gelatinous cube.

A variety of small drawings demonstrating watercolor brush markers blended by water.

Washes are ... difficult. Water brushes like Pentel, Kuretake, and Niji will only take you so far, because their nylon bristles and weak water flow and water containment aren't up to the task—I destroyed my Kuretake water brush tip trying to make washes just 2 inches wide. A much better way to go about this is to use a real watercolor brush to apply water. See below for what you can do with dry brushing and then applying water with a real watercolor brush.

Left: Rose madder dry brush, overlaid with a navy dry brush.
Right: Apply water with a real watercolor brush (size 6-8).

Now, the super-staining qualities of these colors means that even careful dry brushing can result in unintended dark marks even after applying water. This is the point where you just kind of have to accept that you're going to get color separation through putting marker dye into a palette (just scribble the brush into a little palette well) and picking it up with a wet watercolor brush (water brushes do not do well at this). However, with careful practice, you'll learn how to reduce the effects of pigment separation, or at least choose colors where it doesn't look as bad. Plus you can use glazes instead of mixing color in a palette (a surefire way of getting unintended pigment separation in this set). See below for a dilute madder wash glazed over halfway by a light navy wash.

A dilute madder wash glazed over halfway by a light navy wash.
Wet-in-wet strokes making plant-like strokes at the bottom.

Wet on wet techniques are fun way to play with these markers as well, as you can tell by the bottom of that same picture, but due to their thin nature, don't expect much body from this kind of technique. You get very wispy stuff—even wispier than normal watercolors.

And finally, this pineapple dawn picture is something I did using but five colors. (Navy, yellow ochre, yellow, indigo, and madder.) As I said, color mixing is surprisingly good, and their transparency lends well to glazes (if only colors didn't separate so easily). I used concentrated marker dots to represent the flowers on the mossy/grassy rocks—although this is a place where the transparency does not help.

"Pineapple Dawn," watercolor brush markers in a Strathmore 140lb cold press watercolor paper Visual Journal.

Anyways, my tips are this: go buy a good watercolor brush that can hold water, maybe a size 6 to a size 8 for doing a good consistent wash depending on brush manufacturer, and go buy good paper (Strathmore at the very least), a little palette, and you can have fun and even produce some neat art.

And praise be that, mostly due to their nature, these colors aren't chalky like cheap watercolor paints are.

I don't know how well other watercolor brush pens work out, whether Akashiya Sai are just horribly cheap or if this is just a common thing with these types of markers. I just know I'm moving to Daniel Smith and W&N tube watercolors now that I know the mercurial nature of watercolors in their most mercurial of presences—this set in particular. I think nothing high quality watercolors can throw at me will phase me now.

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, July 13, 2017

You Can't Fill Your Sketchbook With Perfection

My Pentalic AquaJournals, in pocket and 5"x8" sizes, on top of heating pads because I am one chronically ill artist.

I have some truly nice watercolor journals. In the future I plan to actually figure out how to bind makeshift watercolor journals myself out of Arches watercolor paper, which means I'll have a super nice watercolor journal.

But when I first started arting, I had issues with sketchbooks and especially nice ones. I wanted to make all the pages awesome. I wanted beautiful pictures on every page possible, and because I knew that art pieces can be so easily screwed up I was hesitant to even start.

This is the primary reason my tutor didn't allow me to get more sketchbooks (no matter how cheap) until I'd used the ones I had up. I also wasn't allowed any more paper until I used my existing blocks and paper up. This seems cruel, but in my general art desperation I began to actually use my sketchbooks.

Even my nice AquaJournals. I'm an artist, artists gotta art, even if it's gonna touch pristine and wonderful watercolor journals.

I started to use my AquaJournals for experiments! That seems cruel to such a lovely sketchbook.

Tossing random colors around on an AquaJournal page! Sacrilege!

Not even watercolors! I AM A MONSTER

But—experiments soon gave way to actual art. The moment I stopped treating my AquaJournals as relics to be kept untarnished, I began to actually use them.

And art happened. Real actual honest to all the gods art.

Look at the page opposite all those splotches. I wouldn't have tried anything so chunky before either.
These two pages actually both have art on them! A cute art and an inspirational art!
Holy crap, I did that Ghibli-style piece of a Jizō. I actually did that. I mean. Just watercolor pencils. But still.

It's not that I hadn't created art pieces before; I'd just done it outside of the AquaJournals, to keep them pristine until I could Really Art.

But then I just let myself go and did any old thing in my journals, and sometimes art happens! Not just art—art I didn't feel comfortable creating, art that I started out of the blue, art experiments that kept going all the way to a finished piece.

Learning to use my sketchbooks meant that I had unleashed my inner artist.

Also I'm chronically ill so smaller sketchbooks are pretty much the only way, outside of very small ATC/ACEO works, that art happens any given week.

So now I'm on a quest to fill out both of these journals before I get any more, or even start to think of making some nice Arches ones.

A lesson well-learned on my part, thanks to me actually listening to my hardass tutor.

(Well, they aren't that hardass at all. Hardass would be forcing me to art every day in spite of my illness. My tutor simply imposes challenging restrictions for me to work around at my own pace. Yet for some reason I know a lot of fellow art students who would prefer the first kind of tutor over the second. Different strokes for different folks.)

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, July 12, 2017

Testing Watercolor Paper Using Templates from Sadie Saves the Day

Watercolor paper test using Sade's template. The paper in question is Strathmore 500 series hot press.
I've learned that watercolor paper is the most important component in watercolor painting. Every paper from every brand—including different product lines within that brand—is quite different. There's no one standard even for how rough a surface is; one brand's cold press is another's hot press.

Getting a good paper is not as simple as just buying the most expensive paper. Some artists prefer the lesser water absorption of cellulose papers even at the cost of not being able to layer, and some artists prefer the enormous stability of cotton rag papers for expressive wet-in-wet techniques.

The only way to figure out if a watercolor paper works for you is to test that paper yourself for the qualities that you need. I found a great video by Sade of Sadie Saves the Day that shows how to use her watercolor paper test template.

I added a couple more regions for myself to test how inks lie on the paper, since I often use watercolors with ink. I also use Viridian (PG18) for granulation tests, as I don't yet have Lunar Black (PBk11).

Testing out your paper for other water media separately as well also comes to mind—for instance, Inktense, watercolor pencils, watercolor crayons, gouache, and casein will all react differently than watercolor paints, and different techniques are more or less relevant to each medium type.

I'll note that Strathmore watercolor paper, even the 500 series, has noticeably different surface qualities depending on which side of the paper you use (one side will feel more velvety and smooth than the other, even for cold press levels of roughness). I tested each side accordingly, which yielded a lot of information below.

Strathmore 500 series cold press, rougher side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
Strathmore's 500 series cold press is a cotton rag paper with a weight of 300 gsm. For me, the rougher side is much easier to work on in terms of more subtle effects like softening. Very close examination shows that detail marks—and ink lines—fuzz out at the sides, which is expected for cold press surfaces.

Strathmore 500 series cold press, smoother side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
The same cold press paper has a smoother side, which is closer to hot press without quite crossing that boundary. Softening effects are more difficult to achieve, and while detail strokes are better preserved, this side is also a bit less forgiving than the rougher side. That backrun test has very, very slight indications of backruns—as opposed to the rougher side having none at all!

Strathmore 500 series hot press, rougher side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
The Strathmore 500 series hot press paper also has two noticeably different sides. This is the "rougher" side, which is a bit smoother than the smooth side of the cold press version. And like hot press generally is, its slickness is more difficult to work on compared to the very forgiving cold press surface. Backruns happen easily, and surprisingly even very staining paints (I use a phthalo blue here) will lift very well!

Strathmore 500 series hot press, smoother side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
And this same hot press has a far smoother side as well. It's different and reacts more like how I'd expect hot press to work.

Not all watercolor papers have different sides; for instance, Pentalic AquaJournals have pages that are the same (as far as I can tell) on either side, which is a nice, predictable quality.

I highly recommend checking out Sade's video and checking out her corresponding blog post with the template and directions.

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, July 11, 2017

Confronting Weaknesses: An Artist's Meat and Potatoes

An off-the-cuff quick ink sketch done late at night.
Up until this point I'd never drawn clothed people or furniture.
The challenge was delicious.

One of the most important lessons to learn as an artist is to adapt to mistakes, rather than trying to correct them or, even worse, erase them. I think it's an even more important lesson to learn if you come to traditional media from digital media.

Mistakes happen, but they can open up creative pathways you wouldn't have considered. And being paranoid about mistakes—which are inevitable, even for the masters—seizes up your art process, strongly inhibiting learning and development.

I know, I know, it sounds like bunk, but it turned out to be true for me—I didn't really learn much until I started drawing in ink.

For me, not even having the option to erase freed me from worrying about avoiding mistakes. Mistakes, I learned, were inevitable. No amount of skill could ever free me from them—but there was skill to be had in adapting mistakes into intention.

Yes, I could have given up in frustration and retreated to pencils. And I really did want to give up, but I'm glad my art tutor made me stick to the medium.

(Note: obviously my tutor didn't actually enforce anything. I just listen to them.)

If you don't confront your weaknesses you simply won't get past them. If you can create art with the most unforgiving of mediums, you can create art with any other medium thereafter.

Music credits:

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, July 10, 2017

An Artist with No Twitter or Facebook Accounts

I wasn't always a flamingo.

Last night, many would argue that I took leave of my senses.

I decided to all but quit Twitter and Facebook. I deleted my Facebook account and blocked off Twitter as anything to sign into. I even blocked my Tumblr and Mastodon accounts for the time being.

Sure, I have an Instagram and a Pinterest, but I rarely use them as anything other than glorified galleries of pictures to look at and be inspired by.

You see, I reject the idea that an artist (or anybody) can only build an audience through constantly engaging in highly interactive social media like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Ello, or Mastodon. In these types of places you can go viral, yet you'll be forgotten in an instant. Thus you're highly encouraged to keep up an active presence lest the algorithms no longer promote your content.

But there aren't infinite hours in the day. I weighed the cost of social media—not just time, which is a huge chunk of that cost, but also mental peace and long-term concentration—and found the investment just not worth it.

I'm not saying that interaction isn't valuable to building an audience.

What I am saying is that high interaction social media has moved past being actually useful to an artist with limited resources and health. Social media has a tendency to pull you in and get you to spend a lot of energy basically keeping up with the virtual Joneses.

And that's fine if you have unlimited patience, boundless energy, and unbreakable mental health. It's much less OK if what you want to do is to actually, y'know, create art.

Because ultimately an artist's social media presence without a body of art and experience behind it is useless and ephemeral.

I'm going back to creating art and doing long-form blogging. Everyone declares the blog dead but I don't really care. I always used social media as a way to get my thoughts out; that's what I want to do here.

If you take anything away from this post, I recommend examining closely how you spend your time on social media. It's not wrong to engage in social media, but the act itself is a considerable cost and, like everything else costly, must be weighed against its advantages.

You can come up with a better plan for how you use your social media, or you can go cold turkey like me—which is also a plan, it's just a rather simple one.

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.