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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Art: Curious Dove

"Curious Dove," a kitty floof.

I've improved on my kitty floof art of the recent past (a couple months ago).  As you can tell, I'm also really bored of normal staring-eyed kittens on cat furniture, so I think any future kitty floofs will be of a whimsical nature like Curious Dove.

(Who could use whiskers, but I've wondered whether winged cats would keep whiskers at all....)

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 13, 2017

State of the Artist: August 13, 2017

Imaginary bird sketch to figure out how to portray black bird feathers that aren't actually black. The Pablo color pencils are wonderful but a bit harder than I want to use on top of watercolors at times, so it looks like Luminance might be in my near future. The paper is from the Pentalic Field Book, a cold press, internally/externally sized, cellulose watercolor paper.

I'm exhausted by the recent news and I feel like my heart is broken inside.

At least today I'm not interested in buying all the art supplies in an attempt to feel better (always dangerous for me to do, that's why my tutor is not just my art budget buddy but my in-general budget buddy).

Today and tomorrow are quiet days for me. No art, apart from coloring books. And maybe not coloring books, maybe board games. In any case, definitely going to be doing some RPG sessions. My lil' group all kind of need that connection right 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.

Delicate Veins on Flowers and Other Such Things

Initial orchid on left, veined and washed orchid on right.

This is an orchid from a few weeks back when I was doing test runs on the Pentalic Field Book (7"x10") along with a few other techniques. The Field Book surface is definitely cold press on one side, though I'll note that unlike the Pentalic Aqua Journals, only one side of a page is cold press, and the other is far more flat, somewhere between cold press and hot press. This is a feature I don't particularly like about the Field Book.

Getting back to the subject at hand: on this orchid, I was trying an initial contour-only sketch in red and purple Fancolor watercolor pencils, then inked with a pink Micron PN, then applying watercolors on top. (The black pen above is from an older orchid test using black ballpoint for veining, which didn't work so well, but the ballpoint—cheap as it was—was also waterproof.)

Original watercolor orchid.

The results are OK, but I wasn't able to get in the delicate veining due to not yet owning a spotter brush that could do the lines in watercolor, so I let the little sketch lie fallow instead of following up with a wet, sharpened watercolor pencil tip and doing the veining. This is primarily because I learned that heavy color laydown of the watercolor pencil has issues, such as less line control and the tip running out of water rapidly and needing constant re-dipping every second or so.

Eventually I did get a spotter and tested it out. I was not terribly pleased with using it for veining in this case. Spotters naturally don't hold much paint, so I was re-dipping every other second or so.

But then I decided to sharpen up my Pablo purple, and did the actual petal veining. It was highly effective and much faster, even though the Pablo didn't hold a perfectly sharp point; I just had to pay attention to which side of the point was getting worn down, and rotate the tip to draw more thin lines.

Veined orchid.

The veins turned out well, especially since they have that gentle quality of pencil that I love. Especially on rougher textured paper (especially cold press, but also on drawing paper), they have a very organic texture.

For extra measure I also added the spots on the "tongue" of the orchid in violet.

I then washed over the whole orchid with a dilute quinacridone rose wash. The lines and spots stayed, as these aren't aquarelle pencils.

This final wash was done to seal in the colored pencil—it doesn't smear or migrate as much like graphite does, but it needs some kind of sealing in or it'll still stain the opposite page of a journal, and washes with some watercolor seems to do the job.

You can also just stroke a colorless blender over the whole thing to seal. My friend Hajra Meeks (who has an awesome YouTube channel on watercolors and more) suggests using a thinned gum arabic solution—which is the binder in watercolors—for a colorless sealing wash, and that rubbing beeswax is also a nice way to seal watercolors and pencils.

(The Caran d'Ache colorless blender also supposedly seals and protects against UV damage, but I haven't tested this for myself and so can't verify if this is actually true in any or all situations.)

I really do like the brush give-and-take effect of the spotter, and it still has its uses—like signing my signature ever smaller, or messing about with gouache details; color pencils, at least at high artist grade quality, are nearly as transparent and luminous as watercolors to facilitate layering, which means that gouache details still are useful. (Caran d'Ache didn't call their top color pencil line Luminance for nothing.)

Watercolor and color pencil do complement on cold press in other ways. For instance, a single mid-strength quinacridone rose filled out this red sphere done in scarlet/carmine/cobalt blue/etc, which had quite a few white divots not colored in as the pencil pigment did not reach all the way in:

Red sphere on cold press in colored pencil, with watercolor washed over into the cevices.

Quinacridone rose in a mid-strength wash is a rosy pink, and yet it played the perfect background to the scarlet etc of the sphere. I could have chosen another color to fill in the darker crevices, as I did with the shadow (a mid-strength desaturated purple wash), but I decided not to, because I'm strange.

Alternatively I could have melted the color pencil into the crevices with a solvent. But if I were going to do that, I should have used watercolor pencil or watercolors in the first place, since solvents tend to entirely destroy that organic texture I do love about pencils.

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 12, 2017

State of the Artist: August 12, 2017

I'm in so much pain that I need to rest a bit on the art front. Fortunately I have a week's worth of posts queued up.

I wish this pain were purely of the physical pain type, but let's just say that what's in the national news right now is terrible and I want to disappear so badly into a rabbit hole for a while.

Were I on social media, this would be much worse for me. Social media has a way of magnifying painful news and putting it on a frantic, unending repeat.

So I'll be happy about that for now, and increase my meditation sessions as I can (meditation is doubly hard when in pain, which ironically is when one needs it the most).

Maybe I'll play farming board games. Otherwise my brain is going to wander into an online art store and end up buying art supplies to cope with my terror of the future.

Fields of Arle is my favorite farming game.

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.

Sticking to the Secondary Palette

Comparison of tertiaries mixed from a secondary palette versions a primary palette.

When I read about the secondary palette at, suddenly some rather surprising elements of what I'd painted in the past came back to me.

You see, before I had a better sense of what colors I needed, I just grabbed bargain-bin (relatively speaking, these are still Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors) on-sale watercolor tubes. I ended up with Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Organic Vermilion (in the form of a watercolor stick on sale), Lemon Yellow, Viridian, and Quinacridone Magenta. A split-primary palette just wasn't in the works for me.

Yet I never mixed "mud" (e.g. highly desaturated colors) unless I wanted to. While my tutor says that my sense of color, including color mixing, is pretty developed, everything I'd read said that watercolor would-be artists who start out with random colors couldn't help but mix mud.

Turns out that I'd picked out a palette that satisfies most of the tenants of the secondary palette, so-called because it features three secondaries alongside three primaries. This reduces the distance to get to any tertiary, and greatly expands your non-desaturated color range. For a comparison, see the above image where the top row shows mixes with the secondary palette, and the bottom row shows similar mixes with a primary palette.

You also get to spend less time doing mix experimentation, since color distance is very short amongst your home pigments, and you have exquisite control over neutrals (since you'll have three pairs of neutrals straight-up). You don't have to worry about remembering what warm/cool means for any particular primary—if you need a red-orange, you know that's your orange and your magenta, rather than remembering that you want a warm red and a warm yellow. If you need a kelly green, you know that's a bit of your yellow and more of your green, rather than recalling that you need a cool yellow and a warm blue.

Secondary palettes are far easier to reason about. I highly recommend them, and in watercolors you can actually get by with five rather than six (watercolors mix good purples and violets between magenta and cyan, nearly as good as having an actual violet between them).

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 11, 2017

Fruit on the Farm: Colored Pencils vs Watercolors

Colored pencils on the left, watercolors on the right, tiny ink doodles in ink.

A comparison of the same scene, first done in colored pencils, then done in watercolors. Both actually use a limited palette of just four colors:

Colored pencil colors used on top, watercolor colors used on bottom.

For the curious, the materials are:

Caran d'Ache Pablo Color Pencils: ultramarine blue, light olive, scarlet, purple, on a Stillman & Birn Zeta series pocket sketchbook.

Daniel Smith Watercolors: phthalo blue RS, lemon yellow, organic vermilion, quinacridone rose, in a Pentalic pocket Aqua Journal.

The colored pencil was sort-of used as a reference for the watercolors; admittedly the way I use frequently references for non-exact work (e.g., not portraits) is very often to lay down a base sketch (in pencil or neutral colors) of contour without form, and then use memory to paint the rest. Proportions and rendering can differ quite a bit as a result, but there's still enough similarities here to point out some of the differences between colored pencils and watercolors.

After spending a few days with artist-grade colored pencils and their requirement for layering, rather than mixing as you would with paints, I've gotten a better and deeper understanding of color theory. Without color theory (especially complementary colors), you end up actually depending on 72 different color pencils; with color theory, you can get away with far, far fewer pencils.

I still use a colorless blender for my color pencils, but I rather like that it mostly doesn't obliterate the texture inherent in the pencil laydown, rather than melting them all together like solvents would.

I feel that I could have nailed down further details in the watercolor work via the use of a spotter and gouache.

Thus far I've felt better about my Stillman & Birn Zeta (hot-press, smooth) sketchbook, and I feel even better than before with my Pentalic (cold-press) Aqua Journals. Both papers are internally and externally sized, so wet media doesn't tear up the pages. The Zeta sketchbook doubles for both colored pencil and watercolors/ink, and the Aqua Journal does extremely well with wet media.

I feel that I'll want to pair up the Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook with Pentalic Aqua Journals for future work.

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 10, 2017

Watercolor Pigment Reviews: Oh PBk11, What Do We Do With You?

Daniel Smith's Lunar Black (PBk11) is a fascinating bluish-black pigment. Try putting a magnet under a pool of it—the iron filings that form the intense granulation in the dried color will react to it noticeably. And while this means that Lunar Black is excellent for any area involving black granulation, such as wet paved roads, wet rocks, and a lunar landscape, this also means that Lunar Black is a difficult color to use in many mixtures.

Lighter colors really expose the black granulation, often to an effect that's not always pleasant:

Pure Lemon Yellow (PY175) on the far left, and then successive mixes with Lunar Black.
A lavender mixture of two other colors, with added lunar black.

Lunar Black excels at adding grittiness in these and many other situations, certainly, but what else can it do?

PBk11 mixed with various other colors in varying concentrations.

In this chart, I've added Lunar Black to  Organic Vermilion (PR188), Quinacridone Rose (PV19), Quinacridone Purple (PV55), Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15), Phthalo Green Blue Shade (PG7), Indanthrone Blue (PB60), Yellow Ochre (PY43, W&N), "Burnt Sienna" (PR101, W&N), and my mix of smoky quartz (4 parts viridian, PG8, to 1 part quinacridone magenta, PR202).

The topmost row is roughly a 1:1 mix, followed below by less lunar black in the mix.

Strangely the best mix in the non-earth, non-gray colors here is with quinacridone rose—I suspect the same would hold of Phthalo Blue Green Shade due to the similar value (obviously not hue) shared between the two. Colors that tend towards darker values don't work as well, unless they are earth colors or otherwise highly neutralized.

I feel that the combination of a black that brings down saturation rapidly, combined with the finickiness of having enough iron filings in the mix to make any sort of impact, combined with the need for a color compatible with Lunar Black's black grit, makes Lunar Black a specialty color at best. If you need to spice up an earth tone you otherwise don't use yet like with Lunar Black, or if you work with a highly neutralized palette, then Lunar Black will work quite well.

But as a general-use black, Lunar Black doesn't cut it—although since mixing blacks is a common practice, this doesn't feel like a great loss for most palettes.

You can purchase Lunar Black on

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 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.