Sketchbook Skool: Stretching

Sketchbook Skool is an on-line sketching and watercolor school that I have taken several classes with. While I was away, I received an offer for a class that had just begun at a price I couldn’t resist. When I got home I was eager to check in and take the first class with  Jonathan Twingley.

Jonathan is an American author, artist and illustrator. His work is regularly exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States. One of the exercises that he invited us to do he calls Reaction as Action. For those of us who have the paralyzed-at-the-sight-of-the-blank-page syndrome, this exercise is a way to kick-start some creative juices:

  • Stain a paper towel with some ink.
  • Close the sketchbook on the paper towel.
  • When the ink is try, draw/sketch/doodle

Here is the two-page spread of the exercise.


I was completely surprised at how quickly I picked up my fountain pen and began drawing around the ink blotches on the right-hand page. I used a neon-yellow hi-liter marker to color the pedals of the flower and watercolor paint for the stem and leaf. Try to imagine the zap of color that high light marker created on the page because scanning didn’t do it justice. I used my chop to sign the page. I like the spark it added. If you’re new here, you might want to read about how I acquired my chop here.

How are you stretching to develop skills this year?

Sketchbook Skool

This is the first week of the second semester with Sketchbook Skool. Danny Gregory is our first instructor. The focus of this 6-week class is ‘seeing’ — not what we think we see, but what is actually in front of us. The lectures are thoughtful; the homework is challenging.

First assignment: Draw a piece of toast. Click on image for a larger view.

Franki Kohler - Seeing Toast

The assignment was to sketch every detail we could see, with the option of sketching just a portion of the toast. I spent about 45 minutes capturing a bit over one-third of this slice of toast. I used a PITT artist pen S. It took serious concentration and still I was lost in the nooks and crannies a couple of times.

Back to Basics

When concentration eludes, it’s time to dig into some basics. Lucky for me, I’ve just begun an on-line class through Craftsy with Carol Ann Waugh.   Stupendous Stitching focuses on using the decorative and utility stitches on your home machine to create your own personal surface design. It’s not surprising then, that the first assignment is to stitch out an example of each of the stitches on your sewing machine.

When I purchased my first computerized machine I did just that. But that was long ago and that machine has been replaced.  Let’s face it: the illustrations for most of the stitches on your machine don’t resemble what actually stitches out when you use it. I welcomed the opportunity to create a handy reference for my machines.

I’ve gathered the supplies: Pellon shirt tailor to stabilize the fabric (shirt tailor has fusible web on one side), Wonder-Under, trim to finish the pages and eyelets to allow the pages to be held together in book form.

Franki Kohler, gathering supplies

Gathering supplies

I became so immersed in this project that — oops! — I forgot to take a few in-process photos. There is nothing revolutionary about the process though: beginning with the first stitch on the machine, use the default setting and stitch several inches; vary stitch length and width to see how the stitch changes — even a slight change in the original stitch could reveal your favorite new design. Use a permanent pen to mark the corresponding machine number on your reference fabric. Repeat this process until all the designs have been stitched on fabric. Here are two of my pages finished:

Franki Kohler, 2 pages of stitch reference

2 pages of stitch reference

The pages were trimmed, pairs were fused together, the edges were stitched first with a narrow zigzag stitch, then with a wider zigzag while applying cording. Here are the final pages ready to be finished.

Franki Kohler, final pages ready to be finished

Final pages ready to be finished

When I finish the pages for my Janome 6500 I’ll be doing the same process for my Janome 11000.

8 Techniques, Page 2

Skidding to the finish line of this week, I have completed a second page using the 8 techniques of focus in Jane’s Sketching & Watercolor in a Mixed Media Journal class. A week always seems like plenty of time to complete several pages for one lesson. The problem is that I’ve never mastered the art of knowing the difference between understanding the lesson and accurately calculating the amount of time it will take me to master the lesson. Note to self: Just keep doing the best you can.

For this page I chose to use birds as the subject. I gathered a few of my collection

Franki Kohler, a few birds

and got started. For technique 1 I used a pin cushion made of cotton fabrics; for technique 2 I used one made of upholstery fabric — hence the rounded beak. I’ve completed using 7 of the 8 techniques here.

Franki Kohler, Lesson 4, page 2 in progress

For the 7th technique, we draw and ink on a book page, then glue it to the journal page and add watercolor. My eye fell upon Raven’s Wing, a book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve read enough of her work to know that I won’t be reading this one again. A page from the title short story was perfect for this page.

The last technique — tissue overlay — took me quite a while. I needed to select the birds to use, determine their size and orientation, decide on the position on the page. So many decisions! Finally it came together.

Franki Kohler, Lesson 4, page 2

Whew, done. The next lesson starts today.

To see the first page using these techniques, click here. You can see what happened in Lesson 1 here, Lesson 2 here and here.

Sketch/Watercolor with Jane

I completely enjoyed the class I took with Jane LaFazio in early 2012 — Sketching & Watercolor, Journal Style — and regret that I haven’t made use of my new skills beyond the class. So I decided to get back into a class with Jane and take it to a new level. I’ve never done much in a mixed media style so her class Sketching and Watercolor in a Mixed Media Journal was the answer.

The class is online — so handy for getting things done on your schedule, not the instructor’s. And Jane is a fabulous teacher! She’s so thorough with explanations, illustrations and feedback that even I can make progress.

Lesson 1: Something from Nature. We were instructed to select something relatively complex and interesting to us. We’ll be sketching different parts and different views to fill a page. We’re then encouraged to create some stylized images based on the realistic ones we’ve already done.

Franki Kohler, Something from Nature

I’ve already learned a lot. For instance, the first thing I sketched was the ‘April in Paris’ sweet pea at the top of the page. I love the plant, but as a subject for this class it was a bad choice. By the time I had the sketch done — really just a couple minute’s time — the buds were sagging. I didn’t notice that at first, so erased and sketched again. Jane is steadfast about sketching from life, not photographs. When I reviewed the adjustments again I realized that the buds were in yet another spot — that’s when I realized what was happening. With that, I moved on to the watercolor stage.

Then I went out and found 2 other items that would work for the lesson. I really like the Red Bud with its striking colors, large leaves and the seed pods. I’ve probably attempted too much in this first sketch and will need to go back to selecting smaller portions of the Red Bud for additional work from new angles.

Jane liked the style and tone of my page — she’s always so positive! But I needed to go back and get more pigment in the paint for those green leaves. I also took a close look at one of the pods and added it to the page. It was interesting to see how much yellow-green there was on a pod that initially read as red violet.

Franki Kohler, Lesson 1 page done

I also have a nice piece of eucalyptus that I’m eager to sketch and watercolor.