Watercolor Basic Kit for Beginners

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In working with beginner nature journalers who want to add watercolor to their pages, I have noticed that whenever someone is struggling, if I talk with them about their supplies, they are almost invariably using inexpensive student-grade paints (either in pans or from tubes) and cheap brushes.

I’m a big fan of using good quality paints , brushes, and paper from the outset. The top reasons are:

  • Inexpensive or “student grade” paints are often boosted with filler (chalk) and they can sometimes be difficult to blend, nor do they flow or cover as well. Pure-pigment professional paints such as Daniel Smith’s Extra Fine Watercolors (there are many great brands: M. Graham, Winsor Newton, Schmincke) flow beautifully and have rich colors that blend well. Winsor Newton, Daniel Smith, and Holbein also make professional quality dry cake paints, available in half-pans (NOTE: Be aware that Winsor Newton "Cotman" products are student-grade. Look for the word "Professional" in the product description.)

  • I prefer tube paint that I dispense into half or full pans. It’s much more economical than buying pre-filled pans, but most of the top makers produce excellent pre-filled pans (see above). [A word of caution: sadly, avoid handmade paint makers on Etsy and similar unless you get a direct recommendation; I have bought from half a dozen, and all were poorly mixed or had a lot of chalk filler. Exception: Greenleaf & Blueberry paints are amazing, absolutely gorgeous. Email me if you know of other hand-makers who produce high quality.]

  • A good brush holds plenty of water, releases it with more control, and will have a nice, sharp tip.

    • You actually can paint anything in a nature journal with just one brush, a “round” style with a nice, sharp point. It can help to have one flat brush for a few things but it’s not necessary. I have a small flat travel brush but haven’t used it in over a year . . .

    • Look for a brush with natural bristles (squirrel is less expensive usually than sable) or a good combo such as those by Silver Brush Black Velvet; the #8 is only $20 and is a fantastic brush). You can cut the handle down for small field kits, if you like. My favorite is the Isabey squirrel mop travel brush (between $30 and $40).

    • In addition to a sharp tip, look for a good-sized “belly” for holding water.

    • Good brushes won’t shed hair onto your paper.

  • Good paper makes all the difference as it holds up to washes and is archival so it won’t yellow. Cheap paper will bleed through, saturate too quickly, and tear when wet. If it is really poorly made, it might have lignin, which will yellow and become brittle with age. Good paper isn’t necessarily expensive, either. For my journal, I buy 100% cotton (lignin- and acid-free), 90-pound, 9x6 watercolor paper from Bee Papers ($12 per 50 sheets). It also comes in 130-pound weight, which I find too thick for my journal, but would hold up to extensive water washes. However, I have not found the 90-pound to be an issue with washes. I add holes with a hole-punch.

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Beginners are also tempted to start with a bunch of colors. But I argue that keeping it simple is better and that learning to paint with a “triad” forces the beginner to learn about color relationships and value more quickly. With just five colors you can create any color you need, including blacks and grays.

A triad = cyan (blue), magenta (“red,” though red is not a primary because it is made from magenta+yellow); and yellow.

My current mini “stand up” color palette comprises:

  1. Old Holland Manganese Blue Genuine (a true cyan blue; I used to use Cobalt Blue, and it works just great as a cyan)

  2. Daniel Smith Quinacridone Rose Permanent (a true magenta, or “red”; it’s a gorgeous rich rose and can become a very stunning red with the tiniest bit of yellow; I used to use Alizarin Crimson, but you can’t get a magenta-y rose out of a red, but you CAN get a red out of a magenta!)

  3. Daniel Smith Aureolin Yellow (okay, I won’t go into full detail here, because this is aimed at beginners, but there are paints that are called “fugitive” because they can fade over time if exposed to light . . . and Aureolin is one of them; I still have a tube to go through, and I love it, and since my journals are not exposed to light I’m okay with that, but I’ll be looking to switch to a yellow such as Nickel Azo).

  4. Daniel Smith Burnt Sienna

  5. Daniel Smith Indanthrone Blue (I used to go without a dark blue, but for fast, rich blacks and fascinating grays, nothing beats Indanthrone Blue + Burnt Sienna).

  6. Clearwell Caves Purple Ochre (I’m having a love affair with this offbeat, rich, highly granular earth pigment from a 6,000-year-old ochre mine in England; it makes the most amazing rocks and earths, especially perfect for me now, working as Art and Science Coordinator at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, which is volcanic).

This was sketched with the paint from the palette listed above, while hiking up Tumamoc Hill; the rocks were painted with my burnt Sienna, indanthrone blue, and my wild-card favorite purple ochre from Clearwell Caves in England. Eventually, as you become proficient with triad painting (cyan-magenta-yellow) you can add a few fun extras that suit your habitat.

This was sketched with the paint from the palette listed above, while hiking up Tumamoc Hill; the rocks were painted with my burnt Sienna, indanthrone blue, and my wild-card favorite purple ochre from Clearwell Caves in England. Eventually, as you become proficient with triad painting (cyan-magenta-yellow) you can add a few fun extras that suit your habitat.

Another benefit of mixing colors: you can create a puddle of variable green for example, which is sort of “marbled” (ie: not fully mixed) and when you use that to paint leaves it creates more natural variation and looks less “flat.” Painting something monotone is a beginner’s mistake, since rarely is something one pure color in nature.

I suggest starting with transparent colors because they blend beautifully into bright, clear colors and you don’t have to fuss with accidentally creating “mud” by blending too many opaque colors. I also tend to default (for rapid field sketching) to easily lifted colors, avoiding staining colors such as the pthalos.

Tip: watercolors come in different transparency levels, they come in different “sticking” levels, and are also rated for “granulation.”

  • Transparent watercolors do not blot out or cover other colors or lines already on the paper, and you can paint them over each other to create new colors (called “glazing”; you can paint a transparent blue over a yellow and it shows green, for example).

  • Non-staining watercolors can be “lifted” off the paper especially when wet and to some degree when dry and you re-wet them. If I blork out of an area into a spot I didn’t want paint, I can quickly swipe it off with a tissue or finger. (Staining paint like Pthalo Blue once it hits the paper is there forever and ever.)

  • Granulating paints are cool, they have a “texture” that is interesting. Ultramarine blue is one such color that is quite popular. I have tended away from it recently because I’m liking my current setup too much, but loads of people love it. Using granulating colors takes practice and so is not recommended for beginners. Also, different paint brands have different levels of granularity, and it takes some experimentation to find the level that suits you.

I hope these tips are helpful. A parting thought, as always, is:

KEEP IT SIMPLE in your kit, and focus on drawing and painting every single day. No amount of fancy brushes and expensive paint and colors will make you a better sketch artist. Only practice will do that!

Please email me via the Contact menu item above if you would like to join free nature journaling meet-ups in southern Arizona.

[Special thanks to reader and fellow nature journaler and artist Tom W. for input on this post.]

Field Sketching Kit 2: Gurney-style

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Reader and fellow nature journaler / field sketcher Tom W. has made a really elegant field easel for stand-up sketching. I’m sharing his explanation below, along with images.

Hi, after seeing your great set up for sketching while standing, with no tripod, I realized I could adapt something I'd already made for myself, based on the light-weight sketch easel designed by James Gurney. Here is a link to the You Tube video that summarizes his  process for building the easel, which can be attached to a tripod via a quick release gizmo:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pm1cS37f05k

 As I remember, that video also contains a link to the more complete video he made, for purchase.

I've built that tripod sketch easel, and really like it . . . but also wanted something that would work both for sitting with a small sketchbook on my knees (like the 5X8 Pentalic that James uses) or standing, as you do (tripod-free), using a minimal palette and the leather covered journal you'd already inspired (and helped) me to assemble.

This is the outcome: the sketch easel is made of 1/4" hardwood plywood. The longer panel is 11" (I made it just long enough so that the bottom can be clipped to the back of the journal, for stability, and the top  can clear the top of the journal), and the smaller panel is about 3 and 7/8". Both are 5 and 3/4 inches wide. While not as light as Coroplast, it's still very light. 

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The small silver circle in the middle of the small panel is one of eight or nine 3/8" neodymium magnets (hardware stores have them), and the hinge is  the same Southco Torque Position Control Hinge  (available from Amazon) that James Gurney recommends.  I've built this one so it stretches out flat; if standing, I can hold the journal and all in my left hand at a slight angle, draw and paint, and when done, can loosen the hinge set screw and fold the small section back. It works fine...there's enough room for a little Nomad 6 half-pan palette or even the either the slightly larger small Whiskey Painters or Cornelisson small palette box—as well as the 2 oz. Nalgene water cup (with magnets attached to the bottom) per James Gurney's design.  If sitting and using the rig instead with a 5 X 8 sketchbook, there's just enough room to clip that to the long panel—although if I'm sitting, I'd rather put the water beside me, on a small metal tray . . .

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Thanks for the great ideas!!!!!

Field Sketching Kit

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Fellow nature journalers and plein air painters frequently ask about my “stand-up” field sketching kit. The evolution of my kit has been driven by:

  • Light weight (not getting any younger!);

  • Low volume (everything fits in my shoulder satchel); and most importantly,

  • Quick access—this is the key for me, since when I’m wandering around with the intent to take notes and sketch, if I have to get everything out every time I see something interesting, I’m likely to be lazy and skip it.

So my kit comprises the following:

  • Leather journal (see this post here for a description of this simple handmade journal and its paper and archival system);

  • A simple ultralight mini-easel cut from a coroplast sheet (this is corrugated signage plastic, available at office stores or Amazon) to fit inside the back of my journal.

    • I added flat tape-style magnets to hold the paint tin and the lid of my water bottle (glue a steel washer to the lid), to keep it from getting lost.

    • Cut a hole to hold the water bottle; make sure the fit is snug.

    • Water bottle is a container from a contact-lens-cleaning kit that uses peroxide solution. Pull or cut out the lens holder framework.

  • The paints are professional-grade watercolor from tubes, squeezed into full or half-pans. They fit into a mini mint tin and include three transparent primary colors (magenta, manganese blue genuine, and aureolin yellow) and a tint (shadow violet). I covered the lid of the tin with waterproof white stick-on label (Avery) and made separate wells with white caulking. [Update: I have since removed the shadow violet, switched to all half-pan sizes, and added a purple ochre, indanthrone blue, and burnt sienna, the latter two useful for more interesting and deeper blacks and grays; and the two earth pigments for ready-to-go dirt and rock colors—useful for my new work at Tumamoc Hill, which is very volcanic—see final image below.]

  • A lovely Isabey squirrel travel brush, which has a nice pointy tip and a decent-sized belly, so you can actually do washes even on a 9x6 page.

This setup has been working very well for me for a year now, and has increased my sketching time considerably, which of course also has meant an improvement in sketching skills.

If any readers have any of their mini / ultralight kits to share, please send them along!

My notebook and mini paint kit in its bag. The coroplast sheet shows the flat magnet tape that holds the paint tin and lid of the water bottle (I glued a steel washer to the lid). A spring clip holds my paint brush and secures a microfiber cloth. The coroplast “easel” lives in the back of the journal.

My notebook and mini paint kit in its bag. The coroplast sheet shows the flat magnet tape that holds the paint tin and lid of the water bottle (I glued a steel washer to the lid). A spring clip holds my paint brush and secures a microfiber cloth. The coroplast “easel” lives in the back of the journal.

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Journal spread done with the mini kit while walking up to the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, Tucson, Arizona. The indanthrone blue + burnt sienna + purple ochre create the interest rock colors and textures quickly.

Journal spread done with the mini kit while walking up to the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, Tucson, Arizona. The indanthrone blue + burnt sienna + purple ochre create the interest rock colors and textures quickly.

Joining the team at the Desert Laboratory

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This week I began working as the new coordinator for the trans-disciplinary Art & Science Program at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill.

The Desert Laboratory is an 860-acre ecological reserve at the edge of downtown Tucson, Arizona, owned and operated by the University of Arizona College of Science in partnership with Pima County. Tumamoc Hill, whose name derives from the Tohono O'odham place name Cemamagĭ Du’ag – Hill of the Horned Lizard – is a large swath of beautiful Sonoran Desert in the heart of the city with over a 115 years of intensive science.

Tumamoc is culture; ecology; a site of community gathering; conservation; art; archaeology; history; and much more. Tumamoc is an active research center where multiple approaches come together to better understand the Sonoran Desert and arid environments.

With over 2,500 years of human use, 115 years of science, and more visitation today than at any time of its history – Tumamoc Hill is a living laboratory, a refuge for exercise, health, and reflection.

I will be helping to create new ways to explore, document, and share the stories and richness of this treasure, “Cemamagĭ Du’ag.”

Please stop by Thursdays or Fridays and say hello, especially if you are “walking the hill!” Also stay in touch i f you would like to join free nature journaling sketch-ups and other programs.

https://tumamoc.arizona.edu/art-and-science

Feral watercolor project: Brown Mountain purple

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Update to adventures with Feral Watercolor: a few weeks ago I discovered a gorgeous purple outcrop of rock in the Tucson Mountains—Brown Mountain, to be specific.

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I processed a few pieces (my equipment and techniques are described here), and it turns out to be remarkably similar to the famous Clearwell Caves' purple ochre (4500-year-old British pigment-mining area).

Recently I was able to make it back out to paint the site in my journal, with paint made from pigment collected onsite. A first in the Feral Watercolor project.

Next up: magnetite-and-mica pigment from the Santa Catalina Mountains—and some studio paintings of places made from site-collected pigment.

Feral watercolor: Painted Desert pigments

Google Earth captures the range of colors of northern Arizona’s Painted Desert.

Google Earth captures the range of colors of northern Arizona’s Painted Desert.

The idea took hold on our first trip into the red desert center of Australia. Surrounded by vast and glowing rusty-red sand seas awash in bright yellow flowers and sea-green eucalypts, I began to think about painting that iconic landscape with watercolors made from the place itself. I collected red sand from several places, sealed it in jars, and—because I hold a Trusted Traveler fast-lane pass from U.S. Border Protection and they most definitely frown upon carrying soil samples in one’s luggage (violate one rule and you lose your pass forever)—I posted them home (*see notes at end). A year later, surrounded by vast and glowing peach sand seas flanked by jagged black slashes of mountains in northern Mexico’s Gran Desierto de Altar, I was again inspired by the rich colors and dramatic landscapes—and this time I had some tools with me to do a little experimenting with the local magnetite to create paint (which I wrote up in this post HERE).

And so Feral Watercolor was born: to collect local pigments and ink-making materials with which to create place-based art.

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With jars of material from several continents—including three gorgeous colors from northern Arizona’s Painted Desert—I invested in a small, high-quality hand-crank ore-crusher called The Crunch: 1/4-inch steel, cam-driven, and made in the U.S. (sold on eBay by “GoldMLode”).

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The Crunch will process rocks as hard as quartz (it’s made for people who look for remnant gold in mine tailings) into powder fine enough to sieve down to 70 microns—small enough to make make traditional-style earth pigments for making watercolor (reference: Bruce MacEvoy’s exhaustive website Handprint; on particle size of pigments for making watercolor, modern and historical).

First through The Crunch were the yellow ochre-like rocks, part of the Chinle Formation that was laid down in the late Triassic (200 million years ago) as the seas around Pangaea retreated and alluvial plains were covered in silt, mud, and sand—with plenty of iron, manganese, and aluminum. Oxidation (either aerobic or anaerobic) created the reds, purples, yellows, greens, or grays. Would these gorgeously colored rocks result in similar paint hues?

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After running through The Crunch a couple times, I put the sand-sized grains through four high-quality stainless steel sieves (made by Talisman in New Zealand; available on Amazon), starting with 40-mesh, then through 60, 100, and finally 200, which yields about 70-micron particle size.

In the 100-mesh sieve . . .

In the 100-mesh sieve . . .

. . . final yield of 200-mesh . . .

. . . final yield of 200-mesh . . .

. . . very fine and still bright.

. . . very fine and still bright.

Now at the mulling bench . . . I processed the 70-micron yellow pigment with gum arabic, Sonoran Desert honey, and oxgall to create watercolor paint (see my notes below, along with swatches of color from three stages of mulling, which takes about 30 minutes per stage.

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On paper the yellow was not as bright as in pigment, but it has a lovely warm hue, and nice coverage. Almost between a yellow ochre and umbre.

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Next up was the very dark red ochre-like pigment. Its hue on the mulling glass was eye-popping!

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And on paper it did not disappoint:

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Finally, I processed the rose—which had a lovely “ashes of rose” color in pigment form. Upon processing into paint, its hue on paper was more faded-red, though it’s growing on me!

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In all a very satisfying first step in the Feral Watercolor project. I noted that I should have added slightly more binder to the paint, as it is drying too fast and cracking in the pan and the flow is not what I’d like. I have several other regions’ pigments to process and test, and then it will be time to create paintings.

*NOTES:

Where to collect: I collect from roadsides or private land where I have permission. There are also state and local parks dedicated to "rockhounding" where it is legal to collect. Do not collect in any local, state, or national park. National forests and BLM may be a bit more open to collecting (since many allow firewood collecting), so you can contact your local office to find out

Travel and collecting: If when you travel you would like to collect raw pigments (rocks or soil) for processing, follow the same guidelines as above, and you should be aware of not only border restrictions for bringing soil back to your home country, but also environmental smarts: soil contains seeds and microbes, and if you are transporting them home, that can be detrimental to your home environment. I make sure I run my pigments through the microwave to semi-sterilize, and then always keep it in sealed containers and never, ever dispose of any of it outdoors or down the drain. I treat it like a toxic chemical.

Safety: always wear eye protection and a dust mask when handling and processing rocks and pigment into paint. Natural pigments are not “safe” because they are “natural”—remember that they contain metals such as manganese and aluminum (among many others) and you are grinding them into powder that easily goes airborne and is inhaled.

Feral watercolor & place-based art

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I’ve been experimenting with making pigments from locally sourced minerals (and plant matter) for "extreme" place-based nature journaling and art. I call it "feral watercolor." 

Because the pigments come from the location being represented in the art, the colors can be strikingly true and the sense of place profound.

The pigment (and resin binder) below is from the Sierra El Rosario in Northern Mexico’s La Reserva Pinacate del Gran Desierto.

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I collected magnetite and ground it into powder, then for a binder I added resin from a plant growing in a canyon in the Sierra — Bursera microphylla — and Sonoran Desert honey as a humectant. I also experimented with adding a little oxgall, although I’m not sure it made a difference in the adhesion.

The result is a paint that perfectly mimics the stark, nearly black mountains that rise out of the sand dunes (see the painting, top).

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I have mineral soils from all over the world, and have quite a few projects planned—in addition to a workshop in the near future—email me if you are interested!

Adventures in making paint

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In the past year I began making my own watercolor paint from pigments—both purchased and wild-found.

I was very excited about this rare pigment from one of London’s oldest and finest colorists, L. Cornelissen. This is genuine Lapis Lazuli, true Ultramarine Blue in a painter’s palette.


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I used natural gum arabic as the binder, and the humectant is honey.

This is a WIP: I was not 100% happy with the flow or transparency—will have to mull another batch. Each takes about 2 hours so it’s quite a commitment!

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Next up: grinding found ochres from Australia’s Great Victoria Desert into fine enough powder I can make paint.

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Simple Leather Journal — 15 years on

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My faithful companion now for 15 years, over five continents, tens of thousands of miles. Nothing fancy: It's a one-piece unstructured cover cut from simple vegetable-tanned cowhide, which was simply finished with olive oil. I incorporated the natural edge of the hide into the front cover. (Find a book about the size you want, cover it with plastic, get the leather wet, and shape it to the book and let dry; when the leather is wet, you can also score the cover with decorations—I added my initials.) As you can see, after 15 years of use it gets a nice patina but holds up well; it's been on five continents with me—tens of thousands of miles!

I use Bee Paper 90-pound 9x6 sheets, which is inexpensive but good 100% cotton paper that is archival and holds up well to watercolor washes.

A couple of cheap leather bootlaces act as the sheet binder and the keeper (decorated with African trade beads).

When I fill up a journal, I unbind it and transfer the pages to inexpensive three-ring binders (last photo; I plan to cover these in nice leather eventually—I have 40 years' worth!). 

Advantages: inexpensive, customizable (can add fancy papers, insert memorabilia, maps, etc.), lays flat, durable. Disadvantages: double-page spread is not contiguous (but it works fine for journaling), it's self-made so it's not as easy as buying a new notebook off the shelf, threading the leather cord into the holes is a pain, and sometimes the flexible cover makes it hard to draw (but I found a plastic board to put behind it when I need).

[Related post: Field Sketching Kit — for stand-up sketching]

EDC Field Notebook

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Sometimes the world aligns in wonderful ways. 

Just before Overland Expo 2016 WEST, I was looking to replace my longtime EDC notebook (Every Day Carry). Since 2006, I've used a Moleskine Cahier notebook encased in a leather cover that I had designed myself and was stitched by Jonathan.

But over the years it became too small, and also I had lost track of so many notebooks — I had no system for managing them. 

I found the Midori notebooks (now called Traveler's Notebooks) and was looking at the Bullet Journal system for tracking multiple EDC journals (

http://bulletjournal.com

) over time, using indexes and notes-journals as well as task-journals. 

I loved how the Midori notebooks and covers were so versatile: you can combine multiple journals with a clever elastic band system.

But I found the Midori sizing to be not quite right—they offer either passport-sized (too small) or much-larger sized journals (8.2 x 5.5) in leather covers. I waffled. 

To feed my journal lust while postponing the decision about the actual journal, I ordered a new fountain pen from GouletPens.com, a lovely brown-iridescent swirled pen handmade by Brian Hall in Ohio (

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), along with some Midori accessories—pockets, a pen clip, and ink.

Then, in Asheville this week while planning the upcoming new EAST show with our wonderful core staff, assistant director Alison DeLapp presented the whole team with Field Notes (

http://fieldnotesbrand.com

) journals encased in custom leather covers made by one of our favorite instructors, Andrew Pain of MinimalMotorcyclist.com. 

Based on the 5 1/2 x 3 1/2 size of the Field Notes (and Moleskine Cahier), it was perfect. And, it had a custom stamping on the cover: our tagline, "The World Is Waiting."

En route home from Asheville, I discovered it perfectly held two Field Notes insets plus my passport and my iPhone 6S in a Lifeproof case. 

Once home, I collected my new Midori accessories and pen, and put them together into what I think is going to be the perfect EDC field notebook:

 
 

Another addition I made was a center insert of watercolor paper (90-pound cold-press) I cut myself and added, about 10 pages total. With my Expeditionary Art watercolor set

https://expeditionaryart.com/shop/art-toolkit/  and a little mini-field-palette I made from a folded coroplast board with a water-well cut to size for an old Bausch-and-Lomb contact cleaning reservoir (which has a water-tight gasket), I have a perfect mini-field-sketching kit right in my EDC. The little bulldog clip that holds the watercolor set acts as the perfect brush holder for my No. 3 Escoda sable traveler's brush.

 
 

Ultralight plein air painting kit


Finally got a chance to field test my ultralight plein air painting kit — love it. I saw a similar setup for sale at an art website for $200 and weighs 10 pounds (and does not include a chair). Being a cheap (and small of frame) Celt, I decided I could do that for under $45 and a whole lot lighter! The tripod, a terribly inexpensive aluminum Sunpak 2001UT ($15!) is just 2.3 pounds and 19.7 inches long folded up. The little chair is just over a pound ($18). I glued strong magnets (a couple bucks) to the base plate of the tripod and a 30-cent 3" steel washer to a piece of Coroplast. Even in a modest breeze it holds tight. Two pieces of the Coroplast ($8) clipped together with bulldog clips hold a paper assortment. This fits in my shoulder bag with my paints, brushes, and other supplies. The tripod and chair strap on top.








Learning watercolor





In September I took the leap and decided to get serious about learning to sketch and paint with watercolor and ink washes—with a plan to become good enough to use my own art in future book and conservation projects.

I started with books by Cathy Johnson and Clare Walker Leslie, two of the best nature illustrators and teacher-authors. But I need to see things demonstrated, just reading about watercolor was not enough. So I discovered both Craftsy.com and Artclick.tv. Both have excellent, affordable tutorials you can buy individually, or in the case of Artclick.tv, subscribe monthly for unlimited access.

I discovered I love color theory, and particularly love painting in triads, especially Daniel Smith watercolors (made in Washington). Right now favoring old-fashioned tint-like colors and pen-and-ink. And I rediscovered how much I love my old Montblanc, a gift 30 years ago from Jonathan. The Montblanc is charged with Platinum Carbon waterproof ink, and a Vintage Parker 75 has a soft, soluble black. Also experimenting with brush pens, with J.Herbin Lie de Thé, a sepia color.


Daniel Smith's Primatek Genuine mineral paints are particularly gorgeous; this hummingbird's gorget is Rhodonite Genuine and Amethyst Genuine, which sparkles in the light.



Working trip to the UK


We made a mad-dash across the Atlantic in July-August to meet up with a few colleagues and friends, including the dashing and lovely Tom Sheppard of Desert Winds Publishing and author of the venerable Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide (for which he recruited Jonathan as co-author in a massive new update released this spring.). Here we are at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. More images here.

News updates

It's been a busy two years, so much so we've neglected to post updates here.

Overland Expo, our do-it-yourself-adventure travel event, added a second show in North Carolina this past October. It was a fantastic success. After the event in Asheville, we took some time to explore the Outer Banks and learn to flyfish in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Meanwhile Jonathan finished up work as the new co-author of the seminal Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide, the most respected manual for global exploration by self-suffient means. Tom Sheppard is a legend and a gentleman, and we have enjoyed working with him immensely. Our ExploringOverland.com has become the Americas distributor for the book, which is now shipping.

And we spent an amazing, expected month this past February driving from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Arequipa, Perú. We'll release a story on the trip in the upcoming Overland Sourcebook: Your guide to adventure.

Update: We've released a new story about the trip on ExploringOverland.com/explore

New video prepared for cultural conservation



On November 7 - 8, 2013, the South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO) hosted the first annual Maasai Cultural Festival at the historic Olegorsaille site in southern Kenya. Hundreds of Maa-speaking people, dignitaries, and politicians from around Kenya attended, shared ideas for how to ensure their cultural future, and to commit to a common festival every year to celebrate, conserve, and share their unique culture. We provided donated photography and videography for the project through our charity, ConserVentures.

Portfolio

Photography

To view / download the Egypt portfolio PDF, click 

here

.

To view / download the shield portfolio PDF, click 

here

.

Video

Books

We have written many natural history and outdoor adventure travel books together, as well as several under their our own names.

Our books are very special to us, especially our nature books, because each one represents a real part of us—a passion for a place, for wild things, for wildness. The creative process for writing a book is the same as that for a craft such as creating jewelry, working with leather, or even cooking—it is a sum of many parts, carefully wrought, over time, into a final work to be shared.

All of our nature books combine our writing and artistic skills, and most of them drew upon Roseann's daily

nature journals

. We each write separate chapters, or we alternate writing sections or sidebars. Jonathan is a wonderful scientific illustrator, and Roseann field sketches. Below are some of our nature books, and reviews from fellow naturalists, authors, and media. We've also added a few scans of almanac pages, and click here to hear a reading by Roseann for a radio program in Tucson, of the introduction to the month of May.

"

An exquisite guide book for what to look for in this intriguing area." - Jim Harrison

"This book is vibrant with fresh insights into a landscape that many of us barely know but already love." - Gary Paul  Nabhan 

"A reference guide both scientifically accurate and immediately understandable . . . a welcome addition to all bookshelves and backpacks." - Tucson Weekly

"The Hansons analyze, categorize, and bring to life every month of the year." - Tucson Citizen

"A valuable reference tool for both casual and detailed scientific inquiry." - Desert Leaf

"An abundance of information in short and sprightly bites, adding up to a definitive guide." - Santa Cruz Valley Sun

"Someone recommended this book to me when I first moved to Tucson after living 'up north' all my life. I had relocated to Arizona for a job and was in somewhat of a state of culture shock at the lack of green grass, no four seasons, etc. This book was a real god-send for me. It breaks the year into 12 months and describes what is happening in the environment in terms of climate, wildlife, plant life, and the constellations. It is filled with fun-facts and things to do and watch for, so adults and children alike will find this book fun and interesting to read. It is fascinating learning about the uniqueness of the Sonoran desert and it made me really appreciate how incredible and diverse it really is! I now recommend this book to everyone (native or newcomer) and buy it regularly as a 'welcome' gift to my colleagues that relocate here from other parts of the country. I highly recommend it." - B. Gores, Amazon.com review

"To adequately describe a place like the San Pedro River, if such a complex and fascinating place can ever be adequately described, one must know it like an old friend. To reach that level of familiarity, one has to have spent countless hours with the place, gaining an intimate knowledge of the multitudes of nuances and wonders to which the casual visitor will be oblivious.

If a person gains such a level of understanding of a great natural area, and if that person happens to be an accomplished writer, a worthwhile and entertaining book may be the result, if we, the readers, are lucky. Fortunately, that is precisely what has happened in the case of the book, The San Pedro River, by Roseann Hanson.

Few areas in our country are more biologically rich than the San Pedro River. This small river and the riparian forest that surrounds it are home to more species of wild animals than virtually any other area of equal size on the North American Continent. Nearly 400 species of birds have been seen there. The San Pedro was named one of the Last Great Places in the Northern Hemisphere by the Nature Conservancy. Having been there, I would not hesitate to drive thousands of miles to walk its banks again.

Ms. Hanson knows the San Pedro River from having roamed its forests over much of her life. Too, she is an alert observer and an excellent writer with a deep understanding of people and wildlife, and a real gift for description. Her rendition of the call of a yellow-billed cuckoo was so well done that I instantly recognized the bird before reading its name later in the text. I could hear the call; it took me back to the West Virginia Appalachians where I grew up, and to the haunting song of what we then called the rain crow.

If you have any interest in birding, in wildlife, in ecology, in the Southwest, in the preservation of certain of our most precious natural areas, or in the San Pedro River itself, or if you simply have a desire to sit down and read something that can transport you to an incredibly interesting outdoor area, buy at least two copies of this book. You'll want to share it with friends, and you won't want to be without a copy yourself." - Amazon.com review

In September 2013 we completed a 112-page photographic record of the first authentic Maasai war shield making in some 50 years. The artisan project took place in Kenya's South Rift Valley in October 2012, and we took thousands of photographs over a week period. We printed 125 copies of these books for the community and for numerous museums and cultural institutions, including the first Maasai Cultural Heritage Center. For more information please see

ConserVentures.org/done

* * * *

Full Bibliography

Books co-authored by Roseann & Jonathan:

Southern Arizona Nature Almanac

(University of Arizona Press, 2001; reprint of original Pruett Publishing, 1996)

Basic Essentials: Animal Tracking

(Globe Pequot Books, 2000)

Backroad Adventuring in Your Sport Utility Vehicle

(McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mountain Press, 1998)

50 Common Reptiles and Amphibians of the Southwest

(Southwest Parks & Monuments Association, 1997) — Winner, 1997 Award for Interpretive Excellence, National Park Service

Ragged Mountain Guide to Outdoor Sports

(McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mountain Press, 1997) —  Winner, 1997 National Outdoor Book Award, Instructional

National Park Tours of the Southwest

(Southwest Parks and Monuments Association)

Desert Dogs

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1996)

Discovering the Desert Museum and the Sonoran Desert Region

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1996)

Contributors:

Natural History of the Sonoran Desert

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1999)

Edited:

Essential Sea Kayaking

(Ragged Mountain Press, 2000)

Amazing Arthropods

(ASDM Press, 1997)

The Nature of Arizona

(Waterford Press, 1996)

Whole Paddler's Catalog

(Ragged Mountain Press, 1997)

Books by Jonathan Hanson:

There's a Bobcat in My Backyard! A Guide to Living with and Enjoying Desert Wildlife

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and University of Arizona Press, 2004)

Outside's Great Destinations of the World: Sea Kayaking

(WW Norton, New York, 2000) - finalist, 2001 Banff Mountain Book Festival Best Adventure Writing Award

Essential Sea Kayaking

(Lyons Press, New York, 1999)

Sea Kayak Touring

(McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mt. Press, 1998)

Basic Essentials Guide to Outdoor Photography

(Globe Pequot Books, 1999)

Magazines:

Overland Journal - co-founder and executive editor, 2007 - 2011

Arizona Highways

Audubon

Bugle (news, conservation)

Diversions

Outside - (

contributor - gear reviews, travel)

Global Adventure

National Geographic Adventure

Nature Conservancy

Sea Kayaker (features - gear reviews)

Sunset (travel)

Books & Publications by Roseann Hanson:

San Pedro River - A Discovery Guide

(University of Arizona Press, 2001) by Roseann Hanson

Editorial & Advertising Photography 

Magazines:

Arizona Highways

Audubon

Backpacker

Outside

Sports Afield

Sunset

Newspapers:

Tucson Citizen

Editing:

Biological Diversity of the Peloncillo Mountains

- science report, 300 pp., for World Wildlife Fund

Extensive experience editing and writing in the non-profit and small business environment: annual reports, grant writing, appeal letters, brochures, and logos. 

Maasai shield book completed

We have finalized the print and digital versions of a 112-page book detailing the work of the October 2012 shield-building workshop in southern Kenya. This book is the final visual product we have created for the Maasai community that initiated the cultural conservation program. We are printing 125 copies and are delivering them to the Maasai in November 2013. Please see our notification on the ConserVentures website for more images and ordering information. ConserVentures.org/done

Production finished on new Overland Expo video


Overland Expo 2014 — What do you dream? from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

We're really pleased with the results of our new promotional video for Overland Expo. We developed the storyline idea over a wonderful dinner at Bluefin in Tucson. Roseann did the production on Final Cut Pro on our new iMac, and the music is from a talented composer, Dan Phillipson.

Much of the film footage was shot by Jonathan, including the aerials in Arizona. The drone and GoPro combination worked beautifully to capture the storyline at Grand Canyon. You can follow some of our practice footage below.

We'll be taking the drone and a new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition to East Africa in November to get some footage of wildlife and landscape for a new video project. Stay tuned.


Ravenrock fly-by from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

We've been wanting to do some aerial footage to augment our video capabilities, and decided to buy a Phantom quadcopter, which carries a GoPro HD video camera. Given my total lack of video-game experience, I had to start from scratch with the remote-control console, and accomplished several spectacular upside-down landings. But I'm improving, and got a nice fly-by clip of our place.