2019 Foundations Friday 1: New discoveries with my sketching tools

January 4, 2019 | 18 Comments

This week we started a Re-run of my first SketchingNow course – Foundations. It’s been amazing to be a part of all the activity in the classroom over the last few days and I know it’s only going to get better as everyone starts to post their homework assignments.

I’m personally going through the course again, adding some extra material and thinking of new ways to apply the concepts. The content in the Foundations course is truly foundational to everything that I do with my sketching.

(Note: If you have purchased the course at any time you have access to the new material (for free!) and can be part of this re-run. You just need to log into your account.)

Lesson 1 is all about Knowing (and loving) your Materials. The basic concept is to spend time getting to know how your tools work and discover which ones work best for you. It always amazes me that we get sucked into buying new materials, but rarely put the time into testing in order to determine how to get the best use out of them. In the Lesson 1 videos I show ways of doing this.

This week I have been playing with gel pens and this is a result of a few thoughts floating through my head lately:

  1. I was recently inspired by Pat Southern-Pearce‘s work and her use of all kinds of pens on toned paper including metallic gel pens.
  2. I have been thinking about how little I use my white gel pen (most common uses are white lettering on dark backgrounds, and white window framing). This was totally prompted by going through Foundations Lesson 1 and realising that I should be making constant use of everything in my everyday sketching kit.
  3. I have been feeling just a touch sad that I took my Kaweco pen (filled with mixed raw sienna ink) out of my kit. The reason for this was simply that I just wasn’t using it, and I was worried the pen would clog. Someone on Instagram asked me what was wrong with the Kaweco and I then started thinking about using a gold gel pen instead.

So… I’ve added a gold gel pen to my kit (yes, since last week’s photo) and I’ve started to use my white and gold gel pens more intentionally. Rather than just using the white pen for one small part, I have been using it for more lines in my sketches. I’ve also been using the gold gel pen as a coloured line in a similar way that I used my raw sienna ink. BTW I don’t really care about its metallic nature, I’m more interested in its hue.

Note. I am using the Uni-ball Signo Broad Pens which produce a lovely opaque line. I’m not a EF nib girl, so I’ve come to accept the broad line.

So here are some sketches done with these gel pens.

Christmas Tree (which you have seen previously) using white gel outlines.

View from Milsons Point. I was very distracted when I was doing this sketch as I had to move 6 times due to rapidly shrinking shade (to sit in). I wasn’t happy with the washes on the cityscape, so I applied white and gold gel pen over the top. Although it was a ‘patch up’ it made me think that this was a good technique to try again, more intentionally.

Palm Beach wharf: Using the white and gold gel pens a little more.

Teacup and Pot: Close ups from the spread that I shared earlier, showing a combination of white and gold lines.

Local Cafe: The white gel lines on the coffee cup didn’t do anything, but I’m rather liking the hue of the gold lines in the partial sketch of the timber wall panels and chairs.

I’m pretty excited about trying these pens in more situations. Although I prefer using fountain pens whenever I can, there is something special about light-coloured opaque lines. The opacity certainly creates more flexibility.

The point of this article is not to suggest that you all rush out and buy a Signo pen or two (although I know some of you will). Instead, I think the big takeaway for me is the reminder that I can do much more with my existing supplies.

If you are doing the re-run, have you made any discoveries this week?



  • Carmel Campbell says:

    I have both of the gel pens you are talking about. I use the white often. I have not opened the gold and I also have silver. I got the gold and silver last year while I was in Germany. I recognized the pen in the store but had not seen them in gold or silver so of course – got them! I am doing the re-run of Foundations. I have them out to play around with. I found a Uni White Chalk marker in Officeworks – 0.9-1.3 mm. Another interesting white pen to try. Although works best on toned paper. A little dull over watercolor. I really like what you did with the teapot and tea cups.

  • Yvonne Carpenter says:

    i use white gel pens to, the signo and the sakura gellyroll – the 05 seems to be too thin and go dead real easy, so the 08 and 10 are the ones i end up using the most – there is such a thing as overdoing it with the white gel so i try to stop myself before i think it is enough, lol!

    • Yvonne Carpenter says:

      I forgot to mention that a recent discovery of mine were those POSCA pens/markers – they come in various tip sizes, from 5mm to 0.7mm and a myriad of colors. At first i did not like them because it was 1) hard to make them start and 2) if you push down too much you get a puddle of paint and good luck removing that from the paper (i think they are acrylic based, so not as easy as removing undesired watercolor from the paper!). But I kept experimenting and now have made peace with them and found that they are excellent for a color trim or lettering and also work great if you are trying to depict small little flowers in a scene 9much easier to control than a paint brush with pure pigment, imho). They have become a go to item for me and even earned a spot on my desk. i ended up getting the 2mm, 1mm pointy (called fine?) and 0.7 sets of 16 colors – Amazon carries them in sets which is way cheaper than buying them individually – but if you just want a couple of colors, then individual is the way to go – Jetpens.com carries all sizes and colors!) Now i need to figure out what colors I use most often to bring only those along on the road!

  • Marie V. says:

    Hi Liz ! Best wishes for 2019 !
    I am doing the re-run of your foundation course that I had followed in 2014….and when reading carefully your explanations, I have discovered that watercolor pencils can be applied with varying pressure…it’s about time I learned it ! (I may have skipped the line in 2014 !) and it really makes a difference ! So, thank you for the re-run (I will be posting my exercises on the re-run site tomorrow) !

    • Liz Steel says:

      My pleasure Marie – glad something so simple has made such a difference – it’s often the way hey! Happy New Year to you too!

      • Alan Barbour says:

        Thinking of watercolour pencils, I have the Faber Castell ones, and their only problem is that they don’t fit into standard pencil sharpeners. But rounding them off with a bit of sandpaper takes care of that problem, although they then look terrible! Looking terrible but working well works for me.

    • Same lightbulb moment for me, Marie!!!! I didn’t use my watercolour pencils because I felt they were wishy washy, but it was such a revelation to see the result when applying extra pressure!! I’m so glad Liz had this great idea to re-run this course!!

  • Julie Roberts says:

    After doing a Pat Southern Pearce workshop, I bought a packet of very cheap glitter roller ball pens last year and moved four of them into my sketching kit in December. I think it’s been my third best purchase after my Lamy, and Inktense pencils!! They were so cheap too-just for kids to scribble with. I’m glad you’ve advocated using them as I felt a bit like I was cheating using them with my watercolours, but they real can lift a spot on a drawing.

  • Susan Weimer says:

    I’m also doing a re-run of the course, and the idea for the white and gold pens is fantastic! I absolutely love the line work in the sketch of the Palm Beach Wharf and feel that the pens make a great addition to one’s kit. I will be getting some! lol

  • Colleen Briggs says:

    My take away for this re-run through class is to value the fact that I can have preferences and it’s ok, even for beginners! I can like certain colors better than others. I can like to use ball point pens or fountain pens. I’m discovering what I like and that’s a good feeling.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Yes Colleen! I’m glad that you have realised this. It’s important to be open to learning new skills, but always listen to your own preferences! Have fun!

  • Wendy says:

    I love my signo gel pens. I own the white, silver, and gold. They are regular companions in my sketching kit. I’m not sure how I would use the metallics with watercolor, but I’m liking your examples in this post on the teacup. I will think about this as I continue to practice.

  • Dawn Abbott says:

    I was thinking more of using the Signo gel pens in black and various colours for the writing text.

  • Pat Southern-Pearce says:

    Only just seen this, Liz and smiling, remembering us sketching together on Cockatoo Island. What a happy time and I’m hoping to come back next year
    Lovely to know that our sketch meet up led you to this ..fascinating to read and see how you’ve been incorporating the gold and white broad .signos into your works…the tea cups too: perfect for those I’d think. And I approach the gold and silver for the special colour and lift they give too, just like you: not for their metallic qualities. Wonderful. And looking forward to our next sketch Meet in Australia! .?

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