Above: Direct brush potrait using Daniel Smith sepia watercolor (with a little bit of red earth and a dot of blue contaminating my brush in a couple places) in a 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia journal. (I was painting with a size 14 round brush, synthetic, with a good point, and a 1/2 inch filbert, also synthetic. And I was wiping off a lot with a paper towel in the early stages.)
This past summer I went a drawing workshop (and ended up mostly drawing with my brush) and a figure drawing class where I also drew with my brush. I've posted some of the images I did during that time. Many of them make use of blue and purple pigments.
If you look at my direct brush sketches from before this summer many of those also are done with purple, magenta, or blue pigments.
I don't know why, when I want to work monochromatically, I default to the cooler temperature pigments. Maybe I just believe it will be easier to hide them beneath subsequent layers of gouache if I want to keep going? Frankly out of all the things I obsess about in my process this is one I hadn't given much thought to at all.
Then this summer Stephan Orsak, who was teaching those two courses, asked me—"Why do you always start with blues and purples? You'll have an easier time seeing the relative values if you work in sepia." And since I'd gone into the classes to work on my value recognition and I was paying him money to point out just this type of thing, it seemed ill-mannered to not give it a try.
And he was right.
Which is why we take classes from people we respect—so we can at least try out their advice while they are around to give us advice.
Left: Detail of painting in sepia watercolor. It blows up large enough so that you can see the individual strokes, the wiping with the paper towel (and hand in some instances), and the lift outs; as well as a couple places where the other colors crept in.
When we do things in even a slightly different way from our usual method we open up our minds to see other possible approaches that lead us to improvement.
I still do a lot of direct brush painting using my blues and purples. (Often they are the colors out on my palette after a painting session because they predominate in my paintings.) And I also do a lot of sketching with a red brush pen. But since this summer I've been playing with sepia more. It has helped me see values differently. I've been able to take that back to my other work.
And you know what—sepia is less staining so you can wash it back and lift it off easier than some of the other pigments I typically use—which means it's more forgiving and adjustable. Who doesn't like that?