My name is Leslie Rich and I’m from Willits, California in Mendocino County (follow me on Instagram and Facebook!). When I was a young woman, I used to carry a sketchbook with me. It was a sort of crutch, shielding me in social situations. I sketched in pencil and primarily drew people: on buses, at parties, in cafes, at the laundromat, at poetry readings. I rarely drew landscapes. Then, and now, I find all faces interesting and possessing their own beauty.
Eventually, I put away the sketchbooks, got married, had a family and a career. A close friend and creative partner sickened and died 15 years ago, very suddenly. During my grieving I asked myself, “What would I regret if my life suddenly came to an end?” The answer was, “Paint. Use color.”
So…I signed up for a watercolor class at the community college. That was about 9 years ago. I chose watercolor because a friend was the instructor and the materials were (relatively!) inexpensive and user-friendly.
I discovered that I do, indeed, love rich color. Watercolor allows me to explore and play in wonderful ways. Being a beginner and having neither formal training nor experience with any other medium, I really didn’t know that vibrant, saturated colors aren’t often associated with watercolor.
I got hooked on painting and found that I had a “knack” for it. I took a few more semesters of classes, painting primarily from photos that I had taken. I enrolled in a few workshops and found that I especially liked plein air painting. I started having one-woman shows, entered juried shows, won a few awards, and sold some paintings.
After a few years, I amassed quite a stack of framed work. They’re all over the house, on the walls of friends and family, and in a local furniture store. I started wondering how many more paintings I wanted lying around and somewhat lost the motivation to paint large pieces.
About 2 years ago, I picked up a sketchbook again. A workshop instructor shared that he only sketched in pen. He said that it helped him “commit to the line.” At the same time I discovered different social media groups that are focused on art (Artist Journal Workshop, Urban Sketchers, Every Day Matters – and now World Watercolor Group). I saw a post from a man in Singapore or maybe it was Hong Kong. He was posting his “sketch of the day.” I decided, “I’m going to do that.” And I did.
Everyday (ok, almost every day!) I pick up the pen and draw and paint. Everything and anything is a good subject. People, places, things, it’s all exciting and interesting to me. I live very rurally in the mountains of Northern California. Often my “sketches” are of the mountains or the skies or the garden. If it’s late or inclement weather, then I sketch the dishes, the food, the furniture; or my trusty model: me in the mirror.
If I’m traveling, you can bet I’m sketching: the people in cafés or airports, on buses and trains, the city streets and buildings or beaches or the scenery from my passenger seat in the car. I see beauty everywhere.
I’m feeling fulfilled by this everyday practice. I refer to them as “sketches” and I think that helps take the pressure off. Actually they are small paintings and I’m learning a lot about composition and pigments. My eye/hand coordination has greatly improved. My confidence has also grown. I’m starting to think that I can draw anything (ha!).
After all these years, I finally understand how practice really helps (ha again!). I’m always pushing myself to simplify, to draw shapes, not things (a never-ending challenge, I do love the details). I used to be an avid amateur photographer, but now I sketch. I find that I’m more immersed in the people and places when I’m drawing and painting.
Now: the materials. At first I was sketching with Micron pens in Moleskine Watercolor Journals, landscape orientation, approximately 8 x 5”. I was using Koi watercolors with a waterbrush. Moleskine paper changed and I tried Stillman & Birn Beta Series journals and continue to use them. I switched to a portrait format, 8.5 x 5.5”. I like that I can paint across the middle (the journals open very flat) and create a 8.5 x 11” piece or go small or vertical. I love the journals. They stand up to all sorts of watercolor techniques.
I was glad when they came out with a soft-cover version. I carry my sketchbook and paints with me at all times and I’m always looking to lighten my load. I’ve moved on from the Koi paints. I prefer to fill my own pans with an assortment of Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Holbein, and Da Vinci paints. For about a year, I was using the wonderful Pocket Palette from Expeditionary Art. I made an extra one out of a business card holder and filled one palette with cool colors and the other with warm ones. Lately I’m trying a small Meeden metal palette. I’m always trying for less weight.
These days, I draw with either a Lamy Safari fountain pen or a Platinum Carbon Desk Pen (I clipped the end off so it will fit in my kit) filled with Platinum Carbon ink. If I’m home I’ll use an assortment of brushes, but when I’m on the go I use a Pentel waterbrush.
I occasionally pull out the easel and do a painting. I can feel a “big one” coming soon. For now, though, I’m happy with my sketch-a-day. Thanks to Charlie O’Shields at doodlewash.com for inviting me to his website.
Leslie was born and raised in the Tidewater area of SE Virginia. After college she landed in California and now calls Northern California home. She lives with her husband on an off-the-grid mountainous twenty acres. Her paintings are in private collections around the country. You can see more of her paintings at the links below.