[By Nina Johansson, Stockholm] Sketching during winter either means sketching indoors, or encountering all kinds of problems with your sketching material, if you insist on sketching outdoors. I´m constantly trying to prolong the time I can work on a sketch in the cold, but on the whole - to preserve my fingers, mostly - I have to work much faster, simplify more, and then finish a few details indoors.
Then to the various quirks with the sketching gear. I can´t use fountain pens in cold temperatures. Whatever ink I try, it freezes in the pen below zero, and it never dries on the paper, even above zero. I use fineliner or, when it´s too cold even for those, pencil.
Watercolours are tricky. Of course, water freezes. So to keep it reasonably fluid, I add at least 50% alcohol to the paint water (vodka or something else that does not have added flavor or colour). I use waterbrushes, or bring a travel brush that I don´t treasure too much.
Watercolours do act a little differently on the paper if it´s below -5°C or so, becoming a semi-frozen layer of coloured slush on the page (as in the sketch above), sometimes making quite beautiful crystal patterns on the paper. However, when I bring the sketchbook indoors, the paint melts and everything is wet again, so then you can keep working with it for a bit. This means I only add one layer of paint outdoors, almost like taking down colour notes, then add more layers once it´s possible, when the paper has dried up a bit.
For really low temperatures, I have made a simple three-colour palette from a pill box. There is no time anyway for that usual fiddling with finding the exact right tint or shade of a colour, because my fingers are frozen stiff after about twenty minutes. (And of course you do get incredibly far with three colours, but that´s another story.)
The actual paint in the palette pans don´t seem to be harmed by adding alcohol in the water. There is a bit of residue on top of the paint wells afterwards, but as soon as I paint with clean water again, that top layer seem to wash off quickly, and the paints act perfectly normal.
My freezy sketches always look a bit different than my normal work - sloppier, faster and sometimes with pencil smudges across the page (thick mittens don´t make for delicate work...), but I´m not at all sure that´s a negative thing.