Tag Archives: observation

Colour sketching

Adding colour to drawings is often a nerve wracking experience.  Limiting our colour options helps us to be creative without being overwhelmed with all the wonderful colours to choose from.  My favourite coloured tools are watercolour pencils – Faber Castell – Albrecht Durer and Derwent – Inktense pencils are fantastic artist quality and my preference.  You can buy them individually or in different sized sets.

A basic kit of cool and warm primaries (more on that soon)  plus a few extra is  all you need.  I often use only Indigo, ultramarine, a dark crimson, cad red and cad yellow or raw sienna (although I did sneak in a grey green in the sketch below)

I talk a lot when teaching. Traveling down South with my music player on shuffle was wonderful!
I talk a lot when teaching. Traveling down South with my music player on shuffle was wonderful!

All my recommended do’s and don’ts of the Space & Time post apply to working in colour as well.  However there is something else that is crucial to remember when working with colour.

Colour does not replace tonal variation.

Many drawers forget about shapes of tone and replace them with shapes of colour regardless of what the tone is.  Colour provides an additional layer of interest on a work that should stand up tonally as a well balanced composition even without colour.  When you see a boring watercolour painting it is likely so because the artist has not paid attention to the darks and lights.

Ok ok…. I’ll jump down off my favourite soap box…. back to sketching in colour.  Some tips regarding using watercolour pencils.  This is not an exhaustive list so I hope you find your own techniques as well (and share them)

  • Experiment, experiment and experiment some more.
  • Mix colours to see what you come up with.
  • Choose a blue and yellow along with or instead of a green.
  • The marks you make will remain even once you wet them.
  • Draw with your watercolor pencils (not graphite first) and mix and match as your eyes, mood and artistic license suggest.
  • Don’t worry about getting the colour exactly right.  As sketchers we are capturing impressions and playing with colour to  enhance and enrich our work.
  • Draw with the pencils then wet and spread the marks you’ve made with the brush.
  • Take some colour off the tip of the pencil with your wet brush and paint with the pigment or even wet the tip of the pencil and draw with that to get a rich textural line.
  • Using a travel water-brush (as seen above) makes watercolour pencil sketching  easier.
  • Although watercolour pencils will work on drawing cartridge, it is preferable to work on heavier cartridge paper or watercolour paper as some paper will not stand up to too much wetting.

Get Drawing

Quick Tip #3 – The Creative Negative


Creatively, negative space is any space or shape that’s next to, but not, the thing you are drawing.  Like yin and yang they have to exist together.  One of my favourite examples is the word ‘skyline’.  It exactly describes the negative shape when we look at a city scape.  Instead of drawing the ‘building line’ focus on the sky and draw the skyline.  That will make your life much easier 🙂


Oh and while I was playing with Gimp (a free version of photoshop) I did this cool thing 🙂


Space & Time

You don’t need a dedicated studio or a large amount of time to get back to (or continue) with your creative pursuits.

Dedicated studio = a place where you can leave things set up; where you don’t have to pack things away; where you can step back in and carry on where you left off.  What a great luxury that not many of us have.  I’ve got a great excuse to have a studio for myself – I have over a hundred students coming through my large teaching art studio every week so I’ve kept a corner for myself.  Perfect.

Augusta - South West Australia
Augusta – South West Australia

So, how do you keep the creative spark going?  The first thing you need is the attitude that art can happen anywhere and anytime and drawing is the perfect vehicle for that.  An A5 visual diary and a pen is all you need to start.  It can  be a simple ball point pen, a special waterproof ink pen or anything in between.  It doesn’t even matter what colour it is.

A pen works instead of a pencil (although that’s also fine) because you don’t have to sharpen it (and carry a sharpener or knife), it won’t break or mess up a bag .  You won’t get your hands covered in graphite as you draw and you won’t have to worry about erasing!  Believe me, all of  that frees you up.

Drawn while dining at the beautiful Leeuwin Estate Winery – Margaret River
  • You can draw for one minute or many.
  • Just draw something you see or doodle as your mood takes you.
  •  Don’t wait for a spare half an hour or a beautiful subject.
  • Draw something small.
  • Draw a part of something.
  • Draw leaf litter, a half eaten apple or dirty dishes before you wash them.
  • Don’t be perfect.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration.
  • If it’s not working then work over it or turn the page and draw something else.

It actually doesn’t matter what the end result looks like.  It matters that you are involved, observing and following where the line takes you.

Get Drawing

Awareness, Attention, Focus



Joy of Life Sometimes a painting just seems to paint itself.  "Joy of Life" sprang off the brush about 4am one morning.  It was a break-through and seemed to grow on the page.
Joy of Life
Sometimes a painting just seems to paint itself. “Joy of Life” sprang off the brush about 4am one morning. It was a break-through and seemed to grow on the page. – Tony Smibert

Over some years I’ve had the privilege of participating in workshops given by a wonderful artist and generous tutor (amongst other extraordinary talents), Tony Smibert. I took the following notes during one of his workshops.  Having observed hundreds of drawers (including myself) at various levels of ability I am often reminded of this unusual analogy.

Pay equal attention to
Be aware of the whole space within which to draw. Sometimes we don’t see the edge of the paper and either draw too small or too big. It helps to put a frame on the page.
Eg. A tennis player has to be aware of the size of the court so that he doesn’t hit the ball out. So that he puts his service into the serving box

Pay attention to what else is in the composition. Where are the objects in relation to each other. How dark is the tone compared to other tones on the page. Many times we think a shadow on a particular item is very dark – in relation to the item – and do not see the tone in relation to the whole composition.
Eg. The tennis player has to pay attention to where his opponent is on the court and anticipate where he will move to so that he can decide where to place the ball.

Draw the particular line, item, tone focusing on how to do that.

Eg. The tennis player has to focus on the ball coming towards him and how to hit that ball for maximum benefit.

We often concentrate on how to do the best for one small part of our drawing i.e. focus, to the detriment of awareness and attention. This leads to a disjointed drawing where things don’t appear to belong together. It is so easy to move from one line to another, one item to another without being aware or paying attention to the whole picture.

The drawer has to keep all three mind-sets to produce a successful drawing as does the tennis player for a winning game.