Sketching in watercolor: what’s the advantage?

I’m usually advising my students: if you ever would like to learn drawing for real, do not use photos, grids and other tools, but only your eyes in addition to paper and pencil. That provides with a huge artistic freedom and allows not to depend on camera, printer, computer and photo editing software. That also saves a lot of time. It is more difficult for some people to draw and paint from a real object initially, but it is like everything else: once you’ve understood how it’s done, the improvement is continuous and inevitable.

I grew up and learned painting without any cameras and photos. There was no internet, there were no computers. I suppose, that’s why the number of artists was noticeably smaller, too: in order to paint or draw something, you simply had to employ your visual abilities and imagination. I am disagreeing with those who are trying to convince us that everybody in the past was using some kind of camera obscura in order to capture accurate details, proportions and perspective. It’s believed, mostly amateur artists were using it since they did not have the knowledge and capability of producing good drawings. I know, everybody has heard about Canaletto whose drawings were created that way. Well, there a few others, too. However, majority of artists were using THEIR OWN visual perception and THEIR OWN drawing ability.

I find that most people cannot draw not because of inability to handle pencil and create the image, but because they don’t know what to look for when they are seeing something and would like to re-create it on a paper or canvas. That takes practice and work, that’s all.

I love doing drawings or sketches just for my own pleasure. It’s so great to see some stuff evolving on a sheet of a blank paper. Nothing really compares to this fantastic feeling! That always excited me, and I could spend hours drawing alone while other kids were playing in the yard. I would draw anything in the garden, on the street, I used to do lots of portraits of my sister, other kids and later my daughter and my group-mates at the University.

Paintings are sometimes bothersome, especially the large and very large ones because that simply is a lot of work, it can be hard physical work, as well, when handling huge canvasses.

Sketching with pencil, watercolor, pen, ink or with watercolor and ink is a quick way of capturing the desired scenery of object. I cannot draw recently anything tiny because my eyes are getting worse and am trying not to use glasses. Well, my sketches are between 10 x 12 to 12 x 16 in, but done quite fast.

Sketching still life: ink and watercolor

There are many advantages of sketching with pencil, watercolor, ink and pen or some of these together. First of all, sketching allows to stay focused. It’s like a daily exercise which keeps us in a good shape. Our senses stay sharp and fresh, and it’s easier to get back to larger artwork after a break when one has been often sketching.

Sketching in watercolor and pen

Sketching does not take much time, it is very relaxing. Many artists and people who are doing art for pleasure know that lack of time is an ongoing problem.

Floral sketch, still life sketching

Sketching is a good thing when one wants to experience another medium, try another subject or style. There are millions of different ways of sketching, meaning, there is something for everybody.

Sketching still life in watercolor

Finally, sketching is crucial for those who want to master drawing for real and from live objects, or to capture a plein-air scenery. We can learn writing when we read a lot, we can learn many things just reading about them, but drawing is something which we can only learn by doing it. The more we draw, the more we sketch, the more artistic options we get. We might get this way a new idea, a new approach and we might find a completely new style which works for us. I always have something on my studio tables: flowers, cups, jugs (my favorites, I have a large collection of them!), fruits, berries, room plants, books, painting supplies and so on. I’m already waiting for springtime because that’s when the true sketching starts as the nature wakes up and takes us outdoors.

It is also possible to frame sketches and use them as beautiful art for decorating your space. Sketches can make great illustrations and sometimes serve as a standalone artwork.

Nature, floral still life sketching

Happy sketching! Please share your experiences with different media and subjects if you have time.

Evolution of the blue cup, Part 1, drawing and painting in watercolor

Most of my students are absolute beginners in drawing. All of them expressed interest in doing watercolor still life, floral and some scenery paintings. Drawing from a real object is not the same as tracing a photo. Photography is already flat, and we don’t have to transfer anything in our imagination. We were following the basic steps for getting our basic shapes somehow right. My advice would be this: if you ever want to learn drawing freehand without copying ready images, start with drawing real objects. Even though first results are usually not breathtaking, improvement is steady, and this ability progresses with every new drawing one does. This actually means to exercise and develop our visual perception, to enhance the way we are seeing things. Everybody sees the same object in a slightly different way, and that doesn’t involve only one’s eyesight. Being able to transfer onto paper or canvas what we are seeing requires to know what we are looking for and what some particular object has which is worth implementing, keeping, emphasizing, enlarging, reducing, omitting, reproducing or transferring.

Almost after each class students would say that they are never going to look at some simple object the same way again would that be cup, carrot, flower, tree or sky. That’s exactly what I’m aiming for: to start noticing things which otherwise would draw no attention to them: shadows, values, colors, shapes, proportion and relationship within and between objects.

The beginner class means to start with explanations and demos about pencils, pencil lines, erasers, papers, brushes, brush strokes, ways of mixing up paint, mixing colors and finally applying paint on paper. Students who want to just try drawing and painting usually don’t have the best quality paper, brushes or paints. We are not using any masking fluid because the class is too short to wait until it would dry. The most embarrassing part usually is the bad quality watercolor paper. It almost seems that some Canson or Strathmore watercolor papers should have warning on them: do not use for watercolor painting. The weight was acceptable, it was cold pressed paper, but sometimes it was coming off in layers, not absorbing anything and so on. Well, we had to use what was available.

We began with mapping the paper: we allocated some spot to each object and did a very simple outline drawing. That sounds very easy; however, it took a while. Yet, we were trying out something completely new and not experienced before.

We applied the first washes. That took a while, as well. Beginner class is a very special one because people are expecting to make some discoveries and gain absolutely fresh experiences here. It’s not the same as a workshop with painters who already know what that’s going to be like.

Still life demo watercolor vegetables

My experience shows the following: students who have always been using photos cannot adjust to or it is more difficult for them to switch over to drawing from real life objects. Some of them were using grids, scaling and measuring each square, after that they drew in whatever was in the particular spot and accordingly applied paint. Some told they were unable to see shadows and shapes when there was a real set-up of some fruits, vegetables or other items.

Even though the first drawings may not be perfect, results will get better after a while, and there will be less and less objects which one cannot draw. Patience is still needed. I hope nobody expects to become a master in drawing just during one or two classes. Repeating at home what was learned in the classroom would be fantastic, too bad, many students don’t have time for that.

In my opinion, the best is: simply draw as much as you can, whenever time allows. It is not that important what the actual object is.

Tomatoes-parsley-jar still life drawing

Drawing classes for beginners

How else does exercising and practicing visual perception work? It facilitates the visual memory and some other brain functions. There is evidence that education and learning produce favorable changes in the brain regardless of age. Drawing and painting are always useful for stimulating the brain activity. Learning over time enhances memory and, thus, facilitates the survival of new brain cells.

New Year, New Art and New Experience

Happy New Year!

The new year should make us richer with new ideas, intentions and goals, help us better understand ourselves and never let us down, as we go through our life and this time.

I woke up this morning and suddenly realized how happy I was. There was nothing to complain about. The morning was crisp and sunny, it almost seemed like spring.

I could spend the entire day as I wish. Nothing was hurting me, there were no regrets about the previous day. I had complete freedom over my decisions and intentions, and the day was just about to start. It was like a promise, and I had no doubts this promise will be kept.

What is holding us back when we are unable to turn our dreams into reality? Small issues, big issues or imaginative issues which might be not even existing?

In fact, it is very simple in most cases:

Identify what is disturbing you, and get rid of it.

When it’s impossible to get rid of it, try to handle it in the best way.

I tried to take pictures of my most recent paintings. They might be not the best ones on the globe, but this is how I’m starting this year.

My African violets are in full bloom, three are purple, one is pink, and one is white. They blossom every year around this time, and that’s when I paint them.


This is a small watercolour which we were doing in some December classes.


We also started this small rural watercolour scene during one December class.


This is my most recent stll life, fairly large.

Other news will follow this week.

Focusing on still life and garden scenes

It’s a great time to engage in plein-air painting.

I recently did a garden scene called “Take a Rest” with some flowers and garden tools.

I use real scenes and real set-ups to create my paintings, I somehow cannot paint using photos, I just can’t.

First I do a freehand drawing. The weather was very good for a while, so I could paint every day outdoors.

The other painting is a still life called “Kitchen Symphony”.

I set up all items in my gallery where is a good light,

and I also did a large freehand drawing first.

I think, both paintings came out quite nicely, however, it was very late when I took a photo of my garden scene, so the light might be not that perfect.

Hope you enjoy such art.