Ready Steady…Sketch

Over the last few weeks I have started to think more about quick capture and how best to produce the best sketches when I have limited time.  Of course I am thinking about my forthcoming role as correspondent at the 7Th Urban Sketchers Symposium (#USkManchester2016) here in Manchester in the summer and wondering how I best adapt my current approaches to be able to deliver!   With this in mind I have been trying a few sketches using watercolour first and here are the results. Continue reading

Colouring in 2

A year ago (doesn’t time fly when you are having fun!) I wrote two blog posts related to colour, the first: Colouring in 1 introduced my initial experiences with watercolour and the approaches I was taking to add colour in terms of media and tools, in the second blog: ‘Then don’t use brown’ I introduced the approaches I was taking to selective colouring.  During the last year colour has come up as a question in my mind in virtually every drawing I have done, but I haven’t devoted another a whole blog to it again until now.  Here are the questions I go through as I am drawing: Continue reading

Aussie Adventures 4: Back to Perth

For the final leg of the trip, between Christmas and New Year, it was back to Perth to stay at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Subiaco . Arguably, because it was a more city-based experience, it was the time of the most concentrated urban sketching and I sketched to capture some key places within Subiaco as well as further afield, as a way of embedding the place in my mind.  My mum also had her birthday on 27th so I was able to capture in a sketch,her tea party at my sister’s house.



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The beach and the cinema-but not as we know it!

Two of the things that I loved the most were the fact that you go to the beach to take a dip as simply as you would put your umbrella up in the UK! and the arts cinema is an outside venue, surrounded by huge pine trees and everyone has a picnic!! How fab is that! Both these instances were not so easy to take part in and sketch at the same time: there was no way I could stand and do a sketch breakfast on the beach on Christmas morning for example!   The Cottesloe Beach sketch is therefore a drawing of the most famous building on the beach done at 7 am one morning, sitting on rocks amongst local fishermen and the cinema sketch shows the scale of the trees relative to the theatre itself done as I sat in my seat and just before the light faded and the film: Blind Date started!


Kings Park

Being down the road from the most wonderful diverse park is another advantage of the Subiaco location. Kings Park affords wonderful views down across Perth from a vantage point lined with gum trees (what else!).  Kings park is one of the largest inner city parks in the world and at 4 km2 it is larger than New York’s Central park and is the most popular destination in Western Australia.  Come to think of it, I could have spent the whole of my time recording aspects and views of this park-there’s a thought!  The park is a mixture of grassed parkland, botanical gardens and natural bushland with two-thirds of the grounds conserved as native bushland.



We walked a couple of miles or so over to this interesting little place (reminded me of Camden, UK) for a drink or two and some Tapas one evening.  I loved this place!  This is the view from the window of the bar.



No set of sketches from this place would be complete without mentioning the accent and language! Everything here seems to be shortened! So seeing the port of Fremantle shortened by all the locals to Freo was an ideal opportunity to get that one into the story! The streets have that nautical feel and there is a fantastic little brewery and eatery on the shore, not to mention fishing boats….


Flying out of Perth on New Year’s day, it is hard to leave this much blue, to return to grey. At the airport I was able to draw the plane from the gate. On the aircraft I added watercolour and received much interest from the cabin staff, who kindly got the sketch signed by the pilot.. A nice way to end an eventful and inspiring trip.


With thanks especially to my sister and brother in law for all they did to make this a special family trip as well as to my niece and her partner and nephew and his new wife-Hey look, thanks guys! xx


I hope that you have enjoyed my 4 part Aussie Adventures and I look forward to sharing more sketching adventures soon!


Aussie Adventures 3: Up North: The orange and the blue

This trip took me up the coast from Perth, to Kalbarri and up to Denham and Monkey Mia. The total trip is about 9 hours (each way) so the itinery involved 3 stop overs: 3 nights in Kalbarri, 3 nights in Denham and a night on the way back to Perth, in Geraldton. For this trip I used a concertina Seabright sketchbook which, although it is not watercolour paper, is thick enough to manage the watercolour paint without buckling. It produces a lovely long story book of sketches but given the amount of windy weather, it was tricky to keep a hold of whilst drawing and this got very frustrating. Of course it could have been worse as I seemed to have arrived in the area 24 hours after a cyclone hit but it was still very windy!


The drive from Perth North is a monotonous one, lots of open landscape, few trees and very very limited habitation. There are a few cars and mostly large wagons transporting freight.  You get the picture! There were also bizarre snippets of information on the sat nav like turn left in 294 km!


It was sunny but windy for the whole 3 day stay. The B&B had a sweet little staffy dog called Butter (no idea why!). I captured her in one of my drawings! In many ways it is a typical sleepy seaside town, not so much going on but some breathtaking landscape. Oh, and there are pelicans, lots of pelicans and these are fed each morning on the beach by volunteers. There are two things of note here as far as I could see, firstly, the beaches are stunning, with creamy white sand and the most stunningly beautiful turqoises and blues in the sea. The other notable feature is the oranges, browns, beiges and pinks of the sandstone: in the form of the most amazing coastline and also in the form of gorges. The later are a half hour drive out of Kalbarri and up an approximately 20 km rough track but it is worth the trip! There are several rock formations, including the stunning Natures Window, a sandstone formation with a hole through which you see the landscape beyond. Oh and their fish and chips are good too , with locally caught fish.  I didn’t draw mine as I was keen to eat them hot! There are no trendy cafes here, unlike Perth and down south but you can’t have everything!



Denham and Monkey Mia, Shark Bay

Three days later saw a similarly monotonous drive from Kalbarri to Denham although at 4 plus hours this was a shorter trip than that from Perth to Kalbarri. Arriving early afternoon, it was a Sunday and the small town of Denham was even more deserted than that of Kalbarri! It was bright and sunny but very very windy! Even so I managed to sketch the accommodation and the views out to the sea. This place doesn’t appear to have much going on, but what is here is the stunning colours of the sea and amazing sea wildlife. Therefore, the next couple of days sought to explore that and make the most of it: snorkeling; visiting an aquarium run by marine biologists to hear about the sea life and importantly about the importance of shark conservation, going out in a catamaran to see dugongs, an endangered species, feeding on the sea grass, seeing dolphins and turtles being fed on the shoreline were all the things that made this a special place. Monkey Mia is essentially a resort from where the wildlife adventures go out from and is 20 minutes drive across from Denham.





The trip down from Denham to Perth started on the 23rd December with a nights stop at Geraldton. On first glance, this is a typical seaside town, perhaps busier and with quirkier shops and cafes than Kalbarri and Denham. However, after visiting and talking to some interesting boutique owners (one in particular who sold me a gorgeous pair of sandals!) I started to get a feel for the more interesting cafes and restaurants and of the drive to make this place trendier! On 24th December the next stop was Subiaco, Perth, for Christmas!


Concertina sketchbook

Here is a video that shows my concertina sketchbook and its layout

Please stay tuned for the last instalment of my Aussie Adventures which sees a return to Perth before flying back to the UK.


Aussie Adventures 2: Down South: Margaret River and a Wedding in a Winery

After the stopover it was a mere 7 hour flight from Singapore to Perth in Western Australia and a daytime flight, leaving at 9,30 am and arriving in the afternoon. Then, after a family reunion and  a single night in Perth, we  travelled, in several cars, armed with everything imaginable, drink, food, clothes, wedding dresses, Oh, you name it…….’down south’. Now this is difficult for us Northern Hemisphere habitants to get our heads around: In this part of the world it is cooler down south (mid 20’s so no worries on that score!) and warmer and drier up north (if only this were true in the UK!!). We were to stay for a week: Wednesday to Wednesday with the wedding on the Saturday. 2016-01-05_0002

The place

The Margaret River region is awash with many wineries and in the summer many people travel there to get married on one of the vineyard estates. My nephew and his bride to be were to be married on Aravina Estate in Yallingup , 266 km from Perth. Yallingup is named after an Australian Aboriginal word that means ‘Place of Love’. It is a popular tourist destination because of its beaches and limestone caves, as well as its proximity to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.   We stayed in a large rented house 10 minutes drive from the venue that could accommodate the numerous people staying! It was like an episode from the Waltons (but with Australian accents!). In the couple of days before the wedding, I managed several sketches, I even managed to get over to Aravina to draw the actual venue (I knew there would be little time for this on the day!):

Places visited before the wedding2016-01-06_0001 Our accommodation in Yallingup2016-01-05_0005The Weddding Venue:  Aravina Estate



The wedding

Of course most of you know that I had been ‘building up’ in sketching terms, for several months, for the wedding because I was going to be sketching it! This was scary, but once you are into the day, you have no chance to think about it, just to draw.   So that is just what I did!

Because my nephew and all the Grooms Men and Grooms maid (? Who has ever heard of this: it was my niece so pretty much everything got organized by her!), were at our accommodation on the morning of the wedding, I was able to start sketching (and thinking about just what materials I would use) then. I had an idea I would use watercolour pencil and ink later but the first sketches showed that this wasn’t a great idea-the pencil blunted quickly and the relative permanence meant that I may as well go straight to ink if I was going that route! I therefore did most of the drawings in pencil (a 0.7 mm rotring 2B lead, propelling pencil) and or ink (lamy fountain pen and a carbon platinum pen_ and added colour later. All of the sketches were done in situ, at the venue. None were done from photographs and the work done afterwards was just watercolour and some line (going over existing marks). I found the pencil easier, especially for the larger crowd scenes as it was quicker, enabling me to put figures into the scheme quicker. At the same time, it was not so blunt as to prevent the drawing of facial features. All of the drawings were done in a Moleskine watercolour album (13 x 21 cm) and the completed book was handed over to the happy couple when we left Margaret River.




2016-01-05_0010Having experienced the process, I think in future I would seek to do all the line work in pen, on the day and then add watercolour pencil and colour later if necessary. I would also seek to jot down key phrases and thoughts rather than try and remember them!   As for the book, I like the idea of giving a book but perhaps a bigger book or loose pages may work better, especially if prints are to be made, since several of my sketches were drawn over the double page.


With family altogether and plenty going on, it was hard to do more than a sketch or two each day (apart from the wedding day!). After the wedding, we did have a formal lunch at one of the more formal wineries and visited local towns along the coast.



Next up, for something completely different. Having returned to Perth, the next day was a long trip ‘Up North’ for a week. The next blog documents that trip, this time, in a concertina sketchbook.

I packed my bag and in it I put……

As I am soon going to be travelling, I thought I would share the kit I will be taking and how I will be packing it!  As an urban sketcher, having  portable kit that enables me to create sketches on the go is very important and I have to admit to having a little bit of a panic at how and what I was going to pack!  I have sought views of others from Urban sketchers, so what I am going to say here is based on a combination of my own thoughts and practices  as well as the tips and hints I have learnt from others, including some of the practicalities of travelling across the globe.

Main bag

I am using a Troop canvas bag for my kit that will hold all my sketching kit as well as an iPad.  I don’t need anything too huge and wanted to have a  shoulder bag with enough pockets to hold everything without being bulky.  So far so good, it looks really well made and with a great array of pockets for all the various items.  This is going to be used as part of my hand luggage.2015-11-30_0003

Sketch books

Because my chosen colour medium is watercolour, I usually use sketchbooks with watercolour paper.  A5 moleskines (13 x 21 cm) are my sketchbooks of choice for this trip, together with one seabright A5 concertina sketchbook.  We will see how I get on with the later as I have not used these for travelling before and apparently they can be difficult to handle!  I shall take one of the sketchbooks as hand luggage to sketch on the plane and in the airport; the others will go in the main case.


Pens, pencils and brushes

I am a keen fountain pen user and so will be taking a set of 5 ink pens:  A lamy safari with a fine nib for drawing; a green Sailor pen with the facility to draw a range of line thicknesses; a carbon platinum pen for very fine lines; a pentel brush pen for black highlights and finally a lamy pen with a 1.1 italic nib for writing.  It will be interesting to see whether I use all of these pens or whether I end up using just a couple of them!  I will also be using a rotring propelling pencil (0.7 mm as I find that this is softer and doesn’t keep breaking like the 0.5 mm does); sometimes I use pencil before ink (sometimes its a watercolour pencil as opposed to graphite).  I have a wallet for all these pens together with 3 watercolour brushes (I use Da Vinci 2, 6 and 8 although to be honest these are probably a bit small, Ok for this size sketchbook but a size 10 is probably required).  In addition, I have a half inch Rosemary sable blend dagger brush.  I also have 3 gel pens in white, gold and silver (well I am going to a wedding!).   Finally, a soft putty rubber is definitely required, together with a ruler for lines for text (I hate it when I write wonky).



I am usually using deatramentis document ink for my lamy pens and so will be taking a bottle of black ink that I will be packing in the main luggage.  Needless to say I will be wrapping it in several plastic bags and burying it in a soft corner of the case!   I will be using cartridges for all of my other ink pens and will likely pack some in hand luggage and some in the main case. Anything with liquid in it that goes into the hand luggage will be put into that zippy plastic bag thingy and I will probably have ink in one of my pens for travelling.



I am using a combination of mainly Daniel Smith watercolour (with a couple of exceptions) and Albrecht Durrer Faber Castell watercolour pencils.  I use tube paint rather than pans and have decanted these into 1/2 pans over a period of 3 weeks.  After a week of filling them I found they had shrunk in their pans and then topped them up; I used plastic cotton buds with the ends cut off to ensure that the paint was well packed into the pans.  When I use the paints I spray them to wet them so that lifting the paint is easier; I also use portable 100 ml bottles for use on location.  All of these elements of the kit (minus the water) will be taken on in the hand luggage.



Lets hope that after all this preparation I don’t forget anything crucial and that I manage to produce some drawings!


People Drawing in the little red book: Part 1

At the beginning of the month I set myself a challenge to draw people, in some form, every day- I need the practice and to be honest there’s only one way of improving and that is by constant practice; together with guidance.  The main place I’m drawing these is in a small square sketchbook ( handbook; not watercolour paper, just an everyday sketchbook )  but I’m also using my everyday sketchbook for some and this is a moleskin watercolour.  I’m using four pens: a Lamy Safari; a carbon platinum, a Pentel brush pen and and a green safari pen; all with waterproof ink.   Now, we are over half way through the month, I thought I’d share some of the drawings so far.
In order to develop my people drawing skills I’m doing a variety of things to help me.  These include:
People in the context of the urban environment – crowds and groups
As an Urban sketcher and reportage enthusiast it’s important for me to be able to capture people in the context of there surroundings and actions.  Therefore over the last couple of weeks I have tried to capture this in meetings; at venues like library and theatre; markets  and cafes.  Here are some of the results.  In all of these images I tend to put the framework of the background in first and then superimpose the people on top or I work them both in parallel :
Buses and cafes – individuals
Now when you are practicing people regularly it’s important to be able to fit these into your everyday life tasks – over the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing this on the bus and in fast food cafes.  Here are some of the results.  In general, I added colour afterwards due to the practicalities of doing this in situ :
At the end of the month I’ll post more of these sketches from November; some with the emphasis on fast people and gesture – it’s a hard task but someone has to do it!
I now post to my own scribbles Facebook page and Instagram so please do like and follow me on those platforms if you would like to see my regular posts.
Thank you and happy sketching!

My inktober 2015

Phew, what a month of drawing for Inktober. Now I can’t say I did an ink drawing everyday but I certainly did do quite a few!  It has been great to think about line in isolation and although I did add watercolour to most of my drawings, the focus on ink did make me think more about my line and the way in which I was using the line to convey a range of elements: depth (through line weight), detail, shadow through hatching, movement etc.  All of these have a valuable part to play in the build up of a drawing and tie in well with a previous blog that I produced about Edges following Liz Steel’s course.   It also made me think about the way in which I used different pens for different effects, from the carbon platinum pen which gives a very clean fine line for facial features, to the pentel brush pen for solid darks, to the Lamy safari with a 1.1 italic nib pen for text and the green Sailor pen which can produce a range of line thickness depending upon the angle you are holding the pen.


Initially, my intention had been to focus on people exclusively this month for inktober but in the end, I chose to draw a range of subject matter, often the urban environment but also other objects and activities.  As this is my first inktober, there will be plenty of others where I can chose one theme!  In addition, there were plenty of activities and things going on in October, so it was nice to be able to capture a range of them.

Given this outcome, I have chosen to group my drawings into some key themes: People, buildings, miscellaneous (a mix of individual items) and  to end with, captured for on last day of the month, a couple of reportage pieces!  Here they are:








I have really enjoyed participating in Inktober and do hope you have enjoyed following the journey.  Please do continue to follow my adventures on here and if you’d like to check out these images individually then don’t forget that they are all on my instagram site here:

Some thoughts on focusing

This may sound like an odd title for a blog about my scribbles but there are a couple of things that I often think about with urban sketching and both of them are related to focusing.  The first is related to the fact that I do a lot of my urban sketching in and around a particular city where I live: Manchester, UK.  Within the city there key areas, as with most places, but I tend to  dot around with my sketching, depending upon where I am going and where I am when I have time to sketch.  I often don’t do a series of sketches in one area (or at least not consecutively), even though that is really what I want to do: to focus in and capture the essence of a place by a series of drawings over a few days (rather than weeks or months!).  The second aspect of focus I am interested in improving in my sketching  is related to a composition itself: using tools and approaches to draw the observer into the drawing  to the place that is the focus within the image.  One way I am interested in exploring focus is by using selective colour.  Now I used to do this but for some reason, have got out of the habit.

With these two things in mind, this week, in the evenings, I have chosen to go just to one area: Chapel Street on the outskirts of Manchester.  A regeneration area where buildings and public realm are changing rapidly.  This route has some of the most spectacular and beautiful, albeit often decaying, buildings.  I have used colour selectively to try to provide a focus and draw for each image:


In this sketch of the old pub, it was a terrible evening and I sat in the car (as I did for all of the sketches here, looking out the front window)with the rain pouring down.  I really wanted to make sure that I captured that rain and the look and feel of the place.  I added colour afterwards so was able to practice with splatters and splurges using the flick of the brush and adding water and holding the paper vertically.  I often make copies of sketches and practice with colour so that I can see the effect before ruining my sketchbook!


In this last sketch, which was a somewhat complicated scene at a traffic junction, I have tried to make the old cinema the main focus but have added some colour to the left hand side of the sketch to ensure that it connects in with the focus and can be read as one drawing.


I am quite enjoying this focused exploration work and will be progressing with more of this.  I also plan to return to Chapel street as there are many more buildings and scenes to capture.   I will keep you posted!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 6: Make it you (not literally, this is not a selfie week!)

Wow, what a great time this last week on Sketchbook Skool Seeing has been with Liz Steel, an urban sketcher and tea cup addict!   Liz has a robust structure to the way that she works and teaches and offered some great advice on how to progress and think about our own drawing work, both in terms of the ways we make the marks on the page, as well as the philosophy behind our work. Rather than just summarise her own approaches, what I am going to do here is summarise what I took away from the sessions and the approaches that I want to take forward from the week. These are not necessarily the same as the specifics that Liz mentioned, but they are derived from them : One of Liz’s sound pieces of advice was: ‘Make it You’.   So here goes!

A strategic approach to sketching: Preparation through thumbnails and analysis

Liz took us through a thumbnail approach to observing patterns and shapes before working on the main sketch. This can work for any object, especially those with complex patterns like buildings (or cups of tea!). I don’t currently do this and it reminded me to be a little bit more strategic about my work and to spend time looking and assessing before launching forth on the drawing! (I think I have mentioned this before once or twice)!  I think I may well do more of what I call a simplified framework approach. Maybe it could even be combined with the main sketch. Food for thought! It’s a good idea to use a watercolour pencil for this, so it dissolves when you add water. The more definitive confident lines can then be put in later.

 Never mind the tea cups!

As delightful as tea cups and saucers are, I don’t have any at home so it is not something that I am particularly drawn to draw! That said, we were not asked to draw tea cups per se, but objects with patterns that were a particular interest of ours with some emotional attachments. I chose glasswork as it is something I have a particular interest in. I am not talking ornate traditional glasswork but more contemporary pieces and I have had several commissioned over the years, including our own front door panels. I chose these 4 coasters (amongst the first ‘home’ pieces that my husband and I bought together) because they forced me to think about a variety of aspects of the form and the pattern and to compare and contrast as I sketched, since each are similar but different! I am sure that I will share other pieces of my glasswork in future blogs.

 LizAckerley_GlassCoasters copy_2

Why buildings? A sense of place

Whilst the tea cups aren’t necessarily my thing, buildings and urban sketching certainly is, hence the name: ScribbleMyStreet! (I am a member of Manchester Urban Sketchers in the UK). That said, it takes a lot of work and practice to create meaningful urban sketches that combine aspects of linework, perspective and colour, to illustrate that sense of place! As a landscape architect I am drawn to the urban environment and the elements that create that sense of place and my interest is in striving to create that in my sketches. At the moment, this is not necessarily achieved, but it is what I strive towards! Here I have chosen a fascinating regeneration area in Manchester called Ancoats , that is steeped in history: it is often known as the world’s first industrial suburb. I purposely chose relatively complex buildings to try to practice patterns and angles as well as those that formed a good composition.


And here is one from the other side of Manchester, again, the complexity of pattern is clear:


Process and Product

I get the fact that it is all about seeing the subject and trying to record that on a page, I get the fact that we need to not beat ourselves up and constantly strive to learn and improve our eye-hand coordination but I don’t get it when people say (or I think they say) that the actual sketch on the page is not important. To me, the look of the sketchbook IS important; it’s our shop window for the world, the things that others see, the outcomes of our process. For me, if it weren’t important, I wouldn’t want to improve the layout and composition of my page, the text in-between the images etc. I guess for me its about getting that balance right and not overly focusing upon the sketch and page itself, whilst at the same time recognizing that there is a value to the product as well as the process. I am sure that I will be coming back to this topic in future blogs!

The tools of the trade

Liz is a skilled watercolourist and ink user who is constantly assessing and evaluating materials. Her words of wisdom in the videos were incredibly helpful for me. She mentions needing to know and work with (as opposed to against) your materials. How do they mix best? What are their redeeming properties? What are their limits?. It sounds obvious but I have a tendency to forget this and then wonder why things aren’t working! A while ago I decided to stick to waterproof ink (although I didn’t restrict the colour!) and watercolour as my main media of choice (although you may have to add Biro to that list now, thanks to Andrea Joseph!). I now have a lot of exploration to do. Here are some of the questions/areas of exploration that will help me get to know the media better.


  • Colour mixing and learning what works well with what; the best greens and other selective colours not easily derived by mixing, to include in my palette (my main palette at present is shown in the image). I have made a concertina sketchbook for this exploration but not got any further yet!
  • How to leave the whites and have it look right!
  • Colours to use for shade and shadow
  • Use of De Atramentis coloured document inks
  • Selective use of colour-I am not aspiring to be a traditional watercolour artist, but to use colour selectively to bring my works alive and to create a sense of place and identity.
  • Applying colour: wet on wet vs. glazes

Thanks to Liz Steel for a thought provoking and powerful last week on Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’. Please do keep reading my blog here each week, I will be posting regularly about my progress, processes and all manner of other aspects of my scribble-making!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 3: Seeing is believing

I cannot believe that I am halfway through the Sketchbook Skool Seeing Course!  This third week has seen Barbara Swenson guide us through the technique of Continuous Line contour drawing as well as some watercolour painting tips but more of that in a minute!  As ever with this course, the Tutors are doing an amazing job of the reversal process that started over 30 years ago for me!  That is, the delight of being told by a ‘teacher’ that you are not one of the chosen ones, that your artwork is poor and that you better stick to something less creative!   Sketchbook skool takes a very different approach (phew!).  Tutors take a much more pragmatic stance; they tackle the issues we all have of self-belief head on.  They don’t pretend sketching  is a magic gift, they guide you through processes and approaches to develop personal and meaningful art and they are honest.  Like most things in life, it takes practice (lots of practice!), understanding,  hard work and determination to develop skills!  The other thing they do so well and this is where I can bring this back to Brenda’s piece specifically is to be firm but kind in their guidance and give you a window into their creative lives and processes.  Brenda mentions her response when people say they wish they had her talent for painting (she knows that this ‘talent’ has taken over 20 years of hard work and practice with many stumbles along the way!).  Here are some snippets from the week and some attempts from me at the tasks.

Continuous Contour Line Drawing

This is such a simple but challenging technique and made me realise how much I draw what I think I see and forget to look properly.  This is not unusual and Barbara mentions that people can generally be sloppy observers!  This technique forces you to slow down and look!  It is done with a pen (no rubbing out!) and involves  you assessing the overall shape with your eyes before starting at the top and drawing in a continual line, the perimeter of the object or group of objects taking note of proportions, edges, angles, lines.  I have a long way to go and hope to use this as a warm up when out sketching as a way of getting me into the right mindset.  Its harder than it looks!  Here I used De Atramentis waterproof Ink and my Lamy Safari pen.


Watercolour and continuous line

The approach above was then taken a step further, after drawing 3 objects with a water soluble pen (I used various colours of Tombow) we then used watercolour paint (I used a mix of Daniel Smith and Windsor and Newton tubes) to add colour to the drawings.  Here are the hints and tips which I will use as an aide memoire and which I learnt from Barbara along the way (applied with varying success to the images below!).

  • Keep the colours fresh, bright and juicy!  The recommendation here is to keep mixing to a minimum and that which is done, achieved on the paper itself.  Try working with pure transparent colours.
  • Start light and build up the darks-it is the contrast of light and darks that makes the colours sing.  The build up can be done in two ways: through glazes i.e. layering of colour, allowing the paint to dry in-between to give darker colours of the same hue. In addition, brighter, deeper colours can be used; don’t be afraid of doing this with watercolour.
  • White/light is best achieved through using uncoloured flecks on the surface-ie it is the white of the paper so leave these from the beginning.
  • The water and looseness of watercolour is its biggest asset; the water will do the work for you so try to let it!
  • Reserve any colour mixing until the end, where you can tone down using mixed colours that have more of a muddiness.

Looking forward to sharing more about my Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’ adventures next week.  In the mean time, happy sketching!

‘Then don’t use brown!’

I had been having a conversation with a sketching buddy of mine about colour; in fact this is turning into an ongoing dialogue about all things colour!  I have recently acquired 6 new Daniel Smith watercolour tubes and she has several other browns, oranges and the like from various suppliers (Windsor and Newton and Schmincke).  I mentioned to her that I was a bit confused and overwhelmed with all these browns and my mixing often resulted in a muddy mess!  Her response, of course: ‘Then don’t use brown!’.  A perfectly sensible suggestion.   The idea that you don’t have to be true to a subject got me thinking about my own approaches and I thought I would explain my current approach to colour in my scribbles, using 3 illustrations from the past week.

I prefer not to paint the whole scene because I find that this can look overworked and flat.  Rather, I select several key elements to paint to enable me to pull the sketch together.   Leaving white space, especially with the detail of the black line, works well.   Here in this sketch of the old Grade II listed cooperative in Pendleton, Manchester, the aim is for the colour to pull you to the centre of the drawing and focus you on the main building with the street scene of this 2-point perspective in black and white for subsequent exploration.


I often use colour to enable the eye to wander around the image and to connect areas of the scribble to form a cohesive whole.  Here in the sketch of the Metropolitan in Didsbury, Manchester, the rusty red of the bricks aims to connect buildings on both sides of the road.  The more muted tone of the end street suggests a more shady position.


I use colours that are present in the actual scene and I pick out what I consider to be the highlights.  Yes, I could go wild and use completely different colours but I prefer not to.  It maybe that I use a brighter, more vivid colour than the original for example a brighter red or a more vivid green, but I am in the main, using the colours to give a closer identity and connection to the place.  Here in this image of Central Library and adjacent buildings in Manchester, the browns, and beiges of the sandstone and the blues and yellows of signage create a sense of the colour palette of the actual scene.  The Daniel Smith paints I have used for all 3 sketches are shown on the left of the image and are as follows: monte amiate (natural sienna), ultramarine blue, cerulean blue chromium, burnt sienna, pains grey (this one is actually Windsor and Newton) and hense yellow medium .  No doubt I will be adding to these in the near future!


Finally, prior to adding colour, I use black: whether its the windows, doorways or other street elements, these help bring dimension and pull the scene together and you can see its use in all 3 scribbles above.

The masters of several of the techniques mentioned above related to selective colour in urban sketching are: James Richards and Felix Scheinberger.  Check out their work if you don’t already know it!




Colouring in 1

As a newbie urban sketcher I have always been keen to present my work in coloured form. Colour brings places alive, it makes them real and gives them substance. People react to colour.   Black and white looks like lines on a page, a picture, but with colour, the image becomes a place: somewhere, something. I like to work with reality, colour helps me to bring my own reality to my work. At least I think it could/should/will do in time!

This is the first, no doubt of many, of my blogs about colour and my exploration, understanding and development of its use, in my work. Actually, its about my exploration with watercolour as a medium, in which colour is a big part. Like most things in life and certainly in drawing, knowing techniques and technical detail does not seem to be anything like enough, its about practice and interpretation; exploration and finding my own way, no doubt with the direction and influence of many others. These include those on line, who write the books I read or who are experienced members of the groups I belong to e.g. Urban Sketchers, Manchester Urban Sketchers, Sketchbook Skool etc.

Now I am not claiming to be an expert here. The fact that I feel I know so little is the point. Others may say something like ‘ oh, I just use a bought travel kit and work intuitively’! –Who knows what that means?! (all I can say is, I’ve tried that and I ended up with a muddy mess) so there is clearly much more to it than that!   Dipping into Internet sites e.g. (which by the way, looks like an amazing future resource!) or some detailed watercolour texts on the other hand feels much like starting a degree in atmospheric physics half way through the final year (not that I’ve ever tried, but you get my point?), so I’m trying to find some other ways!

Current Materials

 I have a small tin box, originally part of a watercolour set, with small pans of Windsor Newton; plus a tube of Windsor & Newton Paynes Grey. I have been using this as a start point.  I am now running out of a number of these and have been lucky enough to receive some good quality Daniel Smith watercolour tubes for Christmas(which I have decanted into pans):


The colour selection is as recommended by Liz Steel in her blog here.  I plan to explore their use (the topic of a future blog!) and add to them as necessary, but am also keen to limit my portable pallet to a maximum of 12 if possible, for practical purposes. Although inevitably I am sure that my preferences will change over time!

I currently use pentel waterbrushes plus two synthetic round brushes: 4 and 8 size but plan to replace the later with some portable sable brushes soon from this wonderful supplier here: They are both local and well recommended by fellow sketchers on line.

Main texts

 The start of my journey with watercolour has resulted in delving into these 4 books. My current favourite for its clarity and clear explanation of a range of aspects related to painting technique, colour theory, mixing and use for urban sketching is Urban Watercolour Sketching by Felix Scheinberger.


The images of a couple of my location scribbles here show the use of the idea that opposite colours on the colour wheel attract and help intensify each other (Cowfold, Sussex):



Here’s one with a triad of colours:IMG_1092

Top 5 watercolour tips (for urban sketching)

  • Use the best materials you can afford. Don’t just use student quality paints as they do not have the pigment density or the luminosity of professional quality paints.
  • Bigger is not always better when it comes to paint boxes. I prefer to use small boxes (which can be filled with 12 half pans) as they are less heavy to carry around and colours can be mixed.
  • Buy colours that are difficult to mix. Some are easily mixed yourself, but others are more difficult such as strong turquoise or magenta.
  • Don’t just stick to one approach in applying watercolour: combine techniques to bring a watercolour image to life This may include washes and glazes, washes and splatters.
  • To identify good colour combinations to use, check out those of other artists, as well as in magazines, films or nature. This helps to keep ideas fresh and prevent us from getting stuck in a comfort zone!

 I look forward to sharing more of my colour adventures in future blogs.