30x30 Direct Watercolour challenge this year

May 31, 2022 | 3 Comments

The month of June is just around the corner and that means it’s time for the 30×30 Direct Watercolour Challenge hosted by Marc Taro Holmes and Uma Kelkar. Read more about the challenge here.

I love working directly in paint without starting with any pencil lines or ink. But because of my recent coloured pencil adventures and before that going through my Foundations course with a group (using ink and wash mainly) I’ve hardly done any direct watercolour work this year.

So I’m really happy that it’s time for this challenge again and it’s great that it ties in perfectly with the Live Version of my Watercolour course that begins next week. (Find out more about that here!)

It’s exciting to be able to focus particularly on watercolour and doing paint-only sketches.

Note: For this challenge, I will only count work that is ‘paint-only’ as my usual style of sketching often involves alternating between paint and ink and starting directly with paint.

My first thought about the 30×30 challenge was that I wanted my plan to be achievable. Teacups are my favourite subject to do paint-only

I did over 100 days of Lockdown Teacups last year so I know that doing 30 cups would easily fit this into my daily routine.

Maybe I could throw a few teapots into the mix?

I then thought about all my Lane Cove National Park sketches and realised that most of them include ink and watercolour pencils. I’ve only done a handful of paint-only versions so this would be a good challenge!

However, due to all the rain we’ve had this year, I haven’t been going to the park consistently in the last few months.

Maybe I could simply limit my daily walk, coffee and sketch outings to using direct watercolour only? Here are two examples from the last six months.

However, right at the moment, I’m really enjoying continuing my experiments of mixing coloured pencils and watercolour. As my daily local sketches are done of the same scene over and over, it’s feeling really good to try some crazy combos. Whilst I expect to do some direct watercolour sketches of my local area during June, I don’t want to rely on them for achieving my 30×30 quota.

My next thought was related to the fact that in the old days (pre-COVID) I would normally be travelling during the month of June and so I had lots of opportunities to sketch all kinds of different scenes (see here, here and here). I painted in Italy (including Vicenza, Venice, Verona, Florence, Montone, and Assisi), in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Isle of Lewis/Haris) and Poland (Krakow). So it would be really fun to do some direct watercolour sketching outings.

I thought about outings in the last 6 months and some of the experiments I did with different fine brushes while painting some JimmyB buildings.

That would be really fun, but with my current workload it would be nearly impossible to achieve 30 direct watercolour sketches during dedicated outings.

Of course, I could simply combine all the above ideas and simply count every direct watercolour sketch I do during June as I did last year… but for some reason, I want a theme this time around.

My final thought was that along with teacups, my other favourite thing to sketch paint-only is Baroque buildings!! These examples (above and below) are from two weeks of Baroque that I did late last year.

There is something really special about super complicated buildings that make them perfect for me when experimenting with watercolour. And although I can develop my art to some degree by repeated sketching on location, working from home is the best way to try out new things.

So maybe this would be a good way to try some ideas I’ve had floating in my head for a while?

This was my favourite sketch from the 2020 30×30 challenge (which obviously was done from a photo!)

And this sketch of Palladio’s Tempietto (not actually a Baroque building) done on location in 2019 is one of my favourite sketches ever.

I want to work out how to more consistently produce results like these two sketches. It’s not just the technique I used but the mental simplification that I did before I started. Is this possible on a range of subjects, or are some objects/scenes more suitable to this approach.

I started this article thinking that I would try to sketch 15 teacups and 15 Baroque buildings for the 30×30 challenge. But now I’m thinking that 30 Baroque buildings would be fun!

Although I only did one direct watercolour sketch on my epic ‘Baroque churches of Rome‘ day (part of my virtual trip in 2020) there were some ideas that developed from that day which I haven’t had a chance to explore further.

It looks like I’m going to start the 30×30 challenge this year with some direct watercolour architecture. No doubt some teacup sketches will be thrown in and I’ll also try to do more direct watercolour in my everyday sketching. But my main goal is to do 30 Baroque buildings as a series.

So there you have it! I’ve made a decision and shared it publicly. Now to work out a plan to achieve it (a list of Baroque buildings to sketch has begun!)

Are you going to join in the challenge this year? Have you got a plan?





  • Mary Laiuppa says:

    Does Marc have a suggested palette for this year? I don’t do Facebook so don’t really have much info for this year. I remember in past years there was a suggested palette to try and I enjoyed those challenges but haven’t heard anything this year. Uma’s son has provided prompts for those of us at a loss of what to paint but I haven’t seen a palette suggested.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Mary – I don’t know for sure (best ask Marc or Uma on their blogs or Instagram) but I think that the palette was only suggested as part of the first year. I haven’t seen a palette mentioned since then.

  • Gill Phillips says:

    Thanks for this Liz! I’m planning on doing the challenge for the first time and also joining the live rerun of Watercolour. I’ve also been doing a lot of drawing and mixed media pictures recently, so this feels like quite a challenge.

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