What are the biggest challenges you face when sketching with watercolour?

December 18, 2023 | 19 Comments

As I’m gearing up for a Live Version of my Watercolour course in the New Year I thought it would be fun to get an up-to-date list of common challenges that people face when sketching with watercolour.

Here are a few things I regularly hear from participants in my SketchingNow courses

  • “I’m afraid to ruin my ink drawing by adding paint”
  • “I don’t know how to control the water in my washes”
  • “My watercolour sketches look flat, lifeless and overworked”
  • “I don’t know how to mix the colours I want and always end up with muddy mixes”
  • “I can’t decide on what colours to put in my palette”

The Watercolour course was designed to address these struggles!

But I would love to hear from you:

What are the biggest challenges you face when sketching with watercolour?

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  • The paint not drying because it’s too cold during northern Scotland winter! And once it froze, then melted in the car on the way home into a muddled mess

  • stefan wasinski says:

    Achieving a subtle enough wash to indicate clouds with several colours and creating realistic chunky stratocumulus and cumulus cloud bodies.

  • Jenny Arnold says:

    Unwanted runs.

  • Katie Roberts says:

    Achieving spontaneity. Avoiding an overworked look. Combining watercolor and ink.

  • Sydney Brown says:

    Making shadows look realistic!

  • Christi Tompkins says:

    I never feel like I have enough room to mix paints on my palette. How do you lay out your mixing trays to make the most efficient use of your space?

  • Sophie Vancaillie says:

    Needing to work in a completely different way when sketching outdoors, it doesn’t dry, and I have to be able to pack it away pretty swiftly in order to move on (I sketch when out hiking). I have had some very interesting freeze drying effects though, a different kind of granulation.

  • Sarah Brace says:

    Two topics I’d love more instruction on:

    Skies continue to challenge! Soft edges and layered colors in clouds is so hard. I tend to either over-saturate the blues and not leave enough white, or my skies look washed out and too pale.

    Water: moving, still, with shadows, etc. I also have trouble with shorelines, making them look natural not too abrupt and cartoon-like.

  • Paul says:

    Avoiding gaudy colours, mixing realistic hues!

  • Carrie Williams says:

    Committing to shapes.

  • Georgy Evans says:

    I find getting realistic shadows to anchor things properly very difficult. Skies too I find hard. And generally simplifying scenes by omitting details. I am greatly looking forward to the course and the Live Version sessions!

  • Karen McMillan says:

    Getting soft edges when I want them and knowing when it’s dry enough for another layer.

  • Cindy Robbins says:

    Correctly assessing the value once the color is dry. Once dry, many of my sketches look all light or all mid-tone.

  • Gill Hall says:

    I’m still at the very beginning of using colour and I find the particular combination of pigment, water and brush for different purposes e.g. wet-in-wet really hard. And learning not to fiddle: it always makes things worse.

  • Jamie C says:

    Shadows and sunlight, the stark desert light, and how to keep the details but still have it look like a bright sunny hot day without the shadows being too dark. Or maybe they just need to be dark? I’m challenged by the desert light.

  • Mary Hazlett says:

    I really really struggle to avoid hard edges. I use less water, and the color is too light. I try to use less water and more pigment, and then run out of paint for that area & need to mix again. It’s a *goldilocks* thing, except I can’t get to *just right*.

  • Lois Courtright says:

    Challenge: choosing colors and specifically learning to push the colors.

    The way you push the watercolors is super cool and stunning.

    You add a touch of turquoise or chartreuse or garnet or sapphire; it totally reads and is such a joyful interpretation.

    (For example, your post of October 2, 2023: A Collection of Domed Building Sketches.)

    Your sketches sing!

    I look forward to getting better at pushing the colors! Onward!

    Thank you Liz!

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