Europe19: My 30x30 direct watercolour sketches

July 1, 2019 | 6 Comments

With all my teaching, travel and other work in the past few weeks I haven’t had much time to share my direct watercolour sketches as part of the 30×30 challenge. But I have been doing them, and in fact hit 30 on Thursday 13th June – less than half way through the month. Because I’m travelling and sketching non-stop, this challenge is relatively easy for me.

However as always I learn a lot by the focused effort to do more sketches ‘paint-only’. So here are a few of my takeaways from doing this challenge this year. (Note. some of these are similar to what I discovered last time)

Subject Matter

Subject matter is perhaps the biggest factor. My approach to paint only is to try and work quickly trying to record the essence of my subject in the first pass. Simpler subjects make this much easier – eg. objects on the table (coffee, tea, food), single buildings and landscapes. More complex street scenes are much harder! I tried on two occasions on my big Venice day to sketch San Marco Piazza in paint-only (standing up) but both times I had to switch to pen to pull it all together.

Confident Strokes

Paint-only is a great way to develop confident strokes and marks. Whilst I often lift a wrong mark, it is so much better to get it right with the first stroke, and this is very good for my observational skills. I really like this challenge!

Juicy and Pasty, but less Watery

When I am working paint-only, I predominately use juicy washes for the first pass and then switch to pasty for the details. As a result I am using less watery washes and I’m missing them as there is a lot of magic to be found in the more watery parts of a sketch! (Note. watery, juicy, pasty washes are terms I explain in my SketchingNow Watercolour course.)

This leads me on to the final thought for this article…

Loss of freedom

I normally start my sketches with watercolour and I rarely have a plan of how my sketch is going to end up. Instead I just start and see where my sketch leads me. This often involves switching to ink at some point so that I can quickly finish my sketch without having to wait for my initial washes to dry.

Doing this challenge and trying to intentionally stick to paint sometimes meant that I was a little more tight with my early washes and lost some of the freedom I normally have when I start. So I think that going forward, I want to begin my sketches without the limitation of “I have to do this paint-only” but at the moment when I want to switch to ink develop the habit of pausing and asking myself whether I really need ink, or whether I can keep going in paint.

My collection in full!

I’ve been sharing bits and pieces from this challenge over the last few articles, so I thought it would be fun to put them all together!


(Hmm…. my numbering system got a little out of whack and I no longer have all my sketchbooks with me – but there are well and truly 30 sketches in this collection!)

For the rest of the month…

I stopped intentionally trying to do direct watercolour sketches and was interested to see how many I would do. I ended up doing an extra 18 sketches which is more than one per day. Most of these sketches were of teacups or landscapes. Here are a few:

Final thought

I love this challenge and think that working paint-only is a wonderful way of speeding up my work and forcing myself to simplify. Thanks Marc and Uma for hosting this event again!

How did you do go with the challenge this year?



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