Foundations Friday 1: Knowing (and loving) your materials

January 8, 2016 | 3 Comments

Today I am starting a new series –  Foundations Fridays! Over the new few months, I will be revisiting the concepts that I teach in my SketchingNow Foundations online course, looking for different ways to apply them.

I am NOT doing the exercises, but only latching onto one small part of each lesson to explore in a new way. The course is in-depth with lots of content (12 lessons each with approx a 12 page PDF handout and at least 30 minutes of video demonstrations) and was designed to give beginners a good foundation in the essential concepts for sketching on location. However because it is concept-based you can return to it over and over again, no matter what your ‘level’ is.

So my goals for this series is primarily for me to kick start the year by revisiting the basics, but also to encourage people who have enrolled in the course to keep going, get back to it or revisit it. And of course if you are interested in starting the course, this series will give you an idea of what it covers – though please note this is more of an extension than a teaser.

I am not going to be doing this every week for the next 12 weeks, but will be taking a few breaks. The first four lessons though, I plan to do each Friday in January.

My first step is to re-read the handout (16 pages for lesson 1!) and then to explore a theme for a few days prior to the Friday post. I might then have a few more things to talk about on my Monday Everyday Pages wrap-up. Some weeks I might not have time to do more than 1 or 2 sketches, other weeks, like this one, will contain more.

Ok… let’s get going!

The first lesson is all about really getting to know (and love) your materials and tools – knowing everything in your sketching kit, why it is there and what you use it for. It is not just a matter of having the latest thing or knowing a little bit about it – it’s all about having a working and personal knowledge. How does it work for you? 

So I looked at my kit to see what I wasn’t using… and it was my 2B Faber Castell Graphite Aquarelle pencil.  I also have a HB and 4B version in my studio so I really wanted to revisit these pencils and see whether I am getting the most of them, and whether one of them should remain in my kit or not.

You can see the issues I want to explore in this sketch. I am not a big pencil sketcher – I much prefer the crispness of ink lines, but pencils have a lot going for them, and I would love to develop my skills further!

The first thing to do was to remove the temptation! This is the collection of fountain pens I had in my kit at the start of the week and which I removed. Ah! my kit felt so much lighter immediately!

Next, I did two ‘at home’ tests. The first was of course a teacup…

And the second was a building! I used this sketch to test the difference between the HB, 2B and 4B across the facade in that order.

When I started using a water-soluble pencil three years ago I found that it was great for table top subject (tea, coffee, cake etc) so that is what I did the next morning!

And then I decided to do a quick sketch of my local cafe. I scanned the pencil work done on location, and then added water and more pencil work once I was back home.  One of the things I LOVE about this particular brand of water-soluble graphite is that it makes very black marks if the tip of the lead is wet. This sketch is a little overworked but I got some ideas in the process.

Later in the day I did another quick sketch from the car before going to the gym.

I was half tempted to leave the sketch as it was (due to the limited parking time I couldn’t do anything more to it at the time), but in the evening I decided to add watercolour to it… and then some more pencil lines into the wet over the top – I love that effect.

And finally last night, I did yet another teacup sketch this time using the HB version lightly as if it was a ‘normal’ pencil and I was doing a watercolour sketch without any visible lines. Being water-soluble, some of the lines have disappeared and didn’t seem to make any of my washes muddy.

It has been great to do these explorations this week… I will share more on Monday.


SketchingNow Online Sketching Courses: Foundations Self Directed course start today!  



  • Laura Hale says:

    Good content. Thank you for sharing!

  • Susan Court says:

    I’m reading this after revisiting Foundations in June 2024 and I am delighted to see you explore yet another way of enhancing your sketches and combining different materials. I’m going to get the water-soluable pencils out right now. Thanks Liz!

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