Sketching in watercolour standing up

July 5, 2024 | 25 Comments


It seems that most of you were surprised that I’m continuing to use the waterbrush (see my last article here) since I don’t really like painting with it. The main reason for this is that the results with a water brush will never equal those I can get with my dagger brush (in terms of expressive makes, vibrant colour and lots of pigment parties). However, I was determined to work out a way to use it because a waterbrush is just SO convenient!

This convenience meant that in the past few weeks, I have sketched with watercolour much more than normal (getting my water container out and securing it is a barrier at times to using watercolour), and even more significantly, I’ve become much more comfortable sketching with watercolour standing up!

Sketching standing up is a game-changer!

If you can sketch standing up with minimum gear setting up (eg. setting out a support board), you can more easily sketch anywhere at any time. I’ve been sketching standing up using dry media a lot in recent years, but whenever I’ve wanted to use watercolour, I’ve looked for somewhere to sit. My sketchbook rests on my lap, my palette is in my right hand (I’m a leftie), and my water container and cloth are on the bench (or low wall) on my left.

I have stopped carrying a stool and a support board because I want to lighten my load. The only thing I now carry is a foam mat to sit on.

Back in the day, when I carried a stool with me whenever I went out on a sketching outing, I rarely used it. These days, I typically fit sketching into my daily life, so carrying a stool is not something I want to do!

I also found that most support boards were too top-heavy (especially when using an A4 portrait sketchbook) and often not comfortable to hold. They also took time to set up, and when sketching outside, I like to start sketching as soon as possible as I never know when conditions might change.

Please note: These are my personal preferences, and they particularly relate to the fact that I like to sketch a lot and want to move on to the next sketch as soon as possible. But for most of you, who only sketch during dedicated sketching outings, carrying a stool and using a support board makes a lot of sense. See here for an article about stools and here for more about support boards.

There is something very spontaneous and freeing about stopping on the pavement (sidewalk) whenever you see something sketchable, standing up against a wall, pulling out your sketchbook, palette, and water brush, and starting to sketch in a few moments. If you can find a rail to rest your sketchbook on (as shown in the above photo) it’s even better! 🙂

I did this a lot during my recent trip to Melbourne, which is a big reason why I continued to use the waterbrush. Then, when I was sitting at a cafe table, rather than returning to my dagger brush and water container, I reached for my waterbrush as I wanted to train my reflexes to mix more lively washes when I headed outside again.

I started enjoying standing up so much that I actually tried doing it with my dagger and with my water container sitting on my palette. I didn’t have any blu-tac handy so it was simply balancing on the mixing well.

Now that I’ve reminded myself of all the advantages of sketching standing up, I know that I’ll develop the best way to go back to using my dagger (such as clipping my palette to my sketchbook or a simple support board or securing my water container in a front pocket of my bag). But for now, the waterbrush is helping me become addicted to sketching with watercolour standing up!

And in the last few days, since coming home, I’ve done some more standing-up watercolour sketches! They were completed in under 10 minutes and are therefore very loose with no danger of overworking! But the exciting thing is that I did the sketches at all. On both occasions it was raining/or about to rain, so I didn’t waste any precious time looking for somewhere to sit or set my gear up.


St Andrews Cathedral


North Sydney Post Office (a JimmyB building!)

It’s just so great to be enjoying standing up while sketching in watercolour. I can thank my waterbrush for this change! Using it gives me so much freedom to explore more options when sketching on location. I’m particularly excited about the implications for my morning sketch in my local area – although I’ve got to work out what to do with my coffee as well! 🙂


I hope this article helps explain more about why, for now, I’m continuing to use a waterbrush!

25 Comments

  • What about cutting the hairs of a flat water brush at an angle, akin to a sword?

  • Fiona Campbell says:

    Hi Liz, I read this with interest as I do a lot of outdoor sketching in the country, often in bad weather and found balancing everything a problem. I’ve just found a mini sketchbox for 16 colours which looks like it would be too small but is actually perfectly good for a sketch in an A5 Alpha book. The wee metal box comes with a magnetic clip and a clip-on water pot so everything is secured on your sketchbook. And of course a Rosemary half dagger is my choice for one multi purpose brush !!
    I can’t find a way to upload a photo but if people search ‘mini paintbox’ on Etsy a few options come

  • Jacque Defenbaugh says:

    I, too, have trained myself to use a water brush. It took a while, but it is so convenient. For standing sketching I also use a small palette that I attached a band wide elastic to the back of with velcro. I can slip my hand through the band and can hold the palette and sketchbook in one hand and the brush in another.

    I admit to giving up in disgust on the water brush several times, but kept going back to it and feel pretty comfortable with it now. Since I use a smallish sketchbook my problem was getting too much water into my paint mixes. I guess if we want something to work we figure out a way!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Jacque! I’m finally getting used to it – it does take a while and a normal brush will always produce better results. But it just so convenient!

  • Diane Mutmansky says:

    Can’t wait for the Travel Sketching course in Sept!
    I have to admit that although I love what you sketch and have taken a lot of your courses I know myself well enough to know that I will never carry around the type of WC gear you use when out sketching. I have always used a waterbrush and a small palette. It just is quicker and more convenient for me to use in the type of situations that I find myself.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Diane – I’m looking forward to it too! Yes, I know that I carry a lot of stuff and great that you have a compact kit that works for you.

  • I generally go out to sketch with intent, and carry a small 3-legged folding stool. I use waterbrushes and a small tin palette that I secure to an ordinary office clipboard with a magnetic clip. The clipboard supports the softcover sketchbooks that I mainly use, but it also helps with hardcover books, and I have occasionally used it standing up when I forgot my stool.

  • Rachael Ayres says:

    Liz, I use a dip pen with a teeny tiny Nalgene bottle of India ink. I have glued a magnet to the bottom of the bottle and it sits successfully on a binder clip which I attach to my notebook. The same might work for your water. Less messy than Blutak.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Rachael – sounds a good plan. Yes magnets are less messy that blu-tac but sometimes I want to secure my water container to a non-magnetic surface. These days I carry my blu-tac separately and that is a great improvement so it doesn’t get everywhere

  • Jo Cosgriff says:

    Hi Liz, I was wondering if you had tried a clip-on water container? I just got one made by Holbein from Larry Post (“Plastic Palette Dipper Cup & Lid”). I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems to be about the same size as the water container you use. It is plastic with a screw on top, but I have also seen smaller, metal ones with clips.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jo – I think I tried one of those years ago. Not sure what I thought about it. I would be worried that I’d splash water onto my page. Let me know how it goes for you!

  • Susan Court says:

    Hi Liz, your posts are always full of great ideas to pounder. Thank you. While I’m interested in your use of markers and other materials I love these ink and watercolour ones with just the suggestion of the other buildings. More inspiration!?

  • Susan Court says:

    Hi Liz, your posts are always full of great ideas to pounder. Thank you. While I’m interested in your use of markers and other materials I love these ink and watercolour ones with just the suggestion of the other buildings. More inspiration!?

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Welcome to the standing club! 🙂 I’ve been standing since pretty much the beginning (13 years ago), which is also why I’ve always used a waterbrush, wc pencils and markers for color. I’ve tried various ways to use watercolor paints while standing, but as soon as I feel they deter me from sketching, then I go back to pencils — because any material or tool that keeps me from sketching has got to go. But I’m not in love with wc paints as you are, so I’m fine with letting them go. I’ll be watching with interest how you eventually go back to your dagger while standing!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Tina.
      I’ve been a dry media standing sketcher for years… it’s wanting to do for watercolour that’s new. That takes a new kind of commitment that I haven’t been bothered with on a regular basis until now.
      Agree that sticking to pencils does make it much easier to sketch more 🙂

  • Dee Robotham says:

    Hi Liz, I maybe a bit late to this discussion but I think that one of the brush companies ought to bring out a waterbrush based on an existing brush. Why not ask Rosemary & Co think about it?
    There are a few hacks on YouTube showing how to attach a Pentel water container to a round ferule, but it’s looks very fiddly and liable to become leaky.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Dee – I’ll have to look up those YouTube hack videos. Not sure it’s something Rosemary would do but agree that I should at least talk to them about it!

  • Samantha says:

    I love reading about your sketching adventures, and I appreciate your descriptions detailing what techniques work for you in specific situations. Your sketchbook design class is my favorite class ever- you have really helped me figure out how to finish a page. I sketch so much more now that I have strategies for combining smaller drawings on a spread. You have inspired me to try my water brush again and I am also using watercolor more now. Thank you!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Samantha! thanks for your comment and it’s wonderful that Sketchbook Design helped you so much! Have fun with the waterbrush and just be aware that it took me quite a while until I got results I was happy with

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