Super quick hot cross bun: Only a few strokes of paint but lots of thoughts

March 26, 2016 |

This sketch of a hot cross bun is one of the quickest sketches I have done lately (under 3 minutes) but when it came to write a few words about it, I realised that there were lots of thoughts going on in my head at the time.

And I can’t help thinking (once again) of some very powerful thoughts in a wonderful book by Tom Hoffman Watercolor Painting: A Comprehensive Approach to Mastering the Medium. It’s one of those books that I LOVE to read over and over again. The text in this book is more important to me than the images! In the introduction he makes a lot of amazing statements about watercolour – here are a few that I have highlighted:

"The same qualities that make watercolor so attractive also make it difficult to control, and even harder to correct...
Its look of ease and spontaneity makes competence seem within reach. Most of us quickly discover that with fast-drying, transparent paint there is no place to hide.
Uncertain strokes and attempts to disguise mistakes remain visible in the finished painting. What at first looked so easy and spontaneous turns out to require either a great deal of thought or phenomenal luck."

Tom Hoffman

Oh! I love that book and couldn’t resist sharing more than a single quote with you.

But getting back to the bun…. here are some of the thoughts I had as I did this super quick sketch:

  • I made the decision on Thursday evening that I would be working through Easter (ie. Friday, Saturday and Monday) but at a slower pace so I would have time fit in a few relaxed sketches. Therefore my hot cross bun for morning tea needed to be sketched. But so much for being leisurely, I wanted to eat it hot, meaning that I would need to sketch it fast.
  • So while I was boiling the kettle for the accompanying cup of tea I was strategising how I would attempt it – what medium and where I would sketch and eat it. I decided to  start with paint and to sketch it on my painting desk as my home palette is out and ready to go. Not sure which brush was out but I would go with the flow with the first brush I saw.
  • With my #8 round brush (which was lying on my desk) I painted the main bun shapes with a monte amiata natural sienna wash dropping in a bit of darker pigments and then some goethite and potters pink for granulation. Next I added the shadow on the plate allowing the two washes to mingle (no time for the plate in this sketch). I wanted some soft edges within the bun so was happy for everything to mix together and for watercolour to works its ‘magic’.
  • Painting the fruit was a little more challenging as I wanted hard edges but didn’t have the time to wait for the first wash to dry. So I picked up a smaller brush, mixed up a much juicer wash (with little water) and dropped it into the wash hoping the pigment would sink rather than float. And I then noticed a Dark Indigo watercolour pencil on my desk so I used it to define the hard edges to the fruit. No worries that this was a dark blue pencil and not a dark brown one – I didn’t have the time to go looking for a brown pencil!
  • Time to enjoy the hot bun and my cup of tea! This was probably after less than 2 minutes of painting… so I walked away from my desk (carrying the bun with me of course) to a more comfortable spot for morning tea. Do you really need to know all this detail? Actually, the fact that I walked away and didn’t watch what the pigment was doing was a little risky!
  • After I had finished my tea and bun I came back to my desk. The washes had mostly dried now and all I had to do was punch the darks and put a little more to the shaded side of the bun.

And there you have it. It is amazing how much I can write about such a simple sketch… but I firmly believe that quick sketching has a lot of thought and/or practice behind it. On this occasion it was important decisions edges and the wetness of the paint that guided the process – on other occasions it might be the need for accuracy in one part of the scene. Do I need to tell you that I explain a lot more detail about edges (and even food sketching) in my upcoming SketchingNow Edges online course? How was that for a lead in? Sorry… I couldn’t resist! No seriously, putting the content together for the Edges course made me realise how important edge decisions are to make aspects of a successful sketch.

To get back to the Easter theme… I normally try to find and sketch a chocolate Bilby at Easter time, but sadly I haven’t come across one in my regular chores during the past week. Ah! less chocolate is always a good thing – hey? – so a fruit bun sketch it is for this year.

And just for the record, these days working for myself it’s sometimes hard to determine when to rest and when to work, but I am happy with my decision to work through Easter. After all ‘writing a book’ is a season of one’s life that one would expect to be VERY busy. I have been able to enjoy writing for my book this weekend much more without the pressure to keep up with email and other projects. So its all good!

Looking forward to my usual day of rest (from work and sketching), my day of worship tomorrow (I don’t observe Easter as anything different from the Lords Day every week!) and time with my very special family over lunch on Monday.

Happy Easter everyone! Have you sketched something related to Easter – please share a link to it in the comments section if you have!


  • Corinne van der Vorst says:

    Hello Liz, what I like so much about your sketches is that you can always see in your sketches that you had so much fun making them! And ofcourse it is interesting that you share your thoughts with us about the sketching process. Never heard of chocolate Bilby’s. Maybe you can get them only in Australia? I sketched some chocolate eggs and my coffee yesterday. Lately I try to be more bold when sketching. Therefore I didn’t use any setup but started directly with paint, adding a few ink lines afterwards for some hard edges (yes, I followed the edges course, which makes me think about hard and soft edges more and more!). If you like to see my sketch here is the link Happy Easter!

    • Liz Steel says:

      yes- Biblies are only in Australia and even then are hard to find!
      Love your sketch – thanks for sharing

  • Gayle says:

    Liz, your yummy blogs never cease to amuse, enlighten, and motivate me. You passion for your art is contagious which makes reading your articles such a delight – And on top of all this, the technical details you impart and illustrate are priceless (and always makes me crave a cup’a tea!) Can’t thank you enough! You go girl!

    • Liz Steel says:

      oh! thanks Gayle! Comments like yours really inspire me to keep going. Some days I feel like I am talking to myself and just hope that it is of use for others!

  • I love your hot cross bun. I haven’t done much food sketching but your delicious lattes and yummy scones (not to mention cups of tea) inspired me to give it a go. My sister sent me a link to a hilarious sounding recipe for something called Salmagundi and I decided to sketch the ingredients I could get together from exploring the contents of the fridge. Posted the sketch and wrote about it here:
    Happy Easter!

  • Kate says:

    Thanks Liz for the hot cross bun image that seems so simple…but wait, its not!
    I just posted lesson 7 for the Foundations Course. I painted it on Maundy Thursday at a church in my neighborhood. It seems very controlled. I look forward to the day when I can make images that seem simple too.

  • alissa duke says:

    Hi Liz here is my traditional hot cross bun drawing in watercolour pencil

  • Susan King says:

    Not so much of a sketch, but it is definitely related to Easter! Love your hot cross bun, off to have one now.

  • Emily D. says:

    I love this! I love hearing about your process and what you used for this sketch. So fantastic.

  • I very much enjoyed reading about your sketching process, and I really appreciate the way you integrate your life on the pages of your sketchbook. I was doing that before, but haven’t been including much of my thoughts, including my faith, in my sketchbooks recently. Reading through some of your entries is encouraging me to do so again. I’ve always found that sketching helps me pray more for some reason. I’ll be reading your blog a lot more to help me get back into sketching more of my life. I wrote this blog post on Easter– not so much a sketch as my musings on Easter and a recent experiment at painting with bright color to express joy.

    • Liz Steel says:

      thnaks for your comment and blog post… yes, what amazement to find the empty tomb and then that Jesus had risen from the dead. I celebrate this every week on the Lords Day, but it is always great to be reminded of it!