A week of watercolour pencil (Foundations Lesson 1)

July 7, 2023 | 11 Comments

The first lesson of my Foundations course is all about Knowing (and loving) Your Materials and the seasoned sketchers challenge is to choose a tool that you haven’t used or rarely use and to sketch with it for a week. In the past, I have used watercolour pencils (WCPs) for this first lesson. And so I decided to use them again!

For the last few months, I’ve had a combination of coloured pencils and watercolour pencils (from various brands) in my daily kit, but earlier in the week I switched to all WCPs and all Albrecht Durer by Faber Castell. I have a standard selection that I’ve used for many years, but this week I’m exploring an expanded selection of approx 24 pencils. (I will share the exact colours next week after I have had a chance to refine my selection)

So far I have only been using them dry!

The main reason for this has been due to a lack of dedicated sketching time. My sister and family are visiting from Scotland and I’m going on lots of outings with them. I’m managing to do a lot of quick 5 minute sketches but it’s practically impossible to get my watercolour paints out when my niece and nephew are around. I’ll post these family outing sketches in a separate article but today I just want to share a few other WCP sketches I’ve done when I’ve had a little more time.

The above sketch of St Mary’s was done in a very spontaneous way. I had no idea what I was going to do when I started so I just picked a WCP and started with a shape. I switched to ink and then another WCP and so forth! After completing this sketch I realised that it would have been good to select a few colours to start with! So I will do that next time.


A late-in-the-day sketch which was done as a way of getting to know some of the colours in my expanded selection. This is another sketch that was started without a plan!

After a few hours with my sister and family in the Art Gallery of NSW, I had a few quiet moments while sipping an afternoon coffee. So I did this sketch of the Art Gallery.

My Seafood Deluxe Sushi box… hmm, do I need an orange WCP in my set?

A Village Green sketch with a few Lavender shadow shapes done at the start.

And here is another one but this time the shadow shapes were done with a blue marker.

As the notes say I have been thinking about a particular Hawthorne quote for the last few weeks.

Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision – it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so. The world is waiting for people with vision – it is not interested in mere pictures.

We must teach ourselves to see the beauty of the ugly, to see the beauty of the commonplace. It is so much greater to make much out of little than to make little out of much – better to make a big thing out of a little subject than to make a little thing out of a big one.”

(more about Hawthorne’s book here and other occasions when I’ve reminded myself of this quote here and here)

I decided to actually write part of this quote into my book the other day due to a conversation I had with a passerby. A woman (who paints and draws) exclaimed “Why on earth are you sketching that?” I made some comments to her about looking at edges and shapes and finding new ways to record the same scene over and over. But next time I have this type of conversation I’m going to quote Hawthorne!

As I scroll Instagram I’m constantly seeing sketches done by people who either live in picturesque towns or who are travelling to exciting places. And so their sketches are based on inherently interesting scenes. For the past few months, I’ve been limited to sketching during the in-between moments of my day – such as getting some morning sun and sketching the same somewhat boring Village Green over and over again. Staying motivated is a constant challenge but one that I know is good for me. My followers might be bored by the same everyday scenes in my sketchbooks but for me, it’s a very important discipline.

Reminding myself of this Hawthorn quote has given me a new influx of inspiration. I hope you found it inspiring too!

Finally – it’s not too late to join the current cohort going through Foundations. Find out more here!

And stay tuned for more WCP work – maybe it’s time to add water or watercolour to them. 🙂


  • Maria Bergman says:

    Hi Liz
    Following you is actually learning how to live. Looking and seeing. Being wowed by what our eyes allow us to perceive. Stopping, looking, seeing and appreciating the big colorful complex beautiful world. Internalizing it and giving it back to the world with our mark-making. An infinitely rich activity as long as our eyes can see. Thanks Liz.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Maria!!! And yes totally agree with your words “An infinitely rich activity as long as our eyes can see. ” So beautifully said!

  • I am never ever bored by seeing you sketch the same scene every day. Every time it looks different to me and I’m always encouraged to keep going with my sketching practice.

    I feel the same as you too. every day i do the same walk and i sketch the same scenes on my walk but i’ve learnt so much by doing that even though some days it is “boring”.

    Most notably is that i have learnt how the landscape actually looks. I’ve gotten an appreciation for scaling my drawings. I actually have the ability to draw a cartoon of my day – something i’ve wanted to do for a while but couldn’t because i did not understand how things worked out there.

    Sketching the same scene (s) every day does so much and I’m so glad i can come to your blog for inspiration.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Kimberly Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about your everyday sketching and couldn’t agree more!

  • Carrie Williams says:

    So grateful to you Liz that you keep showing up with so much inspiration, thought, and content shared in your blog, your classroom, and from your everyday life. Your commitment to refreshing, re-inspiring, and re-invigorating your followers and your content means your blog is my go-to first thing in the morning. Thank you for sharing your sketching journey—with all its ah-has and solid guidance—from technique, tips and tricks, materials, and ways to fit sketching into daily life. Your message to slow down, draw what is in front of you, engage your space, and celebrate the details that make it home ground is the best therapy for the age. Thank you, thank you, thank you for creating this rich toolkit for responding with heart to the world.

  • Patricia Wafer says:

    Great post and quote from Hawthorne. I will get that book out again and thumb through it for more wisdom when lounging on my patio this summer. And I totally agree. I paint with a group of plein air painters and they most always choose subjects to make pretty pictures out of. There is nothing wrong with painting pretty scenes but sometimes for me it has gotten a bit boring and my goal this summer is to think out of the box when chosing my subject outdoors. I am going to try to make a game of it! I bet I will get some “why on earth are you painting that?” type comments which is fine. I shall refer them to Hawthorne!!

    Below is a quote I remembered seeing years ago on James Gurney’s blog. I am a big fan of Sargent’s watercolors which he painted only for himself and never for sales. Here it is:

    How did John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) find a painting subject? Sir Edmund Gosse recalled:

    “He was accustomed to emerge [from the house where he was staying in Broadway, England], carrying a large easel, to advance a little way into the open, and then suddenly to plant himself down nowhere in particular, behind a barn, opposite a wall, in the middle of a field. The process was like that in the game of musical chairs where the player has to stop dead, wherever he may happen to be, directly the piano stops playing. The other painters were all astonished at Sargent’s never ‘selecting’ a point of view, but he explained it in his half-articulate way. His object was to acquire the habit of reproducing precisely whatever met his vision without the slightest previous ‘arrangement’ of detail, the painter’s business being, not to pick and choose, but to render the effect before him, whatever they may be.”

  • Tina Koyama says:

    I do find it inspiring and copied it in my journal after reading it in one of your previous posts about it. It’s the way I sketch everything, too. People tease me about the trash cans and utility poles I often sketch in my neighborhood, but the challenge is to find the beauty and interest in subject matter that might look mundane or even ugly at first glance. I see that as my job (and challenge) as the artist. It’s much less challenging to simply sketch subject matter that is already beautiful or interesting!

  • Jamie C says:

    This is just the inspiration and encouragement I need as my views are currently limited. I love this quote and intend to keep it close!

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