Steps to a sketch

Tomorrow will be a year that I’m sketching here on Africantapestry. The past weekend I had interesting conversations with Lin about painting in watercolour, how we all approach it differently, how we learn from each other by observing, trying new things, trying the same things different ways,  the frustration of trying again and again until the bin has no room for any more paper. Keep an eye out for her “steps” soon.

I’ve learnt so much from so many people and I have learnt so much from myself too, as weird as that may sound. I’ve learnt that in my mistakes I should look for my biggest lessons. I always enjoy it when someone else shows their steps in doing a painting. So after a year, it was an interesting and learning experience for me to discover my own steps. The first excercise wasn’t a success and in the second one I’ve reached more of my objectives.

I start off with a pencil drawing.


My washes are very watery in the beginning, done with a big brush. The goal here was to follow the yellow in the apple and tie it in with the background, top left.


This next step is where I went completely wrong. I was impatient and put in the second wash of cadmium red on the apples before the  first wash of cadmium yellow light was dry enough, so there was a lot of bleeding into the background, whichI didn’t plan at all… Zut!


I decided to continue nonetheless and lay in the darker colours of alizarin crimson and ultramarine. It started looking even worse. I also painted the cast shadows with burnt sienna under the apples, while the paint was still wet – I enjoy having some of the object colour flowing into the cast shadows.


After leaving the apples to dry a bit, I painted the details with some olive green and raw sienna and black.


I didn’t like at all what I’ve done here, so I took a rotring pen and simply followed the apples with some very loose contour lines in this last image, which is also a scan and there is a significant change in the colours. The colours in the photos above are much closer to what is on my paper.

I made a lot of mistakes here that I’ll hopefully learn from, but which I’m sure I’ll make very soon again!

I was impatient, something I always am and somehow I never learn my lesson! I didn’t consider my colours beforehand, I just took a dive into the deep end and ended up with incoherent colours. An accident needs to be left alone, I can’t go back to “fixing” it. Sometimes we damage something more by trying to fix it. This applies to life too.


I started again. Same apples, Another pencil drawing.


Again a light watery wash but this time in yellow ochre.


Laying in some cadmium red, after waiting for the paper to dry to damp. Touching in some red in the background, top left corner, to tie it in with the apples. At the same time also putting in touches of olive green, allowing the colours to do its own thing. And of course, laying in the cast shadow under the apples with a watery ultramarine blue, waiting for some of the red to flow into the cast shadows.


So far I’m happier than with the first excercise. I painted in the darks and shadows by using burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. 


I feathered out all the hard edges in the apples, something I don’t often do and I don’t like doing either, but the edges were not flattering on the left apple! I finished by putting in the details and darkening the cast shadows.

I’m happier with the results here, but still there are areas I need to work on. I know at least I enjoy working with a lot of water and pigment. I like mixing my colours on the paper, or rather allowing the colours itself to mix. I also know I prefer working on damp paper. And most importantly, I know I enjoy that first stroke with new pigment the most and don’t like to fiddle back over strokes! I’ve also realized how hard it is to show how you do something when you have never given your “process” any thought  before. And I’ve realized that in exactly this fact, thinking about what you’re doing, lies the joy and satisfaction.


I am leaving for SA on Wednesday for about a month. I will try and check in and maybe post some sketches from there, if and when time and sun allows. Until then…à bientot!