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!

45 thoughts on “Steps to a sketch

  1. Ronell, I am so glad you showed your process step by step. It is so very interesting like you say to see how others approach their work. I have learned I am not so patient either! 🙂
    I do like your paintings. Even thought you weren’t too happy with the first I like the line work you added.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. For myself, who has only taken one watercolor class, so am basically self taught, it helps so much to see how others approach things. Even when the first one didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, it helped because I “SAW” my same biggest mistake (impatiens) in what you had done. I love your loose style, and seeing how you apply that is great!

  3. I’ve been lurking around your site for sometime…really like your work. The style of this demo reminds me of Robert Reid’s paintings. I work in carbon and charcoal pencil but am seriously going to try this type of loose watercolor. I particularly like it when the lines of the initial drawing are still prominent.

    You’ve inspired me!

  4. You’ve inspired me too, Ronell. It is wonderful to watch the process of a painting being born, I never get sick of that. I think I like your first effort best.

    For me it’s fantastic to see how you bring your paint to the paper for your lovely loose style. I’m going to go away and think about this and maybe have a go. (I’ve been doing very TIGHT little exercises today, so I need it.)

    Will miss you awfully while you are in SA, so will be hanging out for you to post. Buon viaggio!

  5. Thanks for this post which has helped me a lot. I’m very impacient also and sometimes try to watercolor things without using different layers. Those last days I’ve learned not to do just one watercolor but 2 or 3 so that I can wait when I don’t want the colors to bleed. I have so much to learn but that is the point and the effective goal.

    Congratulations for the 1st year of your blog.

  6. Wow, has it been a year since you moved over? Your apples are just wonderful. I love watching people paint, the steps, the process, it never ceases to amaze me. I too paint without thinking of the process. It wasn’t until I did a WIP that I had to think about the painting in steps. I had to remind myself to stop long enough to take a photo. I must say it did do something to the flow of the painting since I tend to become immersed in the process. I think I get into a zone and I had to keep jumping out!

  7. I can see that there might be an epidemic of impatience around here as I read about your process and the others response. I am so dam impatient, that I have learned to walk away or leave the house. If only I could remember to do it everytime.:0

    Thank you so much for this ‘step-by-step’. I certainly have a much better understanding how you get to those beautiful paintings.

  8. Mesmorizing Ronell – I Love seeing “the process” and yours had mystified me – now seeing your thought outline I understand your approach (or so I think) As I love the loose effect I will attack something in this manner – Thank you so much for having the patience to show us this TWICE. and Have a fantastic/safe trip to South Africa. Post as often as possible please.

  9. Congrats on your one year blog birthday. May you have many many more!!! I’d like to ask you if “Zut” is a curse in another language or your own made up curse. I ask this because I’d like to use it as a substitute for other more colorful words in mixed company. It’s a perfectly splended sounding word for that purpose.

  10. Ronell!! Oh hon — this is just SPECTACULAR!!!! I will post my ‘follow Ronell’ painting tomorrow — mine didn’t come out wonderful as yours … but I’ve saved your notes to keep trying it!!!

    THANK YOU THANK YOU for doing this … I’ve begun working on my ‘step-by-step’ as I was out of work today for a doctor’s appointment.

    I will SO miss you while you’re gone — but will eagerly anticipate even more delicious work! Again, THANk YOU for this fabulous lesson!



  11. Happy birthday to your blog and best wishes for a grand time in SA. Love, love, love seeing this post, Ronell! Thanks so much for taking the time to show us your process. I do hope you are able to post a bit while you are gone. Your many fans will be waiting and hoping for a tidbit or two of inspiration from you…

  12. These are great, Ronell! And congratulations for having the self discipline to stop and take photos in between steps. I especially love the second one – it’s so sensuous and juicy. Sometimes I find that doing a subject more than once results in a better picture as well.
    Have a wonderful time in South Africa – soak up lots of sun, scenery, good conversation with old friends and family, and don’t forget to draw everything you see, so you can share it with the rest of us when you get back.

  13. Ronell, thank you for sharing this! – And congratulations on your blog birthday! And – I wish you a happy time there back home in SA! I hope you will be posting from there soon.
    All the best and later a safe return!

  14. I have so enjoyed visiting with you over the past months. Your blog is always an inspiration. Kate says the best thing one can do as an artist is share with others – you always prove her right, and your most recent post is no exception. Thank you for sharing your process, your work, you wit, your compassion, and your passion. Happy Blog Birthday Ronell, and many happy returns.

  15. Way cool! I’m not sure which I like best! I learned from this and think I might have a go at it also….let’s see what happens! I have some fantastic things going on right now…will share later!!! I will most definitely miss you!! Have a wonderful time in SA, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! and bring it to us through your lovely sketches. Bon voyage mon ami! I will miss you.

  16. Hey there Ronell

    What a great post. It’s so good to be (slowly) back in the swing of things. I’ve missed you and the beauty you brought to my day.

    It will take a bit to peruse all that I missed in my absence, but I hope I didn’t miss you before your trip.

    Safe journey my friend

  17. Happy Blog Birthday!!!

    Thanks for sharing these steps for painting. I’m taking classes locally in watercolour and your steps are similar to what we learn as well.

    I love how your apples turned out, even if you think they didn’t. The painting is still a good example of what you do.

    Have a great time in SA!

  18. Happy 1st Blogday, Ronell!!!

    Thank you so much for showing a work in progress piece for us. I am totally new to watercolour and have no clue on how to work with it. This post has been very helpful. It’s great to see another artist’s process.

    Have a wonderful time in South Africa!! I hope you will share some pics and/or sketches when you get back.

    Stay safe,

  19. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing your approach. I do love your loose happy style. Oh, and Happy Bloggerbirthday, and have a wonderful trip.

  20. Ronell, I was visiting Linn’s blog and she mentioned that you had a demo so I stopped by to view your blog. Congratulations on your blog anniversary!! I know I learn a lot viewing what other people are doing, especially in demos. I like how you made sure to connect the background with your apples each time. I’ll have to force myself to do that more. I think both of these came out great…loose and dramatic!

  21. This has been a wonderful lesson Ronell. I also think it’s always great to see how the others paint. Thanks for sharing! I wish you have a very nice trip to SA; have a wonderful time and sketch as much as you can. Enjoy yourself!!!

  22. Ronell, thank-you so for this lesson. Im trying to teach myself and its always good to learn. I just love the way you paint and try to figure out how you do your wonderful loose paintings. I will read this over and over and try to get the loose style to work for me. Is there any way or time you could do more lessons for use who want to learn. Its asking alot but your work is alot to learn from.
    Thank-you so,

  23. Happy blogging birthday Ronell!

    Thanks for sharing the demo. I love seeing how others work. Have a wonderful time in SA. I can’t wait to see sketches and paintings inspired by your trip.

    Travel safely and have a wonderful time.

  24. Glad you posted this. Watercolor is still so new to me I really haven’t figured out washes yet. It’s a great example of you style and a mini tutorial. Great.

  25. I am inspired by your looseness and comfortableness with watercolor. I did a painting last night and am thoroughly disgusted by my inability to stay loose. I muddied my paints, I tried to fix what I shouldn’t have, and created I tight painting that I could have accomplished better with colored pencil. That is why I sooooo envy your style. I always have. 🙂

  26. Fiz um post ontem sobre Criatividade…
    O assunto é como pintar aquarela parece com os acontecimentos de nossas vidas. Não podemos desmanchar. Então criamos outro quadro para não jogar fora o que foi criado antes…
    Amo aquarelas… Encontrei seu blog no Varal de Ideias.
    Obs.: O quadro do post do Blog Linha não é uma aquarela e sim uma pintura em acrílico.
    Seu blog é muito bonito.

  27. A great post, I love seeing the whole process – twice! I agree that impatience can be damaging to a watercolour painting, but then again, that same impatience can make surprisingly happy accidents sometimes, so you never know… Which is exactly why I like watercolours. 🙂
    I love your apples, both the first and the second try!

    Hope you are having a great time in SA, and that you get some sketching done that we all can enjoy here on your blog afterwards!

  28. Loved your steps to a sketch apples and thought I posted a comment weeks ago. Keep popping onto your blog and wonder if all is well, as you have not posted anything new since 4th Feb?

  29. You are missed, Ronell! What a fantastic response to this post. Hope you are having a wonderful holiday.

    Also hope you get a chance to use that beautiful new palette of yours. I took my little paintbox to Rome for two days and brought it back – unopened. Shame! But it enjoyed the trip. 😉

  30. Thank you very much for sharing your work process. I am just starting to paint in watercolors and I find it very difficult lo let the colors and water do their own so I end up with paintings that look more like acrylic or guache than the fresh watercolor look. I’ll try to follow into your steps and see what it comes out. Thanks again.

Tthank you for your visit and comment, II appreciate it!

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