I had a great time teaching my watercolor sketching workshop recently. I was telling my students how I got into the practice of sketching in watercolor which later led to watercolor being my primary media as a painter. Years ago I came upon the book, Sara Midda's South of France Sketchbook. I loved how she captured the quintessential elements of the South of France in sketches with watercolor. I then started collecting almost every book like it I could find. I have books by architects and artists who have sketched, Italy, France, China and other countries. This is way before the Urban Sketching movement. A lot of my books came from France where the practice of travel sketching is known as "Carnet de Voyage," a travel sketchbook. There were even dedicated sections in the bookstores in Paris to these type of books. When I lived there and went to these shops, I was like a kid in a candy store.
For me, getting really comfortable painting in watercolor is due to starting watercolor travel sketchbooks. When I moved to Honk Kong I met artist Lorette Roberts, who has done a whole series of books capturing various areas on Hong Kong with watercolor sketches. I have every single one and love them. Lorette and I still keep in touch through Facebook. She was a big inspiration for me to start and maintain a sketching practice.
As I told my students, if you have the slightest interest in learning to paint with watercolor start a sketchbook!!! You don't have to only do it when you travel. You can start with simple things or just do it in your own backyard. You will then be far more comfortable doing it when you do travel. For me it took the intimidation out of creating a "painting." It's only a sketch and it's only for me. I can choose to share with others or not.
Start a book and don't worry if some of the sketches suck or you think are failures. It doesn't matter! What does matter is that you enjoy doing it and by doing it on a regular basis you can't help but get better! Iain Stewart, is another artist friend who sketches a lot in Watercolor. He has a philosophy that I love. He says never tear out a page from your sketchbook! Whether its a "fail" or a "keeper," leave it in the book. Once you fill the book it's a great way to look back on your progression and how much you improved, because you will. :-) Plus, especially if you do them while you travel, they will become your most treasured possessions. No photo can take the place of a sketch. Looking at it will take you right back there.
If you are intimidated by going out on your own, ask some friends, or start a group. While in Hong Kong, I met a local artists and she and I would set a date to go out at least once a week somewhere. What is wonderful now is when I look at those sketches I have fond memories of the time we spent together!
Some of the biggest takeaways my students have expressed to me are, learning about perspective to sketch architecture, learning how to break a scene down into simple shapes and compose it how you like, and learning to use the pencil as a measuring stick and proportion while drawing so that what you want to express fits on the page.
If you are curious to start a sketching practice, what is your biggest fear or reason for not doing so? If you do have a practice, what do you love the most about it? Please leave a comment I would love to hear from you! If you are curious to see my watercolor travel sketches you can click here.