Do you sit down to sketch or paint sometimes and you just don’t know what to do or where to start? I do.
I have some time and I want to practice but then all inspiration disappears and I’m left twiddling my thumbs wasting precious painting time on trying to decide what to do.
That’s why I came up with this list of ideas. It has really helped me to focus my time and therefore I thought I would share it as it may help you too.
I hope this list inspires you on what to try out in your watercolour sketchbook.
If you would like some more information on watercolour sketchbooks, I have a brief round-up that you can check out here.
For those of you who want to glance over the list quickly or perhaps even print this section out, here is the condensed list below. For a more detailed explanation and my thoughts on each of these bullet points, keep reading the rest of the post.
Ideas For Your Watercolour Sketchbook
- Swatches of your watercolour set
- Mixing chart with your watercolour set
- Sketching things around the house
- Exotic animals
- Urban sketching in your local area
- Portraits – the 100 Heads Challenge
- Ink drawings with minimal use of watercolour
- Famous landmarks
- Use a limited palette
- People sketching – #100peopleoneweek
- Draw This In Your Style Challenges
- Sketch the same thing twice in different styles (or mediums)
- Do something that scares you
- Practice natural elements (Skies, water, mountains, beach etc)
- Design a sketchbook spread
- Just use one colour
- Paint first, then draw on top
- Use other mediums with your watercolours
- Use only your least-used colours
- Paint only with one very large brush
Swatches of your watercolour set
The first thing I like to do when i get a new watercolour set is to make swatches of each colour, write the name and pigment code. This is also a goo things to do when you start a new sketchbook, especially if it’s not one you have used before. It’s a good way to get to know the paper a little.
I tend to make these swatch charts in the back of the sketchbook but you can do it on the first page too. This is a useful exercise to help conquer the fear of the first blank page!
Check out my ebooks with hundreds of ink & watercolour travel sketches from all over the world. Get some inspiration for your next trip…
Mixing chart with your watercolour set
The next thing I do after making a swatches of each of the colours is to make a mixing chart. This is such a useful way to get to know your paints and how they mix with each other. I cannot think of another exercise that improved my ability with watercolour than this.
If you have a large set this is going to take quite some time but if you have a set of 12 colours or less then this is an excellent exercise to do and I highly recommend you make the time to do it.
If you want to read more about how to make a watercolour mixing chart, you can check out my post here.
Sketching things around the house
One of the most interesting and fun things i have been doing in my watercolour sketchbook, especially during lockdown, is to sketch things around the house. Whether it’s my actual art supplies, houseplants, the kitchen cupboard or the cat, it has certainly kept me occupied.
If you fancy having a go at sketching things around the house why don’t you my 7 Day Urban Sketching at Home Challenge? It’s totally free and you can join any time, click here to join now!
Pick 5 of your favourites, perhaps have a theme? I painted 5 African animals I saw during a game drive, you can see them in my sketchbook tour video below.
Try some urban sketching in your local area
Check out this video of me sketching around the park where I live. I tried a few different scenes across a sketchbook spread and I even learned a little bit about the history of the are through doing it.
Try drawing portraits
Yep, full-on head and shoulder portraits. There’s even a challenge you can try this out with, it will save you some finding reference photos – search for the 100 heads challenge!
I’m not good at portraits but I tried a few and they’re actually pretty fun, here’s an attempted self-portrait!
Ink drawings with minimal use of watercolour
Check out my video with John Harrison who is a master of leaving white space or for an alternative approach check out my video below of a full-on ink drawing of doors with bright pops of colour in the background.
Sketch some famous landmarks
I did a series of London landmarks which really helped me galvanise a certain style I seemed to be developing organically. Sketching a series of things really helps with this. It’s also great for a bit of armchair travel too, perhaps pick some landmarks from countries you’ve always wanted to visit.
Use a limited palette
Pick some version of the 3 primaries (or perhaps even three secondary colours if you’re feeling super brave) and paint with just those 3 colours. For instance, you may want to pick 3 cool primaries (red, yellow and blue) or 3 warm primaries.
You could do a colour mixing chart before you start to understand what colours you can achieve we these three paints. Then do a whole sketch with just these colours. If it were me, I would be tempted to do a whole series of sketches like this. It will really help you understand how to get the most our of your paints.
People sketching is something I really want to do more of. Again there’s a yearly challenge of sketching 100 people in one week if you want to do it along with lots of other people, however, there’s no need to wait! Get out to your local cafe or park and get sketching your fellow humans!
Draw this in your style
Try a ‘Draw This In Your Style’ challenge. I recommend trying out the challenges set by @brejanz over on Instagram, I really enjoy the reference photos he posts (and also his fantastical interpretations of them). There are loads of other people who post challenges though, use the hashtag #drawthisinyourstyle or #dtiys etc to scour for inspiration.
Here is a sketch I did as part of a draw this in your style challenge:
The other great things is if you follow the hashtags you can see the multitude of different styles one subject can be portrayed in. It’s staggering. It’s like every single person’s style is unique to them, like a fingerprint.
Sketch the same thing twice… or even three times!
Try sketching the same subject twice (or even 3 times) but in a different style, like this video where I sketched 3 houses in 3 different ways or in this video where I did one tight sketch and one looser one.
Do something that scares you!
Paint in watercolour without adding ink lines first (or after) or sketch directly in watercolour with no lines at all!
Practice natural elements
Practice natural elements: paint skies, water, rocks or sandy beaches. These can be hard things to draw or paint so practice different ways of representing them.
Do you want to learn how to sketch your own adventures in ink & watercolour?
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I will show you my exact sketching process in ink and watercolour. I have travelled around the world in the last 3 years and this is my go-to system of creating beautiful yet quirky illustrations to capture the magic of my discoveries.
We will work through 3 projects, step by step (pictured below), all of which are real-life examples of things I have sketched along my travels. I provide the photo references you can work from.
We will start by choosing a composition, laying in the initial pencil sketch, adding ink lines, layering watercolour and adding the final touches.
This and much more are included in my course, Sketch Your Adventures, click the button under the image to find out more!
Design a sketchbook spread
Design a sketchbook spread or layout, sketch one thing from multiple different angles (like a building or even something simple like a pepper) but try to make the layout look as interesting as possible.
Just use one colour
Sketch an entire scene in one colour, just use tonal variations (light middle and dark versions of the one colour. I’m pretty sure you will be amazed at how much you can achieve using just one colour.
There are a number of videos on Youtube about how to do this, below is one of my favourites from artist, Karen Rice.
Use a paint first approach and put a wash of colour down first, then draw over the top and add more paint as you see fit. You can check out a couple of ways in which to do this:
1. in this video of me painting a house or
2. this one painting a Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza.
Use other mediums with your watercolour paints
Experiment with other mediums in conjunction with your watercolour paints: watercolour pencils or markers, gouache, colour pencils, water-soluble ink. See how they interact together and what effects you can make.
Use your least-used colours/paints
Look at your palette, which are you least used colours that you barely touch? Paint only using those colours.
Just one large brush…
Try and paint entirely with one very large brush…just see how far you can get and how it affects your painting technique.
Some of my favourite online classes
- Urban Junkyard- Ian Fennelly
- Acrylic Painting Step by Step: Create Incredible Landscapes – Maru Godas
- Illustrated Life Journal: A Daily Mindful Practice – Kate Sutton
- Illustrating Nature: A Creative Exploration – Laura McKendry
If you would like more information on the art supplies I use and recommend, head over to my Recommended Stuff page. In addition to art supplies I share my favourite books and courses too!
I really hope you have enjoyed looking through this list and all the ideas that are here. Many of them I have attempted in my own sketchbook and you can watch me doing so over on my Youtube channel here.
If you are looking for a collection of inspiring reference images to sketch from, look no further than my Pinterest board which you can find here.
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