How do you sketch on location with watercolors?

Alex at Computer

I am trying to get over the intimidation of doing live sketching of people with watercolor. I don’t carry my watercolors with me like I do my sketchbook and have always wanted to. Part of the reason is I feel rushed for time and part of it is the intimidation factor. In the safety of my studio I have no problem doing little watercolor studies and I love playing with the color and wetness of the washes. I know I can always color my sketches later and that may end up being the best option for me but for now I am going to start challenging myself to get the feel for working with the watercolor on the go even if these first few tries are in the safety of my own home.

For those of you who use watercolor in your sketches, what are your tips and methods?

28 thoughts on “How do you sketch on location with watercolors?

  1. Watercolor colored pencils either Prismacolor or Derwent. Can add water later. Very versatile and handy.

    Rich……..Sent from my iPhone


  2. Most of the time I sketch on site and color later. But I have brought watercolors to restaurants with me many times and colored on site. I have a small carrying case which contains the watercolors, brushes, water, and a small “cup” to put the water in. (I used to use a Niji waterbrush which was even easier). You can see it in my post here, although my palette has since changed to get rid of fugitive colors:

    I know many ladies simply put this stuff in their purse which is even easier.

    It is really as easy to do as with pen – just takes a bit more nerve. You have the nerve to sketch ’em, then this is only a baby step more. πŸ˜‰ My nerve for doing w/c in public has ebbed and flowed. Really, though, I have never had anyone bother me (except once in a blue moon in the most positive way).


    • Thanks for that link Dan. I took a quick look and plan on coming back to it when I have a bit more time. I have that same WN travel pallette. I’m starting to like it better than my Koi one. I also have those water brushes you are talking about but tend to find them a little annoying because I still have to get the hang of controlling the waterflow. I plan on taking a closer look at what you have though. It looks like a good informative post. Thanks!


  3. I use Caran d”ache watercolor crayons, carry the water in my water bottle, all very simple. I do paintings this way,also ink and wash, and mixed media. I have a straw bag thing that holds all the small and simple gear.


  4. I obviously don’t do a lot of WC, but when I need colors, I tend to go for the dry media, or pen markers πŸ™‚ But I’d like to get back into WC someday


  5. One of the hardest things for me to embrace was the idea that sketching on location are just larger thumbnail sketches. If they turn into a really cool painting that’s a bonus but not the goal. The goal of working on location is to get yourself out of your comfort zone and practice seeing and picking up little details you never noticed before. For that reason, getting down the rough layout of the scene and then adding in details and color later (or when you get home) is pretty common. I will often snap a quick photo on my phone or camera so that I can reference color at a later period (or if you have a subject that doesn’t sit still). The quick photo will also help if you feel shy about repeatedly looking at someone. When I do use watercolors, I especially like the Prismacolor Watercolor pencils or pastel chalks because of the blending and erasing capabilities. I now have a set of those water-filled paintbrushes but I haven’t tried them out in the field. Most of the time you will see me with a portable set of Prismacolor color markers so that I can rough in some color, and outline with a black pen. Most people who find out you are doing a sketch or painting are far more accepting (and impressed) of that than someone taking a photograph which has a creep factor to it. Bottom line is not to feel rushed–unless you are about to get sprayed by the gardener like I was at the Garfield Park Conservatory.


    • Davi. I use two different types of Moleskines. One is the standard sketchbook which does not take well to water media. The other one I use is their watercolor notebook. I use Micron pens which are waterproof and therefore don’t smudge when watercolor is used over the top. Any alcohol-based ink pen will have this same effect with watercolor. In the My Materials link above you can see examples of the sketchbooks and pens I use.


  6. Hi Rebecca – the short answer is I don’t. Like you, I feel intimidated by getting out a paintbox in public (I’m only just getting over sketching in public generally). I also prefer my tubes of watercolour, so I would sketch in pen or pencil and then retreat to the safety zone of home πŸ™‚


  7. I often put colour on later, I write notes if I think I might forget the colours. Sit with your back to a wall when possible so nobody can peer over your shoulder, You can pretend to be looking at something else behnd them too.
    The smaller your paintbox the less it’s noticed, waterbrushes are essential for me.


    • Cathy… I do the same corner wall trick πŸ™‚ Maybe I should start with a limited one or two color paints that I can easily carry in a tin. Those water brushes still get me though. I need to practice controlling that water a bit more.

      I like your thought on writing notes. No reason I couldn’t do that in pencil and erase later.


  8. I bring a pocket size paintbox, a Global Art pocket size sketchbook and a waterbrush anywhere I go. The waterbrush would be perfect for your painting style because it makes you paint watery washes like your example. Good luck and if you want to see my sketchbook paintings visit www.


  9. I have several approached for sketching in situ, even for watercolors.
    Most of time I go to complete all the sketch in the field so to serve more memory and feelings of what I’m doing.
    In some cases I try do the most I can in situ and then coloring or finishing later by taking a picture, like my last deployment.
    The suggestions that I can give are always the same of many other people, more skilled than me.
    Take a comfortable position when sketching. Focus ( I have to admit that I have a strong focus so even a super model passing don’t distract me…) and let your sketch go. Don’t stop never, don’t care about anything else and the magic will happen.



    • Stefano, thanks for adding your comments. I love hearing how everyone approaches their sketching. I really need to just bring my watercolors with me and instead of doing my normal sketching do the watercolors. As everyone is saying, I can always take a picture and add the rest later.


  10. Pingback: Moving out of my comfort zone with sketching in public with watercolor | Rebecca J. Stahr Sketchbook

  11. I’ve never tried to sketch on the fly with watercolour but one thing I would use is one of those brushes that hold water in the handle – don’t know the correct name but pentel make them. Brush, paints, paper is all you’d need.


  12. i love both posts, this one and the #movingOut.. are really inspiring πŸ™‚ i like how you write and your opinion about stepping outside and sketch it from the real hood-location. in the place where i live the people not really have or not all have the awareness to say ‘permittion’ to look the artist working. it perhaps they don’t want to bother the artist by asking or talking with.. but i’m sure some will get distracted when people start to mumbling around . i did some before and some started to “nosey’ asking blah blah.. and i just didn’t want to be so rude. but yeah it s really distracting.. anyway, i like this one it s so pretty painting very loose with nice color mix. πŸ™‚


  13. Pingback: Moving out of my comfort zone with sketching in public with watercolor | Rebecca Stahr

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