Watercolour: negative painting

Yesterday I came across this post from Sunnyfae about negative painting, a (watercolour) technique that requires to paint all around a given shape, therefore leaving the lightest areas of the canvas free. Here is one of her drawings:

I absolutely love the technique, so I looked up for Linda Kemp, the artist she mentions in her post. I found several videos on YouTube, and this one sounded great for my beginning with this new technique. Linda explains how to approach the painting in a mid-way between completely free and completely planned – by deciding the subject, colours and overall shapes before starting. The painting process will then be focused, while remaining free on local decisions (brush strokes and colour density). I like that approach and it suits me in this moment. You can browse other videos and find the one that speaks to you and invites you to try painting!

Thank you Sunnyfae for your inspiration, and do keep us posted with your progress and discoveries 🙂

Watercolour painting: red fox

A couple weeks ago I saw a picture of a fox that invited me to make a watercolour painting. Today I stumbled upon this watercolour lesson from Laurie Wigham on John Muir Law’s blog and, after browsing the lesson’s slides, I grabbed my watercolour set, a largish pencil, my sketchbook and the watercolour pencils I have never used before, and started painting.

This is the outcome:



I enjoyed experimenting with watercolour. I was initially worried of doing mistakes that I could not correct, but instead felt a lightness in filling large areas so fast, with a light touch of the brush, and see how I could move paint around thanks to water. I added pencil details after the paint had dried a bit, so in some areas the wet paint diluted the pencil and made very rich colours.

I’m happy with the right side of the drawing, I consider the colors right and the pencil addition quite balanced; the left side was too lightly painted and I used a lot of pencil, a bit too much. The proportions of dark and light areas on the left side are also not so similar to the picture, maybe because I started painting when I had observed the picture too quickly (especially that part).

Overall I am satisfied with this painting, it gives me a positive sensation and it motivates me to try again! I liked the speed of the paint part and the combination with pencil. The video and slides give a lot more information and techniques, so I’ll consult them in the future to pick new tips and improve. I hope I inspired you to grab a pencil and try this yourself! I’d love to hear your feedback on the post and hopefully see your own paintings 🙂

Watercolour experiments

Today I wanted to test some exercises suggested by “The magic of drawing”, and I’m quite happy of the result:


The process was free, the shapes came out from a first random brush stroke, that suggested the subject of the small painting; a linear stroke invited more linear strokes to represent tall grass or slender trees, while curved strokes reminded me of oak trees, like the green one.

My first steps of watercolour are about learning to control the brush, so they are not anything close to reality; nevertheless, I had much fun just practising these basics.They reminded me the free canvas use by children, who are additionally learning to control their hand. It was for me a happy jump in the past, in the times where I could draw and paint without thinking about the time or the use of paper.

I hope this encourages you to try too: you only need paper (any kind is OK for the start, it only has to be a bit thick, otherwise it bends with water) and a watercolour set! Hint: shopping for these supplies is a feast on its own 🙂

Book recommendation: “The magic of drawing” by Cliff Wright

I found Wright’s book in my local library, in its German translation. It is filled with ideas for sketching, exploring new techniques and improving your observation skills. I recommend this book to all people who feel too clumsy to draw, even for themselves, and find Drawing on the right side of the brain too lengthy and too… brainy 🙂

I loved how each page captivated me with lively drawings of magical creatures, some of them trying the drawing exercises themselves in cute poses! And how to forget the full pages of his complete drawings, like this one:

The book is mostly a school for observation. There are so many issues in the drawing process that are rooted in the ordinary way of scanning the world with the eye, that is oriented to classification and not to analysis. Wright provides tips to train the eye to collect information for the drawing, and surprisingly few tips for drawing techniques. He even encourages to draw with your other hand, a hand that has had little or no training in holding a pencil – but when the eye has done his observation job well, the drawing will come out far more alive than the one made by an unschooled eye and a skilled hand. Try for yourself!

Happy sketching everyone 🙂


Drawing updates: coloring book and animal sketching

Today I dedicated some time to drawing. First, as a relaxing activity, I picked a set of brightly-coloured pencils and started filling this drawing of a dragon:


The book is called Mein zauberhaftes Muster-Malbuch (my magic colouring book of patterns), but I am equally inclined to recommend any book with subjects of your liking!

Then I wanted to do some animal drawings, after having seen this video of one of John Muir Law’s lessons (it’s 1h30 long but totally worth seeing until the end!):

I was chatting with friends about alpine ibex and Wikimedia offered me a very cute picture of a Spanish ibex kid:

Capra pyrenaica victoriae, juvenile -- 2013 -- Laguna Grande, Sierra de Gredos, España.jpg
By J.Ligero & I.BarriosOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

… that I sketched, trying to understand a bit of his inner structure (of the legs, essentially):


I plan to make further drawings of this little one, the fur texture is very interesting. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

A visit to the aquarium

A few days ago I went to Berlin aquarium with my sketchbook, I ended up staying in for 4 hours, one of which by the Arapaimas:

They are huge freshwater fish, growing up to 2m long (exceptionally 3 or 4) and weighing over 100kg. They moved around with little or no movements of their fins, like living submarines. Many people looked at them for a minute or two, fascinated by their size, but then walked away. I decided to stay and draw them, as they moved so slowly. I was therefore able to see them interact with each other and with other fish in the pool, and had a lot of fun when they flocked to observe people who sat next to their glass for longer than a minute – it was a very slow (5min? more?) alteration in their swimming patterns, from random to focused, so that in five or more passes near the person they finally stood with their head oriented to them, in a group of six and more. One guy leaning on the glass, busy on his phone, didn’t notice the slow formation of that fish crowd until other people pointed them to him, and he turned around to see the curious arapaimas then disperse with a powerful move of their caudal fins. One fish came to me to check my drawing kit, I showed it every piece closer to the glass, it observed everything and then swam slowly away.


I tried to draw and note as much as I could (in Italian – it goes faster for me!) and, as John Muir Laws suggests, to describe details, even if they seem obvious, and note questions. For example I observed the pattern of pink spots of several fishes and imagined if it could be a pattern that changes with age. I was not able to draw the texture of fins and head, so I described it in the notes. I liked spending that time immersed in observation. It felt a way of respecting these animals, even if they are living in unnatural conditions, hopefully pleasant for them anyway.


Drawing update

Last weekend I visited my family and took some time to doodle.

I made a landscapeito of the lake we went to for the afternoon: I decided to limit the time to 5 minutes, so that I focused on getting the framing, shading and details right. In this drawing, I tried to make the background lighter than the foreground, a way of suggesting distance. I am not super happy with the water, but I think that I captured the essence of the scene.

Source: Flickr

My mum is currently practising guitar together with her colleague Biagio, so they invited me to their rehearsal. It was a perfect occasion to draw! I took around half an hour to make the drawing below. It was easier to draw the parts of the body that didn’t move much (right arm, shoulders), but hard to draw the head and the left hand, that moved a lot. For these parts I chose a particular position and waited for them to show it, drew a couple lines or hatching, and wait for next occasion. I learned about this technique from a workshop about wildlife sketches, where you choose several postures of an animal and work in parallel, adding details to each doodle every time the animal falls into that position. It is indeed a valid technique for any moving subject.

Source: Flickr