Hello, my name is Shiho Nakaza (follow me on Instagram!). A big “thank you” to Charlie for inviting me to participate! I was born in Okinawa, Japan and emigrated to California with my family when I was 8. I grew up near Los Angeles, and still call the area my home.
Being close to the ocean gives me a sense of stability. I’ve been doodling since I was three, and went on to study illustration at California State University, Long Beach. I am still drawing and painting to this day for myself outside of my work as a graphic artist and illustrator.
What got me to start sketching from life is when I started studying animation and went on a drawing class in Italy. Once I started to put pen on paper to record what I saw, I fell in love with being able to see what is happening around me while interpreting the events within me, all the while, making lines on paper.
I joined as a correspondent for Urban Sketchers in 2009, and I have been sketching every day since New Year’s Day, 2009. The practice of daily sketching is now a habit that I build into my daily routine, like taking a shower, yet the outcome is always different.
Even when sketching the same scenery, the results come out differently from day to day. Drawing from observation is a great way to learn how visual elements work together, plus I have no excuse that I can’t think of something to draw – the whole world is in front of me!
I also like that flipping through my sketches makes me remember a certain moment – using my mind and my hand to draw and paint seals the memory into my mind much better than a photograph. Some days I like my sketches, other days not so much, but this variety within the routine always fascinates me.
Watercolor is my favorite medium precisely because it has its own mind – I like a little bit of unpredictability. It is surprisingly forgiving – I have been experimenting with wiping washes when they are still wet to bring whites of the paper back lately. I have slowly upgraded my materials over the years. My current to-go setups are Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook, Rosemary 1/4” travel dagger brush, and a mix of Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton and Holbein watercolors. I use a Uniball Signo gel pen with brown black ink (which is waterproof and can be painted over) for line work.
I usually paint directly with watercolors without doing any underdrawing. I started using this technique to save time since as I usually only have 10-15 minutes a day during the workweek to paint, usually on my lunch break or after work. First, I take a few moments to look around to notice what catches my eye: it can be the way the light dapples through the trees, a pop of color, or the way a person moves. I lay down a diluted wash of paint to establish a horizon line or a line of action. I then start to lay down more colors, sometimes mixing colors directly on the paper.
The Rosemary dagger brush works well for this purpose, since I can “draw” very thinly with a point, or make broad strokes with the side of the brush, or dip different parts of the brush in different colors to create a multi-stroked hue.
On most weekends, I go out and do longer, more detailed studies, but I try to keep the process simple by sticking to observing first, starting with light washes, and building on colors from there.
Looking back, I now realize that doing something every day, even for a few minutes each time, made me confident in my drawing and painting abilities as I continue to practice capturing life on paper with watercolors.
I am painting mostly for myself to relax, but it also gives me peace when people who look at my paintings feel beauty and happiness. I like to inspire and be inspired by fellow artists, both locally in Los Angeles and globally through Urban Sketchers.
Some of my watercolor sketches are made into prints on Society6, and I post regular updates on what I sketch on my Instagram feed. Next month I will be painting landscapes specifically during the month of April for #PleinAirpril challenge. Keep on creating and appreciating the beauty around us, everyone!