GUEST DOODLEWASH: Nano-Sketching by Karen Elaine

Doodlewash - #nanosketch by Karen Elaine Parsons of cat

Doodlewash - #nanosketch by Karen Elaine Parsons of LilyGreetings, my name is Karen Elaine and I am an artist, author and teacher living in the mountains near Sedona, Arizona living with my husband and cat (follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and visit my website!). I’m the author of Origami Card Craft and The Art of Kumomi as well as other books on paper crafting and origami.

I teach meditative art, paper crafting and mixed media workshops nationwide. I have a dream job where I get to develop creative products from concept to market for an art supply company and I have no plans to retire, ever. My job allows me to experiment with many types of artistic media but my first love is watercolor.

I started painting with my grandpa’s watercolors when I was a child and I am still fascinated with how the colors dance on paper when they mingle with water. Watercolor has always intrigued me and I just keep going back to it like an old friend.

I have always kept written and visual journals but drifted away from the practice. Lately I have been inspired by the urban sketching movement and Doodlewash to start what I am calling “nano sketches”.

Doodlewash - Nanosketch by Karen Elaine Parsons of woman's foot

Nano sketches are quick gesture drawings done with a pencil (no erasing) keeping the lines loose light and free. You can always erase later but I like to get the composition down on the paper very quickly.

Doodlewash - Nanosketch by Karen Elaine Parsons of girls at farmer's marketThe paper you choose can make such a difference and I love bound journals that come in all shapes and sizes as well as paper types. When I was a budding artist, I didn’t mind lugging around a giant bag of art supplies but these days I like to pack a little lighter. I found some cool unlined micro journals by Paperblanks and discovered they accept watercolor quite nicely. The journals are about the size of an artist trading card so they are easy to put in a purse for on the go journaling. I use the Whiskey Painters palette which is not much bigger than my tiny journal but it is costly. If you are on a budget, you can make your own palette out of an Altoid tin and empty half pans.

When it comes to watercolor I prefer to use transparent colors. My primary mixing colors are Quinacridone Rose, Hansa Yellow Medium and French Ultramarine Blue or Pthalo Blue and I can make just about any color I want without making mud. I might add more transparent colors, a couple of neutrals and earth tones to the palette but I always have my trusty primary colors with me.

Doodlewash - #Nanosketch setup by Karen Elaine Parsons

To complete the Nano Sketching kit, I fill a little cosmetic bag with a Waterbrush, a fine tipped pen such as a Micron or Platinum carbon ink pen, a tiny sponge, a mechanical pencil, watercolor palette and journal. Cosmetic bags are really useful because they sometimes have little pockets for your brushes. All of these delicious art supplies now fit in the palm of my hand so I can create at any moment.

Doodlewash - #nanosketch by Karen Elaine Parsons of portaitNano sketches are quick and usually done in a public place. I prefer sitting at a restaurant, a bar, a waiting room or an outdoor event and I can also sketch what is right in front of me, like my foot, my cat or my husband. Because my kit is so small I can be discreet and it is easy to set up just about anywhere.  A real useful trick is to photograph your subject first so you have an image to refer to when things change (and they always do) and if you want to complete the sketch at a later time. I love using my iPhone for that!

Making time for nano sketches every day is a quick and easy way to practice drawing and painting skills and to observe the world in an entirely different way. 

Doodlewash - #nanosketch by Karen Elaine Parsons of drink

I am so grateful for the opportunity be a guest on Doodlewash and I want to thank Charlie for this inspirational site. If you are inspired to try nano sketching, use the hashtag #nanosketching when posting on Instagram and share your images and tiny art supply kits. Let’s have some fun!

Karen Elaine

Join us for World Watercolor Month in July! Click here to learn more!

Recommended1 recommendationPublished in Featured Artists
  1. Carol 6 years ago

    I love your idea of slipping in little bits of art whenever possible, and your nanosketches are perfect! I am a newbie to an “official” sketchbook (Moleskine) and am still slower than molasses, so because of that I swear by taking a photo first. My art journey started as a card maker so I am curious to check out your origami book. Kumomi looks intriguing as well! Thanks for all your inspiration, and now I am off to find you on Facebook 🙂

  2. Danaye 6 years ago

    Oh my goodness! I want to try nano sketching so bad now! Thanks for the inspiration. I love your sketches, they really pull me in 🙂 <3

  3. […] Thank you Charlie O’Shields of for having me as a guest! I enjoyed sharing my Nano-sketches with you and your readers. It’s been fun! Click here to go to the post. […]

  4. Teri C 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your fun! I pretty much do the same thing but didn’t know it was called nano sketching.

  5. Karen Elaine 6 years ago

    Hi Teri, I am sure it’s not new (the wheel has been reinvented lot’s of times) but I wanted to call it Nano Sketching because it best describes that am using tiny supplies with tidbits of time. 🙂 Thank you for your comment!

  6. Sharon Mann 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your awesone art and story, Karen. Love your supplies. Thank you Charlie.

  7. memadtwo 6 years ago

    Beautiful work, and thanks for all the information! (K)

  8. grlie 6 years ago

    So happy to discover an awesome artist! Love the size! Brilliant idea 🙂

  9. Swarup M 6 years ago

    Lovely! So happy to see you here Karen!

    • Karen Elaine 6 years ago

      Thank you Swarup, I am enjoying following your work!

  10. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 6 years ago

    Your art is charming, Karen. I like the quirkiness of the subjects as you see them and your light, bright touch with the paints. And the napping cat – hilarious.

  11. […] via GUEST DOODLEWASH: Nano-Sketching by Karen Elaine — Doodlewash […]

  12. Elizabeth Metz 5 years ago

    For some reason, even just the name “nano sketches” makes me feel like there’s less pressure somehow. (And anything that takes away the OMG PAGE FRIGHT feeling is awesome in my book.)

    Thank you!

  13. Sharon Nolfi 5 years ago

    I love the concept of “nano sketches.” Yours are wonderful!

  14. Sandra Strait 5 years ago

    Your Nano Sketches are amazing!

  15. Great idea, something to try soon !

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