GUEST DOODLEWASH: Sketching From Life

Doodlewashes by Becky Cao

Today’s beautiful doodlewashes come to us from Becky Cao, in Vancouver, Canada (follow her on Instagram & Flickr!). She was born in the northern part of China and immigrated to Canada with her family at age 13. She’s been living in the Greater Vancouver area ever since then.

“From the age of five,” she says, “I’ve always been drawing and designing. My childhood was filled with great times copying cartoon characters from TV and designing my own board games, and sharing them with my friends. During high school, I was introduced to many art mediums, and I fell in love with watercolors and acrylics. My life goal is to become a professional comic artist and illustrator.”

Becky pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at University of Victoria from 2010-14. She received her Early Childhood Education Diploma this year and is now working as a daycare teacher, while working as a part-time freelance artist.

Doodlewashes by Becky Cao“I started sketching from life in second-year University, when my drawing teacher was giving us a sketchbook assignment. I was already inspired by many sketchbook/art journal artists on Flickr and couldn’t wait to start my own. The school assignment had really pushed me to start doing it. I began to draw simple things around me from life.”

In the beginning, she was only able to sketch things in the house, such as cups and jars. “I was really intimidated to do outdoor sketching,” Becky says, “because the subjects seem very complicated. But I had a strong desire to do it! So I began by practicing sketching the views outside the windows in my house, away from the public’s eyes and outdoor weather.”

Then, during the summer vacation before third-year university, she did her very first outdoor sketch with watercolors. “I took a walk to a park in the neighborhood,” she says, “and found a spot to sit down near the trees, where nobody would approach me. The view in front of me was the pond, and combined with trees and grasses.

“I was intimidated to start the sketch with a pen, so I used a pencil. I had a hard time capturing the forms of everything. When I put watercolors on, I wasn’t very patient and didn’t have much control of the medium. The result of the sketch was very crude.”

Doodlewash by Becky CaoBecky went on to experience many other failures and frustrations in sketching complicated things in the first 1-2 years of keeping sketchbooks. But she didn’t quit sketching. “I knew that I would get better and better as I do more,” she says. “I also kept looking at other artists/sketchers’ work to learn more techniques and be inspired all the time.

“Overall, I think there are only two things we can do to improve our artistic skills: one is to keeping drawing/painting everyday, so our eyes would get sharper and that we appreciate the beauty of life more and more; the other thing is to be humble, which is keep learning from other artists.”

In May 2013, the summer before her last year in University, she joined the Urban Sketchers group in her city. “Being supported by other sketchers has really helped me to get out of my comfort zone and improve,” she says. “From that time on, I have expanded my sketching subjects to scenes of everyday life and trips, not only simple objects. I feel less intimidated to draw complicated scenes as time goes by, and that I have more control of time (finishing a sketch in a limited amount of time, like one hour).”

Before Becky sketches a scene outdoors, she always finds a spot with a good view (interesting perspectives, a sense of depth, and/or interesting color schemes); safe to sit for an hour or two (not threatened by traffic or any other potential hazards); and comfortable (eg. not blocking the way of others).

“When I’m ready to sketch,” she says, “I put my sketchbook on my lap while sitting down on my portable stool, or on a table when in a café. Sometimes I stand up when it’s impossible to see the view if sitting down, holding the sketchbook with my left hand and against my chest. When I sketch at home, I can sit almost anywhere I want, usually at the dinner table, sketching my food.”

Doodlewashes by Becky CaoHer sketching process and tools are really simple, to get things done quickly. First, she plans what to include on the page and how big everything going to be, and she does that by measuring with her eye checking back and forth between the blank page and scene/object. “I sometimes measure with my pen or fingers if I’m not sure about the proportions.”

Secondly, she draws directly with her pen (Faber-Castell Technical Pen or Lamy fountain pen), with a clear sense of where everything goes on the page. “Sometimes, I do a blind contour approach,” she says, “by just letting my pen glide on the page without checking the accuracy often (this speeds up the sketching time!).”

Thirdly, she moves on to painting with watercolors when she thinks she’s captured enough details. Becky uses a portable watercolor box manufactured by Sakura, with 24 half-pan colored cakes inside. She paints with a waterbrush, manufactured by Holbein. “As I paint,” she says, “I mix my own colors instead of using the pure colors from the box. For example, I would add a little bit of purple and blue to the pure green to create a more realistic color for the tree.”

Thanks so much for sharing your story and your fabulous doodlewashes with us Becky! Be sure to follow her on Instagram & Flickr!

Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in Featured Artists
  1. kirkistan 7 years ago

    Well, first off I love Becky’s sketches. I want to do what she does. And I completely agree with all she says. I’m considering investing in bound sketchbook for the next year. I really appreciate hearing about her process and tools. Terrific post and sketches! Thanks!

  2. Phil Cooper 7 years ago

    Gorgeous sketchbook images!

  3. Teresa Robeson 7 years ago

    I’m at the same place as when Becky was first wanting to sketch the outdoors, so I appreciate this interview because I learned a lot! I’m going to take her advice and start indoors looking out the window. It is also awesome to meet a fellow Vancouverite! 🙂

    • Author

      Yeah…I loved the thought of staying indoors and looking out. Not only is it less stressful, but I can also have my glass of wine. 😊hehe

  4. weisserwatercolours 7 years ago

    It is simply magical. Having lived in her two cities, I see in her sketches things which twig many fond memories simply because she is not only artistic, but accurate in her depictions. thank you Charlie for featuring Becky.

  5. Rachel Murphree 7 years ago

    These are really fantastic! I will definitely follow Becky. Super!

  6. LOVE these!!

  7. Kari 7 years ago

    I’m so intimidated by urban sketching but I find it so freeing at the same time. I’m not ready to join a group yet but perhaps someday. Becky’s sketches are loose and expressive and I love them! Thanks!

    • Author

      You should just go for it if you’re interested! That’s the best way to try anything! 😉👍🏻hehe

      • Kari 7 years ago

        I’m going to see if I can find a group near me.. 😊 If not, I’ll just go see Jessica in Tucson.. Hehe..

  8. artandmoondreams 7 years ago

    Beautiful sketches, love the detail and use of watercolor. Thank you for featuring such a talented artist.

  9. Kudos to Becky for doing outdoor drawing and painting. I am so intimidated by that! My fear is that people will come and look at what I’m doing! 😬 Great work Becky! Thanks for sharing Charlie

  10. Sharon Mann 7 years ago

    Becky, I’m in awe of your fabulous drawings of everyday life. Thank you for sharing your life and art with us. Thank you Charlie.

  11. amaryllislog 7 years ago

    Wow, this is so inspirational Becky and Charlie. Love the body of work shown here, so fresh! Now following Becky on IG! More visual fodder!

  12. Margaret 7 years ago


  13. Sharon Nolfi 5 years ago

    Lovely use of sketchbook pages.

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