My name is Leslie Chua and I am truly honoured to be asked by Charlie to share my watercolour journey with you (follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and visit my website!). I currently reside in Perth, Australia, having spent a significant part of my life in San Francisco with short stints in London and Melbourne.
I blame these exotic cities and the easy access we had to mainland Europe for my passion for food and hence my favourite sketching subjects. In my day job, I’m a physiotherapist, wife and mum, host a podcast called, Stress Busters for Busy Mums, and am about to start teaching online.
Although I had a background in technical drawing (which was more mathematics than art) I really only started sketching three years ago when I had a brain-wave to keep a visual journal of our trip back to the USA instead of carrying my very heavy DSLR camera.
I started researching the most efficient, but effective way to carry a sketchbook and art materials to record our journey. Once I googled – sketch kits, I was hooked. I immersed myself in as many drawing and painting courses as I could online and I continue to love learning new skills.
Sketching with ink and watercolour is my main creative outlet, as it suits the short amounts of free time I can find during the day. I love the portability, easy set up and packing away of my sketch kits.
I have a borderline unhealthy obsession about my sketch kits. I’m always eyeing mint tins and working ways to turn them into mini watercolour palettes. I’m forever tweaking my sketch kits to be more portable, efficient and effective. Sometimes I think I spend more time playing with my materials and tools than actually painting, but that’s okay. It’s all part of the fun.
Right now my minimal sketch kit consists of an Altoids Smalls tin with 7 pieces of cut up Daniel Smith watercolour sticks that can mix a large gamut of colour. I usually skip the pencil outlines and draw directly with pigment ink. I like the Zebra Fude brush pen and Pentel pigment brush pens. They dry pretty quickly and then I use a Pentel Aquash brush to wash in colour, cleaning it with a sponge I’ve clipped with my palette onto my sketchbook.
My larger sketch kit is a Cotman Pocket Sketcher that I’ve filled with Daniel Smith watercolours from tubes and allowed to dry. If there’s space at a table, I love using a reversible travel brush and a small nalgene bottle of water.
My sketchbooks range from commercially available Stillman and Birn or Moleskines, to limited edition runs bought through Kickstarter campaigns. When I have time, I like to bind my own sketchbooks using Fabriano or Saunders and Waterford papers. They are the best for using very wet washes on location.
When sketching on location, I’ve trained my family and dining companions to eat in the order I draw the food. I put the ink outlines down quickly first, give permission for people to eat my still-life and then wash in the colours as we eat at leisure.
My aim is to complete all the food sketches before we leave a restaurant so I can ask the staff and chef to sign my book. It’s quite a challenge when some degustation meals consist of 13 different dishes. I am in awe of how chefs can pull together the most ordinary ingredients and create the most mouthwatering and beautifully present food that is truly an art in itself.
I sketch in order to have a visual diary of my adventures as well as to understand subjects better. I’m trying to sketch more people, but I’m nervous about having a subject realise I’m painting them. Therefore, I tend to paint the back of people’s heads a lot! The most challenging sketches I do are at live performances in the dark. That’s truly blind contour drawing.
In my studio (read kitchen table) at home, I have a Herring compact palette that holds 16 pigments and has 4 wells. Combined with a rinse-well device and a few brushes, it’s all I need to paint larger paintings.
Most of my large paintings start with a meticulously detailed focal area such as an animal’s eye or the centre of a flower and then get progressively looser as I radiate out. This is where the fun lies with lots of water and pigment flowing like crazy across the paper. I am totally addicted to granulating paints, because they have a mind of their own in wet washes and basically paint themselves.
The most amazing part of my art journey has been the wonderful people I’ve met and been able to connect with. My sketchbooks have served as ice breakers to get to know people on deeper levels, to talk about passions and pursuits. I hope your art takes you to places you never dreamed it could too.