My name is Dominik Neuffer, and I’m from Germany, but I currently live in Switzerland. Maybe you know me from the Urban Sketching Group here on Doodlewash. I started sketching as a kid. My mother was a textile designer and I could learn a few things from her, like our daughters are currently learning from me, by watching and trial and error, of course.
Later, when I was older and more experienced, I also could help my mother every now and then. However after trying to study landscape architecture and lots of drawing and breaking up with it after my mother died, leaving me with a whole bunch of responsibilities, there followed a long hiatus over the years, where I did not sketch very much.
When I started to study computer science and successfully finishing it, I did computer graphics. But, I barely picked up a pen during the best part of ten years. Finally when our oldest daughter told me in 2015 she’d liked to start sketching seriously, I thought, well, that might be a good opportunity to reboot my sketching habit.
Since 2017, also thanks to World Watercolor Month, I’m back at a daily sketching routine. I think I’m a mixed media type. In school, I scribbled with pencil and fountain pen. I also liked crayons. After dabbling a bit on the iPad, the first sketches, I made again, were ink and color pencils. But, I was very fascinated by wet media and soon I bought my first watercolor set from Winsor and Newton.
Currently I’m most of the time sketching directly in document ink and adding washes of color. For ink, I use Sailor Jentle Kiwa Guro ink or Platinum Pigment ink in a Kaweco AL-Sport or Lamy AL-Star, because they‘re sturdy, not too expensive and easy to clean. I also like adding highlights in white with gel pens. Sometimes I throw the good old crayons in the mix or even use brushpens or ballpoint pens.
For brushpens I have a Tombow Calligrapy pen and a few identical Pentel brushpens, I refill with Kiwa Guro as well. The Akashiya Sai color brushpens are also nice for a change. For water soluble black ink for a broad stroke I recently discovered the Pilot Sign Pen.
For ballpoints, just a cheap pack of Bic Cristal from the supermarket. I also use Pelikan Skribtol directly out of the bottle (caution not for the faint of heart) With gel pens I had good experiences with the Jelly Roll and Uni Ball Signo in broad, but a Pentel Correction Pen can be fun as well (also not suitable for control freaks).
As for watercolors, I started with Winsor & Newton Cotman, switched to Prima Marketing and Van Gogh, but am currently most of the time using Schmincke Horadam because of their quality and availability. Also, The Schmincke work well with the old Schminke Gouache I have left from my mother which are still workable after 20 plus years. Sometimes I also use Kuretake Ganzai for plain color wahes.
Paper and sketchbooks, I’ve used a phletora. I really can recommend Seawhite of Brighton Mixed Media, they‘re affordable and can take a few washes of watercolor, but I have used so far with no complaints: Moleskine watercolor (good but expensive), Sennelier, Canson, Talens, Field Artist, Khadi and Pentalic.
For more watercolor work and loose sheets, I currently work with Arches Hot Pressed (satin) which I also use for bookbinding, but I‘ve also had very good experiences with
paint on à grain from Canson. I‘m currently still searching for the perfect paper to combine ink work and watercolor or mixed media with crayons.
It was really eye opening when I realized that I’m a sketchbook person. I’m not that good with single sheets of paper. That doesn’t mean I don’t use them at all, but generally not much. I like to keep my visual notes, as I call them, in a bound book. Seeing it filling up day by day is something I find extremely satisfying. Also, keeping the mistakes and looking back at them later is really helpful for getting better, accepting and working on your shortcomings at the same time. As sketching became a daily routine, the motive of the sketch became less important.
If I wanted to get better at sketching, I realized, I had to sketch and not to be picky about what to sketch. The subject of the sketch doesn’t really matter. So, some sketches are really done for the purpose of sketching alone and that can be satisfying on their own. Basically, it really doesn’t matter what you’re sketching when you get immersed and enter the meditative sketching zone.
Most of the time, I like to catch moments and memories, though. For that I set the bar not very high. I like trivial things that become interesting the longer you look at them. Abandoned places, people on the train, old cars, I like to collect as I spot them. Also, living in Bavaria, the typical Swiss architecture is interesting to me. Most locals just fade it out. Since I’m doing this on a daily basis for 18 months now, I’m getting bolder. I’m sketching in restaurants, bars, at reunions and meetings. Just starting with a little scribble can be very beneficial as it opens your eyes and sharpens your senses. All of a sudden you’re starting to see motives everywhere around you.
Most of my work is done on the go. On the train, during lunch break. I enjoy jotting down the things I encounter on a daily basis. For example, when I was taking a short walk after having a quick bite for lunch, heading into a direction, I haven’t been yet, I discovered an old tower from 1542, which served multiple purposes throughout the centuries (prison, storage, sleeping place for soldiers). A nice motive for the 20-30 minutes I had still left of my lunch break.
When sketching from life, I first define the shapes with quick strokes in ink. Sometimes I start with pencil. After that I lay down a few washes of watercolor to define the basic shapes of the composition further. As finishing touches, I often add a few highlights with a white gel pen. When sketching on the go, watercolor is a convenient medium to add color.
For the composition itself, I feel free to move around things or leaving them out. That’s one of the benefits when sketching from real life. It’s more easy to distinguish between the interesting and uninteresting stuff. When looking at a photograph, for me, making that distinction is not as easy. Generally, I try to work my way from the foreground to the background and trying to keep everything in between balanced and interesting, leaving details out where there isn’t my main focus.
I use too many sketchbooks. I’m trying to get the numbers down this year, but there isn’t the perfect sketchbook – at least not for me. Also last year, I learned how to bind my own books, that multiplies the possible combinations of papers and formats. It’s easier than it looks and it can be also a satisfying occupation on its own. You should absolutely try it.
For me, it all started with a sketchbook. I made myself on out of paper, my aunt gave me. Heaps of it. And since I’m not good with loose sheets, that was the perfect moment to plunge into bookbinding. The paper was decent, but nothing great, just right for quick visual note taking without worrying about wasting expensive paper.
When I have more time to sketch, I use better paper, preferably 200 gsm or higher. That’s when I bring at least three sketchbooks with me. Then I might draft the basic shapes with pencil or watercolor pencil as guides for filling in the colors. I also might use a pencil or graphite stick or even a black brushpen or diluted indian ink for adding value before coloring.
After the washes of watercolor, I add contours where necessary with fountain pen and black ink, highlights with a white gel pen and more contrast with crayons if necessary. Sometimes, however, I like to change things a bit and use ballpoint pens or red document ink for the outlines. Also sketching directly with water soluble ink before coloring can be a wonderful and freeing experience.
In 2018, I collected lots of memories that can be revisited by flipping through my sketchbook pages. Like the guys I sketched on the train and showed them the picture afterwards. An especially nice couple, even made a Polaroid of me as a gift in exchange. Another very particular and treasured moment is meeting three retired teachers in San Francisco and being invited by them on a day trip, because they enjoyed seeing me sketching.
Also in 2018, was the wedding of my cousin. During the festivities, I made 12 sketches of the event. That was my present for the newlyweds. For myself, I made five sketches on top of that to remember it. Being the “official” sketcher in addition to the hired photographer, I had a really great time, chats and drinks of course.
Besides that, the most treasured moments when it comes to sketching are the sketching ventures with our six year old. Kids of that age totally immerse themselves into the drawing. Usually, I can only get a quick sketch in while we’re out together, but I do enjoy having a memory of our shared moments.
Then, of course, there is the chatter you sometimes have with likeminded artists who spot you sketching or people who want to try sketching for themselves or start it again. I try to be very supportive when it comes to that, knowing how it made my life more colorful.
Then there is of course the “OMG, you’re so talented, I couldn’t do it” comment. I like to disagree on that with a soft but distinct statement. Because I don’t consider myself as very talented. Kids are naturally talented, but most of us stop sketching when entering adulthood. It’s all about practice and actually doing it.
I’m a fan of grinding. Back in the day when I was playing computer RPG games, grinding meant killing the same small monsters over and over to level up. While playing computer games didn’t teach me much about drawing, one thing I learned was that there can be quite a bit achieved by grinding. Or like the Japanese proverb says “Even Dust, When Piled up, Will Become a Mountain.”
Same goes for drawing. Constant practice makes you better and confident. Don’t venture out and attack the level boss first. Fight the smaller ones. If you’re overwhelmed by complexity, break it down into digestible bits or try something easier. I usually try to start as easy as possible.
Everything mustn’t be great, everything can’t be great, but by sketching regularly you eventually will get better and end up with a few good sketches, even great ones, you can be confident about and show with pride, because you deserve it. You don’t always have to share it. The sketchbook is yours, you can keep it all alone for you and keep it private. But, my advise would be to share at least some of your pages. It’s totally worthwhile.
Don’t try to judge yourself by the work of others. Only you can sketch like you can. Your line work is unique to you. Have fun and sketch often, then you’ll get better inevitably. While sketching from pictures can be good practice and I do it also as a second choice – preferably from pictures I made myself, going out and sketching from life is best in my opinion.
Also working with limited timeframes can be liberating. Knowing I cannot produce a masterpiece in 20 minutes can be a delightful experience. For me that means, getting a scene into my book without having the time to fret about mistakes. And that shows. Some of these quick drafts have a boldness that is hard to replicate when having all the time that would be needed.
Look forward and from time to time look back to see your improvements. Experiment to broaden your knowledge but also come back to the things you love and improve them. That way you’re building a solid foundation and confidence. Always carry a sketchbook with you, because the moment you’d like to catch probably won’t be waiting for you to be ready.
The new year is still young and now is a good time to start a sketching habit. As for my “resolutions”, I’m trying to get the number of my sketchbooks, that are in use, down as I’m trying to complete as much as possible before starting new ones. Also this year is all about reviewing and refining my style.
I’m also very interested in your goals. Let me know about your goals in the comments!Recommended6 recommendationsPublished in
Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!