After starting Doodlewash® back in July 2015, I really wasn’t sure where it would take me. I was just incredibly excited about discovering watercolor sketching. Like, insanely excited and I wanted to share my newfound love of watercolor sketching with literally everyone I met and hopefully, one day, the entire world!
I’m happy to say that today, I’ve reached quite a milestone on this journey of 1,000 consecutive days of watercolor sketching (including an accompanying story each day!) Yes, this post is the 1,000th day of daily doodlewashing (my coined name for watercolor sketching) as well as storytelling (or rambles such as they are)!
I just want to take a moment to thank each and every one of you who have encouraged me and cheered me on along the way. I also wanted to take a moment to share a bit of what I’ve learned about watercolor sketching and forming a daily art habit. Because if you haven’t started a daily painting and/or sketching habit yet, I think you’d really love it and it’s really not as hard as you might think.
About Watercolor Sketching
Watercolor sketching, as most of you know, is simply the act of using watercolor to quickly visualize the world around you. I called it doodlewashing because it sounded fun and less stressful, but it’s really the same thing. You can use only watercolor or mix it with other media, as I do, but the focus is on quickly creating the illusion of something you see, or an idea that’s in your mind.
I can barely describe in words the way I felt when I discovered watercolor sketching. It made my heart sing. I didn’t have to choose between painting, drawing, or making sketches with pen and ink! I could do them all at once and all in glorious color! And I didn’t have worry about making a gallery masterpiece on a pristine sheet of paper. I could just play inside my sketchbooks and make whatever came to mind that day. The illustration shown at the top of this post is just one of the stacks of sketchbooks that I’ve accumulated in the last 1,000 days. I thought about stacking them all up, but the sketch wouldn’t have fit onto a single page of my sketchbook.
Watercolor Sketching Books And Classes
The book that started it all for me was a little book simply called Watercolor Sketching: An Introduction by Paul Laseau. Well, as I’ve mentioned before, it really all started with a tree that I quickly sketched, but by the next day I had completed my first little watercolor sketch from the book followed by others.
While this was a wonderful way to begin and build confidence, I was seeing a lot of folks out there calling themselves urban sketchers and I was intrigued to find out what it was all about. Shari Blaukopf was one of the first urban sketchers I found and I loved her style (you can read her feature on Doodlewash by clicking here!). She had just launched her first Craftsy class in the previous month and I was excited to take it. So the following day I launched into her course and created my first little landscape.
Mine didn’t look at all like hers, by the way, but I happily laughed it off and kept right on painting. I then went on to take lots of other classes that helped inform my style, but perhaps more importantly, inspired me to keep right on sketching and painting. You can see the list of all the classes I’ve taken and recommend by clicking here! After just a week of trying, failing and laughing about it, I was inspired to create the Doodlewash Manifesto , a list of 10 do’s with absolutely no don’ts, giving me full permission to keep moving happily forward. It definitely helped me get through the tough times, and though it certainly applies to watercolor painting and sketching, it can really be used for most anything at all in life as well.
Watercolor Sketching and Urban Sketching
Though many urban sketchers use watercolor, it’s not a requirement to become one. You can simply head out with a sketchbook and a pencil or any type of media you like!
The key distinction of urban sketching is that it’s always done from direct observation, including a bit of context for the scene, to create a true record of time and place. It’s incredibly fun and I highly recommend it! My friend Aesha and I decided to give it a go early on, and I discovered that while I love sketching outdoors, I preferred painting indoors. The paint just dried too quickly for the style I wanted to employ. So many of my doodlewashes were quickly sketched live, and then painted later.
Also, I learned that the subject matter that I wanted to practice or paint most wasn’t often what was directly in front of me. This was a side of effect of my desire to write as well as sketch.
I wanted to write about and illustrate my memories and thoughts of childhood, not just what was happening to me right now. So even had I been able to get over my uneasiness with crowds and join a sketch walk, I would have come home with illustrations that didn’t fit what I wanted to write about.
So, what did I do? Well, a little bit of everything, of course! You’ll still find urban sketches from me, albeit cropped tighter than the usual fare, when it works with the story I want to tell. But not when I’m dreaming of dessert and can’t get Philippe to make one for me, so I have to paint those from references or the fantasy of dessert in my mind. (Cue the sad violin music!)
All of it is watercolor sketching, no matter how it was created, and it’s all super fun! Since there wasn’t a term to encompass and include all of the different approaches, I coined the term Doodlewash to create a space where I could happily include, support, and promote them, well, every single one of them and more! So try everything and choose to DO whatever makes you happiest, even if it turns out to be just a little bit of everything! (if you need a name for that, you’re a doodlewasher! Be proud!)
My Watercolor Sketching Happy Hour
In order to make sure I was able to show up and sketch and paint something each day, the first step was to set a regular schedule. This is not something that is normal for me as I tend to just fly by the seat of my pants doing whatever comes to mind in the moment. But I knew that if I didn’t always have the time available, I would be more likely to skip a day, then maybe two, and soon go days would go by without making a sketch. Where was I going to find an hour each day?
Well, the weekdays are busy with work, so I had to give up something I enjoyed to pursue something I truly loved and wanted to explore. I would sometimes join friends for Happy Hour, that time after work where you have a quick little drink and chat before heading home to dinner. I decided to forgo that happy hour and use that time each and every day for painting.
But I didn’t become a hermit, of course, that would be creepy. I simply offered to meet my friends for lunch instead. And I soon discovered my new happy hour, was actually the happiest one of all. Yep, I can still have that glass of wine when I like as well, just not much more or the sketches could start to look weird.
On the weekends, I have a little more flexibility, but I still make sure the plans I make leave me that little hour to sketch and write something each day. And even when the plans don’t quite work out, like when I’m traveling and the flight is late, I still make an effort to show up.
Once while visiting California, for example, I didn’t have time to write a proper post and it was nearing midnight, but I was determined to make a 15 minute goldfish before passing out from sheer exhaustion.
So rock that stubborn determination within you and just show up and make something, no matter what!
Building A Daily Art Habit
Even when you’ve found the time and have all the enthusiasm in the world, there’s still a bit of work to building a daily art habit. After the first several months of painting daily, I’d crossed over into something that roughly felt like a happy habit. I literally had to show up and gleefully make something each day. I really couldn’t stop if I tried. And it even became kind of a fun challenge to make something on those crazy days when it seemed impossible to sneak in a bit of watercolor sketching. But I managed to DO it somehow and it was always so exhilarating!
So what I learned wasn’t monumental so much as a reminder of what my heart already knew. I didn’t have to worry about what I made or how it turned out. I didn’t have to have a specific goal in mind, other than a commitment to showing up to sketch, paint, and practice. I never planned to make 1,000 watercolor sketches. It just happened naturally. So, basically, I’ve found there’s nothing complex in forming a daily art habit and it just takes three little steps.
Step 1: Paint Like A Kid Again And Post Everything
When I started watercolor sketching, I was just joyfully drawing, painting and splashing puddles about. I would post my test swatches as art and I was so incredibly proud of them! Release your inner child and stop trying to control what happens next.
Just sketch and paint and have fun and when you’re done, you’ll hear that inner child shouting with glee, “Put this one on the refrigerator too mom, it’s art!!” Too many times, we worry that what we made isn’t good enough to post or share. If you made it with all the joy of your inner child, trust me, it’s beautiful. And we all want to see it and, even better, someone out there is really going to love it. Post it!
Step 2: Learn What Techniques and Approaches You Love Most
Take all those classes from the masters and join all the groups you can, but never feel like you have to conform to just one approach. That, after all, isn’t what art is all about. If you love watercolor sketching from life most, then do that! If you love that sometimes, but not all of the time, then do both! Wanna sketch first and color later? Go for it! Put on a blindfold and see what crazy thing you’ll make? Try it! Seriously, I haven’t tried that, but it sounds totally cool, so I think I just might!
The great thing about art is that you never have to actually choose a method. In fact, you’ll find that it’s simply in the process of trying a lot of different methods that one or, more likely, a combination of several will ultimately choose you. That’s when you know you’re on the path to finding your personal style. And if you don’t choose what you really love most, then you won’t want to come back to it each and every day. That’s why this step, might just be the most important one of all.
Step 3: Make A Little Hour In Every Day And Sketch
Okay, yes, I said an hour, which doesn’t sell quite as well as “Master watercolor sketching in just 15 minutes a day!” But guess what? Though 15 minutes is enough time to make something, just look at that lovely little goldfish above, it’s the bare minimum. If you only set aside that much time, then it’s far more likely that something will conflict with it and you’ll lose that 15 minutes entirely. And end up sketching nothing at all.
But, if you have an hour set aside, even if things get crazy, you’ll discover that, as if by magic, time slows, and there’s always a tiny bit of time left in the day to sketch and paint. And on those days when you’re “in the zone,” time will seem to stop entirely, and it’s the most amazing feeling in the world!
Watercolor Sketching My Way Into The Future
It’s not always easy to show up to sketch, paint and write each day, but each time I do, I feel like my day always gets a little brighter. As I move into the next 1,000 days, there are some exciting additions to Doodlewash coming in the months ahead and I hope you’ll be joining me for what’s happening next. For example, drawing is at the heart of learning how to paint, even in abstract, and certainly key to watercolor sketching and, well, the doodle in the wash, so to speak.
So, you’ll now find a Forum in our community dedicated to all things Pen And Ink as well as one for Drawing And Sketching! And for the first time the April Art Challenge is open to drawings as well. So even if your goal is to use watercolor, if you managed to make a sketch, you did something awesome, so please join us and share it! I created these monthly challenges in hopes of inspiring and helping others to form their own daily art habit as well.
And the question that is on my mind and perhaps the minds’ of others reading this. Will he continue to keep up his habit of daily watercolor sketching? Oh, most definitely, as it’s truly a habit now and I honestly can’t stop! Yeah, that sounds more like an addiction, but whatever you want to call it, it will continue. That said, I may or may not take some little breaks along the way from my daily written posts moving forward so I can write longer more informative posts as well, like this one, to share a little bit about what I’ve learned along this journey.
Watercolor sketching and writing each day has enriched my life in ways that I can’t always put into words. It’s a feeling that perhaps is best simply experienced. And after all these days, I still feel like I’m at the beginning of my journey, just practicing and having fun. So if you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for? Tomorrow could be the start of your 1,000 day adventure. Join me, won’t you? There’s a world of things out there ready to be sketched and it’s far more fun when you draw and paint with friends!
About the Doodlewash
Da Vinci Paint Co.: Nickel Azo Yellow, Quinacridone Red, Terra Cotta, Cobalt Turquoise and Cobalt Blue . Lamy Al-Star Safari Fountain Pen with sepia ink in an A5 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book. Want to purchase a print of this doodlewash? Click Here!
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!