Working With Color Book Urban Sketching by Shari Blaukopf

Book Review: Working With Color by Shari Blaukopf

This week marks the beginning of the Urban Sketcher’s Symposium in Amsterdam. Whether or not you’re jetting to Europe, you can enjoy quality instruction by a USK favorite, Shari Blaukopf, in her new book Working With Color released by Quattro Press.

Photo of Shari Blaukopf Urban Sketching buildings

Shari lives and works in Montreal, Canada, but travels around the world teaching her signature style of Urban Sketching.  A graphic designer and teacher, she also has two sketching classes on Bluprint, Sketching the City and Sketching Landscapes. She was also a featured artist here on Doodlewash!

Urban Sketch painted in Amsterdam by Shari Blaukopf

Working With Color: Techniques for Using Watercolor and Color Media on the Go is 6-½ x 9” (A5) flexibound edition with a wipe clean cover and elastic keeper strap. Like all of the previous Urban Sketching Handbook series, Shari Blaukopf’s book is sized to stack with popular sketchbooks and match the other volumes in the Urban Sketcher’s Library.

This volume features six key color concepts broken down into bite-sized topics with abundant illustrations by Blaukopf and a couple of dozen other popular urban sketchers. Following the main instruction, Shari includes four galleries of works that demonstrate how she and the other urban artists use color to establish mood, atmosphere and light, as well as express their individual voices.

By definition, Urban Sketching is done on location, engaging with and responding to the environment in which you are immersed. Shari’s stated goal with this book is to “give you stimulating ideas about how to integrate expressive color into your sketches,” not just to provide technical guidance. Throughout the book, annotated sketches clearly demonstrate each key concept she’s striving to teach. I had several “aha!” moments reading the idea and then seeing the concept worked out in real life. Unlike fine art books on color theory, the help here is succinct and specific. Tips presenting alternate solutions or shortcuts are peppered throughout the book as well.

Working With Color Book Interior describing palette and brushes

Key 1: Basics

Because Urban Sketching is spontaneous, Shari encourages the reader to create a compact kit with basic supplies they can carry with them all the time. Several pages show sketches and give explanations for each component in her kit. While the publisher prefers to avoid naming specific brands, Shari’s blog has a “Sketching Supplies” page with photos and explanations for each item by brand that she uses. Instagram often lists new materials by name that she’s auditioning as well.

Swatches book page from Working With Color by Shari Blaukopf

Key 2: Pigments and Color Mixing

Probably the most info packed chapter in the book, Shari jumps right in with a double page swatch out of the 23 colors in her compact sketching tin. Don’t despair if 24 tubes of paint aren’t in your budget, though — Blaukopf repeatedly encourages readers by showing and explaining how she usually sketches with just a handful of pigments. Her favorite triad includes a cool red, a deep blue, and a bright yellow. The specific pigments she uses in each piece vary, and I’m confident most sketchers already own enough colors to enjoy the book.

Topics in this chapter-key also include basic watercolor techniques, sky variations, 12 formulas for rich, deep darks, six recipes for believable landscape greens, and color mixing to achieve good shadows. My favorite feature was the use of Shari’s sketches with numbered areas and explanations of how and where to use each new color or technique. She doesn’t just cover what to mix, but where to actually use it in the field.

Watercolor tips from book by Shari Blaukopf

Key 3: Color and Value

This chapter helps the reader learn how to visually “spice up” their sketches using a wide range of values. Shari uses a 1 (light) to 10 (dark) scale, the opposite of most watercolor value scales on the market. Topics include monochrome studies, saving whites, strategic use of darks, and limiting values in a piece to just high or low key. Deceptively small, this chapter will bring most sketcher’s work up a level or four once they learn how to incorporate value along with line and color work.

Tonal study book page featuring Mike Kowalski Urban Sketching

Key 4: Limited Color

This chapter begins simply, demonstrating how to use a single colored pen to create an entire sketch, and builds up to spot color and triads. Shari also shows a full color mixing chart and sketch for her favorite triad, and includes sketches and a five color palette created by Ottawa artist John Wright for hiking. She finishes the chapter by showing how to create triads to paint rainy or winter days and gives a wealth of ideas for other fun limited palettes.

Working with cool colors for urban sketching in winter - Blaukopf

Key 5: Color Relationships

The heart of the book, this chapter teaches the reader how to use color theory to evoke feelings with their work and find their distinct color “voice” to tell their own story. While the art concepts will sound familiar – analogous, complementary, primary, secondary, and neutral colors – Shari uses dozens of different sketches to show how color theory evokes emotions and establishes the voice of each artist.

Combing colors in Working With Color Book by Shari Blaukopf

Key 6: Neutral Colors

After the riot of color in the previous chapter, Shari brings us back to the subtle beauty of neutrals that form the backbone of urban sketching. Although she shares formulas for both 2 and 3 color neutrals, including how and where she uses each blend, the focus is on temperature and variety within a wash. Using earth tones to build textures rounds out this chapter.

The Galleries

Each of the galleries demonstrates the six key principles in action by sketchers from around the world.

Book page spread gallery of urban sketchers paintings
Urban Sketching Example by Gérard Darris


Grant Park Chicago Urban Sketching by Shari Blaukopf

The book ends with a series of 25 color challenges and a page of the thirty or so illustration contributors with their hometown and web addresses if you wish to see more of their sketches.

Overall, Working With Color: Techniques for Using Watercolor and Color Media on the Go is a valuable tool for any sketcher seeking to increase their color sense and find their own color voice. Although the book was written by and for urban sketchers, Shari’s considerable experience in rural areas makes it valuable for landscape and seascape sketchers and painters as well.

The author, editor, and publisher worked together to produce a tightly focused work that stays on subject and is easy to read through or use as a reference in the field. Whether you’re stymied by the silvery green foliage of an olive tree, or trying to crack the code for a winter palette that feels cold, you’ll find it in Working With Color. If you’ve already enjoyed Shari Blaukopf’s sketching classes online, you won’t find much overlap here. This book is all about color, not sketching technique and process. I would consider it best suited to an advanced beginner or intermediate level sketcher.

You can view Shari’s work on her website, Shari Blaukopf Watercolors, Facebook, Instagram, or her blog, The Sketchbook, where she generously shares her tools and techniques for each ink & watercolor piece she features.

Have you tried urban sketching? Do you enjoy using color to create a mood and express your voice in your own work? Do you have other books in the Urban Sketching Handbook series, or have you taken a class with Shari Blaukopf? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Working With Color: Techniques for Using Watercolor and Color Media on the Go by Shari Blaukopf. Quattro Books, Beverly, MA 2019. ISBN: 978-1-63159-680-3

I received Working With Color: Techniques for Using Watercolor and Color Media on the Go by Shari Blaukopf in exchange for my honest review. I was not given any other compensation, nor will I receive any payment from future sales of this book. Though post contains affiliate links that help support the Doodlewash community.

UPDATE: Book Giveaway has ended and winner has been selected!


Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Working With Color by Shari Blaukopf

  1. This book just made it to the top of my intend-to-purchase list. Thank you for a review not only respectful of the artist/writer, but sufficiently detailed that I know what I’ll be getting and I know I won’t be disappointed. Well done, Shari, Bekki, and Charlie.

  2. Bekki, thanks so much for reading the book and really getting to the heart of what I was trying to achieve by writing it. Much appreciated!!!

  3. Thanks for the review. It looks like a really great book. I have tried urban sketching or sketching within museums and galleries a good few times but have never attempted adding a liquid medium while on the hoof. I should try to take the plunge some time.

Leave Me A Comment!

%d bloggers like this: