Tuesday, April 28, 2015

My Philosophy of Urban Sketching and How it Relates to Spritzing

3/3/15 various inks, Caran d'Ache Museum colored pencils,
Canson XL 140 lb. paper
In my recent post about drawing with water-soluble inks when using watercolors, I had mentioned spraying the sketchbook page with water. Larry asked about that, so I thought I’d respond with this post about the watercolor part of my sketch process.

Before I answer the question about the sprayer, though, I thought I’d use this opportunity to talk about brushes and how they relate to my philosophy of urban sketching. (If you’re not sure what I mean by “philosophy,” please refer to the subheading of this blog: Urban sketching: it’s not a hobby; it’s a lifestyle.) Please indulge my long-windedness, but it is related:

I have a good selection of “real” watercolor brushes (as opposed to waterbrushes) – some synthetics plus a few sables, including my favorite Escoda travel brushes. I use them only when I’m home. For example, any still life that I’ve done at home was painted with one of those “real” brushes. You may have noticed that the colors are more intense and more carefully applied in those still lifes compared to sketches done on location. Those sable brushes are a joy to use, and I’m sure my urban sketches would improve if I took them out in the field with me.

Watercolor applied with waterbrush (Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook)
I realized a long time ago, however, that if I choose to use “real” brushes on location, a layer of complexity is added to my process that I know will keep me from doing some sketches that I want to do. For example, in places like the middle of a shopping mall or during the 10 minutes before my bus comes, I either can’t use a stool because I’d be blocking others, there’s no place to set down my paints and water cup, or I don’t have time to fill a cup with water. I could choose to draw on the spot and paint later, but I know myself well enough to know that once the moment is over, so is my inclination to continue the sketch. So I either remain standing and use my clip-on watercolor box, or I take advantage of the bus shelter bench and make a 10-minute sketch.

In either case, if I’d had to use a sable brush with a cup of water, I probably would have decided not to sketch. But here’s where the philosophy comes in: I don’t want to let those moments get away because I’m hindered by my materials. So I’m content with the lowly waterbrush, and that’s the only brush I use on location.

Page spritzed with water before applying watercolor with waterbrush.
Now the answer to the sprayed-water question: As anyone who uses a waterbrush knows, those crappy nylon bristles are OK for small areas but are absolutely terrible for washes of any size. So when I want to paint a streak of blue to indicate a sky, I use a basic wet-on-wet approach to compensate for the waterbrush. First I spritz the paper with a small atomizer (intended for perfume) that I also use to wet the tube paints. Then I use a clean brush (ironically, that’s when I use one of my travel Escoda brushes – because I know it’s always clean) to smear the water around more evenly. And then I use the waterbrush to give it a quick swipe of paint. The wet surface helps spread the paint more broadly. OK, so it’s not a Shari Blaukopf or Tom Hoffmann sky! But it gets the job done a little better than the waterbrush alone.

And more to the point: It fits my philosophy and lifestyle.


  1. Very interresting article full of ideas. Thanks

  2. Interesting to hear your ideas about the real brushes. You do very quick sketches so I understand why the waterbrush is more convenient for that...in fact almost perfect. I do always have my Escoda travel brush because sometimes I just want that more intense color that is impossible with the water brush. I don't bother with a water container some of the time. I just put several drops of water in the corner of my little palette to dip the regular brush into. Many of my sketches are done in a longer sitting and I will use both for those. It is fun to hear another person's way of sketching...and spritzing and spreading is a great idea I hadn't thought of.

    1. Great idea, Joan! Next time I want more intense color, I'll try your trick and just put a little water on my palette for my Escoda brush -- that might be all I need.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...