3 Techniques for Easy Watercolor Drawing

Mar 22, 2023

Watercolor Drawing Techniques to Improve Your Paintings

Starting out, when I heard statements like drawing is the most foundational part of your painting, I felt intimidated because I - like many of you - did not go to art school. I didn’t spend months in formal study, learning the principles of perspective, composition, or positive and negative space.

Drawing is important, but I have good news for you - it is teachable, and you can learn it. So, today, I am going to set you on the path toward improving your drawings for your watercolor paintings. 

What a Drawing ISN’T [How to Sketch for a Watercolor Painting]

Sketching out a scene does not have to be complicated. 

First of all, discard the idea that you are trying to draw a stand-alone piece of artwork. Your drawing should not fully represent what your painting will be. You don’t need to create a beautiful scene with detailed shading. You don’t need to create compelling atmosphere that elicits emotion at this stage. 

Drawing is not the same for painters as it is for pencil artists. You do not have to be an expert drawer, you just have to know how to create a guide for yourself

What a Drawing IS [My Goal When I Sketch a Watercolor Scene]

A watercolor artist approaches their drawing in a completely different way than an artist who uses pencil, charcoal, or ink to render a complete work of art. 

For us, a drawing is simply a guide.

Drawing for watercolor paintings is meant to:

  • Lay out the scene
  • Help us think through our composition, and
  • Set ourselves up for success as we work through the different steps of our painting.

Some artists create beautiful, expressive drawings before they move into the painting process. If this helps you, that’s fine. But if it intimidates you, then don’t worry about it. A fully-rendered drawing is not necessary. In fact, it can sometimes distract from your finished product.

How I Start a Drawing

When I sketch, I primarily think about setting up my composition and creating a clear plan. Since I paint from light to dark, I am particularly mindful of the light I’m preserving as I move forward and through the scene. 

First, I ask myself which I want to be more dominant - the sky or the ground. The answer to this question helps me determine where to place my horizon line. This is the first decision I like to make about my composition.

After I establish the horizon line, I then think about the major shapes of my painting and determine where I want the focal area to be. Typically, I want it to be on a third of the scene, so I lay those out next.

3 Tips - How to Draw for a Painting

Like I said, it can be intimidating to draw when you have limited experience. So, I’m going to share a few tips I've picked up through the years. These are things that I put into practice each time I start a watercolor painting.

1. Keep your hand on the paper as much as possible. 

As you’re drawing, if you keep your hand on the paper, you'll be better able to keep your place as you move through the scene. If I skip around to different sections of my drawing, what I'm missing out on is the connection and the relationship between the parts. And if I'm drawing and coming back, I'm going to lose my place in my drawing. 

2. Let’s draw shapes instead of objects. 

Try to see things you are drawing as they really are instead of how you conceptualize them generally. In other words, look at the shapes of the object rather than depicting every little thing in the scene the way you imagine it should be. We become more precise when we can use this approach. 

I found this particularly helpful when I started to paint cars because I would automatically have an idea of how they should look because I've seen them my entire life. So I would try to draw cars from memory, which can be really tricky. Once I started to think about them just as shapes and look at them as they really are, I was able to render them more realistically.

3. Constantly compare shapes with one another. 

As you move around the scene, constantly compare your shapes to each other and reference the different areas to make sure that it is accurate as a whole. If you get hyper-focused on drawing one particular thing and then move on to something else in your scene, the odds of them being in scale together are pretty slim. Instead, constantly compare the two parts as you work your way around the scene and complete your drawing. 

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Related Blogs:

Composition in Watercolor

A Simple Guide to Painting Cars

What to Draw Before You Paint

Stop Overworking Your Paintings!

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