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Direct to Watercolor Part 1 of 4 : First Breakthrough

July 25, 2014

Note: If you’re linking in from somewhere, this is part 1 of 1 / 2 / 3 / 4

At the moment I’m out of town visiting the old stomping grounds in Alberta. The next four posts are going to be about a recent three-week watercolor sketching project.


The other day I had an abrupt breakthrough. I feel like I’ve changed the way I draw ‘overnight’.

Not truly overnight of course. I know in reality it’s been a very gradual change, two steps forward, one back, taking about five years. But it still feels like a light bulb suddenly went on.


These sketches are something I almost never do. Drawing directly with the brush, with no preparation.

Simply starting with a silhouette in watercolor, and working into the simple shape.  You can clearly see the ‘big shape’ of the unfinished neighboring building in this second sketch.

If you’re a reader of the blog, you’ll know I’m all about my under drawing. So this is sort of a big thing for me! I have always felt (and still do) that a painting never gets better than the drawing it’s based on. If the drawing isn’t strong, adding value and tone isn’t going to save it. Quite the contrary – it’s the silk purse and sow’s ear all over again.

Looking at these older sketches from the 2011 USK symposium in Lisbon, I think you can clearly see my love of drawing, and the way I’m using it as a scaffold for the paint.

When I teach, I’m always telling people, ‘Spend as much time on the drawing, as you do on the painting’.

The drawing is the planning phase. Where you establish correct proportions and plan the big blocks of color. The painting itself is the reward. The brushwork can be light and lively because there’s no more thinking required.

But somehow today, after (about) five years of drawing followed by ‘coloring in’, I’ve reached a point where I’m wanting to draw directly with the brush.

My breakthrough sketches might not seem like a significant improvement. They might even look like a step backwards at the moment. But, in the next three posts I’ll show what I did from here.

Note: If you’re linking in from somewhere, this is part 1 of 1 / 2 / 3 / 4


21 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2014 8:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing your method as you evolve. I love your work.

  2. July 25, 2014 8:32 AM

    That is awesome! I’m excited almost as if that was a breakthrough that I had!:)
    I’d love to be able to go straight into painting, maybe that would help me loosen up. The amount of detail I put into my underdrawings is killing me at the moment.
    Would love to see some pictures of the stages or even better a video of the process! :)

    • August 6, 2014 7:16 PM

      I feel the same way – (these days) – that too much under drawing kills the spontaneity!

  3. Gina B. permalink
    July 25, 2014 8:55 AM

    Can’t wait to see where you go from here!

  4. July 25, 2014 8:58 AM

    Brilliant post. I will try this, thank you.

  5. July 25, 2014 9:24 AM

    Now that’s a watercolor! This is a wonderful progression from drawing to painting. I’m anxious to see the journey. Great inspiration, thank you. Jody Bryan

  6. bmweeks permalink
    July 25, 2014 9:38 AM

    I’m really looking forward to seeing this. It’s a great inspiration to see someone so accomplished continue to challenge himself!

  7. Susan T permalink
    July 25, 2014 9:49 AM

    Marc, many painters feel they don’t need to know how to draw. Clearly you defy that! Having a good drawing background only makes for a better observer and painter. Looking forward to seeing the progress.

  8. July 25, 2014 10:10 AM

    Your watercolors are fantastic. I also sketch in watercolors and have been struggling to get away from underdrawings before I begin to paint. Straight watercolors have a very easy-going, calm feel but seem, to me, to play a bit hard to get in making them.

  9. Margaret McDermott permalink
    July 25, 2014 11:15 AM

    I think your work is amazing no matter what you do, but I know artists are always challenging themselves and growing. Enjoy the journey! Thank you for sharing!

  10. July 25, 2014 3:04 PM

    These are wonderful, especially the light on that dome. Can’t wait to see more.

  11. July 25, 2014 6:39 PM

    Your paintings are absolutely amazing! thank you for sharing.

  12. tmikeporter permalink
    July 26, 2014 10:12 AM

    Look up Trevor Waugh on YouTube. There is a beautiful clip or two of him creating scenes drawing with the brush. He wields it like a magic wand.


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