in my sketchbook: exploring watercolor & gouache


Originally I wanted to write a fancy piece talking about the classes I’ve been taking on Skillshare, and why I think you should check them out. I’m not going to do that. Instead I decided to take a different approach.

Learning art techniques through books or YouTube has never really worked for me. Books are static, and words aren’t always descriptive enough for me to understand what’s happening, why it’s happening, or what the next step is. With YouTube I never feel like I’m getting the full picture, or I’m constantly rewinding videos because techniques are showed in a time lapse format. With really good Skillshare classes I get a full understanding of a technique, the hows, the why’s, the do’s and don’ts, all broken down into chapters, and when it’s all over I can have my own project (if I decide to do the project) that uses all the techniques talked about in the class.

Lately I’ve wanted to learn more about watercolor painting techniques. In particular I wanted to learn about layering paints, setting up a detailed scene, and I wanted a better understanding of the medium gouache. The 4 classes I’m about to mention helped me understand the techniques that didn’t make sense when I read it in a book or watched a similar lesson on YouTube.

lessons in

painting with watercolor & gouache


Botanical Illustration: Paint a Colorful Garden with Watercolor and Gouache

skillshare class by | Sara Boccaccini Meadows


Sara’s class was very informative, a little intimidating and fun for me. For the first year of my watercolor journey I painted leaves. No shadows, no highlights, no varied leaf shapes. Just plain one note leaves scattered on a page. I had no idea how to approach putting a painting together, or how to layer different elements on a page. This class gave me a peek into the process of creating a detailed, layered, and interesting piece that’s anything but boring.

I really enjoyed Sara’s approach to her illustration work, and seeing her process cleared up a lot of confusion I had about how Sara and other illustrators create such multilayered pieces.

I found the idea of creating a full page of cactus illustrations extremely intimidating, so I decided to start small by filling up a square created with washi tape. This piece is one of my favorites in this particular sketchbook, and I can’t wait to try it again. Next time I plan on adding a tiny bit of black paint to each color so that there’s a little more depth and richness to the colors.


Painting Teacups in Gouache: Exploring Shape, Colour and Pattern

skillshare class by | Alanna Cartier


The very first time I tried gouache I hated it. I didn’t understand how to work with it, and I couldn’t figure out how the artists on YouTube were creating such beautiful work with it (It didn’t matter how many beginner gouache videos I watched, it just wasn’t clicking for me). Lately I’ve been seeing more and more illustrators use gouache in their work and I wanted to know more and try it again in a low pressure way. And I wanted to learn from someone that would really break gouache down in a simple and understandable way. For this class I dug up a nearly untouched 3 year old box of student grade gouache paints, turned on the class and found I really enjoyed how bold gouache paints can be.

My technique definitely still needs work, I swear used up almost an entire tube of paint for the backgrounds alone… So I must have been doing something wrong. Anyways practice makes progress, so I’ll keep working at it. I’m also not crazy about the color choices, but it was the best combination out of what I had in the paint set. There needed to be more contrast between the colors. I think it would have been more successful if the the red stayed bold and the blue was more of a light blue or a light blue-gray color.

One of my favorite tips I took away from Alanna’s class was creating 2x3 inch swatch cards of all your paints. The swatches cuts down decision making time when choosing color for a piece, and they’re just fun to make. As soon as I heard this tip I paused the video and made swatch cards of all my watercolor and gouache paints, I even made swatch cards for my favorite paint mixes for different colors.


Watercolor Summer Window: Easy and Fun Watercolor Project

skillshare class by | Irina Trzaskos


I had been working my way through a beginners watercolor book, when I got bored of painting leaves, circles, and triangles. I wanted to paint something more detailed, and set up a scene, but those type of lessons wouldn’t come until later in the book, and I didn’t know how to do it on my own, so I clicked on Irina’s class.

Through this class I learned how to set up a simple drawing, began to understand watercolor layering, and explored painting with a combination of loose and tight brush work. It was challenging, and rewarding when it was done. I had finally painted something I actually liked looking at,sure, I could see all the ways I would want to tweak it, and see where things got a bit weird, but it didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter much now. It’s still a piece I enjoy looking at, and when I flip to this page in my sketchbook I’m reminded that it’s possible for me to paint more than a plain leaf.


Watercolor Bicycle: Easy and Fun Watercolor Project

skillshare class by | Irina Trzaskos


Every once in awhile I see a cute painting or drawing of a cheerful looking bike with a basket of flowers or bread. I wanted my own happy bike illustration, but I wasn’t comfortable free drawing a bike with no game plan. I thought drawing a bike freehand would be very complicated, but Irina’s class made it easy, and I especially liked how playful and almost spontaneous it felt. The painting isn’t fussy or time consuming to do, and that was something I really appreciated about this class.

I want to explore free hand painting objects more often, and I’m sure my brushwork will become more steady with practice.

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