Lis Watkins is an artist who specialises in drawing on location, travel illustration and sketching workshops, with her work taking her around the UK and across Europe. Here, she shares her thoughts on her sketchbook practice as well as her tips for extending your watercolour palette when painting on location.
Lis Watkins Takes Us Through Her Sketchbook Practice
I have a sketchbook on the go most of the time, filling it up before starting the next. I love observing and recording city stories and drawing in a sketchbook can be an unobtrusive way to do this. I use them almost exclusively for location drawing these days but in the past have used them more as scrapbooks, filling them with ideas and notes more like a visual journal. They are the things that I have always kept, even when I threw other pieces of artwork away, so they are special to me.
At the moment my favourite sketchbooks are from the Stillman and Birn Beta series, particularly the 8 x 10 in and 5 x 7 in sizes. They are the ones with the blue soft back cover. I really like the paper quality, which is a very smooth thick watercolour paper that feels almost like a thin card. It is great to draw on, taking both watercolour and pen lines really well. I have also bought sheets of it to make into accordion sketchbooks when I wanted to try a larger format on travel trips. Another favourite are Laloran sketchbooks which are handmade in Portugal. Since I started my blog, Line and Wash in 2011, I think that I have tried most of the brands on the market. I make a choice based on the paper quality, size, whether it can open flat and if it is quite robust.
Materials wise I use a mixture of watercolour and pen line. The watercolours are mainly from the Winsor & Newton Professional range, with a few additions from Daniel Smith and at the moment I also have one from Deep Deep Light. Brushes are synthetic ones, mainly travel brushes from Escoda, which are really practical when out on location. I am not the most careful person with my materials so the fact that you can pack them away without damaging the bristles is useful. For line, I use fineliners in black, sepia and white. I also have a small tin with extra bits and pieces like crayons and pastels which are useful if I need to add a bit of texture to a sketch.
Over time, these are the materials which I have found to be most useful for getting the best results. Using materials which are light and portable is a big consideration when I go out drawing on location. Reliability is especially important too. Colour choices have developed over the years through experimentation, chatting to other artists about their particular favourites and also being given samples to try out. I have introduced new colours to my watercolour tin when I have been visiting new places too.
When I visited Lisbon in 2017, I added a Cobalt Turquoise and Naples Yellow as I felt they would be useful for the sunnier climate. Over the pandemic I added more greens as I was drawing in lots of parks and gardens. I have managed to squeeze 24 half pans in my watercolour tin following practical advice from Liz Steele, who suggests removing the centre section and adding a layer of Blu Tac to keep the pans in place. I understand that you can mix so many colours from a much smaller selection but when on location I am just looking for the quickest and easiest way to capture the scene in front of me.
Sketchbooks are my favourite place to draw, where I can be myself, just play and get in the flow, so I use them a lot. There is something about a sketchbook that is so personal, it does not have the daunting quality of a single blank sheet, you can just shut it up when you are finished. And there is always the chance to turn a page and start another day if things do not work out quite as you expected. When I look back at my sketchbooks, I am transported back to a particular place and time, drawings can evoke feelings and memories.
I am essentially a drawer (that always looks odd when you write it down!) so the work in my sketchbooks is my most personal expression, immediate mark making inspired by a reaction to the location. To be quite honest, they are not ‘for’ anything although of course they can be useful for trying out different approaches and techniques, which then can have a knock on effect for illustration commissions.
In the past I have also used sketchbook drawings to make prints and recently I produced a zine, London Greens, which was a collection of my favourite sketches made during the pandemic. I was invited to show it at the French travel sketchbook festival, Rendez-vous du Carnet de Voyage, in November last year, where it was nominated for the Prix du Carnet de Voyage International.
I love the concept that ‘sketchbooks are laboratories,’ places to experiment and develop with no expectations. I am particularly inspired by artists from the Urban Sketcher community like Jenny Adam, Swasky, Inma Serrano and Maru Godas who really use texture and colour boldly in their sketchbook work.
Sketchbooks are great for any artist to keep and use. They can be an invaluable resource to look back on if you feel stuck. They trace your artistic path, become a visual diary. I think it is good to find the right sort of one that suits your practice, it doesn’t just have to be for drawing, you can stick things in, add notes, colour swatches, whatever you want. You can pour your heart into them, share them with everyone or show them to no one.
Stillman and Birn Beta Series
Winsor & Newton Watercolours
Daniel Smith Watercolours
Pens, Pencils, Brushes:
Rotring Tikky Pens
Pentel Black Brush Pen
Derwent Line Marker Pen in Sepia
Uniball Signo Broad White Gel Pen – similar to Sakura Gelly Roll White Gel Pen
Pentel Micro Correct White Pen
Faber Castell Pencils
Caran d’Ache Neocolour II
Escoda Travel Brushes
Pentel Water Brush
Jam jar for water
About Lis Watkins
Lis Watkins is an artist specialising in drawing on location, travel illustration and sketching workshops. She studied at Brighton and Kingston art colleges.
Drawing in sketchbooks is an integral part of her practice, where she captures ordinary everyday moments, bigger city stories and travel adventures, using watercolour and pen.
She is experienced at producing illustrations, visuals and hand-drawn maps for clients in the travel and events sectors.
Lis is giving workshops this year in Barcelona and Intragna, Switzerland and is also one half of the ‘Sketchwalk London’ team, introducing the corporate community to the wellbeing aspects of walking and drawing in their London locality.
Lessons Learned After a Year of Watercolour Painting
A Guide to Watercolour Painting
Developing a Daily Drawing Practice With the Royal Drawing School
Preparing a Watercolour Gouache Palette for Painting on Location
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