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the how and when and what of the daily sketch (plus a time-lapse video!)

    Let me start out by saying thank you for the kind response to yesterday’s post. I shared about the daily sketch, why it is so important to me and how it came about (catch up on that post here).  It is a strange thing to just open up and share tender, vulnerable moments with the world but I truly believe that if even one person who reads feels just a glimmer of hope or the faintest whisper from God, then I am more than willing to offer my words.

    Alright. Now that you know the backstory behind the sketches, we can get into the details about it.

    I asked on instagram last week for questions and there was a handful. I’m excited to talk all about those today.

    A question that comes up often is about setting up a place to paint so this seems like a great place to start.

    One of the things I like best about watercolor is that the supplies are minimal and they don’t take up much space. All you need are paints, water, a few brushes and paper.

    In my normal life, I keep all of my watercolor supplies in the top drawer of the desk in my office. When I want to paint, I just pull them out and set up a little spot on the kitchen table or dining room table or whatever flat surface that seems appealing.

    When I was creating videos for the Simplified Watercolor class, I used a great bar-height table up in the studio to spread out all of my supplies. It worked well and if I were still using the studio for my office, that is likely the spot where I would do these daily watercolor sketches.

    However, my office is now in the house and it is too small to add a separate table for watercolor.

    At first I thought I could just get my supplies out of the drawer and put them back away each day. However, I am realizing in life that the fewer hurdles there are to goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. Even though the supplies are minimal, having to get them all out, go fill up a water jar, do a painting and then put it all away at the end felt like it was going to get old really quickly and probably result in me dreading the daily task instead of enjoying it.

    My solution was to use my computer desk as my painting surface and make room on the shelf above it to store my daily supplies. That way, they were close at hand, but still out of the way for other computer-related work I do at my desk.

    (The best part of this photo is the bag of cheez-its hiding up on that top shelf!)

    On the shelf right above the computer, you can see I have a small container with brushes, a jar of water (I just refill it every few days or as needed), a paper towel and palette with paint on it (more on specific supplies later).

    Because the supplies I use for these daily sketches don’t take up much space and they are still pleasant to look at, I don’t mind having them out at all.

    All I have to do when it’s time to paint is scoot the keyboard and mousepad to the back of the desk, pull out a piece of paper and bring the brushes/water/paper towel/palette down to the desk.

    If I need extra colors, I can grab what I need out of the top drawer of the dresser that also lives in this room.

    So far this setup has worked great for me. I like having things so accessible, but I also like that my desk stays clear once the painting for the day is complete.

    If you are thinking about doing something similar (with watercolors or any other project that requires supplies), it does seem to make things easier to have the necessities as readily available as possible to make things easier on you.

    Alright, so now that you know where I’m doing these paintings and where all of the supplies are stored, let’s talk about what the process actually looks like.

    My goal is to create an original little sketch every day and that is the extent of the criteria.

    Figuring out what to draw each day is part challenge-part super fun. There are so many great resources online (especially on instagram) for daily art prompts. Many artists host monthly challenges and offer suggestions for what to draw or a theme to follow for each day. This is a great place to start for when inspiration is lacking.

    So far, I have loved trying to come up with something to sketch that tells a story about what’s going on in my life at the time. For instance, yesterday I painted a favorite wood toothbrush and strange anise toothpaste (in pretty packaging) because I was headed to the dentist later with the kids. The day before, it was an opened bag of cough drops because we seem to be going through a lot of them around here lately.

    It has been fun for me to find a regular household item and not only tell a story through it, but also see the beauty in such normal things as cough drops, sea salt, a tube of lip gloss.

    Once I choose what I’m going to sketch, my actual process looks like this:


    I snap a picture on my phone of whatever it is I’m going to sketch. If it is not something in my house, I’ll find a picture online to use as reference.

    My critical self says that drawing from a picture is not how ‘real’ artists do it, but I’m choosing to ignore that voice and just do what works! I find it way easier to draw from a picture than from imagination or from real life. It helps me to see the shapes and scale and shadows. Perhaps as I get better I’ll be able to sketch without the photograph, but I’m okay even if that never happens.


    I sketch the image on watercolor paper with my favorite super-thin mechanical pencil. The sketches are loose and light and I erase plenty. I happen to like the way it looks when the pencil can be slightly seen through the watercolors, so I am not too picky about having perfect lines. I think the sketchy underneath parts of the painting give it more charm.


    Once the sketch is complete, I add the paint.

    Deciding where to start with paint is dependent on the artwork. For my style of layered watercolors, you always want to start with light colors, let them dry and then add darker layers on top. This method is called wet on dry. If you add wet paint to already wet paint on the paper, it will bleed together. Sometimes this is precisely the look you’re going for, other times, you need to wait patiently for a layer to dry before adding on.

    I’ll typically leave the background until last and start with foreground details first.

    For instance, while painting the little shoes, I began with the lightest blue of the flower, moving next to the leaves and then the other two flowers, being careful not to let the paint touch each other (or else they would all blend into each other). Once those first layers were dry, I added more saturated colors on top to create definition and detail, then I moved on to the insole background, then the dark brown strap detailing, then the shoe background and then the little logo detail on the insole. My last step is always the slight shadow.

    The whole process, from start to finish takes me about 20-40 minutes, depending on what I’m painting. It probably takes about 5 minutes to lightly sketch, 15-20 minutes to paint and the rest of the time is spent waiting for paint to dry :)

    I created a quick video for you to see what the process looks like. It’s actually pretty entertaining and mesmerizing to watch!

    This sweet little orange painting only took about 15 minutes.

    I love seeing the side by side comparisons of the photos and finished paintings. Here are a few of my favorites:

    My finished sketches are TINY! The little shoes, for example, are only 2″ tall. I like sketching and painting on this small scale for a couple of reasons.

    1. It feels much less intimidating to paint something little, rather than feeling like you need to fill up a whole page
    2. My style of watercolor lends itself to small details with a fine brush over free-form blending strokes
    3. It uses less paper, less paint and takes less time
    4. There is something about their size that makes them extra adorable

    As for what I’ll do with all of these … that is still unknown. Many of you have asked if you can purchase a print and while I’m completely flattered and do hope to offer them in some form at some time, I’m just not sure what that looks like right now! Prints? Products? A little book? I’m just going to keep sketching each day and see what comes of it.

    I hope this answers your questions! I will share all of my favorite supplies next time so stay tuned …

    32 thoughts on “the how and when and what of the daily sketch (plus a time-lapse video!)”

    1. I took your Simplified Watercolor class last fall and was very successful with some paintings so I hope you will consider adding on to that class with some more watercolor video classes. You did an excellent job with your instructions and incorporating the basic techniques into the exercises. I got inspired to do some of the paintings for Christmas gifts and everyone loved them so I am continuing to experiment with watercolors. Looking forward to seeing where God leads you as you pursue the blessings of His gift!

    2. I know of local artists (oil and/or acrylic) who nearly always take photographs of their subjects first, so there is no shame in that. Otherwise, how on earth would you be able to resist eating that yummy chocolate chip cookie or orange long enough to complete the painting? ;)

    3. I loved the video and the background music. What a delightful way to start the day before going to work. I think I will try and draw a watercolor this weekend.

    4. Thanks for sharing. I have followed you for several years now and have started many new endevors from your inspiration. I am excited to read your tips and tricks and follow along. Thanks for inspiring me!

    5. Wow Emily. Just wow.
      You are so talented and these sketches/paintings are amazing. I can’t get over the tiny shoes.
      Looking forward to when you write, illustrate and publish your first children’s book!

    6. Just fascinating! Thank you for sharing. I’m in awe of your talent. I’m not the least bit artistically capable but I wish I were! Keep sharp!

    7. My former husband is an artist (MFA from CMU, work carried in and sold by several galleries across the US). He painted in a super photorealistic style with acrylics, primarily gritty urban scenes that many people would not consider beautiful. He ALWAYS painted from photographs! And the paintings were often mistaken for photographs. Do what works best for you as an artist! Have you read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, or any of her more recent works? You might find them inspiring!

    8. Can I ask asilly question? I always thought watercolor paints came in the form of those little round or oval pads likevwe used as kids. But you must have something you squirt out on that dish, that you add water to use? I’d love to know what that paint is.

    9. Emily, these are brilliant – LOVE that little orange!
      And thank you for sharing not only your artwork but your experience with listening to that voice and tips for making it all happen.
      I would love to hear a bit more aobut WHEN you are doing your drawings – first thing in the morning? same time every day?
      All advice and insight is very appreciated :)

      1. Oops! I forgot to answer that.

        I have been doing my sketches around 1pm. I don’t know why I chose that time, but it seems to work for my days. It is after I’ve sent the kids off to school and my morning activities (barre, volunteer, errands, work etc) and before the kids get home from school. After I complete a sketch I photograph it in natural daylight and so I’ve been trying to beat the sun going down (which happens around here at 4:30 in the winter!). On Saturday morning I woke up realizing that we had a full day and would be gone all day, so I did the painting in the morning before we left. I will be traveling next weekend and my plan is to bring a travel set of paints with me and I’m hoping i’ll squeeze in a quick painting while I’m there!

    10. I am so in love with the winter citrus. I sure hope you offer that on in a little print. I don’t even require a 5×7. A 4×6 or such would be perfection. I love your art. It’s so pretty and dainty and real.

    11. Yes to having the least amount of hurdles to achieve your artistic goals! Love your idea of stashing supplies directly above your workspace. Also, I love how you paint oranges! Beautiful!

    12. Thank you SO much for taking the time to share. I have gone through your watercolor class and would LOVE if you would please prayerfully consider doing a second one at some point in the future? Thank you for your example and inspiration. Blessings!

      1. Thank you for the suggestion and compliments! I will definitely consider doing another. Is there anything in particular that you would like me to show? In the first class I tried to pull from a variety of techniques – do you just want me to go deeper into each one with projects to work on?

        1. Emily, Thanks so much for your response…truthfully ANYTHING watercolor related that you feel led to share would be wonderful. Your first class was amazing and was a great starting point on so many levels. Going deeper or sharing more of your projects would be great. You are a fabulous teacher and a very gifted artist. Thank you again for sharing your gifts (& faith) with us.

    13. Oh my word. I just love these! I’ve been taking your online watercolor class and just love it! I would most definitely buy another watercolor package with more step by step tutorials if you were to offer one! I need LOTS more practice before I can whip out beautiful sketches like yours!

    14. Your workspace and supply storage is so bright and serene, just fabulous. I’ve long admired your sketches, they have a whimsical authenticity I find charming. Watercolor is my favorite paint medium, watercolors capture a feeling unachievable with any other paint type. Love these!

    15. Hi Emily, They are all nice but I am super impressed with your Ricola cough drops. By the way aren’t they the best for stopping that cough quick. Thank you for sharing. I never felt I could draw but now, well, just maybe I can. : )

    16. These are all beautiful! You inspire me to be my true self (also an artist) but also to rekindle my relationship with God. I’ve been struggling with this for a long, long time.
      Thank you.

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