Monday, February 15, 2021

'Big shapes and line detail' workshop


I’m sharing the details of the workshop which I gave at the USk Switzerland Symposium* last year. The venue was a picture-perfect village called Zuoz, high in the Alps and I was very privileged to be invited. I hope you enjoy following the exercises and would love to see your results so please tag me if you post on social media - I am @lineandwash on Instagram and Twitter – and at the end of this post there is a link to a FREE A3 downloadable worksheet.

* Just to let you know that the workshops, opening and closing receptions were all held outside and complied with the Swiss COVID regulations at the time.

In this workshop, I hope to explain and share the methods that I use when drawing on location. In the spirit of ‘less is more’ I hope to encourage you to make each mark count by making them accurately and economically. As I strongly believe that there is no particular right or wrong way to draw, the aim of this workshop is to offer you a chance to acquire new techniques that they could be useful in the future.

Materials you will need:

Ideally it would be great if you can do these exercises from life outside but a view from a window would be fine too. I’ve also included some of my photographs to use as reference if that is easier for you.


Often when I sketch, the view in front of me can be busy and complicated and knowing where to start can seem daunting. Starting boldly with big watercolour shapes helps lay the foundations for a successful piece.

Choose five things in your view that you can paint as shapes, then spend about two minutes on each. 

Let the watercolour dry then spend another two minutes each adding some line work to show more of the scene.

Here are some of my photographs from the trip to use as inspiration:

Exercise Two - LEAVE IT OUT!

In my own sketches, I tend to leave a lot of white space on the page, which I find helps contribute to the final image. Often referred to as ‘negative space.’ I prefer to call it ‘positive space!’ It can be a useful technique when you want to focus on a particular area when drawing a busy scene. Here are some examples of how I have used this technique personally.

Choose a view that has something in the way, a lamppost, a car or lorry, a tree etc and see if you can draw the scene without actually drawing the thing that is in the way. Spend 15 - 20 minutes on the sketch.

Here are some of my photographs from the trip to use as inspiration:


Fineliners and white gel pens are great for adding decoration and detail to drawings, either on the plain paper or over watercolour washes.

Choose a something that has a lot of detail (a piece of architecture or a plant maybe) and spend 15 - 20 minutes just concentrating on drawing the patterns and shapes.

Here are some of my photographs from the trip to use as inspiration:


Choose a view that you’d like to spend 30 - 40 minutes drawing and try to use all the techniques we have talked about to make the drawing. A few things to remember:

  • Watercolour dries lighter, so be bold when you start.
  • If it helps, use a pencil to quickly draw your shape before painting.
  • Allowing watercolour shapes to dry will mean crisp edges for the next layer of watercolour or fineliner.
  • There are no mistakes, just happy accidents!
  • Enjoy and have fun!

I would love to see what you create so please share on social media, tagging me and using the hashtag #liswatkinsworkshop

I've compiled a FREE downloadable A3 worksheet with the main points of the workshop. Download it here and use the instructions below to cut and fold.