Poor Woman’s Paris 7: Adding Color to Urban Sketches

Poor Woman’s Paris 7: Adding Color to Urban Sketches

My watercolor learning goal was to find a look I liked, abstract a few basic principles, and just do it.  Watercolor has a reputation among oil painters of being difficult, with a mind of its own…

Studio Practice Sketch

Studio Practice Sketch

Pen and ink with watercolor actually helps beginners like me- the ink drawing provides structure for application of the watercolor (but don’t color within the lines).  After you apply watercolor, ink can also help define shapes lost in murky joins or runs. With a mind set that urban sketches are a slice of life, which is messy in itself, what could go wrong?

I chose Charles Reid for my imaginary “mentor.”  His spontaneous look with splotches and drips is perfect for urban sketching. Since I will be precariously perched on a bench with people jostling my elbow, why not make a virtue of the inevitable?

I like Reid’s clear colors and dark accents. His alla prima approach of painting from dark to light is consistent with my experience in oil painting. I already had his book Painting Flowers with Watercolor languishing on my bookshelf, and I purchased another, Charles Reid’s Watercolor Solutions.  I also watched his landscape video Watercolor Landscape Masterclass.

Probart St. Neighbor

Probart St. Neighbor

Right off the bat, I knew Reid was talking at my level. He gives explicit instruction on how to hold a brush, dip it in water and shake it, and use it to apply paint. Otherwise, I abstracted a few choice ideas:

  1. Never correct watercolor “mistakes” – well, almost never…
  2. Partially mix paints on the palette so that each pure color remains visible;
  3. Start with darks and keep painting until the sketch is done-  well, not always…
  4. Leave white space between adjacent colors; allow them to touch only in a few places, to mix on the palette.

I gradually realized that re-wetting some dried shapes and infusing spots of color can add life and variety. For this, I followed Holmes’ clear and simple instructions in The Urban Sketcher. I also found layering helpful in defining volume in human forms and clothing  and adding a little fine detail.

Before venturing into the streets, I did an ink/watercolor ‘still life’ in the studio and painted from photos.  The first image shows my still life- clamps which happened to by lying around.  The second is a pre-Quebec practice sketch from my porch called “Probart St. Neighbor”.

And I was off to Quebec City… next post is a tour of my Poor Woman’s Paris, which was not exactly what I expected, but was everything I wanted.

Do you have some watercolor tips for me?  Send me your tips and images of a sketch illustrating it; I’ll put it online.


  1. Cheryl
    October 24, 2016

    Love your posts, as well as your paintings. The red hats will be sorely missed at AGA next month. They garnered lots of attention the three days I worked since they’ve been there. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    • VirPenderAdmin
      October 25, 2016

      Thanks for your kind comments. I have enjoyed the wonderful artists at AGA, and will miss especially you. Paint well.


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