Meet the Correspondent: Luis Ruiz > Malaga, Spain$show=/search/label/Luis%20Ruiz

"Since I was a child, I have always loved drawing. As an architect, I was trained to sketch on site in my first year of my studies. I have always considered sketching a wonderful tool in my job to understand things, more in the field of spatial relations than in their material aspect. On the other hand, I have always brought a sketchbook with me in my travels as a much more effective way of keeping a memory than a photograph. But lately my travel sketches tended to be too few and too quick. I have recently found Urban Sketchers, and then discovered the immense joy of sketching outside with no particular task. Reading Usk’s manifesto, I feel especially sensitive with the point of keeping a record of time and place, and I’m changing from sketching just architecture to understand the city as a big scenario for human activity. I live in Málaga, a city in the south of Spain with more than half a million residents and 2,500 years of age; but also the center of a busy and lively metropolitan area, home of an active harbour and a big tourist destination. Now that I have two small children and I do not travel as much as before, I’m trying to show this mixture of old and new in my drawings. It is so rewarding to share my work with so many excellent artists and receive continuous feedback from other members! And, last but not least, to learn from other parts of the world. I'm delighted to join Urban Sketchers." • Luis' art on flickr.

Workshop I: Tea, Milk and Honey, Three Step Watercolor Sketches

Ruinas de San Francisco

Marc Taro Holmes

Workshop description
I’d like to show you a reliable three stage approach to watercolor that can help simplify painting on location.

Once you get comfortable with water media, you can do all kinds of complex things. But there are times it can help to have a ‘system’ or strategy. Maybe you’re in a difficult distracting place, or you just want to get a sketch before the train comes. You can use this approach as a foundation for more interesting things as you advance.

In our workshop we’ll do an exercise sketching multiple objects or scenes, following the simple memory device: Tea, Milk, Honey. This of course describes the density of the water/paint mix used for initial washes filling the silhouette (the light mass), a second pass describing the shadow shape, and final touches re-enforcing the darks (the contact shadows).

We’ll cover some other things such as sketching an accurate contour of your subject, seeing unified shadow shapes, working on more than one sketch at a time, mixing gouache and watercolor, how to get sharp drawing with the brush, keeping washes alive with mixed color, and how to focus the eye with composition.

Participants can follow along as I demonstrate, then do their own sketches while I’m on hand to give advice and answer questions. Beginners can do isolated objects in vignette, advanced sketchers can take on the entire scene.

Learning goals
  • How to simplify the drawing — seeing the contour and the shadow shape.
  • How to sketch objects with three passes of watercolor — getting the mixes right.
  • How to work on more than one sketch — using the waiting time between washes.
  • How to organize a composition by planned gradation of contrast, and detail and chroma.
  • And for beginners: How to mix color and properties of watercolor pigments (sedimentary vs. transparent vs. staining).


I prefer to paint on cut sheets of 140lb watercolor paper, any brand. You can get great results with a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook — so that’s ok if you prefer the smallest possible kit. I bring 3 or 4 panels of Coroplast as supports, (cut down from larger sheets found at hardware stores) and stretch my paper with ordinary masking tape. I don’t wet-stretch my paper but I do leave finished sketches taped down until they are completely dry. You can tape paper to both sides of the panels if you want to have more sheets on hand.

Ideally you’ll have a range of tube watercolors. Fresh tube colors release pigment easier and can be mixed to a richer creamy density. Pan colors are certainly more portable, so lots of people use them. I have used ‘travel sets’ by Cotman, or a harder-to-find set of Peilkan Gouache in pans.

My Preferred Tube Colors:
  • Yellow Ocher
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Van Dyke Brown
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Cad Red Light
  • Cad Yellow Medium
  • Sap Green
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cerulean blue

I carry a complete double set of these colors in Gouache, which I know is crazy. You can get by quite well with just:
  • Permanent White Gouache
  • Ivory Back Gouache

I avoid pthalo, quinacradone, and viridian green. These are very strong, staining pigments that can instantly overpower your painting.

You’ll need a water container with a good seal (Nalgene is good) and a folding palette. I prefer one with a rubber seal, so my paints don’t dry out. It’s also useful to have some paper towel on hand.

You’ll only “need” three. Tiny for details, Medium for all the work, and Huge for skies or ground. I use pointed rounds for everything. Sable is a luxury, but synthetic is totally fine too. Sizes are relative to your paper size. I work fairly large (half sheet watercolor is 15x22”) so my sizes are 0-2, 8-12 and 16-20.

Some people bring a folding stool, (I recommend the brand Walkstool – it also makes a good side table). I also use a tripod easel. For years I used an Eric Michaels En Plein Air Pro Watercolor Easel, but I’m now using a Manfrotto camera tripod with a laptop tray. Because my only exercise is carrying art supplies, I make it as heavy as possible.

Reference images

"Many artists who wish to be expressive dislike formal approaches, but at the same time are disappointed with the results of purely spontaneous painting. I’d like to show people that it is possible to quickly and easily find correct proportions by sight-measurement, and go on to make a lively sketch with expressive brushwork."
—Marc Holmes



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Test USk Blog: Workshop I: Tea, Milk and Honey, Three Step Watercolor Sketches
Workshop I: Tea, Milk and Honey, Three Step Watercolor Sketches
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