Adventures in Learning How to Draw

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Author: David Scrimbles

Can You Really Learn to Paint from Online Video Tutorials?

“This is pointless.”

That’s what I thought when I first encountered an online watercolour video tutorial.

So I gave up, and went back to drawing from real life.

Why did I think it was pointless?

Because the “tutorial” only involved copying someone else as they created a painting.

How could I ever learn to paint from copying someone else?

I felt angry about this. Copying is not learning how to draw! It’s copying! How dare they call it a tutorial!

I wanted to develop my own style and learn watercolour painting techniques.

I did not want to copy.

And I especially did not want to become a human xerox machine.

Okay, some tutorials talked about being for “beginners”. But all they showed you was how to make your brush wet (tip: dip it in water), and how to put colour on the page (tip: put paint on your brush, then put your brush on the page).

I needed more than that…

So I signed up for a watercolour class in my city. A real, live class.

I went to my Watercolour class, and…

When I arrived, I sat down in eager anticipation. I was sure I’d be taught how to develop my style and learn new watercolour painting techniques.

That’s not exactly how it went…

“This is the painting we’ll be doing today,” the teacher, Alan, said, handing out a pencil sketch for us to – gasp – copy!

Then Alan proceeded to make his painting. He named the colours he was using, and we followed along. We copied Alan’s painting.

The watercolour class was… copying!

After a couple of classes, I realised that as we copied, we were taking in different watercolour techniques.

Plus, as a bonus, each week we had a finished painting.

So, I was won over to the idea of learning to paint through copying.

I am a convert to video watercolour tutorials.

Here are a few paintings I’ve made following video tutorials (click the image to watch the original tutorial):

City Street - Peter Sheeler

From a Peter Sheeler Tutorial.

Splashes Castle

Created following a Teoh Yi Chie tutorial.

Dana Fox's sunset tutorial.

Dana Fox’s sunset tutorial.

Another Peter Sheeler tutorial

Another Peter Sheeler tutorial

What’s so Great about Watercolour Tutorials?

So why do I like video watercolour tutorials so much? A few reasons:

  1. You get to explore! As I follow along, I try out different techniques, brushes and colours that I’d never otherwise try.
  2. You get familiar with your palette. It’s highly unlikely you’ll have the exact same colours as in the tutorial. As you practice, you’ll learn what colours are good substitutes for one another, which colours work well together, and which don’t.
  3. I can’t help myself! I keep coming back for more. It’s so motivating and energising to finish a painting each time you sit down to draw. I especially love tutorials that you can finish in under 15 minutes.

How to Make the Most of Online Watercolour Tutorials

Here are my top tips for online watercolour tutorials:

Tip 1: Follow your bliss

See something and think “I want to paint that”?

Then try it out – even if it looks really difficult. You never know how you’ll get on.

Whatever resonates with you and draws you in will keep you coming back for more – and that means you’ll get more practice.

Tip 2: Slow Down

Did you know you can watch YouTube videos at half speed, or even quarter speed? This is really useful when the tutorial is too fast for you to keep up.

Slow is also good if you really want to focus on the little details

That said, sometimes it’s good to go fast and try to keep up – you’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you push yourself.

Tip 3: Try out different tutorials to find the ones that work for you

With some tutorials you will immediately feel like you’re best friends with the video creator. That’s a good thing.

With other tutorials you’ll think “just stop! Please just stop!” Avoid those ones.

What’s a good fit for me? I like tutorials where:

  • You get a finished painting as an end result. It’s much more motivating and rewarding.
  • The tutor shares the colours and brushes they are using, so you I follow along.
  • I can finish the tutorial in 10-20 minutes.

Watercolour Tutorials: Pitfalls to Avoid

I avoid tutorials where:

There are sudden jumps between sections. I prefer tutorials where the tutor shows how they painted everything. It’s not my job to fill the gaps.

The finished painting is way above my level. It’s good to stretch yourself, but pushing yourself too far will just make you anxious and stressed.

What are Some Good Online Water Tutorials?

Here are my favourite watercolour tutorials:

  • Peter Sheeler is my go-to guy for watercolour tutorials. I love his style of drawing, and most of his tutorials can be finished in under 20 minutes.
  • Koosje Koene‘s Draw Tip Tuesday always makes me smile, and often includes watercolour tips such as this trick for painting a pear.
  • Teoh Yi Chie. I especially like his tutorial on Sketching with Watercolour Splashes.
  • Dana Fox has several lovely tutorials, including a simple lake scene.

Do you use tutorials to help you learn how to paint? What are your favourite tutorials? Let me know in the comments.

Drawing Tip: “Madness in your perimeters”

Recently, I’ve been sharing with my friends and family tips on how to draw.

A few of the things I’ve heard a lot are:

  • “I don’t know what to draw.”
  • “I don’t have enough time to draw.”
  • “I don’t feel confident in my drawings.”

In response, I’ve been saying:

  • Draw anything – especially things that give you joy or that grab your attention.
  • Draw quickly. Anyone can find five minutes for a drawing.
  • Have fun. It’s totally okay to make a mess.

One of the main lessons I’ve been sharing is  drawing with one line. One-line-drawing is always quick and lots of fun.

I’ve also encouraged my friends to use a waterbrush as this is a quick and easy way to add colour.

Here are some of the sketches “Mommabear” created:

My yellow teapot.

My yellow teapot.

Mums Drawing

Perfume bottle.



We also had a “sketch off” drawing Stikeez toys. Here’s Mammabear’s (she calls them squidgies) sketch:

Mums Drawing 4

And here’s mine:

Mums Drawing 3

Another day while out for a beer, I encouraged my friend Drift to draw a beer glass:


While Drift was adding colour, as often happens when you’re drawing in public, a stranger approached and started a conversation. The stranger identified himself as a pagan, and admired Drift’s loose, vibrant brushwork.

The stranger talked about how drawing can help you feel more in tune with all things, something I often feel when my drawing.

He then commented on Drift’s drawing: “I like it. I like it a lot. There’s madness in your perimeters.”

I think that’s a good aspiration for all sketchers.

May you, too, have madness in your perimeters.

Brighten Up Your Sketchbook with a Background Watercolour Wash

A simple black line drawing can get so much more interesting when you draw it on a colourful background wash.

It gives the page that little bit of je ne sais quoi.

This is what artist Koosje Koene said in a recent video I watched of hers, all about background washes.

In the video, she shows how to create a background wash in a Moleskine sketchbook, and how it makes a sketch “pop”.

Here’s the video:

As you can see, Koosje’s drawing looks amazing on the background of a simple watercolour wash! And splashing looks like so much fun.

So, I decided to give it a try for myself.

First, I did a yellow and red wash. I was wondering what to draw, and my wife said I should draw a pig. So I did. I actually drew it while the was still drying (this was a mistake – I’ll explain why in a moment).

Here is the pig:

Pig Watercolour background

As you can see, I also drew an outline around the wash. I think it works well.

Then I did a blue and green wash.

This time, my wife said I should draw a frog. I agreed, a frog would look really nice. However, as we have a friend’s tortoise who is staying on holiday with us, I decided to draw a tortoise instead.

Here is the tortoise on a background watercolour wash:

Tortoise Watercolour Background

There was one problem when I drew the tortoise: my pen wouldn’t work!

I think drawing on top of damp watercolour for the pig might have blocked up the ink. However, after some shaking and persistence, I got the ink to flow again.

Lesson learned: don’t draw on damp watercolours.

I really like this technique. It’s quick, and it brightens up your sketchbook. Thank you to Koosje Koene for sharing it!

Do you ever use a background watercolour wash? How do you use them?



How to Get Better at Drawing Fast: “Do these funny drawings every day”

“Keep drawing. The more you draw, the better you’ll get at drawing.”

So a friend said to me when I explained that I feel like all my drawings are awful. I was at an international sketching event, full of architects and professional illustrators and graphic designers.  I was way out of my depth, and I was feeling it.

I wanted to scream:

“But I want to be good at drawing now!”

I’m impatient. I’ve been drawing on-and-off (mostly off) for seven years. My progress is gradual, and I find that frustrating. Plus, I’m ponderously slow and timid at drawing, and I rarely have an hour or two free for a sketch.

Then I met Tine Klein. We were at the same conference, in a group playing a sketching game together. Tine drew a dog in just a few seconds that had so much energy and life to it:


A Fun Sketching Game Dog

Tine Klein’s dog.

Tine also drew a couple of portraits that I loved – again really quickly, using a HUGE brush with big splashes of watercolour.

So I asked:

“How do you draw like that?”

By now, the sketching game had finished, and we were standing at a paintbrush stool.

“Why don’t you buy this?” she said, holding up a paintbrush with a bright pink handle that she found in the bargain basket. “It’s only a few pounds, you can try it to see if you like it.”

I bought the paintbrush. Here it is:

Pink Brush

My new HUGE pink brush besides the tiny, timid brush I previously used.

I couldn’t wait to use my new pink brush!

But first I wanted to know more about Tine’s drawing style. So I invited Tine to the pub for dinner.

“Your Pen is a Dancing Lady, Twirling”

We sat down over a drink and Tine started explaining her drawing philosophy.

Tine encouraged me to put more freedom and spontaneity into my drawing. “Your pen is a dancing lady, twirling,” she said, “or a bee, finding the next flower.”

“That sounds nice,” I said. “But how do I do that?”

She handed me a piece of card and told me to uncap my sketching pen.

“Close your eyes,” she said. “And draw a cat”.

So I closed my eyes, and drew a cat:

Cat Blind Drawing

The cat I drew with my eyes closed. Ignore the part-circle with zig-zag scribbles in the top right, this was added later.

“Very good,” Tine said when I had finished.

The cat had eyes, ears, whiskers, two feet and a tail. And it was all wrong. Almost everything was out of place. But it did have a life and energy to it that is often lacking in my drawings.

Then Tine said:

“Now I want you to try doing a one-line-drawing.”

Tine explained: “A one-line-drawing means completing your drawing without taking your pen off the page.”

So I tried it while Tine went to order food.

One line sketches


I drew the salt pot, a picture frame on the wall beside me, and Tine’s cider. And I really liked my drawings!

“Very good,” Tine said when she returned to the table. “And it only takes a few seconds, doesn’t it?”

“Do These Funny Drawings Every Day”

She continued: “Not everyone can give an hour or two a day for sketching. But everyone can give five minutes.

“So now, do these funny drawings every day.”

I promised myself that I would do so.

That night, when I returned to my hotel, I wanted to try out out my new HUGE pink brush. So I took some watercolours, and looked at the kettle in my room, painting the shadows. When the watercolours had dried, I added detail with a one-line-drawing.

One Line Kettle

Again, I was really happy with the result. Yes, it was far from perfect, but that was okay. I’d found the energy, speed and life that had been lacking in my sketches.

Since then, I have been sketching every day

My daily sketches haven’t always been one-line-drawings, because I’ve been trying different techniques. But when I need to be quick, one-line-drawings are where I go.

I’ve drawn my USB microphone following a conference call:

One Line Microphone


I’ve closed my eyes and drawn a monkey:

Blind Contour Monkey


And I did a one-line drawing of my favourite camera:

One Line Camera

I even drew my friend’s hazelnut latte while we were out for coffee:

Hazelnut Latte

“Your pen didn’t leave the page when you drew that,” my friend said. “What that intentional?”

“Yes,” I replied. Because of course, it was intentional.

How to Get Better at Drawing, One Drawing a Day

Here’s what you can try if you want to get better at drawing – especially if you need help to loosen up:

  • Close your eyes and draw a cat.
  • Do one-line-drawings. Finish a drawing without taking your pen off the page.
  • Remember: “Your pen is a dancing lady, twirling, or a bee finding the next flower.”
  • Paint with a HUGE paintbrush. A pink handle is optional.

This post is written with thanks to Tine Klein, who turned my little world of drawing upside down.

A Fun Sketching Game to Play with Friends

Here’s a fun game I learned in a sketching workshop. It’s about drawing, storytelling, and just having fun with sketching.

This is how you play:

  1. Find a group of 6-8 people. Give each person a piece of sketching paper, and a pen.
  2. Choose a start player. The start player calls out a word, for example “sheep”. Everyone draws that onto their paper.
  3. Everyone passes their sketch to the right.
  4. Someone else (not the start player) calls out a new word, for example “dog”. Everyone adds that drawing to the drawing they were given. The aim is for the two sketches to interact in some way.
  5. Everyone passes their sketch to the right.
  6. Another person (who hasn’t yet called out a word) calls out a word. Again, everyone draws it, adding to the story.
  7. Everyone passes their sketch to the right.

This continues until everyone in the group has called out a word for the sketch story.

You’ll finish with an interesting sketch in your hand. Now, everyone uses their sketch to tell a story to the group. This could be a long story or a short story, as long as it tells the story of what’s happening in the sketch.

It’s an easy, fun way to get sketching practice, and would be a good warm-up exercise for a sketching group.

Here’s one of the sketches we drew when I played:

"Some people say parties are better in the city. We say otherwise."

“Some people say parties are better in the city. We say otherwise.”

Our words were:

  • Sheep
  • Dog
  • Hat
  • Umbrella
  • Skateboard
  • Beer
  • Farmer
  • Fire Engine

I was lucky enough to play this with some really talented sketchers, including Tine Klein (who drew the dog), Lynne Chapman (farmer) and Daniel Nies (fire engine).

I drew the sheep. She wasn’t dancing when I drew her (she was my first drawing of the game), but she ended up that way.

Do you know any sketching games? Please tell me more about it in the comments.



Drawing Cars with Lapin: “I have drawn hundreds of cars, but I do not know how to drive.”

“I have drawn hundreds of cars, but I do not know how to drive.”

The French illustrator Lapin said this when I attended his workshop on drawing cars.

It was a wet day. We avoided the rain by going into an undercover car park.

Lapin encouraged us to draw cars as we saw them, not as we knew them to be. That’s why he pointed out that he draws cars all the time, yet put him behind the steering wheel and he is clueless. His lack of knowledge about cars doesn’t hold him back.

To draw a car well, you do not need to know how the technology of a car works. You don’t need to understand a dashboard. You don’t even need to know how to drive. You just have to see what you’re looking at.

If you know too much about cars, this can be a disadvantage. Your idea of what a car likes like actually gets in the way of seeing the car in front of you.

What’s one way to see a car? Get as close as you can.

In one exercise, Lapin encouraged us to sit really close to a car – just 50 centimetres away. By sitting so close, you fill your vision with the car.

I thought my first attempt was okay (my drawing is the main image):

Audi 1st Attempt

However, Lapin came over and advised me that my headlight should be much bigger. I was just 50cm (2 feet) away from the headlight, so it filled most of my vision. Likewise, the headlamp should fill most of my drawing. Lapin drew an example for me (Lapin’s drawing is in the top right corner of the image above).

“Should I start again?” I asked, after Lapin had shown me how it should have been done.

“Yes,” Lapin said.

I had already spent several minutes on my drawing, so I felt frustrated about starting again. But I did so anyway.

I was happy with the result, at least in terms of the bigger headlight:


My watercolouring needs work. As does my ability to draw wheels. But I really enjoyed discovering a new way of drawing: the fisheye perspective.

It was good to fill my vision with the subject of my drawing.

Do you like drawing cars? What are your top tips for drawing cars?


How I Came Up With the Name “Scrimbles”

Mistakes can be an artist’s best friend. That’s why I enjoy scribbling. If you allow yourself to play and be messy, who knows what will happen?

This website was born in a mistake.

I created Scrimbles as a place to share my drawings and scribbles.

I July 2016, I decided to start drawing something every day, even if it was just a five minute drawing.

In theory, the more I draw, the better I’ll get at drawing. In practice? We’ll see.

I wanted somewhere to share my drawing journey. I decided to create a drawing blog, and I needed a name.

This isn’t my first website, so I know it can be tricky to come up with names that:

  1. Make me happy.
  2. Capture the essence of the website.
  3. Have the .com available.

How do I overcome this problem?

I usually resort to the Idea Quota Technique. This is where you give yourself a set quota of ideas to come up with. Until you’ve reached the quota, you keep creating new ideas. Even if all your ideas are terrible, you have to keep going.

Typically, I give myself a quota of 100 ideas. Here’s how it usually works:

Ideas 1-40 ideas are the obvious ones. They’re okay, but nothing special.

Ideas 41-80 are terrible. Awful. As I write them, I think “I want to give up. How did I ever think I was a person who could come up with a single good idea?”

I hate myself. And I make myself keep going.

The final 20 ideas are the ones that really sparkle. I’ve made it through the dross and come out the other side. This is where the magic happens.

Confession: I’ve described this as a linear process, when often it’s much more haphazard. Most of the best ideas tend to come towards the end, but they also pop up randomly throughout.

When I was coming up with a name for Scrimbles, I set myself a quota of 100 ideas. I started writing them down on my pad.

At idea #4, I made a mistake. I meant to write “scribbles”. Instead, my hand ignored instructions from my brain and wrote “scrimmles”. “Scrimbles” was my next idea, combining scrimmbles and scribbles.

And that’s how Scrimbles  was born out of a mistake.

Have you ever made the most of mistakes in your art? Let me know in the comments.

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