Drawing With a Brush

Watercolor sketch by Dan Marshall

“I use this simple sketching exercise to help build confidence and brush control, which comes out when I paint,” says Dan Marshall. “These sketches aren’t precious. They’re just about looking at a subject and thinking about the marks I’m going to make before I make them. They also help me develop a sensitivity to what my brush is doing.”

A fairly stiff brush with a sharp point

“For this process, you need to use a fairly stiff brush with a sharp point and some sketch paper. Here, I used a #12 Escoda Perla synthetic brush, and worked on Saunders Waterford 140-lb. rough paper (the back side of another sketch), but this is about practicing brushwork, not creating a finished work, so you don’t need to use your best materials.”

Working from reference photo

“Working from a photo I took of some cooks in Chinatown, I use a fairly thick, inky, mixture of Payne’s Gray to begin establishing the main figure. For figures, I always start with the head. I look at the image, take note of the angles, and then draw, using the side of the brush to indicate darks if I need to.”

Using a light touch

“It’s just about flowing with the brush. I use a very light touch, and rarely lift the brush from the surface. The result will be very calligraphic. At this stage I’m just working my way down, constantly comparing “this angle to that angle, that angle to this angle.” It’s not so much about making a good painting, it’s about seeing what kind of interesting marks you can make.”

Making a drybrush mark

“Here I pushed a little harder to make a dry brush mark.”

Looking at shapes, and the relationships of shapes

“If there’s a big dark area, I can just use the side of the brush, as I did for the pant line on the main figure.

“The fun thing is there’s no erasing. Just as with a watercolor painting, there’s very little correction that you can do. This exercise forces you to look at your shape, and the relationship of your shape to other shapes. Here, I’ve begun to add the secondary figure in the background.

“Just in the 3 minutes it’s taken me to do this little figure study, I’ve strengthened the connection between my eye and hand; and reinforced what it takes to make a super fine line, a broader stroke, and a dry brush line. So when it comes time to make any of those marks in a painting, I have that experience.”

Follow along as Dan Marshall demonstrates his loose and lively watercolor painting process in one of these video workshops


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