From Sketch to Studio

Kim Minichiello draws on a longtime sketching practice to inspire her watercolor work.

“Starting my career in art and design, which has spanned more than 30 years, and long before the new popularity of today’s plein air movement or the birth of Urban Sketchers, I discovered a genre of books known as ‘Carnet de Voyage’ (‘Sketches of Travels’) that informed my sketching practice,” says Kim Minichiello. “As a designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, I lived and worked in Paris, France, on several occasions, as well as Hong Kong, China. I acquired a collection of published ‘Carnet de Voyage’ sketchbooks while scouring bookshops in Paris, and sought out shows in the city that featured this genre of work. These travel sketchbooks both excited and inspired me to start sketching myself in watercolor while I lived in these amazing locations.”


sketching for watercolor painting
“Odd Man Out“ (watercolor, 40 x 21 in.)


watercolor sketch
Watercolor sketch of Hong Kong lanterns in 6 x 8-inch sketchbook with Khadi paper


Sketching En Plein Air in Watercolor

“Primarily an oil painter at that time, the experience of sketching en plein air in watercolor was twofold,” she says. “First, I was spending more time outside soaking in the incredible environment and culture, and capturing the essence of the places I was traveling to or calling home. Secondly, these experiences inspired me to a whole new level, helping me to gain richer perspectives and insights for my work. I was also learning a new medium and becoming more comfortable with it at every sketch outing.


plein air watercolor sketch
“Tori Gate” (plein air; watercolor, 10 x 14 in.)
plein air watercolor sketch
Watercolor sketch in 11 x 9-inch Stillman & Birn Alpha Series Sketchbook


“This increase in comfort level with sketching in watercolor led to my desire to turn plein air sketches into larger more detailed studio works as well. While working on the larger studio works, it allowed me to bring into them the experiences, feelings, and emotions I felt while working on the initial sketch. Plus, having studied the subject matter prior on location, I feel the larger studio paintings are more informed with better compositions and design choices. I will also sometimes go back to a location and subject I have sketched in my sketchbook and take more time to do a plein air painting on larger paper. Location sketching also gives me the opportunity to experiment more with different brushes, papers, and color palettes easily without investing too much in materials and time.


plein air watetcolor sketch
“Frog Stacks” (plein air; watercolor, 14 x 10 in.)
watercolor plein air sketch
Watercolor sketch in 7 x 10-inch sketchbook with
Khadi paper


Odd Man Out was one painting that was inspired by a very simple sketch I did in an ally in central Hong Kong, while I lived there. For me it recalls a moment in time that I can recall again immediately each time I look at this piece. It was a gorgeous sunny day; the sunlight illuminated the lanterns so much that they glowed as if lit from within. I can still smell the nearby outdoor food stalls getting ready for the rush of the Hong Kong lunch crowd. I can recall chatting with the owner of the funerary shop where the lanterns were hung and having the chance to learn more about the rich Chinese culture. All while listening to the Chinese opera music being played in the herb shop I was sitting in front of while doing my sketch. All of these types of observations are gained while sketching en plein air and become a key part of the larger works I create.”


watercolor sketch
“Ancestor” (watercolor, 21 x 16 in.)
watercolor sketch
Venetian doorbell sketch (watercolor, 6 x 6 in.)


How to Get Started

“My best advice would be if you want a good way to try watercolor, or are just beginning to work in this medium, start with a simple sketch!” says the artist. “Start small; don’t be intimidated by a large blank sheet of watercolor paper. Tell yourself, “It’s only a sketch!” Grab a large brush, sketchbook, a travel watercolor kit or three or four tubes of paint! You might be surprised where it will lead you, how much joy you will feel and the fond memories you will create!”



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