Art advice

Tips to get started drawing and painting

Q: - How do you recommend learning to draw or paint?


I first learned to draw as a 15-year-old using Betty Edwards’ book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. From upside-down drawing and blind contour drawing to contour drawing, negative space, and proportions, I was soon on my way. I drew everything I could find that had interesting shapes and details in my house and surroundings. Fruit and vegetables in the winter. Porcelain cups and teapots. Flowers and plants in the summer.

I strongly recommend learning to draw from life and not from photographs, as there is a big difference between the process of seeing a three-dimensional object versus a two-dimensional image and translating that to a two-dimensional image on paper.

A few years later, I encountered Jeanne Dobie’s book “Making Color Sing* about watercolor painting. I learned about single pigment colors, transparent and opaque, warm and cool colors, values, seeing shapes (as opposed to the lines and edges you see in drawing), and perhaps most importantly, got used to doing color charts.

*If you decide to read her book, note that a few of the colors she recommends are not lightfast. You can replace Aureolin Yellow with Transparent Yellow and Rose Madder Genuine with Permanent Rose (both Winsor & Newton Professional watercolors) and get similar results, albeit a bit brighter.

These two books are not the easiest to begin with, but they do provide a thorough foundation in drawing and painting. Apart from that, it takes practice, practice, and more practice, determination, as well as enjoyment and a feeling that this is fun!

Once you have started, here are a few other books that I find inspirational:
  • Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing by Frederick Franck – a book that teaches one of the most important things in art, seeing.
  • Life Drawing Life also by Frederick Franck – about seeing and figure drawing.
  • The Creative License by Danny Gregory – includes a getting-started section on contours, negative space, and proportions – and much, much more.
  • Drawing Your Life by Michael Nobbs – filled with ideas of things to draw.
  • The Art of Urban Sketching by Gabi Campanario – city sketches by artists from all over the world by the founder of Urban Sketchers.
  • Teckning by Johan Ramberg (in Swedish) – techniques and materials, filled with ideas if you already know how to draw.
  • Akvarell by Johan Ramberg (in Swedish) – inspiring techniques for the painter aiming for a more simplistic Swedish or Nordic style in watercolor painting, a beautiful book that should be translated to English!


I credit my architecture education with giving me a solid foundation in seeing spatially/in three dimensions. While in school, I also took several art classes. For those of you out of school, I recommend taking figure drawing classes (with instructor) or going to open studio figure drawing sessions (without instruction). Find the learning style that works best for you and go from there!

Q: - What pencils, pens, and sketchbooks do you recommend?


In my experience, you can get quite far with an ordinary mechanical pencil! I am partial to the Staedtler Mars Micro 775, which has a nice grip, and Pentel Super Hi-Polymer 0.5 HB leads. If you prefer darker lines, try Staedtler’s HB leads which are softer (and more prone to smearing) or go up to a B or 2B lead.

For more expressive lines, try a 2 mm lead holder with an HB (alt. B, 2B) lead. I have a beautiful Caran d’Ache Fixpencil 22 lead holder in satin black aluminum and use their 6077 2 mm leads. Another good lead holder is the Staedtler Mars Technico 780 lead holder.


I started out with a Lamy Safari L17 fountain pen in matte charcoal with an extra-fine nib (the most responsive of the nibs), filled with Noodler’s bulletproof black ink. Note that if you want to use your own ink (the ink that comes with the pen is not waterproof), remember to buy a Z24 converter too.

These days, I want more ease and less maintenance so I go with my favorites, Uniball Vision Needle in Micro or FineUniball Vision in Fine or Micro (at JetPens you may be able to find smaller quantities than 12 for trying out) and a Staedtler Pigment Liner set of four (I get most mileage out of the 0.3) in a plastic case.

For more about pens, see this post.

Sketching and drawing paper

In terms of paper that takes both pencil and pen well, I like the Strathmore 400 Series Recycled Drawing and Strathmore 300 Series Sketch. If you like a creamy color, Strathmore 400 Series Drawing has a lovely soft surface.

I buy the 9”x12”, 11”x14”, or 14”x17” size depending on need. 14”x17” works well both for larger motifs with a lot of detail as well as for figure drawing. I also buy 18”x24” and cut to a size I like.

Sketchbooks to take with you out

After having tried many different sketchbooks and journals, my favorite format remains 7”x10”. This is big enough to fit a drawing with some detail, yet small enough to take with me in a bag. I generally cut my favorite papers to this size and take with me, stored loose between the covers of a taken-apart wire-bound black hardcover sketchbook! If it is windy out there, a few binder clips will secure the paper to the backing.

If I need a smaller format to fit my purse, I use Moleskine Volant journals, softcover plain (blank) in large (5”x8.25”) or pocket (3.5"x5.5"), which work nicely with a pencil or Staedtler Pigment Liner. After all, the best sketchbook is the one you actually bring with you and this thin book is easy to fit! I have been known to draw on everything from post-its to scraps of paper when I forget my sketchbook!

My sketch kit

In its simplest form, my sketch kit consists of:
  • A sketchbook (one of the two above)
  • A Staedtler Pigment Liner set of four in a plastic case
  • Uniball Vision fine and micro pens and a mechanical pencil in a second (empty) Staedtler Pigment Liner case!
These all tuck easily into a shoulder bag or even a purse if needed.

Q: - What watercolors, brushes and watercolor paper do you recommend?


I use mostly Winsor & Newton’s Professional watercolors as this is what I started out with and they are readily available in many parts of the world. (A second option that I like is Daniel Smith, but be aware that color properties may vary between brands despite having the same name.)

In terms of color choices, it really depends on what colors you like, such as bright or muted (I like muted), granulating or smooth (I like granulating), warm or cool (I like cool), and also what you are interested in painting. Landscapes and figure painting demand different colors than, say, florals.

A good beginning triad is:
  • Cobalt Blue (PB28)
  • Permanent Rose (PV19)
  • Transparent Yellow (PY150)

These are three transparent, single-pigment colors, leaning toward the cool part of the color spectrum.

From then on, expand with a few blues, reds, and earths, perhaps an orange and a few darks, keeping in mind warm and cool and trying to stay within 12-18 colors. I have yet to find a green that I am happy with, so I usually mix both greens and purples myself.

I buy 14 ml tubes that I either use straight from the tube on a porcelain palette (such as this 8-well flower palette; see this post for more) or squeeze into full-size pans, which you can buy loose. These pans I then add to an empty watercolor box for 6 or 12 full pans, such as Schmincke’s watercolor box; they also have pans. Be aware that pan sizes vary slightly between brands. Read more about how to do it in this post.

I generally buy my art supplies at either a local art store, Cheap Joe’s Art Supply (they pack well and with care), or Dick Blick (fast shipping, depending on where you live).


The Robert Simmons Sapphire series, a mix of sable and synthetic hair, has good brushes. A round size 10 is a good start and I rarely use smaller brushes than this. If you need a bigger size go up to a 12 or 14, if you need a smaller size go down to a 6 or 8.

For a sharper point and great water retaining ability, Cheap Joe's Dragon's Tongue Brushes are a good choice, made of kolinsky sable and priced thereafter.

Ken Bromley’s Value Sable Watercolour Brushes are made with 80% sable and are less expensive alternatives. These are a little smaller than the Sapphires but form a sharper point.

If you like a flat brush, Cheap Joe's Natural Watercolor Brushes in flat, for example 1", are made with squirrel and other natural hair and can hold a lot of water. Make sure to carefully wet them through before use, as squirrel hair is prone to breaking. These also come in round, up to size 38!

Da Vinci Cosmotop Spin Brushes in flat wash are synthetic and hold less water than squirrel but can give more precise lines. They come in millimeter sizes, and a 30, 40, or 50 may be a good starting point for a smaller size (they go up to 8"!)

Watercolor paper

There are many good watercolor papers out there and, again, it depends on how you want your paintings to look, textured or smooth, etc.

A good paper to start with is Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor in 9”x12” or larger. If you are looking for a paper that is 100% cotton, a paper with a similar texture is Strathmore 500 Series Ready Cut, cold press.

A few other brands that work well with granulating pigments yet do not have too distinct of a texture, are Arches Watercolour, cold press (but beware of the distinct smell of the gelatin sizing if you are sensitive) and Canson Moulin du Roy, cold press. I use these papers in 140 lb. weight.

I generally buy larger size papers (18"x24" or 20"x30") and cut them down to the size I need. I use an 18” (or longer) Staedtler metal straight edge ruler (make sure you get one with cork backing to prevent smearing on the paper), an NT L-500P NT box cutter, and an Excel Hobby Blade Corp. self-healing cutting mat.

For more about papers, see my paper tests.

Watercolor sketchbooks to take with you out

As mentioned earlier, I cut papers I like to a 7”x10” format and bring them with me loose between the covers of a taken-apart wire-bound black hardcover sketchbook when I am out sketching or painting. This includes watercolor paper!

Another option is the Strathmore 400 Series Wirebound Watercolor Art Journal, a 7"x10" wirebound book containing Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor paper. This book opens horizontally but the cover can be flipped over, which makes it easier to hold.

A third option is the Moleskine Watercolour Notebook, which has nice paper if you are ok with the smaller size of 5”x8.25” (this is actually called large, it comes in A4 and A3 too, as well as a pocket size) and the fact that the book opens horizontally, which makes it more tiresome to hold in my opinion.

My watercolor kit

In its simplest form, my watercolor kit consists of:
  • A watercolor sketchbook (one of the three mentioned above)
  • A small watercolor box with space for 6 full size pans (I may mix it up with a few full size and a few half size pans)
  • A round size 8 brush or Niji waterbrush in medium or large
  • A small water container with a screw top lid (I have even used empty vitamin jars in the past!) 
  • Usually also a few pens and pencils. 
These all tuck easily in a shoulder bag and I am good to go!


Tips och råd för dig som vill lära dig teckna och måla:
  • Konstböcker: Teckna med högra hjärnhalvan (eng. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) av Betty Edwards och Making Color Sing (om akvarell) av Jeanne Dobie
  • Blyertspennor: Staedtler Mars Micro 775 stiftpenna med Pentel Hi-Polymer 0,5 HB stift, Caran d'Ache Fixpencil 22 eller Staedtler Mars Technico 780 stifthållare med 2 mm stift
  • Tuschpennor: Uniball Vision Needle Micro (0,5 mm) eller Fine (0,7 mm), Uniball Vision Fine (0,7 mm) eller Micro (0,5 mm), Staedtler Pigment Liner 4-pack (0,1, 0,3. 0,5, 0,7)
  • Reservoarpenna: Lamy Safari L17 EF (extra fin) med Noodler's Bulletproof black ink (vattenfast) och Z24 konverter
  • Skisspapper: Strathmore 400 Series Recycled Drawing, Strathmore 300 Series Sketch (båda vita), Strathmore 400 Series Drawing (gulvitt)
  • Skissböcker: Antingen så gör jag min egen av papper jag skär till lösa ark (ca 18x25 cm) och samlar mellan de hårda pärmarna till en isärtagen spiralbunden skissbok, eller så tar jag med en Moleskine Volant plain notebook, mjuk pärm, olinjerad, i large (13x21 cm) eller pocket (9x14 cm)
  • Skisskit: Skissbok, tuschpennor, blyertspenna enligt ovan 
  • Akvarellfärger: Winsor & Newton Professional, direkt från tuben eller i helkopp som jag fyller på själv från tub i låda för 6-12 helkoppar
  • Penslar: Robert Simmons Sapphire (mårdhår/syntet, rund, storlek 10 till att börja med), Cheap Joe's Dragon's Tongue Brushes (mårdhår, rund), Ken Bromley's Value Sable Watercolour Brush (80% mårdhår, rund), Cheap Joe's Natural Watercolor Brush (ekorrhårmix, platt, tex storlek 1" eller mindre), Da Vinci Cosmotop Spin (syntet, platt, storlek 30, 40, eller 50 mm)
  • Palett: Vit porslinspalett med 8 stora fack, även ett vitt uppläggningsfat för deviled eggs eller en vanlig porslinstallrik fungerar bra
  • Akvarellpapper: Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor cold press, Strathmore 500 Series Ready Cut cold press, Arches Watercolor Bright White cold press, Canson Moulin du Roy cold press (de tre sistnämnda i 100% bomull)
  • Akvarellskissböcker: Jag gör min egen (se skissbok ovan, ca 18x25 cm), alt. Strathmore 400 Series Wirebound Watercolor Art Journal (ca 18x25 cm) eller Moleskine Watercolor Notebook i large (21x13 cm)
  • Akvarellkit: Akvarellskissbok enligt ovan, liten akvarellåda med plats för 6 helkoppsfärger (eller blanda hel och halv), en pensel i storlek 8 alt. Niji vattenfylld pensel i medium eller large, en burk med skruvlock till vatten