How to Start a Watercolor Nature Sketchbook | Laura Watson | Skillshare

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How to Start a Watercolor Nature Sketchbook

teacher avatar Laura Watson, Watercolor Botanicals, Flowers & Nature

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

14 Lessons (39m)
    • 1. How to Start A Nature Sketchbook Intro

    • 2. Get Inspired

    • 3. Materials

    • 4. Layout Ideas

    • 5. Drawing a Succulent

    • 6. Drawing a Flower

    • 7. Going Over the Drawings in Ink

    • 8. Adding More Drawings

    • 9. Adding Text and a Border

    • 10. Painting a Leaf

    • 11. Painting a Succulent

    • 12. Painting a Flower

    • 13. Finishing the Paintings

    • 14. Let's Stay in Touch!

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About This Class

Learn how to start a nature sketchbook using waterproof ink pens and watercolor paints. The object of this class is to introduce you to how to start your own sketchbook inspired by nature, your garden, or everyday experiences that you would like to document in some way.

There is no need for perfection in this class, just start where you are at with the supplies you have on hand. Try out creating a collection of items on one page like the project I show in the class demo. Make sure you post your finished project in the project section, I would love to see what you create.

Collection Ideas:

  • garden plants
  • found items from the beach
  • found items from the forest
  • bird feathers
  • pebbles
  • shells
  • leaves
  • different types of wild grass
  • flowers
  • bits of found nests (birds, bees, wasps... as long as they are abandoned)


  • a watercolour sketchbook or spiral bound pad
  • a paint brush or water brush
  • watercolour paints or travel palette
  • mechanical pencil
  • eraser
  • waterproof pen (I use sakura micron in size 0.25 mm and 0.20 mm)
  • paper towel
  • water jar
  • coloured pencils (an alternative to watercolor paint)


Meet Your Teacher

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Laura Watson

Watercolor Botanicals, Flowers & Nature


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1. How to Start A Nature Sketchbook Intro: Hello. I'm Laura Ashton joined me in this class and learn how to create a nature sketchbook in this class. I'm gonna show you some of the ways I find inspiration for my own sketchbook studies as well as some of the pages that I created in my own sketchbook inspired by plants. And I find what I know hiking or even just in my backyard. Don't worry about making things perfect. This is all about learning and having fun. If you're not very confident with your drawing skills right now, don't worry. I'm going to teach you some easy techniques. Using basic shapes to create complex plants. Using basic water color washes, you'll learn how to fill your page with beautiful plants and flowers. Here are some of the sketchbook studies that I've created recently I hope you get inspired by them. Get inspired by nature and learn how to document beautiful flowers and plants as well as your own memorable experiences. I'll also teach you how to add a stylized date stamp to your sketchbook page, even if you're just starting out, this class will teach you how to start a sketchbook and create beautiful spreads. Using watercolor and ink. I help people get results with watercolor. I hope you can join me in this class 2. Get Inspired: so getting inspired. I have a few books that are specific to nature sketch booking that I really, really love. The 1st 1 is by Edith Holden, and it's the Country Diary Oven. A Gordian lady. This is a huge late, inspiring book for me. A good friend of mine introduced me to this book years ago, and it's by withholding, and this was illustrated in 1906 And it's an entire book of all of her watercolor paintings and nature notes that she did throat an entire year, go seasonally, and it has all her notes of birds and plants and shows living in England. And then a family member had this book published in the seventies, So this is quite commonly found in used bookstores or even online on amazon dot c a or dot com. And it's a wonderful, wonderful inspiration for getting started. Even if you're not as good of a painter as the paintings are in here. I think it's just great to have it for ideas of layouts, on making notes and fitting things in, regardless of what skill level you are with drawing and painting. The important thing is just to start doing it and look at how other artists a pair of things together or made like a double page spread like this where it goes across two pages . I love that. So a great starting point for inspiration. Another book I have and this might Well, this could be different from there you live in. But I have a, um, a plant I D book, and this is really inspiring. As you can see, mine's really well used flag totally post. It's when I'm hiking and I Dean plants and I want to save spots. And this has scientific drawings in it, as well as photos and information and usages and Latin names about all of the local plants here in my area. This is Southern Interior Bridge, Columbia, where Island, Uh, and I'm not sure about the U. S. And other parts of the world, but I know that in Canada this is lone and fine, and they make books for all over the different regions. It's amazing. Any kind of local plant I devote would be really inspiring to look at. I'll give you information of over your surroundings and plants that you find to be great to look up. This is another little plan tidy, but this one's quite old is published by the Royal BC Museum, Um, which is based in Victoria, where I'm from, and this is just a very simple black and wait, but I love the vintage feel of it, and this scientific background of this is it's inspiring for me in that way. Maybe not for some people that has lovely little Brian's and her than again usages and different areas you can find plants in on. So this is one that's really inspiring for me. This is actually my first plant I d book on. I think when I was about eight or nine, I started off and I made a little checklist down side of all the ones I found that when I was a kid. So I keep this book, although it's because it's really special to me. Lastly, this book is really inspiring. Teoh, I've got in this, Um, I think last year I bought this. It's keeping a nature journal. Um, and one of the things I really liked about this book. There is a lot of information you may not read through it all, but it's that there's different styles of, um, detailed drawings and less detailed drawings of the author has done. And so if you don't have time to make a neat, tidy, beautiful spread of drawings and paintings, that's okay. And this kind of helped me accept that for myself as well, because the most important thing is just keeping up with your study and sketchbook and documenting and working in it rather than making something that's perfect. So there's really simple watercolor paintings examples here on also this, when you was also different mediums, there's pencil and colored pencil, watercolor paint on and then really simple drawings and then also more detailed drawing so great book as well. And just remembering that you don't have to be an expert or professional artists to do this . This is something that is really personal fulfilling, and the more that you do it better 3. Materials: So the first thing I wanted to talk about is some materials that will use. And as I mentioned before, you don't need really fancy things or anything specific. I'm going to show you a few different options in some of the things that I used to get started with nature sketch booking. So, first of all, the most important thing is just a pencil and needed a Reaser and needed reserves air. Great. I've explained this in my last class just because you can need them and mold them around. They're also gentler on watercolor paper, which really hard to racing can effect. Um, and then I just have a regular, um, mechanical pencil. Find them helpful, and you don't have to sharpen them. If you're outside, you can take less stuff along with you. And I am upside right now. I thought since I'm doing a nature sketchbook video, I should film it outside. So instead of being in my studio right now, I'm out in my backyard on my patio, along with pencil and eraser. You will need a watercolor pad or sketchbook. This is just a pad of watercolor paper that I have that I've just been doing some doodles and there's a little hedgehog. Um, so you could use something like this. Doesn't really matter the brand. I think the Strathmore camps and is pretty good brands to start worth going to go for the spiral bound pad you can use to get that at art store or even Wal Mart. This is my favorite. It's a mole skin brand sketchbook, and they have a special watercolor line. Um, and it's actually fairly light weight. £90 paper, but it doesn't buckle. Too much holds up to erasing. Really? Well, this is the largest size I have done. All sorts of different type of sketchbooks stuff, some spin ish, some is not. Um, this is one of the more recent ones here, so this comes in two different sizes, and that would be a great option as well. You also want some, um, pen, some ink pens. They're a great way for working in a watercolor sketch book. These are the Secura Sigma Micron pens there, my favorite, and they're waterproof, so you can draw whatever you want with ease and go over it with water and paint, and the ink will not run the's air black. They do come in different colors, but I usually for my sketchbook. I just use black in two different sizes. This is the 0.25 millimeter millimeter line. That's the actually, the larger when I use and then the tiniest one. I uses a 10.20 millimeter line, and this one's quite small. It's great for small details. I don't really recommend writing in your sketchbook with this one because the nib is so small. Um, this one is more what I do bigger outlines and writing with, and he's come in all different sizes. You can choose what you would like. I just like these two small ones for my work. They even come in like a brush tip. So Superfund to go to the art store and look at all of these. You can also get them in, um, variety, pack some of different colors or all black with different size Nibs, so that's up to you. Here are a variety of brushes. Easier, more fancy, expensive sable brushes. I use these in my formal paintings as well, but if you have them and you like them, they would be great for the sketchbook um, I also have these water brushes. If you haven't heard of these, they're getting pretty popular now. But these air Derwent and there's thes air around points, but they actually cold water in the end of them, so you don't necessarily need to bring a water jar with you on dso these air really handy if you're going hiking and you don't want to take too much stuff with you, you can find the most places I've seen some really amazing brush lettering and hand lettering and calligraphy done with these two. Unfortunately, I am not great with calligraphy, so you won't be seeing a lot of that on my channel. But there's other sculpture teachers, which do amazing classes on that with these. And if you want to go really basic, these air just two brushes I got from the dollar store in a pack of like, four brushes, and I usually use this. He's just for mixing colors, but you could certainly start out with something super simple like this as well. And now for the water color paint. Um, this is my favorite little travel palate. It's pretty small, pretty lightweight. Um, it opens up and There's these pans of paint I actually use a big plate with to paint in my more formal paintings in studio work. But I love this little travel kit for when I'm out and about. Or if I'm just working out in the backyard and there's a whole bunch of different paints in here, this brand is Lucas. I don't know if that one is as easy to find. But other brands make thes type of travel paint sets to Windsor Newton does, and, um, I know that secure. I'll show you another one. The secure one is similar to So, um, one of these should be pretty easy to find. But something like this and some of these little pans I've run out, and I went to replace him, and they were fairly expensive. So I just bought or used some of my to paint and squeezed it into the leftover pan, so you could definitely do that as well. This other one I have here is secure. A. So the same brand is those pens and this one's plastic, but it has actually a larger area to mix paint on. You could mix paint on this surface and Then there's little tray to do. More mixing. And there's these little sponges here. Um, it also came with one of these water brushes in it to I just have it right now, but there's lots of lovely little colors in there. Two. So this is another great one, and I think this friend is pretty easy to find. It would be greatly to start if you wanted to get travel palette, and I'll include all these in this fly list in the class information as well. Lastly, if you don't have water color paint or you're not sure that you want to invest in that, you could definitely just use colored pencils. These ones air Prisma color colored pencils actually used these most often in my planner and my bullet journal. Um, can so these are some really fun, bright colors. I love these, but I've got lots of other sets to that air better suited for nature's journaling and stuff . You could even just get a set like this. I got this at the dollar store, and it has a ton of different colors, and they're actually pretty good pencils, so this would be a great way to start if you wanted to just use pencil and colored pencils or use these with ink. Um, anyway, that you could just get going and get started would be great. The last things I'm going to show you, a really basic, but it's just a jar of water. And that's what I use for my water when I'm in my backyard or in studio. If I am out camping or hiking, I use this little collapsible cup. I think I got a hiking store or no door store of some sort, but it's great for packing away and it's really lately. And then I just sees my water bottle or even a lake or stream, Um, and just fill that up with water and use that for my pain. So it's a really handy little thing to use. Other than that. Usually bring some paper towel with me to dab my brush er or wake up anything I need to, um, and you could also use, like untold face cloth as well that would work as well. So now that we're done with the materials, let's get started 4. Layout Ideas: first, I'm going to show you a few different layout ideas. You could dio different Ah, whole page of different types of plants that you've all found in one area, like grassland, Pam plants or riverbank plants or mountain Alpine plants would be really need one, too. You could find one specific plant and then draw it, zoomed out and then in really close up as well and do more of the details, which I like doing. And I've done that in this cactus drawing before. You could also do a collection of just found items you find in one area, like a shell on a pebble on a feather, a collection of a bunch of things. Maybe you find on a beach or somewhere that you are hiking or even in your backyard. There's lots of different things you could do, which would be really fun 5. Drawing a Succulent: so I've just gathered a few things from out in about in my yard. I've got some beautiful pineapple mint here. It's like a mint plant that smells like pineapple. Um, a little bit of a Sioux Mac leaf and some lavender. I really need, like, blackish purple holly, hawk flower and a succulent from my garden as well as a little bit of cabinet because I love cats. So of course I have lots of catnip in my garden. So what I'm gonna do is just draw these out on my sketchbook and pencil. I was drawn pencil first, and then I go over in ink and refined the drawing or change it. How? I want Teoh. Before I do the watercolor wash over talk. I'm gonna start with this succulent here, and I'm gonna do really quick way of destroying this out. Um, you don't always have a lot of time to spend in your sketchbook, but I think it's more important to just do it frequently, even if they're not perfect. Super detailed drawings and the way I like to do this is I'm just going Teoh, start with my pencil. Um, just draw out the lines simply of where branches off. And then I'm just going to draw really light, faint lines, Uh, where the little succulent leaves are positioned about? Not exactly again. I'm just kind of casually sketchy note. A really basic stick drawing to get the shape. So now that I have that shape, I'm gonna just add a little bit more detail to it. I'm just making the same basic shape, which is just a little oval going over my lines now with that same little oval shape. So I'm not worried about positioning because I already did that, really, simply with these lines. And then I'm being in my actual shape and further detail with the little ovals. And as you can see, there's more that are sort of bunched up at the top and then some. I'm doing right over top of the line, which would be the ones closest to you and then some. I'm doing beside what should be the ones on the side, in the back and in my other class, which is more for botanical painting. I show you a way that I I draw on tracing paper first, and then I transferred onto the good copy watercolor paper, which is definitely a good practice to do if you're making a formal watercolor painting. But for sketchbook practice are making sketchbook studies. I just draw right on because I just wanted to be as quick as possible. Um, and just create and express what I see. 6. Drawing a Flower: the next one I'm going to do is this lovely Holly Hawk flower. And it does look kind of complicated with the center and these beautiful stay men's. And it's kind of irregularly shaped, But again, we can just feel it Break this down into simple, simple shapes. I'm just going to have it facing me here so I can see it. And then I'm just going to move this. I'm gonna place the flower right here on my sketchbook spread. I'm going to start just with a simple circle and then I'm just going to draw just a few of the stamens very, very basic. And then I'm just going Teoh, draw pedal. Just kind of doing some basic shapes. Just ring at a really simple flower shape. Now just go over it in a little bit more detail. - So what I'm doing here is just drawing in the way that the pedals kind of joined down at the bottom. There is a lighter ring and then the center. So I've drawn the lighter ring and where the pedals joined, then I'm just gonna draw the center on, then the steam un's. And that's just a simple way to draw the hollyhocks flower 7. Going Over the Drawings in Ink: Now what I'm gonna do is go over these drawings in my ink pen. I'm going to use the smallest nib for this succulent cause. It's really delicate, and I'll use both for this hollyhocks flower, But I'll just go over the the succulent first, and I'm just using light pressure going over my pencil drawings. If you wanna leave some out that you drew in or out of you in that you didn't, that's totally fine. But doing the pencil first gives you that Leo to go by. Sometimes it can be frustrating when you make mistaken pen and then you can to race it because I'm left handed. I often smudged pencil drawing, which is frustrating. But, um, I just go over it and pen anyway. And then we erase all the pencil afterwards so the smudges will be gone. And mostly I'm just focusing on making sure that I'm adding and things that air in the right growth direction, not so much exactly in the position where they're growing and you can see this is not taking too long at all. And that's that one finished. I'm going to just let that sit for a moment before a race, so I don't smudge it. They don't usually smudge. Just in case. I'm gonna start on the center on this one. I'm just drawing the little details stippled a little. Give the idea of the flower center on, then swirly stay mons. Quite pretty. And even though on the flower these air white because they're so delicate, I'm just gonna show them on my drawing with the pen. Sometimes when I want to do a really light indication of something, I'll just do a little broken line. That's fine to you. Now switch to the bigger neb for the outer pedals. - Now , I'm just going to go over that with my kneaded eraser. And I mean, he's smaller neighbor again. Just to add in a few light lines on the pedals indicate the little tiny pedal veins and direction You just staple a little bit. Okay, so those are my drawings. All finished Donald in pencil and then gone over inning 8. Adding More Drawings: 9. Adding Text and a Border: The next thing I'm going to do is add a little bit of a border in and at the date, um, to this page and write in some of the plant names. I'm going to use the larger name, which is the 0.25 millimeter, and I'm gonna add in the date just in pencil. Um, there's lots of ways you can do it in Lots of sketchbook artists or people that have frequent lots of sketchbooks will have a certain way they do it or make like, a little badge and the way they put it in, I like to just draw very basic rectangle, and then I divide it in 2/4. And then today is Monday. So I'm just going to go Monday on July and then 24 2017. Monstrous. The way that I like to add in the date in Omsk, over it in pen definitely don't have the neatest printing. I find it difficult being left handed, but I don't want that Hold back. Hold me back from working in my sketchbook, and it's not at all a perfect rectangle, something basic, and this is kind of similar to what I do and most of my sketchbook spreads. I'm also gonna add just like a partial border. I kind of like how it looks. I'm just going to you drag my pen across the top here and then across it and drag down the bottom. I'm just dragging my hand so I'm not moving my wrist, and it's not a perfect line. I don't want it to be perfect, but it just gives you that nice little look and then I'll just do it across the bottom as well. And I'll just bring that down so it crosses over as well. And that's my border. Lastly, I'm just going to write in some of these plant names, - all right, so I just added in a few names, you can write, um, in different directions and have a lot of fun with it, wrote this one along the edge here as well. This one I wrote in too little, um, not joined together. So cat neporent on top of each other, and then this one kind of along the shape of the curve of the pedals so you can have a lot of fun with that on. This is just some basic quick little ideas for you to start off with 10. Painting a Leaf: Now what I'm gonna do is just mix up some green and start with this Su Mac. Leave here in the corner. So I'm just going to use some of the green already having my palate. You could use blue and yellow together or a mixed rabbit green and blue and yellow. I'm going to use the regular brush for this one, but also should also show you what it's like using the water rush, just schooling to whip belief with clear water and then simply wash over it with my green pain. Not too concerned about being precise. No, I have a nice green paint there. And then I'm just going to for fun. Add in a little bit of darker green at the bottom. Well, it's still what, and a little bit of yellow at the top just makes it fun and interesting to have color variation, and that's all that leaves. It's done 11. Painting a Succulent: next, I'm going to use the water brush and I'm gonna do the little succulent. This is in a small tip, and I don't even need to use water over at first because this has lots of water in it. Um, I could just paint on top with Clearwater first if I want. We're not even, and I'm just gonna add some blue into my green because the color of the succulent is more of a bluey green. Another fun thing to do is paint into the area with the concentrated paint, and then you can just squeeze your brush and rinse out some of that pain, and then you'll get a lighter color that you can continue painting with. And it's a nice way to you. Create interest in your sketchbook by varying the amount of color and tone you have on your brush. 12. Painting a Flower: I'm gonna start on the Holly Hawk now. I fixed up some purple and actually some gray because this is kind of a blackish purple flower. I'm just going to lay that in, have fun color, and I'm just going to drag it all a vote again. Definitely more of a casual technique than my formal botanical style. But it's really, really fun and relaxing and a great way to play with color, too. - Grab a bit more of the darker color. Yeah, I just added in a little bit around the center there where it would be darker from the shadows. It's still wet, so the colors just kind of bleeding in. And I'm just tapping it in like that. Francine, my brash and then just kind of blotting the edges to blend it in. There you go. That's the flower 13. Finishing the Paintings: Yeah. 14. Let's Stay in Touch!: Thank you so much for joining me in this class. I hope you enjoyed how to start a nature sketchbook on. Do you have something like this to get started in your sketchbook practice? Please do post your projects on the project section. I would love to see them. And if you want to fall along with me more, I have an INSTAGRAM account. Lower Ashton artists that you could find me when you can also visit my website. Laura ashton, artist dot com And sign up for my members list and you get a monthly update with all sorts of, uh, information and sketchbook inspiration. And I do a free gift every month as well. So do sign up for that on my website if you're interested, and I'll see you in the next class.