From my window

It’s hard to give up my trusty pencil, but when I do, it’s a liberating exercise to paint without drawing first. I am in awe of painters who are skilled at this — Marc Taro Holmes is the first one who comes to mind — but I am often reluctant to just go for it.  I have attempted the technique on several occasions, to disastrous results. Maybe it’s my own impatience.

It’s a different kind of painting experience because you have to be more thoughtful about where the brushstrokes go, especially when you use a big flat brush to start, like I do. But when you are not painting between the pencil lines, stuff can happen.

I tend to think the painting process through before I wet my brush — what goes on the paper first, what areas will be treated with glazes, where the darks will be, etc. If you can relinquish control and plunge right in with your brush, you may find that the happy mix of water and paint on the paper will surprise you by combining in unexpected ways. And you will definitely love the experience of brushing pigment across a perfectly white sheet of paper. Go ahead and give it a try. You might be surprised too.



28 Comments on “From my window”

  1. Carol King says:

    I love the light in this painting.


  2. Bernadette says:

    I have always loved winter watercolors. Each one you paint makes it my new favorite. I particularly enjoy the color wash of the sky. Now and then, I try to paint without a sketch. Sometimes I use a light wish rather than a pencil to map the composition out. Sometimes it works….fair. Yours, works fantastically well. I must be one of your biggest fans!


    • Bernadette, I’m glad to hear that you try this too. A few years ago I saw Japanese sketcher Kumi Matsukawa do a demo at an Urban Sketchers symposium. That is exactly what she did. She used a fine brush to draw the scene and those lines melted into her watercolour later on. Beautiful technique.


  3. loisajay says:

    This is what I asked you about the other day! Shari, I think this is beautiful–and no pencil marks! 🙂


  4. Margie says:

    Beautiful, Shari. Painting is such a tactile experience and sometimes I just want to splash paint around! This has such a lovely soft look about it.


  5. beautiful work and it does have a special quality with only the brush strokes



    You’ve made me feel better about this method of painting because I used to think it was only valid if one sketched first. I will sketch if something is way complicated but mostly I visualize and plunge in – but sketch or no, mine never equal yours.

    This is another masterful painting with the light, handling and composition. You are right, not sketching first requires enormous concentration.

    Thanks once again for sharing your feelings and good lesson.

    BTW, you’ve got me digging into my savings with the thought of a Provence workshop with you !


    • HI Soni,

      There are no rules for painting. Whatever you want to try or whatever method suits you is valid, I think. Of course if there is complicated perspective I do usually draw first, but sometimes the shapes are simple and then of course, why not work this way?
      And if you are interested in Provence, you’ll need to jump on it quickly. The first week filled up and we added a second one. Now that is almost full too! It seems crazy since it’s such a long time away but it will be so fantastic.



  7. I love that you talk through what you think of when you paint. And my favorite part of this painting is that white sun.


    • Thanks Suhita. I think writing about the process helps me think through how I teach, and for also for the next painting I do too.
      This winter has been so long and cold and icy, I had to add the sun as my little sign of hope in during this endless cold…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Chris says:

    It sparkles. Beautiful light – everything is there. I feel as if I know that place.


  9. Monique says:

    I agree ..beautiful..looks just like my frinds home they renovated extensively..a McGill Split:)Both Marc and talented..I think Anne-Laure does this also..but differently.


  10. You are talking about “Watercolor Nirvana” the ultimate freeing experience, congratulations for taking the plunge! I will definitely try it!


  11. joantav says:

    I’ve only done small paintings directly in watercolors, but it is a good feeling to give up a little control at times. You did a great job thinking about the composition and how to give this that somewhat muted wintry look. I like this!


  12. Sharon Nolfi says:

    This is lovely. I’m curious – what did you paint first? Did you sketch out with watercolor or start with shapes?


  13. Ethna Gallacher says:

    Yes, I’d love to know too, Shari, how you started this lovely painting?


    • HI Ethna,
      I liked Sharon’s question too.
      I started with the sky. I put that wash in and painted right down to the roof lines. Then I painted the houses and snow and when the sky was dry I added the trees. So I started with shapes and the big brush.
      Hope you are well!


      • Ethna Gallacher says:

        Thanks, Shari….that’s really helpful. I was figuring you’d started with the sky….after that I wasn’t sure. Yes, I started a new watercolour course yesterday and the teacher encouraged us to go in straight with the brush….no pencil! … your post was very timely!


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