Krakow, Watercolour Sketching, and Ice cream

I just recently got back from a lovely holiday in Krakow, Poland. As a Canadian living abroad, it has been my goal to travel as much as I can. I have a personal goal of visiting a new country every where so that I am always exploring a new and unfamiliar land or culture. Over the last eight years, I’ve visited many of the ‘mainstream’ European countries so recently I’ve had to look further afield for my new country. Last November, I wandered the mazelike streets of Jerusalem, floated in the Dead Sea, and felt the stillness the martian landscape of the Mitzpe Ramon crater.  I have many treasured photos from my trip to Israel, but it never occurred to me that I could create memories of my holidays by sketching and painting the sites I visited.

A few months ago, I discovered a few key artists who also happen to have a strong Youtube and Instagram presence. These two influential artists are the Mind of Watercolour and James Gurney. James Gurney is a legend; his understanding of colour and light leave me breathless. Just watch a few of his youtube videos! He is famous for painting mostly plein air and also his surrealist and fantastical scenes. He paints a lot in small watercolour sketch books and can make an ordinary street corner look like an insightful study of American culture. He often uses gouache (opaque watercolour), watercolour pencils, and watercolours. I am still working my way through his book “Color and Light” — I’m sure that man has forgotten more about painting than I will ever learn in my life!

The Mind of Watercolour, aka Steve Mitchell, has a great library of Youtube tutorials. I love his fluid and spontaneous style and his tutorials are always fun and informative. His tutorials often inspire me to just pick up my brush and paint something when I’m in a rut. It’s like having a patient, funny uncle teach you how to paint!

So, after a bit of research, I bought a Moleskin watercolour journal off Amazon and took stock of my art supplies. It turned out I already had the equipment needed for a watercolour sketching kit – in another post I’ll go over what I packed and what I wish I hadn’t packed for my first venture into travel watercolour sketching. Traditionally watercolour sketching is done en plein air – that is the painting is completed outdoors and not using a photo as a reference. Many great artists swear that plein air sketching allows the artist to better understand the true colours and values of their subject.

In reality, on this trip I mostly ended up starting the sketch outside and then taking a photo on my phone and finishing up the drawing at a pub or back at my room. The simple reason was that it was swelteringly hot in Krakow – over 34C with no breeze! I lasted about 15minutes on a hot bench in front of St Paul’s and Peter’s church – even then I could almost feel the UV burning through my SPF 50. Ice cream was mandatory. But this was only my first foray into watercolour sketching and I hope that in the future I will complete more of my sketches en plein air. Anyways, it wouldn’t be fun if there was no room for improvement!

Thanks for stopping by and do leave a comment below if you liked these little sketches!


1. Early Morning Coffee, Gatwick Airport

This sketch was done very quickly whilst we drank our mandatory morning coffee whilst waiting for our gate number. I did a very rough pencil sketch and ink drawing then used watercolour pencils and a round brush to finish it with washes of muted colour.


Sketching is a great way to pass the time and take a break from the endless scroll through the Facebook newsfeed!

 2. St Peter and Paul’s Church, Krakow

This church was steps away from our AirBnB. I loved the grand statutes at it’s front gate. There were actually two churches side by side, so this sketch aims to hint at both grand buildings whilst focusing on the smaller, more down to earth statutes of the 12 Apostles. Pencil, ink, and watercolour.


3. Memorial of to Jewish family’s home in Kazimierz (the Old Jewish Quarter), Krakow

We visited Kazimierz on our first evening in Krakow and kept coming back to it over the rest of our trip. Imagining the events of WW2 playing out on these quiet, peaceful streets was chilling. On a house, the memorial below was painted over the bricks. The Memory of the Bosak Family Residents of Kazimierz 1633-1941. Let that sink in a moment… that family lived there for over 300 years and in a handful of years that family was uprooted and very possibly all murdered. Watercolour pencils, watercolour paints.


4. The Juliusz Slowacki Theatre, Krakow

What attracted me most about this beautiful theatre were the vibrant violet flower beds in front of it. The theatre was built to celebrate the Polish language and culture, which according to our guide, was a big deal because it was built in a time were Polish culture was oppressed. This was sketched entirely from a photo since there was no time to stop and sketch during our free walking tour. However, it was so hot I doubt I could have stayed to sketch it anyway. As always, the initial rough sketch is in pencil, then an ink sketch and finally watercolours.

One comment

Leave a Reply