One excellent way to improve your painting speed is to paint from life and do it often. Liz McGrath makes beautiful diary sketchbooks to record her daily life. Follow along with Liz in this step-by-step tutorial and find out how to create an accurate botanical illustration in no time at all.


Practice drawing different vase shapes by thinking of how the cross-section looks in perspective. All a vase is (if you’re thinking about how to draw it) is a stack of ellipses, and those ellipses will of course, appear different depending on their position relative to the horizon line.

For example, ellipses at eye level will be “flatter”, and the ones above and below eye level will be “rounder”. Outline the vases around these ellipses and watch how real they become even in a few seconds of sketching. 

Painting a Vase with a Colored Pencil Sketch  

Step 1: Outlines 

To add some softness and colour to your sketch before you even paint, use coloured pencils to outline the picture. You don’t have to use identical colours to the ones shown here; just use the closest ones. Try to reuse the same colours in different places around the sketch to balance the picture. 

Step 2: Add Watercolour 

Add a simple layer of watercolour, and don’t be too picky about going all the way to the edges of the leaves because some untouched white will make effortless highlights. Leave a highlight on the orange too. 

Step 3: Shading and Definition 

Using more dilute colours, shade the objects and see how real they look. The vase especially will benefit from some sharply defined shadows. You can use a mixture of blue and brown to make a bluish-grey for this, and it’ll work just great.  

Step 4: Background 

For the background, you’re going to want a neutral colour that doesn’t stand out but also stands out from the subject. So I went ahead and added some yellow ochre to my bluish-grey mixture to make a muted yellowish brown.

Again, don’t worry about outlining the subject perfectly with the background colour because this is a light and whimsical painting style. Just try to keep the wash as even as you can.  

Step 5: Cast Shadows 

If you take the bluish-grey from earlier, and add some cool red to it, you’ll get a smokey purple ideal for casting shadows beneath objects. Next, put a shadow under both the orange and the vase, making sure both shades face the same direction.  

Step 6: Colored Pencil Details 

Adding a bit more coloured pencil to the leaves and plant stems will unify the colours and add some texture to the picture. The final result is a soft, convincing yet whimsical sketch that didn’t take too long. You can apply the same method to anything you want to sketch, whether it be a building or a cat. 

Quicker Method Using Ink  

It’s not always practical to bring coloured pencils with you and keep them sharpened while you’re travelling, so let’s sketch the same subject with an ink pen to see how it turns out.  

Step 1: Outline 

Your ink sketch can vary a lot depending on what type of pen you use; I myself like brush pens because of the line variation, but you can use anything you like. Don’t worry about making the sketch perfect because the roughness gives it life.  

Step 2: Simple Layer of Paint

This step is the same as with the coloured pencil version, although you may find yourself gravitating toward slightly different colours since you’re working with all-black lines and not a set of colours that influence how the paint looks with them. I made the orange a bit yellower and some other colours a little darker. 

Step 3: Shadows 

The shadows in this version can be darker than in the other version because of the high-contrast lines; this gives the vase more shape and makes it look more like real glass, in my opinion.

Add the same shadow colour to the leaves and berries, if you like, to give the plant more depth. Again, make sure the cast shadows both face the same direction. 

Step 4: Background 

This step is exactly like it was in the coloured pencil version. Here’s a tip for making that wash as even as possible: Start on the side with the most things to paint around, and work your way to the less busy side. 

Step 5: Extra Finishing Touches 

Add some cool red to the foreground and background to give the sketch more of a sense of place; this provides atmosphere.  

Next, take a white coloured pencil and add some highlights to the vase if you think that will help. Now there’s a contrast in texture between the shiny vase, the smooth leaves, and the bumpy orange.  

There you have it! Two different ways to paint in your sketchbook, one softer and more delicate, the other quicker and more striking. Experiment with both of these methods to decide which you prefer, and learn from the best with Liz’s 90-minute class.

For more like this, subscribe to our email newsletter and share your work with us on social media! Happy painting! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the southern Idaho hill country. She loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl. 


  • Jana Coufalová said:

    Thank you very much for this tips, pictures, support. I like it vety much. Shhurelly I´ll try it. Thank you. I wish you nice autumn days. Jana

    October 25, 2022

  • Kathleen Holmberg said:

    These two demonstrations are great! The instructions for drawing/painting vases is the easiest and best I’ve found!
    Etchr Studio replied:
    Ohhh! So glad to hear that – thank you Kathleen.

    October 24, 2022

  • Mariette said:

    LOVE THIS. Thank you. Botanicals don’t have to be so fussy to be beautiful and fun.
    Etchr Studio replied:
    Thanks Mariette – glad you enjoyed it!

    October 24, 2022

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