From Timidity to Passion

‘Noooo! I would not want to ruin the drawing by adding colour.’ ‘ What I ruin the drawing by adding color?’ ‘I suck at using watercolor.’ ‘I’m not good in drawing,’

These were my recurrent thoughts since I felt a sense of inferiority about the application of colors in my work and I always felt timid about my drawings. I was not born with an array of talents but I was born to work hard which is something my parents has always said to me. When I was studying foundation (2016), I felt anxiety and pressure because my classmates were good in drawing and I had a stiff hand. Fortunately, with the encouragement and support of my father, I pushed myself to learn drawing by concentrating in class. I made a habit of drawing a square box from different angles. Hence, by the end of the first semester, I slowly got the hang of drawing but I was still timid in the application of my skills.

The exercise I used to do everyday! Image and artwork © Nur Illana, 2020.

However, the timidity did not stop me in the process of improving myself. I kept watching tutorials from the internet, and tried to understand the techniques of drawing especially with perspective. I found a few artists that I admired so much that it finally led me to where I am now. With the encouragement of my friend, Hafsa, and by looking at artists that I admire, I began having courage to use colors (watercolors) in my work. To be honest, when I held the brush, my hands were shaking but it actually turned out better than I expected. I had fun with the process, and this is the moment I fell in love with watercolors. My friends enjoyed looking at my work which made me happy in return! From then on, I decided to improve my skills in drawing and watercolor.

The first work with the full use of watercolor. This was also the time my hand was shaking! Image and artwork © Nur Illana, 2017.

Fast forward to the present, while doing this article, I realized how far I had come from being a timid person to expressing myself passionately on drawing and watercolour which I am still improving each day. I am embracing the experience as I draw. Now let’s get into the tools and best practices!

My friend went on vacation to Osaka, Japan. I asked her to take a picture of an interesting building in Osaka so I could draw from it (July 2019). Image and artwork © Nur Illana, 2019.

Tools and Best Practices

For starters, my tools are my weapons especially a pen. I try my best to make a habit of taking a sketchbook and a pen with me wherever I go. I never know if something interesting to record comes up especially when an event is boring! To begin with, my favourite pen is the Lamy fountain pen. I find that the process is a lot more fun using a fountain pen as opposed to a fineliner pen. As for pencils, I prefer using colour pencils instead of black pencils. Usually when drawing a structure, I outline it with a fountain pen, however the traces of black pencil will be too obvious and it may look untidy. By using colour pencils, the outline would blend in with the pen and watercolour. This technique is often used by other artists too.

Lamy Safari Fountain pen (Black matte), Dual colour pencil and mechanical pen with purple lead. Image © Nur Illana, 2020.

Best brushes! In my opinion, the best brush to use is the Artetje Aquarelliste 990 (the top brush in the picture). The reason is that these brushes can easily control water and the synthetic furs are soft which makes it easy to make a smooth effect. This brush is quite pricey but the quality is really good so it’s worth it! The other brushes are different sizes for different functions, the small sizes are suitable for small details and big sizes for mass and volume.

As for watercolor, there are two forms of watercolor — tubes or pans. My own preference is to use the pans since it is easy to bring along and the steps to prepare it are quick.

The 19 colours that I own came in metal box set. I bought the colours in tubes as I will then add the pigment in half-pans and let it dry to become a hard pigment. Henceforth when using water the pigment will activate itself.

Loosen your hands. In 2017, I finally managed to join a building sketch class hosted by a famous urban designer/sketcher in Instagram called Syahdaud. The class was fun and the tips he gave were helpful. When he saw my sketch he noticed that the way I drew the lines were too forceful and it was amazing that he noticed my thoughts on paper as I remember struggling to make the lines straight and it took me a full 3 hours to finish the sketch. He advised me to ‘loosen’ the lines which mean that you should loosen up the hands and try to be less forceful on the lines. With the help of his advice, I became less bothered on trying to make the lines straight.

My not so confident lines and poor watercolor skills which took me 3 hours to finish. Image and artwork © Nur Illana, 2020.

Continue drawing despite mistakes. Sometimes I make mistakes. I’m supposed to be drawing a vertical line but the line instead becomes tilted. At first I would become frustrated but after a couple of seconds the results would turn out better. This was also a good advice given to me by Syahdaud: one should continue drawing even though a mistake has been made.

The Internet. My drawing has improved a lot due to Internet and the power of observation! Artists like Syahdaud, Mateusz Urbanowicz, and Heikala often share their drawing processes through time-lapse based videos. I would often observe the stroke of the brushes, watercolor mixes, or how the inking is done.

Draw memories through objects. If I want to remember a particular memory, I often record it indirectly through sketches. For example, earlier this year, my uncle had an operation, and while waiting, my family gathered at the Coffee Bean on the ground floor. I decided to draw that memory by sketching the cup I was drinking from and using the serviette as a canvas. In the months after, when I look at this sketch, it rekindles my memories of the hospital.

A sketch on a serviette

Observe. From my personal experience, observation is the best tool that one can have. When you observe something for a long period of time, you begin noticing small details such as those on a building or its characteristics. The more you observe, the more information you store and the next time you see another building or object, you have a clear sight on how to draw it as your hands and mind are attuned to a sort of muscle memory of knowing the basics of the shape.

Therapy. Finally, sketching now feels like a therapy for me. It blocks the negativity around me and allows me to dig into the process whilst listening to my favourite music. Sketching helps me to remain calm and takes me to imagined worlds.

I wish the best for those who are interested in watercolors or any drawing medium. Good luck to all of us!

Lastly, please do follow my new art account in Instagram, @nr.ilama (yes some people called me Ilama, well I embrace my spirit animal). All my upcoming work will be posted in this account!


  1. I can see how passionate you are in this and it seems that you have worked so hard to achieve the skills. It’s really inspiring to see how your works keep improving and how the journey never made you give up. You are gonna be one great artist for sure one day ms ilama! Keep up the good work! <3

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