14 tips for live drawing and painting

Leading illustrators tell us their techniques for drawing, painting and performing in front of an audience, what tools they use and how to embrace imperfection.


I am usually expected to arrive in my full doodle suit, with my big bag of markers and create something spontaneously and quickly, generally based on a theme that is relevant to the client or event. People get the chance to see the work made from a blank canvas to a full doodle and during this time they can take photos and record me at work. Sometimes they can even interact themselves by suggesting items to be doodled.

Sam Cox aka Mr Doodle (UK)

For more: Live illustration 2018 – leading illustrators discuss approaches and techniques.

The time pressure is a good thing in my opinion because it's challenging. I find it really fun to work quickly. Not being able to erase what I have done is something I've come to live with in all my work- if something doesn't look right within the drawing then I tend to morph it into something else. 


Mr Doodle (UK)


My approach is based around the concept of staying consistent from start to finish. So usually I'll measure the surface out with my eyes and that will determine how big or small I doodle and I'll keep that scale from start to finish. It's important to me that every inch is covered in doodles so I just need to pace myself correctly to complete the work. It is also my approach to have fun when I work, because if I'm having fun I think there's more chance of the audience having fun too.

Mr Doodle (UK)

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I'd suggest practicing by filming yourself and watching back, have friends and family watch you too, see how people react from the activity and then build on this. Try and create something that you think doesn't already exist or at least add something new to an existing form of art.

I think it's good practice to create live art that you personally enjoy, that way the audience stands a greater chance of enjoying it too- it's about having a belief in what you do, it shows you have confidence in your work and that becomes a more enjoyable experience for the audience.

Mr Doodle (UK)


A few years ago, I realised that the trend for live illustration was here to stay. I was getting more and more work, and occasionally being asked to work at large events which needed more than one artist. Lil collective was started with two other illustrators, Miss Magpie Fashion Spy and Emma Block, both who were doing a lot of live illustration at the time. The collective provides each of us with some moral support, and help with pricing, and negotiating reasonable working environments.

Willa Gebbie (UK)


Live illustration is much more like performance. I work with some big brands, so I'm always aware that I should represent their brand well. That means I have to put much more thought into what I'm wearing, and wear makeup.  Also, even when you're having a really bad day, you have to be smiling and confident.

Willa Gebbie (UK)

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In the studio I use watercolours, but when I'm working live, I use water based pens. It's much cleaner and easier to carry around. Sometimes venues can have restrictions on using paints, or open water containers but pens are usually fine. It does mean that I've had to learn a different technique.

Willa Gebbie (UK)


Live illustration can be physically challenging. More than three hours of non-stop drawing in the same position will likely leave you with a sore back or wrists. Or if you're going to be doing murals, then you have to take care of your knees. I prioritise regular yoga classes to combat this, and if I'm particularly busy, then I'll book a massage.

It's really important that clients are aware of this, and will provide you with a decent, well-lit working space. An absolute minimum is a chair with a back, and a table or desk high enough for your legs to slide under. Otherwise, you could be doing yourself some damage.

Willa Gebbie (UK)


If I make a mistake, generally I just colour it in and style it out. Sunglasses, big hair and patterns all help to disguise mistakes.

Stay calm if you make a mistake. Stay hydrated, and bring plenty of materials.

Alice Bowsher (UK)

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I use brush and acrylic, but for toilet doors, as they already had a coat of gloss paint and people brush against them, I had to go over them in a oil paint.

I generally work with ink so painting on a wall with acrylic I always find a little tougher as it doesn’t flow quite as well.

Alice Bowsher (UK)


I like to have the drawings mix in with reality. It’s a real treat to work on something that isn’t a sheet of blank paper and presents a set of new challenges in the form of architecture and permanent objects. It’s fun to make the drawings work around them so it seems like the characters are in our world.

Alice Bowsher (UK)


The thing with my lettering is, I tailor it per image, per project. This is why clients commission it when there are fonts not a world away and much cheaper. With fonts, you just can't get the spontaneity and organic response in a split second.

Ben Tallon (UK)

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A lot of planning has to go in to attain calculated accuracy. In my case, I have always loved the loose nature of inks, paints and drawing, so tailored my style accordingly. It's always the driving factor when I'm commissioned so mistakes are swallowed up in the essence of what I do.

Ben Tallon (UK)


Embrace imperfection, exist in the moment and deal with the general public.

Ben Tallon (UK)