Maintaining morale when out sketching on location is vital, and while some might find a whisky flask useful, I generally rely on tea. Sadly last week in Pembrokeshire the cottage where I stayed lacked that vital ingredient, the teapot. Naturally, this was pretty disastrous, so when out and about I made the most of any such facilities. In the sketch below the right-hand building is a superb tea-shop selling the most delicious cakes, and this is why you might detect a certain hastiness in the rendering of the pencil-work.
However hasty we may be in sketching, it pays to consider the composition carefully when creating a painting from the sketch or photograph. Unless the subject is quite a simple affair I normally carry out an intermediate studio sketch to work out where I wish to place the important elements and the main emphasis, together with the sort of atmosphere I wish to convey. In this instance I would move the composition to the right a little so that the left-hand house did not appear in the centre of the composition, as this would be my centre of interest. I would need more detail to be included above the left-hand wall and figures (detail missed because of the urgency of the tea situation), so I would have to resort to memory, a photograph, or the good old imagination. The main figures would be placed further to the right, a little closer to the centre of interest, and I would make full use of the dark runnels of water descending from the centre right – I have already bent them slightly to come towards the viewer as a lead-in. These are the kind of thought processes that go through my mind before I begin the painting.
Don’t underestimate the value of tea for the artist. I’ve even used it on a painting outdoors on occasion. Last autumn while I was running a landscape painting course a lovely German lady was painting a cottage, which filled her paper. When I asked her what was her focal point she replied, “The tea-pot.” Sure enough, there was a teapot in the window. Such observations may not only bring a smile to your viewers, but might also result in a sale.
Whilst landscape is my main subject material, I am fascinated by people – not just as small figures within the landscape environment, but as subjects in themselves, especially those with plenty of character. Most of the time I draw them without them realising I am doing so, but occasionally I ask if they would make a particularly interesting study. Overseas I do sometimes get asked to draw them, even if they just see me drawing a plant or a landscape, and it can lead to fascinating encounters.
Cafes, trains, stations and all forms of gatherings are all good places to find people worth sketching, though I’ve also done such sketching in really diverse places. If you feel bashful you can always keep your sketchbook hidden inside a copy of the Beano or similar comic, and use a stub of a pencil so that it’s not obvious that you are drawing. The last thing you want to do is attract unwanted attention by being too blatant about it! Rather than aiming to achieve a great likeness to the person, I tend to be more interested in the way people hold themselves, whatever they are doing. Action drawings are fine, but what do people do with their hands, arms and legs when they are just sitting or standing? This can be a real problem for artists if you have no reference material.
The key is often where the main weight of the body lies, and how it is balanced. Begin with an overall faint, loose drawing and when you are confident that you have everything where it should be, then you can apply bolder strokes of the pen, pencil, or whatever you use. Note how the head appears: is it bent forward, held straight or to one side, or what? If you go straight for the detail you will miss these vital points, whether you are doing a serious character study or a madcap caricature.
The scene (the sort of thing you would best avoid if possible!) is from The Grog Invasion, an illustrated tale about the Llandoddies, the water-folk of Llandrindod Wells, and available on our website, http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk