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.
Jenny and I have just returned from Austria where we took a group to paint Alpine scenery. It was a great trip, with many memorable scenes, despite rather a lot of cloud and mist. So we had rather a lot of practice in rendering misty mountains in watercolour!
Here I’m doing a watercolour demonstration way above the clouds, with marvellous views all round as the mountains rise out of the inversion. Alas, there were even more clouds above us, so we did get a little rain near the end of the demo, but not enough to spoil things. A cappuccino and an apple-strudel quickly restored morale.
Mist on mountains can, for the artist, sometimes be both magical and a misery. I love the way it can blot out unwanted features, but as we all know, it often blots out the very features we want to see!
There are a number of ways of creating mist in watercolour. In this scene above the Inn Valley in Austria I ran colour into wet areas to create soft edges to the clouds. I had to work quickly as I was painting on a cartridge book. With such a lot of cloud edges, inevitably some dry hard-edged before they can be corrected.
This is not usually a problem as they can later be softened with a damp brush when the paper is completely dry, though the odd hard edge here and there might well enhance the clouds.
Alternatively a soft sponge is an excellent tool for softening off, but take care if you use cartridge paper as it won’t stand too much surface friction. Enjoy your clouds!
Here is just a fraction of David’s many sketchbooks
I recently had an email inquiring about which sketchbooks I recommend. I thought other artists would find this useful too, so I am sharing this information here.
David and I both have a large collections of sketchbooks, The UK ones are dedicated to certain counties, or regions such as Mid Wales, Lake District, Yorkshire etc. and the overseas ones are illustrated daily journals of the trip, with text and drawings and paintings.
A page from my Egypt sketchbook
We have used a number of different brands over the years, some of which are no longer available but the ones we currently use are Daler Rowney Ebony Hardback Sketchbooks in either A5 or A4 sizes. Many of the UK ones and all of the overseas ones are in casebound hardback sketchbooks with cartridge paper, either A4 or A5. Casebound books are more durable than ring bound ones and have the advantage that you can write on the spine and then organise them on a bookshelf.
A page from my Crete sketchbook
The other advantage of a casebound book is that you can extend the sketch over a double page spread and with an A4 sketchbook that means you have an area A3 in size. The paper weight is also important if you intend to use watercolour in your sketches. I would say that 150 gsm cartridge paper is the minimum weight to look for. There are a number of casebound sketchbooks coming onto the market and not always in art shops, some stationery shops now seem to stock plain cartridge paper casebound books. but check the paper weight carefully before you buy.
David and I strongly believe that sketching out of doors is the best way to improve your artwork, and if you paint in watercolour then sketching in watercolour out of doors is a truly liberating and exciting experience and will almost certainly improve your studio watercolours.
I hope you can discover the pleasure of working out of doors in front of nature.
I’ve not long returned from a trip to the Canadian Rockies, where the mountains rise high in truly awesome splendour. I managed around a hundred sketches, many in watercolour, and the hot, sunny weather made it really a pleasure to be out sketching. Luckily I had some bad-weather days as well, even some snowfall, and this gave my work that added atmosphere: when you can see everything there is no mystery.
This watercolour of Stoney Squaw Mountain near Banff was done on a cartridge sketchbook, showing fresh snow and wreaths of mist, which many find difficult to tackle. If you use copious amounts of water and keep your edges soft (sometimes you need to soften edges that have dried hard with a damp brush). Obviously experience with the wet-into-wet technique helps here, and you may well need to re-wet some areas to create misty shapes of crags, trees and ridges.
One of the great advantages of the colour sketch over a photograph in a situation like this is that you usually find the camera will record simply stark contrasts of dark rock and white snow, losing any sense of colour, unless strong light is highlighting any colour. When sketching, observe carefully any colour present in rocks and vegetation, even exaggerating it if necessary, to avoid the work looking too cold or sombre.
I can’t wait to get going on some enormous compositions of the Canadian scenes.
Trying to maintain a regular blog is pretty much impossible for me, especially at the moment with so much happening. There simply isn’t enough time to do all I want. Since the previous post Jenny and I have joined in a major protest in Mid Wales at the start of a public inquiry into five wind farms which, if given the go-ahead will industrialise vast swathes of beautiful landscape and trash the main economy based on tourism. Following that I demonstrated in a slightly different style at Patchings Art Festival in the St Cuthberts Mill and Search Press marquees, and without a break continued to Derbyshire to run a painting course at Derbyshire Arts.
Hardly back from Derbyshire and I had a rather significant birthday party, which unfortunately was interrupted by the local health and safety officials as pictured above. Nevertheless, much fun was had by all concerned, and nobody got too wet. This interlude was then followed by a spot of filming for another project, until at last! – yesterday I could disappear off into the hills and relax for the first time in a few weeks.
There’s been some marvellous weather for working out of doors lately, and long may it continue. I have a number of sketching kits, ranging from large expedition ones to pocket-sized pads with a pencil or two plus an aquash brush – it really is worth taking a few materials with you, plus a camera, to catch a fascinating composition while you are out. If you feel embarrassed sketching out of doors then hide your sketchbook in a copy of the Beano or other comic and pretend to be doing the crossword……enjoy the summer.