Rapid sketching on the move

When I’m travelling, especially in a foreign country, I like to make the most of every minute, and this includes my sketching. So often when in a train, bus or other vehicle I see things flash past that I really wish I could have captured on paper. Obviously a lot of the time it is impossible to record a fleeting image, even with a camera, especially if it is in close proximity to your mode of transport. There is, however, a lot you can to to catch those fleeting images.

Firstly, make sure you are prepared with camera, sketchbook and pencils or pens. You can do a lot with ordinary pencils, and watersoluble pencils are also really effective when combined with a brush-pen filled with water. A few watercolour pencils can also be useful if colour is important, but attempting watercolour paints can be extremely tricky at speed! In open country it is so much easier because often the subject is some distance from you, thus giving you time to react and get the essentials down quickly.

This photograph, taken by my friend Torben Sorensen, shows me rather laid-back sketching on a dog-sledge. Yes, we are moving steadily along, across the Greenland sea-ice, with vast vistas all round. This is one of the easiest forms of sketching on the move – very comfortable until the sledge hits a series of ice-ridges, or sastrugis, when the sketching becomes a series of jabs which you have to link up later with lines and tone. A few miles of that and your teeth start dropping out!

When sketching like this I use a sort of visual short-hand, not including much by way of repetitive features, applying tone only to parts of critical areas, and outlining objects like trees, rocks, mountains, then filling in more detail once I have the basic outlines done, if time permits. Later on I then fill in those features that I have only suggested, and inserting tone over the rest of the main areas. It is interesting to learn how your visual memory responds to these challenges once you’ve sketched in this way a few times. You can, of course, practise rapid sketching at home, or perhaps in the car when someone else is driving, and this will teach you how to instantly register the most important aspects of a scene. The added bonus to all this is that it really does help your normal sketching immensely, because it is teaching you to seek out the essentials of a scene. And of course, it’s great fun!!!

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