Summer is coming and it’s a great excuse to get out of the studio and into the big wide world to capture what’s going on around you. Here are some tips about sketching outside.
Why sketch outside?
Working from life is very different to working from a photograph. Your brain has to work extra hard to process the 3-dimensional image you see in front of you and change it to a 2-dimensional picture on the page. It takes a lot of looking and checking and re-checking, and all that practice really hones your skills.
Moreover, working outside in the environment you are trying to portray is even more challenging than setting up a still life in front of you to work from in your home. With a still life you choose and place your composition, but out in the landscape, your subject surrounds you and you need to spend a bit of time choosing which part of it you will paint or draw.
You can take photos of an area to bring home and paint, but you’ll lose that sensation of place that inspires and influences you. Outside, you can design your scene using a composition that isn’t necessarily faithful in a way a photograph would be. You will be sensitive to the fluctuating weather conditions, how the light changes, how the trees blow in the wind. Photographs dull and flatten your experience, but being outside is alive and changing and that vitality and movement should creep into your work.
Sketching out and about is not something I do enough, I tend to prefer people as subjects to landscape, but that changes when I get a chance out be out in countryside that I love. However, getting out into a space where people are is also a brilliant opportunity to sharpen sketching skills while they stand, sit and move. I just need to get over my own self-consciousness at times!
If you think you are going to go out sketching, be prepared. Have your materials in one place, ready to go, as minimal as you can as carrying heavy bags across miles of hills isn’t conducive to creative energy – or maybe that’s just me! Make sure you have clothing appropriate for the weather, suncream, snacks, water, anything that’s going to keep you comfortable for your trip.
Weather can affect your material, oil painting in the rain isn’t going to work, though it may give interesting effects with watercolour! Heat can affect paint, making it dry too quickly to get the wet in wet effects you want to achieve, or oil paint may become runny. Masking fluid may become difficult to remove from the paper,
Look out for environmental hazards, like sand on a windy beach getting into your paint, or flies sticking to your canvas.
What to bring
Pencils are the lightest and easiest to carry, but I often think it seems a shame not to capture colour while you’re out and about and experiencing it in real life. Good sketching equipment includes:
- Watercolour paints and waterbrushes (these hold their own reservoir of water, making them very practical for taking out and about)
- Alcohol marker pens
- Watercolour pencils
Pastels and oil paints are more bulky to bring and ideally need a box for storage; pochades are boxes specially designed for taking your art materials out sketching with carry straps and spaces for canvas boards, set slightly apart so you can safely transport your wet paintings home. It’s much easier if you can screw your pochade into a tripod to make a mini easel, from experience trying to paint from a pochade on your lap makes for a wonky painting experience and a bad back.
You might also want a chair to sit on (a holder for drinks bottle in the arm is handy for waterbottles).
Art sketching equipment can be expensive and you can often find cheaper alternatives in fishing equipment.
What and where to draw
You can draw anything, anywhere if you have a pencil and paper. The more you sketch, the better you’ll get, and the more ideas you’ll capture up on which to base new work.
It can take a while to get confident sketching outside where people are, so build your confidence up slowly, or go out with other artist friends.
Sketching the world around you not only improves your skills, but can provide a unique and personal visual diary of your travels and experience. So make sure you pack your pencils this summer!