Hints and Tips for sketching en plein air.

Once you are out in Nature the view can be vast! How to capture some of that on paper?

There are three ways you can tackle this:

1) Choose a focal area ( a house, a tree, a tub of flowers, a boat…) and place it off-centre on your page, both vertically and horizontally. Start by drawing this focal point and simply work outwards in all directions – no need to fill the page, as drawings which fade towards the edges ( = vignetted) are often more attractive.

2) Focus on only one detail – eg. A branch of almond blossom, a tub of flowers, a window with foliage – and draw this. You could do several of these small sketches on one page.

3) To create a good composition of the scene before you, use a viewfinder. ( an A5 piece of card with a matchbox-size hole cut out of the middle.) Move around looking through your viewfinder till you find a view you like.

Note where the horizon line cuts the edge of the square hole – draw your horizon line at the corresponding point of your paper. If a tree cuts the edge of the viewfinder hole, draw the tree in the corresponding point of your paper.

Place all the largest shapes first before going into detail, as with all drawing.  Keep looking through your viewfinder to check.

To make a viewfinder even easier to use you can glue black threads or thin strips of black card across the hole at 1/3 and 1/3 points, vertically and horizontally, thereby gridding your viewfinder. Simply grid your paper the same way and copy the contents of each space in your viewfinder onto your paper.

You can install an App from the App store on your iPad which will grid your photos for you – it’s called Jacksons Art Grid.  You take a photo of the scene before you and grid it immediately.  You can add more or fewer lines to your grid as you wish.

Drawing from real life will add real life to your work! Photographs can be too static and distort the colours. When you work outdoors you hear the birds, smell the cut grass and flowers, see the true colours, feel the breeze, and all this adds life. Plus you probably have to work at speed ( maybe an hour and a half) , so this rapid sketchy result can be better than a laboriously executed painting.

I use oil pastels with watercolour for a quick and effective way of using colour in my sketches. Quickly sketch the main elements in pencil, draw them in oil pastel ( eg. tree trunks, foliage, house roof and windows…) and paint loose washes of watercolour in the appropriate colour over each area, e.g sky, grass, foliage, house walls… The oil pastel will resist the watercolour and therefore show through. You can also add more oil pastel on top where necessary.

Remember your comfort – wind and rain are your main enemies, but prepare for sun too with a hat and sun cream, plus a bottle of water. Take your viewfinder and camera, mozzie spray? and a folding chair, plus your drawing or painting equipment.

Enjoy the great outdoors and take home a personalised memory of the day out!

Here is my watercolour sketch of almond blossom in February on the Costa Blanca, painted en plein air:

Blossom plein air 2015

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