Why am I sketching?
There are many reasons for making sketches. You may want to practice your drawing skills by sketching from life, or experience the thrill of painting outdoors. You may be getting ideas and inspiration for a painting to do back at home, or suddenly see something that just needs to be drawn. You may be attracted by an unusual shaped building, or a sunset, or a group of tourists chatting at a bus stop. Whatever it is that inspires you to sketch, you need to be able to get it down on paper, and sometimes get it down fast!
In this section I will show you a few different ways of sketching that will help you to capture what first inspired you. There are different techniques for different situations, so just choose the one that is best for you at the time. The important key to getting the sketch right is to know what attracted you to the scene (was it details, atmosphere, light and shade, colour, or something else?) and then to try to get this aspect down on paper. Don't get bogged down in detail if you are trying to capture an atmosphere, and don't block in with tones if you are after lots of detail.
I would encourage you to try out different ways of capturing the subjects in front of you. Perhaps you have only ever made detailed line drawings. Then have a go at some colour notes. Perhaps you have never worked with tonal drawings. Then have a go at these. The more you experiment the better your sketching will become.
Sometimes detail grabs our attention, as in this muddle of chairs, pots, plants and shadows that I found on a patio in France. I loved the complex lines that were created and this is what made such an interesting subject. So in my sketch I was aiming to draw the details and recreate some of the 'fussiness' of the place.
Detail is something which fascinates us all, and there is plenty to be had in the great outdoors. Look for details in the shapes of an old gnarled tree, or in a doorway, or in the complexity of a flower. Try to draw or paint these details accurately.
Click on the picture to see a larger image.
Paint fast and loose
This five minute watercolour sketch was painted on site in France and I have tried to catch something of the colour and composition of the fields and hedges that were laid out before me. I went straight in with the brush - no drawing first - and allowed the colours of the fields to merge together wet-in-wet, before then adding the darker trees and hedgerows on top. Quick, easy and I hope effective.
Capturing the atmosphere
I painted this quick sketch while on holiday in South Africa. I woke up one morning to see an amazingly blue African sky diffused with light whisps of cloud, melting the mountains beneath it. I grabbed my paints and very quickly tried to catch the essence of the atmosphere before it all changed. I don't know how well I managed it, but the memory of that moment still lingers.
Sometimes it is the atmosphere of a place, a misty mountain or a foggy sea that captures our gaze. Sometimes it is a fleeting effect of the light, or a feeling about a place. When we sketch we don't necessarily have to draw a landscape or any particular object. We can try to capture an effect, or even just a particular combination of colours that attracts us. Look out for subjects like these when you are out and about and have a go at catching the essence of an atmosphere!
Never be afraid tio scribble notes to yourself in your sketchbook. Remember, your sketchbook is for your own use, it isn't really for public consumption!
Here you can see that I have added colour notes to this tonal sketch to remind me what the colours were. (Click on the picture to see this more clearly in a larger version.)
Write notes about anything that will help you to remember the scene - the colours, textures, atmosphere, even the sounds and smells around you. Write as little or as much as you need. All this information will be helpful should you decide to paint from your sketch at a later date.