I am a mining engineer by training (and I have worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Spain, Canada and US) and started sketching outdoors for the first time in 2012 with the Vancouver Sketchcrawl group when I was posted there. I enjoyed drawing when I was a child but I also loved being outdoors either playing sports or with friends. The sketchcrawl group created a great opportunity to meet locals in a safe environment but also the opportunity to explore the city.
What I find most inspirational to sketch and paint are elements that change such as the shadow and reflection, people carrying out an activity and moving or the complete opposite such as a gaze of a portrait or scenes that looks quite still and serene.
Most of my en plein air sketches/paintings are done in the following seven (7) steps. It looks like a lot of steps but a small sketch may take 30 minutes and a larger quarter sheet may take up to 50 minutes to an hour. In Australia, the paper can dry really quickly so although it can sounds challenging to paint quickly it ends up being easier to achieve the soft edges. The paintings can take much longer if its cold and damp.
Step 1- Focus: I walk around until I find something of interest and then have a clear idea of why I want to sketch it. I sometimes write it down on the left hand side of the sketchbook, and sometimes I need to simplify it in my head. This step really helps me with identifying my focus point and the overall effect I want to try and achieve.
For this painting, I liked the colour of the sky as the sun set and the dots of lights along Milton Road.
Step 2 – Composition: I then step back and forward until I find a vantage point of that focus that has a good composition. I usually sit or kneel on the ground to paint as I can have my palette and paper close together.
Step 3 – Palette Preparation: I unpack and open my watercolour palette and spray it with water to give the paint a few minutes to release. Place the brushes I want on the right hand side (as I am right-handed).
Step 4 – Pencil: I start with a really loose contour pencil drawing using a 2B 0.7mm mechanical pencil to compose the rough shapes. I try not to spend more than 5 mins on the pencil drawing to keep it loose. I make sure I capture where the shadows are especially if the light is changing. I roll my kneadable rubber over the pencil marks to lighten it if required.
Step 5 – First Wash: I start with a Escoda Ultimo dagger brush (size 8) to do the first loose wash, balancing the warm and cool colours. A large soft mop can be used but I can use the same dagger brush for some of the brush work in the second wash so I think it’s more efficient.
I lifted the paper to see if my first wash had dried but I noticed the drip marks forming which I liked. So I continued to let it dry vertically.
Step 6 – Second Wash: This is followed with a second more solid wash using a combination of the dagger and Escoda Perla Travel Brush (Size 10 to 12) to balance the tones and it’s typically a transparent grey.
I used to try and see seven grades of tone, but I now look for five and adjust on the fly.
Step 7 – Punchy Dot and Lines: a final layer with darks and super brights (cad red and cobalt turquoise light, white) using the Escoda rigger brush (size 0) and Escoda Perla Travel Brush (size 8) to paint in some of the details.
Some people start with an ink line and follow it with a wash, but I do the reverse. I put the wash down and add the darks like the lines only where I need. I find this process quicker than doing an ink and wash.
I use the following tools:
- Paper: The papers I am currently enjoying are: Erwin’s crowd-funded The Perfect Sketchbook B5, Saunders Waterford St Cuthbert 300 gsm, Strathmore Series 500 Mixed Media sketchbook and the Handbook Travelogue Square.
- Brushes: I like the Escoda synthetic brushes as I like the fine point, it allows me to do more calligraphic lines but it holds a lot more water compared to some other synthetic brushes. I still keep the scruffy brushes as they can be used for adding texture.
- Paint: My current palette contains 17-colours consisting mainly of Winsor & Newton and play colours by Daniel Smith
In addition to my en plein air sketches and paintings, I have joined the Sktchy community to practice my portraits when I can’t go outside or when I have a limited amount of time. I have painted portraits in small sketchbooks to full sheet size.
I have recently enjoyed incorporating a sketch during some bush walking and looking at older watercolour sketches and seeing how I would make it look more modern or contemporary. I’ve also tried adding texture with my finger (after watching an Urban sketcher), in addition to fingernails and a palate knife and studying the brush strokes of Shodo masters. And, of course, I enjoy having fun conversations with some passer-bys whilst sketching!