Field sketching is most definitely a learnt skill, and one that requires a certain amount of organisation and effort. Some people are pros at it, with a ready-packed artist's toolkit stowed away in their bag at all times, just waiting for inspiration to strike. Other people (like myself until very recently) aren't quite as prepared for on-the-go artmaking, but with a little forward-thinking, and the right tools for the job, you can easily introduce this useful skill into your practice.
I take a lot of my inspiration from the natural world, so it makes sense for me to go out into the great outdoors and become more in-tune with my subject matter. When I began exploring plein-air art-making I worked mainly with sketching pencils, which are great for quick studies and are easy to throw into a bag, but can also be limiting in terms of mark-making and colour vibrancy. The changing nature of the outside world seemed to call for something looser, brighter and more expressive.
Wet mediums such as watercolour are brilliant for quickly capturing moments, and have traditionally been used by painters such as J.M.W. Turner, Albrecht Durer and Thomas Moran to portray the natural world. I was looking for an easy modern-day alternative, and so decided to give Winsor & Newton’s Watercolour Markers a try. The markers are lightweight, easy to carry around, and fit perfectly into a pencil case. After much experimentation, I settled on a fast and effective technique that works for me when I'm out and about. Feel free to give it a go...
WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
- A sketchbook or sketchpad.
- Winsor and Newton Watercolour Markers (I used the set of 6 assorted colours...)
- A water brush (make sure you fill it up before you leave the house!)
- A fineliner pen or pencil
First things first, you'll need to choose your subject- this can be anything that you want; plants, animals, architecture, people. Remember that the markers have really strong pigments- so don't be afraid to pick something colourful!
Once you know what you're going to be drawing, carefully choose which areas of your image you'd like to have the most intense colour and fill these in with the markers. Be careful with your mark-making at this point, as although the water will spread the colour, the line you make may still be visible underneath. The technique I have been working with doesn't require outlines or too much detail at this early stage, as this will be added later.
Once you're happy with the colours and placement of the marker strokes, use your water brush to spread and mix the colour. Water brushes are a great little cheat, and stop you having to carry pots or bottles of water around- I have a really bad habit of forgetting to take water with me when I go out to paint, and in the past I've had to rely on my own saliva to wet my brush (ew!)
Don't worry about being too precise at this stage, and if you're drawing a single object as opposed to a full landscape, try spreading the colour pigments further than the imaginary lines of your drawing. This will greate a subtle background or shadow for the lone subject, and will help to make any mistakes look like intentional flourishes!
After adding the water, let your work sit for a while- you'll need to make sure that the paper is completely dry before you work into it, as wet paper may lead to tearing or bleeding when you add your final details. Luckily, if you're outside in the sunshine, drying time shouldn't take too long!
When you're happy that your work is dry, use your pencil or fineliner to add detail. Since I focused on a single object I worked quite tightly with my pen, adding definition and shading using small marks and cross-hatching. If you're limited with time or would like a looser end result try working into your watercolour with a speedier technique, such as continuous line drawing. You may also prefer to wait until you're home to add in the detail- and merely capture the key colours and shapes with your markers when you're out and about.
After the detail has been added you're done! There's so much room for experimentation within field sketching and painting, and I've found that this technique is the perfect recipe for me; simple, quick and with effective results. With such easy-to-use paint-based products there's really no reason why all of your field sketchbooks can't be filled with colour!
Take a look at more of Jess's work.