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Sketch Books
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Last updated 28/01/18

Many budding artists, both professional and amateur record what they see in sketch books - working plein-air. They can be a useful tool to help formulate a painting later with notes on colours, tones and lighting conditions. I often use them to practice the layout and value range of a painting before I start or simply to practice my art and new techniques I wish to experiment with.

Artists often take a small art pad with them on holiday with the intention of relaxing under a sun shade whilst sketch painting what they see around them - a glass of wine at hand! But so often, whilst the intention is there, it never happens and if you do make a start the simple sketch starts to become a major work as you struggle to get shapes and detail correct.

I find that the way to produce a successful sketch book is to set yourself some rules :-

1. Limit time - learn to work quickly and therefore cut out too much detail. So I try to use just 10-15 minutes for pencil sketching followed by no more than 15-25 minutes painting making a total time of 30-40 minutes.

2. Keep your materials and tools to an absolute minimum - you are not going to get in to too much detail so I use :-

  • An Arnold Lowery 30mm wide flat brush for washing in the sky or water etc and a Windsor & Newton No. 6 round Artists Sable (this comes to a lovely point and means that you do not need anything finer.
  • A fine point artist pen (Faber & Castell) for any pen work.
  • Propelling 0.7mm HB pencil or simply a 4B pencil and sharpener.
  • Limited paints - I use a variety paints but try and limit my selection to Ultramarine Blue, Cerelean Blue, Cad. Red or Alizarin Crimson, Raw Sienna or Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and perhaps Sepia Brown and Cad. Yellow.
  • A simple enameled tin palette and small water container.
  • Last but not least, these are simple paint sketches, so I paint on a spiral bound water colour pad of at least 140 lbs/300gm weight - W&N Cotman is fine and this means that there is no need for a board or tape and I do not rest it on an easel - remember, these are just quick sketches. Note, I now tend to use A4 size Moleskin water colour note books - the paper is of reasonable quality and has a 'tooth'.
Below is a photo of me painting plein-air at Aldeburgh - during the summer months members of the Lacock Art Group will paint plein-air in the village - go to the Lacock Art Group web site for more pictures.

3. Below and on the next two pages are examples from my sketch books - remember, speed is the essence - you must not get bogged down in detail - if I can do one of these sketches in 20-30 minutes, I am happy, at 40 minutes I am ok but anything more than that and I am loosing the will to live and I have lost what I am trying to acheive in a sketch - it is not a finished piece of work, but a quick moment in time!.......and don't be afraid of mistakes - learn from them - look for positive and negative shapes - if you can define 50% of the shape of an object by a contrasting shape behind it, you are winning!

We start from one of my sketxh books dedicated to the Wiltshire village of Lacock - this village is largely owned by the National Trust and the buildings have often been used for films - Harry Potter, The White Pricess etc etc


Sketch 01
Sketch 02

A corner house just as you enter the village from the Beanacre end.

A view towards the 'Sign of the Angel' pub.

Boat at Dundas

Cottages at Avoncliff
A cottage used in the Harry Potter films. Cottages at the corner between High and East Streets.
A view of the pottery in the snow.  The George Inn.
Swing Bridge Cottage near the barge
The corner of the Pottery. A view down Church Street.
Bath Hotel Ex Naval Vessel
The village school. Memorial and cottage.
Pultney Weir Panther 2
Church Street near the bakery. St. Cyriacs church with the pottery on the left side.
East Street Abbey
A view up East Street - the Village Hall is on the left and is where the Lacock Art Group meet. Lacock Abbey in the snow.
Corner Cottage Red Lion
Another view of the cottage shown in the first sketch above. The Red Lion pub.
The next 2 pages of sketches are taken from several sketch books - many are painted plein-air and others are simply practice sketches, perhaps to be used in planning a later finished painting - enjoy!


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Note - all images are Copyright.