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Sketch Books
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Last updated 24/05/15

Many budding artists, both professional and amateur record what they see in sketch books. 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'.

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! (see the George pub and the boat at Dundas below).

Sketch 01
Sketch 02

The George - a favourite watering hole at Bathampton on the Kennet & Avon canal.

A local grand house.

Boat at Dundas

Cottages at Avoncliff
A boat moored at Dundas Aquaduct. Cottages at Avoncliff Aquaduct on the K&A.
A view on the Kennet & Avon canal approaching Bradford on Avon lock. Looking up at a house when moored at Bradford on Avon below the lock.
Swing Bridge Cottage near the barge
A swing bridge on the K&A close to Semmington. A cottage close to the Barge at Seend on the K&A.
Bath Hotel Ex Naval Vessel
A view on from Pultney Weir onto a restored hotel in Bath. Looked like an ex-naval vessel moored in Bristol's floating harbour.
Pultney Weir Panther 2
A Moored at Pultney Weir in Bath with part of the famous bridge in the background. Our narrowboat at the time - Panther 2 moored at Dundas Aquaduct.
The above sketches were from one sketch book used on a holiday we had on our then narrowboat Panther 2 taking us from Hilperton though Bradford on Avon down to Bath and on to the floating harbour in Bristol - 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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