Go for a walk somewhere local. Find a view that you like or are familiar with and use your viewfinder to help you focus on a point of interest. Make four sketches during your walk. You’ll be drawing rapidly and you may make mistakes – but don’t rub anything out. You can draw over any mistakes and re-state what you want to depict. Try to capture the idea of what you see through drawing; think of your sketching as taking notes. Try to get everything in, no matter how roughly. Fast drawing helps you to concentrate and see more clearly, shutting out unnecessary ‘noise’.
I chose five quite different views for this exercise on the basis that each one appealed to me for a different reason.
Courtyard: This view of my back garden attracted me because of the repeating shapes and colours of the pots strewn across it. I also was interested in the play of light- bright on the right and dark towards to back. there is not a lot of foreground in this sketch, maybe this would change if I homed in on the top left two thirds of the page.
View from Lymm Dam: I was attracted to this view of the Dam, with the railings in the foreground leading the eye across the page and the focal point of the church in the background. In a more developed picture I would make sure this was not centered. There might be some interesting reflections in the water below the trees and the view contrasts with the dark shaded area in the foreground. There is definitely a fore-middle and back ground in this sketch and texture is added via the vegetation and reeds in the centre while the trees behind are shrouded in mist. The railings give a strong shape and if it were detailed more would be highlighted and gain mass.
St Mary’s Churchyard, Lymm: I spent some time looking at the church from a closer position. I like this view as it is framed by the trees. It is a cold, misty damp day so the light/dark contrasts are minimal. I did a pencil sketch at the scene then outlined it again at home. I like the shapes of the gravestones and the way their surfaces sit either in the light or in shade. The light is coming from in front of me at the right. Under the tree all the stonework is in dark shade while behind them the stones are lighter. There is fore ground (headstones and the edge of the tree I was standing under) middle ground (tree/ church/ headstones) and background (trees and vegetation). I like the contrast of soft vegetation against the hard stonework.
Lymm Dam: I was again attracted by the view framed through the tree in the foreground. In the middle-ground is the water and a couple of birds and reflections of the trees and a misty bank of trees and the dam make up the background. The tree at the front is dark and almost silhouetted. There are interesting shapes in the dead tree at the bottom and the branches hanging down. I like the shape of the gnarled tree trunk and the twee addition of a nesting box. There is more light/medium/ dark tonal contrast in this scene. I am not sure I captured this, but would work on this more if I developed the work.
Brookfield Road: My final sketch is of the mini-roundabout outside my house. I was walking up the hill and was struck by how the road curved away in front of me and, as it was a lovely sunny day, by the intense shadow and sunlit areas. I like the way the roundabout occupies the centre of the page but leads your eye away in four directions. I like the shapes on the signage and the road markings and the abstract shapes of the tree-shadows on the road. It has a sense of depth, the nearest lamppost sitting in the foreground, while the road disappears into the background.
Concentrate on drawing clouds, creating comprehensive tonal studies in your sketchbook using charcoal, oil pastels, conté sticks and other tonal media. You can also use a putty rubber to lift out the lightest tones and add texture by erasing small areas, leaving pale and expressive traces of paper beneath the medium. Take time to study and observe the weather conditions. Take account of movement. Go out in different weathers and make small sketches of patches of sky and clouds.
I tried using pastels on grey paper thinking that the paper colour would represent the tone of the background sky. I tried to contrast the light and dark areas of the cloud against the background.
I did some quick sketches in my sketchbook to play around with some ideas using graphite pencils, water-soluble graphite pencils, and pen and ink. I tried using a water wash over the non-permanent ink but it created a very dark wash. I also had a go with charcoal and decided I would develop the use of this medium more on a larger scale.
I tried smudging pastels on a tissue and applying it to the paper that way to create a more subtle colour. I was careful to leave white paper showing through. I realised that I was finding it easier to draw clouds when there was something terrestrial grounding them. They look like clouds over trees or a building, but if I take the building etc out it just looks like a smudge.
These two cloud drawings are on A2 cartridge paper using charcoal. The first attempt shows more definite marks and creates billowing shapes and a threatening, stormy sky. The second attempt is more smudged and evokes a stiller day. Both work in their own ways, creating the sense of different weather conditions.
Having tried out these various techniques I decided to try to organise my pastels from dark to light colours and to use these to try to capture the contrasts and tonal effects. I decided just mix up the colours, thinking solely in terms of tonal value, and to see if I could still give the cloud volume and shape.
This was my first effort, which I checked by converting the photo to monochrome:
I was excited that it really liked like a cloud once the colour was removed. So I tried this effect again using more colours on a more classic shapes cloud. This was a fun approach, resulting in a fairly abstract cloud, which appealed my analytical nature and taught me a bit about how to use colours in their tonal range.
Choose an expansive landscape where you have an open view in all directions. Start one drawing looking north. Use your viewfinder to find a focal point, frame your view and complete a 15-minute drawing. Then turn your stool on the same spot to face west, south and east. Each time repeat the process of finding a focal point and complete another 15-minute drawing. This exercise should teach you how the landscape view changes by just shifting your viewpoint slightly. Many artists return to a favourite spot and, simply by shifting their viewpoint, see something entirely different in the landscape.
I chose to do this exercise from the middle of my local park, because the views are expansive. I achieved all four pictures in about 15 minutes each.
This view looks out towards the M6 beyond a football pitch surrounded by trees. The sun was coming from the south to inspire of the fact there was bright sun, there are few really defined shadows falling across the grass. It was such a beautiful there was little to observe in the sky either- no clouds! The motorway lights were twinkling white in the distance over the road and there was deep dark shadow under the flyover and within the trees, especially on the left of the pitch.
This view was interesting, but complex, to capture. The path leads through a row of trees, beyond which is a playground. The sun put deep shade under the trees, but beyond parts of the playground were still in bright sunshine. Beyond that there were more trees- again in shade. As I was drawing from a distance I couldn’t home in on some of this detail, but hope I captured the sense of it. I think this was the first time I really managed to do a quick simple sketch of a group of trees without getting hung up on being overly accurate! I like the way they are planted in a row, and the repetition of their trunks and the space between the trunks.
Looking towards houses to the side of the park. This time there is dark defined shadow rom the trees draped across the grass, which gives more of a sense of sunshine. This sketch also contains repetition in the shapes of the roofs. The path leads the eye through the sketch.
Although this direction was probably the least appealing in reality I think the sketch is the more interesting of the four. Mainly because the trees have more variety and shape. The houses were interesting to draw and there is deep shade on the bank under the hedges. The sun was coming from in front of me, but there is no real shade from the trees on the grass- I hadn’t noticed this at the time, but it was the middle of the day so the sun was probably high and I was standing low down at the level of the path. Beyond the path there is a bank which rises up and puts the top of the bank at my eyeline, at the level of the shadow in the background. When I look at the thumbnail photo of this view, taken from above the bank, there IS shadow, and It is clear that the bank is shielding tree shadows from me.
"Drawing is putting a line round an idea." Henri Matisse (1869-1954)