sketchbook page with notes

Is it good to have a plan?

I’m continually evaluating the things I do when I go out to walk and sketch, and my sketchbook pages often end up with notes to myself that are supposed to make things clearer (which does sometimes help). I find it helps me to have a plan; but ironically at the same time it also helps if I know I’m probably going to drop all these ideas once I’m out in the park and just respond to what’s there.

The big dilemma when going out for a walk with a sketchbook is how much walking to do, and how much sketching. If I go out as I generally do for about an hour, there’s only time for a certain amount of drawing if I’m also going to have a satisfying walk. Take the pages above for example – the line drawing on the left took about 3 or 4 minutes and is really not much more than a diagram but records and identifies a place. The drawing on the right was a bit of a closer investigation of what I’d just discovered and took about 5 to 10 minutes doing just the line work with a pen – I added colour when I got home. The sketch below, of a large beech tree in Moorhouse Wood was done entirely on the spot and took about 20 minutes. That may not sound a lot, but it’s a fairly large chunk out of an hour’s walk. (Sketching with a waterbrush and a tiny palette with just 2 pigments, in this case Paynes grey and Burnt Umber, for cool and warm tones is something I’ve been doing a lot recently).

Monochrome sketch of beech tree in Moorhouse Wood

To try to lessen the dilemma about how much to draw and how much to walk I was suggesting to myself (in the notes under the drawing at the top) that I should go out with the intention to either
a) walk more, stopping now and again to do very quick drawings;
b) walk less, and do fewer, more considered drawings that take more time;
c) a mixture of both, or
d) a flexible combination of all this with the addition of taking photographs whenever I feel like it.

The weather has a big part to play, and so does how well I’m feeling, but I never really know for sure what’s going to happen. Something may catch my eye and before long I’m immersed in drawing, and then before I know it I find I’ve been standing sketching in one place for anything up to 30 minutes. That’s my limit though – I start to get tired and stiff. A sketch like the one below in the Garden of Life took me about that long in the open air and about the same amount of time to finish at home.

Ring of stones in the Garden of Life, Watercolour sketch

It amuses me that I both like to plan ahead but at the same time to know I’m not going to stick to it. Some days I come back with several pages of sketches, sometimes just one drawing, sometimes a string of photos in my phone and sometimes nothing at all – whatever happens is just fine and it’s important to remember that. It’s what being outdoors is all about – looking, feeling, spotting what’s new, seeing something unremarkable but extraordinary, taking time without thinking. Getting lungfuls of air and feeling the earth under my feet.

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