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Sketchbook Tip – Painting “Plein Air”

plein air painting

Sketchbook Watercolour of Burnham Overy Mill

I’ve enjoyed a couple of very enjoyable painting trips using my Sketchbook in Norfolk in recent years following in the footsteps of one of my painting heroes Edward Seago who lived and painted around Norfolk. For those of you who are interested in landscape painting, there are some excellent books available about this immensely gifted and popular artist whose exhibitions would sell out within hours.

I’ve made several studies of Burnham Overy Mill on these trips. Whilst I was painting the one above, I also did a larger 14″ x 10″ on an Arches 140lb watercolour block whilst the washes were drying in the sketchbook which you can see on my website alanreed.com

I would keep reverting back to the sketchbook study and back again to the watercolour block. I also did another watercolour in my moleskine sketchbook.

It’s a useful “plein air” painting tip to employ for several reasons:

You can generally get twice as much done in the same amount of time whilst you are waiting for paint to dry.

The scene is usually a changing one because of the sky and cloud formations.

You will become more visually aware of your subject.

You will have something to refer back to in your sketchbook if you sell your other painting.

Next time you’re painting “plein air” in watercolour, try painting two of the same scene. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

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Sketchbook Tips

Moleskine Sketchbook

Charcoal Studies After John Singer Sargent

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing a number of watercolour demonstrations for various art clubs throughout the region. One of the tips I tell the students to help them improve on their painting skills is to practise drawing in their Sketchbook. A great discipline is to make observational drawings of some of the masters. Just 20-40 minutes drawing a day will help ones confidence when it comes to painting.

I find that making studies in my moleskine sketchbook is a terrific (and enjoyable) way of creating passion and inspiration for future painting projects. There are no short cuts to doing good watercolour paintings, however there are disciplines you can do to speed up the process of learning. Regular drawing is one of them.

 

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Sketchbook 5 Things to do

Top Sketchbook Tips

Charcoal Sketchbook Studies of John Singer Sargent Portraits

Here are 5 things you can do in your sketchbook to help improve your skills and to make you more visually aware.

1. Do drawings of some of the great masters of painting. I recently went to the newly re-opened Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and was able to do a couple of sketchbook studies of Rembrandt’s paintings. If you can’t get to a gallery or museum, draw from your art books. You can see some of my studies above of John Singer Sargent portraits.

2. Make sure you carry your sketchbook (I recommend the Moleskine brand) and something to draw with at all times, so that if you’ve time to kill, you can quickly draw whatever is around you. Drawing from life will sharpen ones technical ability in terms of being able to draw and will increase visual awareness.

3. Try to paint a sky a day (or even just one a week). At the end of the year you will have 52 –365 studies that will capture different seasons and times of day that you can refer back to for ideas when painting landscapes, seascapes or cityscapes. It will also help you to see cloud shapes and the effects of light as washes of colour.

4. Instead of using a pencil, try drawing with a brush and paint with one colour. You will achieve an interesting quality of line and you will become more confident about handling a brush.

5. If you are struggling to find someone to draw, then try a self portrait in front of a mirror. Then use the mirror to check on the accuracy of your study by holding up the sketch in front of the mirror alongside your face. You will be surprised how the reflection shows up any errors.

To finish with, a quote from John Singer Sargent:

“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh”.

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Drawing Camels

Drawing from Observation

Drawing of Camels

I thought I’d begin my first blog post of 2013 featuring Drawing Camels by wishing you all God’s blessings for 2013 and by sharing one of my favourite quotes from the American artist John Singer Sargent:

“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh”.

It’s a statement which every artist will benefit from if applied on a regular basis. Varying the subject matter (sketch everything) gives you a deeper appreciation of shape, form, line composition and tone. Drawing from observation not only helps one’s hand to eye co-ordination, but also helps to increase one’s visual awareness in a way which taking photographs or simply “just looking” does not.

Last year some friends gave a present of two rather unusual sculptured camels, made from what seems to be leather. Over the last few evenings I’ve taken to Drawing Camels in my moleskine sketchbook. These amazing creatures have been beautifully crafted in leather. I’ve used a fibre tip italic pen to draw with which has enabled me to vary the thickness of the line.

You can see that I’ve started off with a very light, delicate thin line to get the basic outline and then intensified it when I’ve been happy with the overall shape and shadow areas. I’ve painted  a more finished watercolour of camels which has also been published as a limited edition print.

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Moleskine Sketchbooks & Journals

John Singer Sargent Studies

John Singer Sargent Studies in Charcoal

Yesterday I finished yet another Moleskine sketchbook by making some further studies of the portrait work by John Singer Sargent. I’m a great fan of the Moleskine brand and have a growing collection of notebooks, sketchbooks and journals filled with important notes, studies, ideas and thoughts that are documenting my humble career.

The drawing on the left page of the Moleskine sketchbook of the male model was made using a Royal Charcoal Stick whilst the study of Vernon Lee, a close family friend of Mr Sargent, was drawn with a Royal Charcoal pencil, part of a drawing set from Ryman Stationery.

You may notice a very small watercolour of three attractive young ladies above the tin of charcoal pencils. This is a my study of a stunning oil painting by John Singer Sargent painted in 1884 titled The Misses Vickers which is currently on view at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The painting forms part of the Family Matters Exhibition which runs until 2nd September and was commissioned by their father Colonel Tom Vickers as a 21st birthday present for the middle daughter Mabel Francis. Her two sisters Florence and Clara sit to her left and right respectively. The exhibition is well worth seeing not only for the John Singer Sargent as there are lots of other great paintings to see.

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BP Portrait Awards 2012

Moleskine Sketchbook - Charcoal Studies

Sketchbook Charcoal Studies on Tube

The BP Portrait Awards 2012 Exhibition is currently on at the National Portrait Gallery.

Over the years I’ve received many a commission to do a painting of a client’s home. Sometimes this has been overseas in countries like Italy. I always enjoy travelling to see the property which is usually impressive and to do some sketchbook studies on location.

On Friday I travelled to London to get some suitable reference for a commission of a lovely house for a client. I was fortunate with the weather and managed to capture the sun catching the front of the building. I had a few hours to kill before my flight home to Heathrow so I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the BP Portrait Award 2012 Exhibition.

My favourite was by a young lady called Isabella Watling who received a fitting compliment in the Independent’s review of the exhibition, so she received my public vote.

“BP regulars like the annual game: choose your own winner. Here’s mine: for being not too proud, at only 21, to apprentice herself to Velazquez, Boldoni and Singer Sargent, for her romantic, and, yes, painterly The Importance of Being Glenn, for daring to enjoy the dashing and romantic, my vote goes to Isabella Watling. If she can do this now, what a lot could follow”.

There were some excellent paintings on view and it inspired me to continue my work for the day in my Moleskine sketchbook. Remembering a quote from John Singer Sargent “You can’t do sketches enough, sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh”, I did a couple of charcoal pencil studies of some of John Singer Sargent’s oil paintings on display in the National Portrait Gallery, then on the tube back to Heathrow I did the 4 drawings of various folk seated nearby which you can see above.

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Oman Watercolour Sketchbook

Sketchbook Oman Sphinx

Sphinx Sunrise

Painting a sunrise on location like this Oman Watercolour is one of the hardest challenges as a watercolourist. The main problem is that the colours change so quickly, so by the time you have laid your first wash and waited for it to dry, the rising sun will have brought a complete change to the scenario before your eyes. One can quicken the process by working on a paper which you have already tinted. This will allow you to skip a step and crack on with the next wash.

For this particular scene in Oman, I went out with a friend who took me out to a remote spot to walk his dogs early in the morning whilst it was still dark. Before the sun rose, I anticipated what the initial colours were going to be and started painting in semi darkness. It was very hot, temperatures already in the high twenties, so the paint dried quickly. Just before the sun came up over the sea, it was already starting to tint the sky a fugitive pink which I was able to lay in along with the gentlest touch of Winsor and Newton Manganese Blue for the sea. I allowed parts of the first wash of Cadmium Lemon to show through which helped to create further mood and atmosphere.

Oman has some very distinctive rock formations throughout it’s stunning coastline. The rock on the top right of the page reminded me of the profile of the Egyptian Sphinx, hence the title Sphinx towards Muttrah. This is one of 40 paintings which feature in my signed limited edition Sketchbook of Oman which is available online or at my Studio and Gallery in Ponteland.

 

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Mubarakiyya Souk, Kuwait

In 2009 I spent a couple of weeks painting on location in Kuwait. Several different subjects attracted my attention and demanded to be painted. One was the entranceway to the Mubarakiyya Souk in Kuwait City.

I found a suitable place to sit outside the entranceway in the warmth of the January sunlight and peering into the darkness, I was able to pick out the architectural details and the movement of the locals wearing their Abayas and Dishdashas. Working directly onto the handmade watercolour paper in my sketchbook with paint, I was able to capture the flowing fabrics of the clothing and the rich rusty reds of the interior of the souk.

My activities attracted some attention from the locals who were both curious and friendly. These studies later became the catalyst for two studio paintings, one A4, the other a 21” x 14” watercolour which has also become a popular limited edition giclee print. I made a conscious effort to retain the fluidity of the sketchbook studies in the studio paintings, the smallest of the two already being sold.

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John Singer Sargent

Sketchbook Studies in Charcoal

Sketchbook Studies in Charcoal

TIP 11. Studying the work of other artists is a great way to improve your artistic skills, however there are a number of different levels of study that one can tackle. I’ve recently purchased several books about the American artist John Singer Sargent which I have studying. My initial approach is to quickly look at the plates and marvel at the imagery. I then go back to the start and read the text which is always a help in understanding the context and social background in which the artist was working.

Finally, with sketchbook and either pencil or stick of charcoal in hand, I start to make observational drawings of some of the images in the book. Although this is no substitute for making ones own studies from life, it is a great way of gaining a much closer insight into some of the working methods of the artist. One can see how tonal values and composition have been realised as well as gaining a deeper appreciation of some of the mark making techniques. One can take this a stage further and copy their paintings too. I’ve done this in the past which you can see on my website.

Instead of being glued to the TV in the winter evenings, why not re-visit some of your own art books and do some drawings of some of the great masters works?

 

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Drawing People

TIP 10 Study People

In my first tip I talked about drawing from observation. Drawing people isn’t easy, particularly if they are not deliberately posing for you, but the results can be rewarding if you stick at it.

A useful tip is to draw people walking about without actually looking at the paper. These can be described as “gesture” drawings. You are capturing the movement and gesture of the person more than anything else.  These will take seconds to do. You can quickly fill a page in your sketchbook with lots of small studies, some of which will probably look rubbish, but others will capture something of the person you were observing. Use a biro, or if you are feeling confident, try watercolour and draw with your brush. I’ve posted some examples from some of my sketchbooks for you to see.

The first 3 images are the gesture drawings I have described, one in pen, the other two with a brush. The important thing is to capture the movement of the people passing by.

The next three are of figures which are more static, so I have the luxury of being able to have a few more glances at the paper.

I was sitting in a cafe in Newcastle when I did the series of studies of the two elderly ladies chatting away. In this drawing , I fixed my eyes on a point on their hair line and looked along the profile of their face, at the same time, moving the pen the same direction over the surface of the paper. The result is almost a caricature of the women.

Painting outside the entrance of the Mubarakiyya souk in Kuwait was great fun. I did several studies (using a combination of all the techniques mentioned above) which were the inspiration for a studio painting which I have since reproduced as a limited edition print.

I hope these tips are an encouragement for you to pick up a pen and sketchbook and have some fun drawing people. My sketchbook studies of Oman have now been published as a limited edition facsimile sketchbook. I have copies in my studio & gallery in Ponteland.

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