10 Things I Do With My Sketchbook

Sketchbook page from river at Uig, Skye

Following on from Lower Your Expectations When Sketching, here’s a list of things I typically do with a sketchbook (besides sketching in it).

Sketching View near Struan, Skye

1. Start a new sketchbook by writing my name, email and website on the inside of the front cover, in case I forget it somewhere, in the hope that whoever finds it would return it. I haven’t yet lost one, and hope I never do, but be prepared and all that.

2. Never start on the first page. Nor the second. Nor the third. There’s too much pressure for the early pages of a new sketchbook to have “good sketches” so I start randomly towards the middle or back.

3. Regularly work from back to front, rather than front to back. After all, there’s no rule that pages must be done sequentially like a book, and it supplements #2.

4. Add the date and location to pages, a small note in the corner. It helps put me back into that time/place, and helps me keep track of where/when given I don’t work sequentially in a sketchbook.

5. Use words. Writing descriptions of what I’m seeing or feeling, something I want to remember I’d noticed. Sometimes it’s because it’s faster or easier than sketching, sometimes because I’m out of time, sometimes because the words come more readily to me.

6. Use large clips, top and bottom, to separate wet pages. That way I can continue working without waiting for paint to dry, or worrying about pages sticking together.

7. Never tear out a ruined page, but keep it as a reminder there’s a balance between not giving up in defeat too early and being ready to start anew before I get too irritated with myself, to risk overworking some sketches if they’re not working, to push them further and see if I can rescue what’s already a dud, even if it ends up a total mess.

8. Tear out and mount sketches I think work well and may sell (as ‘originals on paper’). Not every pleasing sketch; many I will always keep for myself and some I keep until after I’ve used it to paint a studio version. I do also take a photograph so I’ve always got a reminder of it.

9. Don’t worry about wasting pages by not working on both sides of each sheet if I am pleased with one overleaf. Sketchbooks aren’t really that expensive if you calculate it in terms of cups of coffee and slices of cake.

10. Don’t consider about how it might appear to others. I’m happy to let others look at my sketchbooks (these days; I wasn’t always), but my sketchbook is first and foremost for me. If it seems chaotic in places, well so is my brain at times.

[Update 7 December 2019: The one thing that’s changed in the years since I wrote this list is #8, as I paint a lot more on location on loose sheets of watercolour paper than in a sketchbook. It enables me to work on 350gsm paper, and in turns eliminates the need for #6.]

Wirework Red Poppies

I had a request to make a pair of wirework red poppy earrings and while I was at it made a couple more pairs which, together with the poppy necklace I was also inspired to make, are available at Skyeworks. (They’ll also be added to my online shop in due course.)

Wirework Red Poppy Earrings Wirework Red Poppy Necklace

What Happened Next With ?Magenta Trees? #2

I’ve been vacillating with “Magenta Trees” since I took it to the dark side (see What Happened Next With ?Magenta Trees?), some days liking it as it is and others thinking it needed something more still. In bright light you’d see the variations in colours, but on duller days it was very dark indeed.

Enter iridescent white…

While I like it more, it’s back into pondering mode again as I decide whether there wants to be a touch of opaque white (titanium) over the iridescent. I’m not sure if it’s what it needs or whether I feel like doing it because it’s what I’ve done with another forest painting I’m working on and I like it on there.

Work in progress: pink and purples in the forest

Lower Your Expectations When Sketching

Skye Sketching: Staffin Sheep

Skye Sketching: Staffin SheepForget all those perfect, pristine, magnificent, jealousy-inducing photos of sketchbooks and stop pressurising yourself by judging yourself against these, regarding these as what you ought to be achieving. The goal is to be sketching, drawing, paintings, visual-journalling. It doesn’t matter what you want to label it, nor does it matter what level of skill or success you do it with. What matters is that you’re doing it.

Anyone who claims every sketch they do is perfect is lying or self-censoring or doing only what they know works and not extending themselves, not continuing to learn. Photos of sketchbook pages are selective; you rarely see someone showing every single page in a sketchbook. After all, we like to appear competent.

Take the above photo of a sheep sketch for instance, snapped on location after I’d finished it (see “Sunny Summer Skye Sketching“). It was one of three I did of sheep on that spot, one after another; the other two were overworked duds. I resisted scratching through them in frustration and irritation; I certainly didn’t take photos!

Artist John Muir Laws compares warming up your drawing muscles to making “sacrificial pancakes“, the first few won’t be perfect and you know they won’t, but you also know you need to make them. One of his helpful tips in his blog “How to get started with Nature Journaling” is to move the goal post:

Do not focus on trying to make pretty pictures … Open your journal with the intention of discovering something new … If you notice something that you otherwise would not have seen, remember it more vividly, or start asking yourself more interesting questions about what you observe than the journaling is a success. Embrace this idea and go. …Art is a side effect of the process of journaling.

Sketching makes me look harder and longer. Serial sketching (multiple sketches of the same subject) helps me slow down, lets me try various ideas, and increases the odds I’ll end up with a “good sketch” rather than merely “recorded information”. You could call it hit-or-miss, but I prefer to call it visual exploration.



Another Red Dot Day: “Moon over the Minch”

Popped into Skyeworks Gallery this afternoon to drop off a few Wearable Art pieces and some cards, only to discover the “Moon Over the Minch” had sold this morning. That’s two big paintings in two days! And, yes, I did celebrate with a piece of cake in the bakery downstairs.

Moon over the Minch seascape by Skye artist Marion Boddy-Evans
Moon over the Minch

A Red Dot Day: “Round the Corner” Sold

What a delightful way to start a week, with the sale of a painting! The person who’s bought “Round the Corner” had connected with it at Skyeworks Gallery, but wasn’t sure if it would be too large for the space available, so we arranged for me to bring it along for a viewing in situ as it was only a few miles south of my studio. End result is that “Round the Corner” has, aptly, found a home around the corner.

Isle of Skye road painting
“Round the Corner”
1×1 m

Monday Motivator: The ‘Secret’ to Van Gogh’s Red

Art motivational quote“…I had ranged the reds from pink to orange, which rose into the yellows as far as lemon with light and dark greens.”

— Vincent van Gogh writing to Theo about painting a portrait of Roulin?s wife, 22 January 1889

What I take from this is to not think of a colour as limited to only tubes marked that colour, but to include analogous colours too (colours that sit alongside one another on the colour wheel). So, not thinking of red as reds alone, but including yellow and orange as well as purple and blue. For blue to include green and yellow. Yellow to include green and orange, and so on.

Or put another way, the ‘secret’ to Van Gogh’s beautiful reds is to use more than only red.

What Happened Next With “Magenta Trees”

Remember the magenta tree painting I started in June? Well it’s been stuck in “pondering stage” as I tried to decide what I would do with it. There were bits I really liked (e.g. the sense of movement behind the tree trunks), bits I didn’t (e.g. harsh darks), and various directions I could take it. About the only certainty was that I wouldn’t add any more paint until I had a definite plan.

After much procrastination pondering I decided I would take it for a walk on the dark side, rather than light, emphasizing shadows rather than sunlight. Why? Perhaps it’s the shorter days, perhaps thoughts about how well people responded to “Listening to Bluebells“, which is quite dark, but I’ve no real explanation other than that’s what I felt most like trying.

So out came a bottle of glazing medium, burnt umber and that favourite, Prussian blue. Why these two colours? Because both are strong darks, brown would enhance the sense of “tree” and blue “sky/rain”. The blue glazed over magenta would also give heathery purples, which that other favourite dark, perelyne green, wouldn’t.?This was the result; overall I’m pleased with the moodiness of it, but will do some more pondering, looking at it in different light conditions. The In-House Art Critic has proposed the title: “Plaid Glade“.

 Plaid Glade tree painting

Art Myths: It Should be Easy

Art Quote: Monet on LandscapeThere are many drawing and painting techniques anyone can learn in a relatively short time, but it takes dedication and effort to move beyond mediocrity. Years of working at it, not mere weeks and certainly not days. It’s a mistake to believe what an artist appears to do effortlessly was easy for them to achieve and ought to be for you too. Skill through practice makes things look deceptively simple.

Think of art techniques as being to an artist what sentences are to a writer: a single, sensible sentence is relatively easy to achieve but putting sentences together to create a story worth reading takes a lot more dedication and practice. And before you have sentences, you have to learn the alphabet, vocabulary and grammar. So be patient with yourself, grant yourself time to learn, time to develop, time to make mistakes. If you start out with the belief that it should all come easily you’re setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. Celebrate breakthrough moments when they happen, and keep striving determinedly between them.

Compare how Monet painted the sea in his “Regatta at Sainte?Adresse” in 1867 (stiff, flat, static) and in “The Manneporte near ?tretat in 1886 (broken colour with movement). If your aim is to paint sea as in the latter, you’ve the advantage of being able to study what Monet did, but don’t expect to get there in an afternoon. Monet had nearly 20 years’ practice between the two paintings.

Monday Motivator: Turner’s Colour Effects

Art motivational quoteJMW Turner’s “radiant effects, obtained with mere paint, remain unique even after Impressionism. … replaced the old technique of light and dark contrast with the finest gradations of colours, all–or nearly all–very light in value.

“While rejecting traditional chiaroscuro, Turner also rejected representation of solid bodies compactly arranged… he created resplendent effects of colour permeating atmosphere and deep space.

His sketchbooks reveal a background of experimentation with bands and blocks of colours placed side by side in various combination.”
Source: Vision and Invention by Calvin Harlan p85

I’ve often thought of the colours in the view from my studio across the Minch as being part of a colourfield painting by Rothko or a seascape done in greys with a narrow tonal range by Whistler, but there’s also plenty of stormy weather and dramatic atmosphere to relate to Turner. Creating a sense of distant islands, with the sun forcing its way through fast-moving clouds above a wind-whipped sea, that’s what’s on my mind today.