Walking and Sketching

“I am thinking about sketching/painting/photographing Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk as I go along but it may prove problematic as I am walking with two friends and I don?t want to hold them up so any tips you may have would be gratefully received.” — Gordon

Sketching SkyeA great walk to do, that will provide lots of inspiration. I’d focus on building overall visual memories and a few special moments as you encounter them, and don’t stress trying to get everything because it’s impossible.

Camera: Have it accessible in an instant, in a trouser pocket or a pouch around your waist at the front. Take reference snapshots as you’re walking, saving more considered shots for when you’re all having a break or stopped for lunch.?Use a high resolution, then you can always crop the photo for a better composition. Make a note of spots you particularly liked — write the location in your sketchbook or mark the map — and then back home use Geograph to find more photos you could use as reference for painting.

Sketching: Take propelling pencils, which eliminates need for a sharpener and the mark making won’t dissolve if it rains and the paper gets wet. You can get 2B and 4B leads at good art supplies stores, or a packet with HB from a supermarket. Write notes about colours and then paint it later, whether in the evening or back home.?A small pocket sketchbook that’s easily accessible makes it more likely you’ll get it out when you’ve stopped for a break. It’s worth making the time to sketch as it slows you down for a considered look; a photo can be a matter of seconds.

Painting: Use a waterbrush with a small watercolour sketchbook and dab only a little colour as a reminder rather than painting everything, whether doing it on location or at the end of the day, or over breakfast before starting out again.

Postcards: Divert to the occasional village post office and send yourself some postcards surface mail. Not only will you have the perfect postcard shots but it’ll bring back moments when you’re back home, reinforcing your memories. Or carry a few, sketch in permanent pen en route, and post another day.

Deciding What to Sketch: Cloudy Cliffs

Faced with a landscape with many possibilities, how do I decide what to sketch? Take this example, a picnic spot a little south of Struan, where I was on Sunday. To the right there’s an inlet with boats, to the left a sequence of headlands and a lighthouse, looking down a colourful rocky shoreline.

How to decide what to sketch

I’ll look around, but most likely go back to what got my attention initially, what do I find most striking or dramatic or appealing? That’s what I’ll sketch first; other possibilities might become further sketches, depending on time and the weather, or saved as a location to revisit another day.

In this instance, it was the tall, dark cliff in the far distance (not quite as far as the wide angle of this photo makes it seem), and the splash of white that was the small lighthouse in the middle distance. As the clouds moved, the light on the distant cliff changes; sometimes darker, sometimes lighter and revealing more. I’ll definitely come back here on a sunnier day for another look.
How to decide what to sketch

Sketching View near Struan, Skye

Sunny Summer Skye Sketching

I spent yesterday sketching in the sunshine at various locations on the north of the Trotternish Peninsula. Starting at that favourite of spots, the slipway at Camus Mor, looking westwards, towards the rocky shore and cliffs:
Skye  Sketching: Camus Mor

Then north a bit, to a viewpoint looking towards the ruins of Duntulm Castle. When the tide is out, the distant part of the shore is flat slabs of rock rather than pebbles.Skye  Sketching: Duntulm Castle

Then round to Staffin beach, sitting where I could see the river running into the sea:
Skye  Sketching: Staffin

Watched, as ever, by some munching sheep:
Skye  Sketching: Staffin Sheep

Then over the Quiraing to a viewpoint overlooking Uig/Idigrill, focusing on the sea and distant cliffs(but just look at all those variations of green!):
Skye  Sketching: Overlooking Uig

And for those interested, a photo of what I was using. My palette with Sennelier watercolours (which I love for the saturated colour but are honey-based and in the hot sunshine it’s crucial to keep the palette flat or the paint seeps out of their allocated slots making a sticky mess!), water container, pencil box with black pen, pencil, few watersoluble coloured pencils, and brushes that fit into it. Not shown: bottle with clean water for both me and rinsing my brushes. Also not shown: quite a few less satisfactory resolved sketches!
Sketching art supplies

Information Gathering in the Sunshine

I’d headed out to recharge the batteries of my visual memory for my next cliff edge painting, a composition idea that’s been bouncing around my head but needed clarifying before I started. Sitting at the seashore listening to waves lapping and pebbles rolling, staring up at cliffs, in bright sunshine lulled me into looking and listening more than sketching (see short video of the scene).

It’s all to easy to worry about not getting good sketches done, and several of them, especially if it’s somewhere you might never return to, but these memories of a location are as important as sketches and reference photos. Back in the studio they pull you back into the joys of the location, and it’s this enjoyment of a landscape that adds the intangible extra to a painting that resonates with a viewer.

Sitting staring out to see isn’t “doing nothing”, though it may seem that way to onlookers. It’s part of the job.

Sketching sea cliffs on Isle of Skye, Scotland