Monday, May 20, 2013

Bag O' My Tools

Long time friend Katherine Tyrrell has espoused and promoted sketching for a long time now. Her blog “Making a Mark” is a great source of inspiration and resources for learning and obtaining materials along with reviews of materials and artists. Katherine is the consummate sketcher, plunking herself down on steps at Westminster Abbey and the heck with passersby, and just going into her own world with pen and sketchbook in hand. She has sketched her way across a lot of France, the US and her native England. The results of her work can be breathtakingly soft and beautiful.

So with this powerhouse sketching friend, and my new friend Kath Mccaulay from Tucson, noted pocket sketcher and artist, why on earth did I wait so long to sketch outside? After all, I paint outside. Why not sketch too? Especially when travelling on the back of the motorcycle. Sketching materials are so liberating rather than taking along the painting kit that my oil paintings require. Its sometimes a choice between my riding rain gear and painting stuff. 

Good friend Vivien Blackburn also sketches the moors and roadways of her native England as well. She is not a city dweller, so her sketching is more the rural side of the countryside. Lovely works, she often shows the moody side of rock, glade, water and fen.

Felt pen and watercolor sketch #1

Why not do both? I can paint when I have the infrastructure to do so, and now I can take along a sketching kit when the time and the situation do not permit a full on oil painting. Both are plein air, but sketching is so unobtrusive that you can even do it in a restaurant. I have witnessed Katherine T. do it, and even been the subject of her sketches when she liked my dangly earrings and straw western hat, as we drove across Arizona together.
 Kath McCaulay has honed down the sketching kit to a compact fanny pack that straps about you and is something at which, the casual stroller would not even take a second look. It’s a great thing for walk-abouts and touring. Go here to see it. Just drop down the page a bit to see the bag. Its amazingly compact.

Felt pen and watercolor sketch #2

Sketching is, to me, even more personal than oil painting. Each piece seems to have a life force of its own. Sometimes that life force results in a lovely energy filled piece. Sometimes the piece resembles that over the top, hyper five year old everybody wants to shush in a restaurant. These paintings are valued because of  “Iren”, the life force in them. Your hand and stroke work in these sketches is ever so apparent. You CANNOT hide your personality in them with perfect finish. They glow from the life they have.

Felt pen and watercolor sketch #3

So here I am showing you the very first of my sketches using Kath McC’s system. With practice I think I’ll like this. The portability is a BIG plus. The onus of not having to do a ‘finished painting’ is liberating as well. If it goes south, you have only lost 15 to 20 minutes, not the hours that a painting takes. And coupled with photos, these little sketches have within them the values and color notes that are necessary if an artist wishes to develop a larger painting and doesn’t have the luxury of time to do a full on oil sketch en plein air. I guess the sketching was inevitable, given that all the artist friends I have do it as often as they can.

I will be giving a short talk on 'sketching on the loose" June 8th at the Customs House in Deming at 9 a.m. Drop on by if you'd like to catch it.

So one more tool is getting stashed into my bag o’tools. I must be becoming an Irish artist, ya think?


  1. Yes I have been painting quick sketches this way for several years. I use the Stabilo pens which are also water soluble. You can see my sketches on my blog and website. Aleada

  2. Actually it was St Paul's Cathedral not Westminster Abbey. The cathedral has great steps and great views and I'd be trampled by the tourist queue at the Abbey! :)

    Thanks for the mention

    1. Well its been over two years since we were there, I remembered the steps but stuck them onto the wrong church! Same pew, different church???

  3. Forgot to say - if you want to see more of my sketches my dedicated sketchblog is Travels with a Sketchbook.

    You can find the sketch of Louise in the sketches associated with my trip to the south western states in 2006 - see USA Sketchbook - Southwestern States (2006)

    I'd like to draw particular attention to "2,000 miles later - Louise drives the desert with style" sketched on Day 2 of the Return Road Trip - from Prescott, Arizona to Santee SoCal. This was all about "how to cross deserts in a heatwave" - crossing the Sonoran, Mohave and Anza-Burrego deserts!