Edited from original post April 2018 in Lucca Italy
Ciao a tutti!!
I'm back in Lucca, my home away from home, preparing for my watercolour painting holiday workshops. This morning I set out to surprise my dear Lucchese friends and while we chat over coffee I became overwhelmed with a huge wave of "I must paint right now!". Not quite organised for plein air painting, a quick value sketch on site will help me understand and remember shapes and values, what I see and prepare me to paint in my studio.
My non-so-secret strategy works for any subject, any style and is relevant to design principles from any school of thought.
I've mapped out some processes to help you get started on your own plein air sketches.
Once I select my subject, I use a soft pencil with a seriously sharp point (I sharpen my pencil several times during my sketching process), I sketch a light "frame" - the size of a credit card - remember this is a value sketch to understand the darks, lights and shapes, you can create a masterpiece sketch later, this small study is purely for the purpose of getting to paint quickly - my key thoughts are:
Sketching AND painting!!
Next I lightly mark in a grid of thirds vertically and horizontally, each intersection is an optimal focal area.
I'm thinking 5 big shapes with values assigned - no detail at this point - so, for my subject today, my 5 big shapes are:
I used my pencil to measure angles - always have a new pencil on hand, it's hard to measure angles with a stubby!!
Now that we have 5 (6) big shapes, first rule of thumb is to forgive yourself for blunders you are about to make, say it out loud "this is the way I want it!!" :) tomorrow you'll do another version and it will be different again because you'll be a different person tomorrow with a different view and a greater skill-set.
2nd rule is to think BIG, Medium, small - in other words VARIETY is the spice of life!
3rd rule is to make INTERESTING shapes - no squares nor circles, odd shapes are best and no shape the same size next to each other, this is more interesting for you as an artist and also for your viewers and collectors - always something new to look at and wonder "why did she do that?"
There's a lot to think about and we've barely got started!! mamma mia!!
While we're here lets block in a light value tone around white areas just to get our heads in the game.
Build up your sketch by giving each shape a darker tone from the shape next to it, it's a good idea to have shapes overlapping so use your eraser to steal back lights/shapes where you need to.
Consider leaving "WRONG" marks, don't erase them, they add character - PLUS, I don't know about you, if I erase a wrong mark I can almost guarantee I will make the same wrong mark again!! I think that's why I got to the point of not erasing and I have come to enjoy the marks that make a sketch full of character and life.
While I'm sketching I'm positioning darks against lights and lights against darks, especially in the focal area, then I can think about possible detail shapes ... 5 for a small sketch, 7 is stretching it for this size - thinking silhouette shapes only!! To satisfy my itchy fingers I often make a list of goodies to add to my painting later. In this case its pot plants, tables and chairs and people, copper downpipes, chimneys, electrical wiring, pigeons, bicycles, signage etc, etc.
I hope you enjoy sketching value studies, with practice you will get better and quicker. I'd love to hear how you get on!!
cari amici!! xx
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