Piana del Fucino e Vallelonga

Piana del Fucino e Vallelonga – Abruzzo, Italy
It has been a while since I was able to do some outdoor sketching. The drawing was done on site and the colouring was added later at home using a photograph and some notes as reference. It was also the last page in my moleskine pocket notebook, which I had started back in 2008!

Italian sketches

Every time we get to go on holiday I always make big plans on things I’m going to do, especially related to sketching outdoors. Every time I pack my bag with too many colours, pens, sketchbook, and all I can think I might need. And promptly, most of them remain unused and never see the light. This time, I took advantage of the fact that we were travelling just with hand luggage and took with me only the basics: my tiny  homemade watercolour box, my tiny concertina book, one water brush, a pencil and a gel pen. And it worked. The weather hasn’t been great and the time I had to sit and draw was very limited. I only managed to do two very quick sketches, one in Rome, while waiting for the tram, and one in Pisa, while waiting for my girlfriends. Talking about killing time while waiting…

On a sunday afternoon

The good thing when my little falls asleep in the car, is that I have time to sketch, read and do all the relaxing stuff that would otherwise be neglected and replaced by cleaning, tidying up and so on. As long as I have what I need with me, which is fortunately 99% of the time, I enjoy these rare moments very much.
Yesterday afternoon, we were on our way to Heathrow airport to pick up a certain someone from his weekend away in Rome…
We left home early, she felt asleep, so I stopped in a residential road nearby the airport and did some sketching. Apart from the constant noise of plane engines (I do wonder if people who leaves here are used to it!), it was a perfect sunny afternoon.

Moleskine Reloaded

I can honestly say that I’m pretty obsessed with sketchbooks. As it stands I have about 8 of them going at the same time, and as I said before this year (or was last year?!?), my resolution is to complete all of them before buying a new one. But that has proved to be very hard, both the not-buying part and the completing-them-all part. So to satisfy my craving, without compromising my intentions, I decided to make a new sketchbook using an old moleskine diary.

I have made sketchbooks before, and I love how they look once they are finished. And I noticed I have different feelings when using a homemade item, than when I use something I bought brand new.
I don’t feel the pressure of having to make things look perfect, to follow a certain style, to make no mistakes. If I have made the item once, I can sure make it again and that somehow gives me the freedom to experiment a bit more and put the pressure off. And I believe this is the reason why my homemade sketchbooks look nicer and more cohesive than the once I normally buy.
Another good reason for making my own sketchbook is that I can choose the style, the format and the paper that goes in it. To be fair, I have loved the moleskine watercolour books since they came out, and that is what I use the most. However, the sizes available are not my ideal choice.
I love the pocket size of the moleskine, as it goes well with my pocket size watercolour kit, which is just perfect for outdoor and travel sketching. But the landscape format sometimes has proven not to be ideal. I feel like it is too narrow for some subjects, and to make up for it I normally carry some spare watercolour sheets in a different size.
To cut this short, I used an old moleskine daily planner and re-filled it with watercolour paper (I used Fabriano Accademia, natural grain, 240g/m// 113lbs), giving me a 48-pages pocket size sketchbook in a portrait format. I have followed the very detailed instructions found on the Trumpetvine Travels website. They are absolutely well written and so easy to follow.

The sketchbook came out pretty well; it is not perfect, I didn’t trim the edges of the pages, so they don’t align perfectly and, although I rounded the edges to match the moleskine cover, somehow I managed to trim some of the side edges of each sheet as well (I’m still mastering the art of corners rounding!).

But I absolutely love the overall look. I promised myself not to start using it until I finish at least my two moleskine sketchbooks, which fortunately have only few pages to go.

Shop news :: As I tend to get carried away with repurposing old moleskine diaries, the above pocket size moleskine reloaded is now available to buy on my Etsy shop (click here).

Cathy Johnson’s Mini-class // Quick Sketching 1 – Lesson 4 and wrap up

It took me even more time to go through lesson 4, than to go through all of the three previous lessons. I lost focus and got distracted by so many other things lately that this mini-class got to the bottom of my to-do wishlist. But here I am, finally.

The last lesson focused on tonal values, big shapes and shadows to just give a quick impression of your subject, capturing the atmosphere without going into too much detail. And this is something I have been lacking.
Recognising tonal values has always been difficult for me. It is easier if I’m looking at a black and white picture, but when working on the spot, recognising the value of the colours has proven a real challenge. I can narrow my eyes trying to see the simple value pattern, but it doesn’t always work, especially if I’m looking at a landscape and there are a lot of colours. Doing a quick tonal sketch and adding a value scale can help, but really doesn’t solve my problem; I guess practice will improve my observational skills. In the meantime, I had the chance to test different ways to create tones using different tools and techniques.

My favourite so far is using a water-soluble pen or pencil and a water brush to dissolve the colour and create a shaded wash. Even the most boring drawing can become interesting when adding tones.
Capturing the direction of the light by adding shadows it has also proven to change the mood of a drawing. And one of the best tips I must remember is to always leave some white paper for the lightest lights.

So this is the end of the first of the Cathy Johnson’s online mini-classes! The overall course was good value for money, probably a bit too basic for me, but I am one of those people that forget things easily, so it was a good way to return to the basics and take on board all the tips given in the lessons.

I put together a summary list of all the tips that I should remember when doing a quick sketch, but also of some of the things that I discovered about my tools.
Favourite tools for quick sketching //
  • Faber-castell PITT artist pen sanguine – brush size (waterproof) + watercolours
  • Staedler fine liner 0.3 black (waterproof)
  • Derwent inktense peacock blue (watersoluble)
  • TOMBOW ABT Redwood 899 (watersoluble) brush and fine point + watercolours (THE BEST)
  • Eraser Faber-Castell

Best tips for quick sketching //

  • Consider the time available when starting a sketch – start with the big shapes and add details later on as you have time
  • Consider gesture sketching when trying to capture movement
  • See objects as basic shapes
  • Use thumbnail sketches
  • Develop your own visual symbols
  • Identify tonal values by squinting your eyes
  • Choose/identify light direction
  • Leave some white paper for lighter lights

 I am planning to start the next mini-class, Quick Sketching 2, soon, so watch out for this space!
In the meantime you can have a look at all my sketches from the previous lessons here.

More info about Cathy Johnson’s online classes can be found here.

Cathy Johnson’s Mini-class // Quick Sketching 1 – Lesson 3

It took a bit more time to go through lesson 3, compared to the previous lessons.
The first part focused on sketching from memory, which can be a good exercise as it makes you look harder at your subject and with practice you can learn what to look for, what is essential when trying to do a quick sketch. I must confess I didn’t practice enough on this subject as I was more interested on what was following, meaning thumbnail sketches, visual symbols and big shapes. I think these last three points are the key to quick sketching, and also the points where I lack confidence. I’ve always used thumbnail sketches as a preparatory exercise before tackling a painting. But never realised they can actually be quick sketches on their own. I also learned that it’s a very good exercise copying visual symbols from somebody else’s work. I’ve been recently obsessed with John Lidzey sketches, and looking at the way he drew things, and copying it, made it easier for me to reach a similar effect in my sketches.
Working from a big shapes and adding more details later as time allows has also proven to be a very good tip. When I’m out sketching I don’t always know how much time I’m going to have. Most of the time a big shape is good enough to suggest a view or a movement.
The winter robins demo was an enjoyable exercise, and adding colours to it was for me the most rewarding part!
Sketches from Lesson 1 and 2 can be found here.
More info about Cathy Johnson’s online classes can be found here.

A few holiday’s sketches

Rimessa barche – fine lungomare lato Corace

Quadrivio Nalini

Golfo di Squillace

Tetti – Catanzaro Lido zona Corace

We spent the past week in Catanzaro Lido (Southern Italy), my hometown. The weather was great, sunny and warm, but not too much you get sunburned and your watercolours dry while still on the brush!
Because we went visiting my family, we had baby sitters for my little Miss O basically all day long and that gave me the chance to go out by myself and do some en-plain-air sketching. I had planned to bring with me an A4 Moleskine watercolour pad I bought a few years ago with the plan to fill it in with sketches of my hometown. However, the pressure I felt when thinking about the size and the commitment required made me decided to bring my usual large moleskine pad. It was a good choice, but now I feel I’ve gained enough confidence to bring my larger pad next time. I was hoping to be able to draw a bit more, but feel quite happy with the overall results. All drawings and watercolours were done on location, with only a few touches added later on.  

Cathy Johnson’s Mini-class // Quick Sketching 1 – Lesson 2

Can’t really see much here!

Lesson 2 has been all about sketching a moving object and capturing the essence of it (it’s called gesture sketching, something I didn’t know). I was a bit afraid to start with the exercises. People and animals are not really my favourite subjects, let alone if they are moving. But after watching some of the demo videos included in the class, I geared myself up to the challenge and with some courage I gave it a go.
Drawing using a kitchen timer was one of the many tips given in the lesson. I have done this type of exercise before, but I had forgotten how useful it is to know how much time you have before you start drawing. It helps to decide if focusing on the big picture or looking at details. And this is a problem I always have. I tend to focus on the details when I sketch, and that sometimes overwhelms me, especially when I suddenly realise that I don’t have enough time to draw everything (which happens very often if you try to sketch when out and about with a 16 month old!).
Seeing an object as a number of basic shapes (circles, triangles, etc.) also helped quite a lot, especially when drawing animals. I had learned this technique at one of my botanical art classes, but never really put it into use.    
The results are far from great, but I’m hoping that with practice, and a lot of it, my drawing skills will improve.
My sketches from Lesson 1 can be found here.
More info about Cathy Johnson’s online classes can be found here.

Unfinished sketches

My desk @ work

 Kingston library – detail

 A3 to Woking

I have been trying to sketch whenever possible lately, but that means that I don’t always have enough time to finish what I started. But that’s ok; a little, unfinished drawing is better than no drawing at all in my opinion.

Cathy Johnson’s Mini-class // Quick Sketching 1 – Lesson 1

I have been meaning to try out one of Cathy Johnson’s art workshops since I discovered her work a few years ago, but never really found the right time for it. Then a few months back I found myself going through her online art classes and getting more and more excited at the thought of signing up for one. I talked about it for a good couple of months and finally on March 31stI signed up.
The format of these mini-classes is quite simple. Each class costs $30 (which is less than £20) and consists of 4 weekly lessons. Once you’ve signed up, an email containing a link to the lesson (in pdf format) is sent to your address every 7 days. It is up to you to do the rest; the reading, the exercises, the more practicing.
I have been a bit geeky about this mini course and, although I have been sketching for years now, I decided to sign up for the first of the online mini-classes: Quick Sketching 1.
The first lesson included some very basic info and tips, and my first thought was that maybe I should have enrolled for a more advanced class. Much to my surprise I found the lesson very useful to help me get into the idea of what really a quick sketch should be about and also to re-discover some of my old tools.
Here is my sketchbook after week one.
More info about Cathy Johnson’s online classes can be found here.