Where and What to Draw

by pamneely on October 20, 2010

Often, traveling on a bus, I spot places that I think might make a good subject. Then, when I have time, I go back, look the place over, like a burglar casing a joint, for possible intrusion and, if it looks safe, I fetch my gear and start to work.

What I look for mostly are easy access, places to sit down comfortably and not be too conspicuous. If the season is inclement – and mostly it is – I make sure there is some shelter about and that the nearest cafe is not too far away. A hot cup of tea, after a few hours drawing in the damp, can be a tonic for the waning enthusiast.

This, of course, applies to drawing and painting in town. In the country, watch out for unsuspected streams underfoot and roaming bulls, irate farmers and odd picnickers. You want to make yourself as small and invisible as possible. Succeed in this and you will be uninterrupted and able to get on and enjoy what you are doing.


When drawing or painting in strong sunshine try to get under some shade. Strong sun on your paper will not only distort your tones but the glare can be very unpleasant to your eyes. It might even give you a bad headache into the bargain. A pair of sunglasses that are not too dark can be helpful if there is no shade near.

You can also shield your sketch book with your body.

Bearing these few hints in mind, what should we look for when choosing a subject?

WHAT TO DRAW

Edging yourself easily into outdoor sketching starts with working near to home, choosing subjects you are familiar with. When the excitement of sketching these has gone it is time to move farther afield. What are you going to look for? Picturesque views, thatched cottages, sunsets, windmills, punts on the river, sunshine and autumn leaves, pretty sights, sentimental animals, peaches and cream. . . careful! You might be sick.

No! Once you prejudice yourself with a fixed idea you will never find it. Your ability to create will dry up. The ability to create is a natural thing; therefore, when you look for subjects, finding them should be natural too. Picasso has been reported as saying ‘I do not seek. I find.’ This is certainly good advice for outdoor sketching.

Turn a corner and be surprised at what you see. Be taken unawares by odd pockets of life. Not the obvious. We are always seeking the obvious. But the surprise that is always lurking about, when you least expect it, will make the most enjoyable picture.

What do our eyes see? Shapes, colors, tones, patterns, textures, lights, darks, masses, spaces, solids. . . they don’t see trees, fields, people, buses, trains. These are names we give to shapes and forms. The eye consequently does not form judgments. The eye sees a shape and it doesn’t say ‘this is a bad or good shape’ or ‘this is an ugly shape’, it says ‘this is a large or small shape, dark or light shape’, and so on. It is our minds that form the judgments and sometimes our minds trip us up. What does it matter if the shape is beautiful or ugly, nice or nasty? What matters, surely, is whether I will enjoy painting it. Will it make an interesting hour’s study? Will it open up my eyes?

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