The Promo Bit
In about ten days’ time, I am starting a new course called Urban Sketching In Watercolour For Beginners. It runs each day for two hours and is designed to be accessible to everyone. By that I mean that it’s live for those who can be there and love company, recorded for those who prefer to choose their own time to take the class, and priced at a very low level to bring as many people as possible into this wonderful, lifelong, creative activity. I have a decent number of places left at the time of writing, but don’t leave it to the last minute, as I had to turn people away last time. Many who took the course in June are back for Round Two, and if that’s you, don’t worry – all the subjects are new, if not the topics of learning, because they are full of challenge and commonly sketched.
You can book your place here. When you book I will send you a list of what you’ll need – you just about have time to get the paints and things you’ll need. The Live class will take place from 7.00pm – 9.00pm GMT+1 but, as I said, there’ll be a recording.
Joy From The Very Start
In this article, I am going to show you my favourite way to enjoy urban sketching. Sketching my family, and the room setting, from the sofa. Sofa sketching. I am not suggesting you will be able to draw perfect likenesses of your family overnight, just as you would not be able to play the piano like Mozart overnight. But, like Mozart, you will find joy in transcribing our beautiful world into an art form from the very beginning (if the movies and documentaries about Mozart are anything to go by).
In The Beginning…
We all start at the beginning. We start driving by sitting in the front seat and wondering how far to turn the key; we start cooking by wondering how to chop an onion, baking by asking someone how to separate eggs, writing by using lined paper. And yet…all these years later we’re parallel-parking with ease, satisfying hungry hordes with gorgeous meals, making and decorating cakes that will melt in the mouth and scribbling shopping lists without a second thought.
Sketching is no different. You’re drawing a wobbly line today that doesn’t look like the thing you’re drawing, but in a few years you see yourself as a true artist.
When we watch a virtuoso task being performed, we are in awe. But really, it is no more than the cumulation of a thousand skills performed together.
When I drew these sketches of my family, these are the skills I put to use:
- spatial awareness – micro-measuring distances by eye. If you can cut up a cake evenly with greedy eyes watching, you can do this.
- timing – if you have patience, you will have no problem with timing, when it comes to drawing pople.
- observation – if you spot editing errors during a movie, you will be brilliant at this. If you go into a dirty kitchen and see everything lying around, you will be great at this.
- harmonious colour – if you appreciate someone with tasteful dress sense, whether that’s you or others, or if you appreciate tasteful architecture or urban design, you will knock this one out of the park.
I will add that those are the skills that I used. You may use entirely different ones and still produce beautiful results – art is about making something completely original and new, and unique to you, and it’s not for me to judge…however, I can help you with the skills that I use to produce the results I achieve. What you choose to do with them is for you to decide – and that’s where the fun lies.
Despite the fact that it’s summer and very warm, I am in an unusual headspace, in that I’m not going out sketching very much. I prefer to stay at home and sketch, which can get dull quickly. The solution is to draw your family! Living breathing humans will never make a dull subject.
In these few sketches, I am going to share some tips to make sketching your family (or any people) more successful, which is more fun. Watch how I describe each aspect of each drawing in terms of one of the four headings above – remember, this isn’t magic. You can do it too – with a little effort. I myself make that effort every time I start a sketch and I love that effort – it’s exciting to push ourselves as humans.
(In art circles these days, students are told they don’t need to learn to draw. Imagine if a pianist were told they didn’t need to learn their scales, or that a baker didn’t need to learn to fold egg whites deftly. To tell someone they don’t need to learn to draw is to patronise them, and tells me that the teacher either never learned themselves, or believes they can’t learn to draw. I believe you can. Trust me.)
Liv and Paddy Play Poker
- spatial awareness – I started with my daughter Liv on the left. From the first stroke of the pen, I am comparing the size and shape of one element – I always start with the head – with the size and shape of the next (here, her cheekbone and chin). I make my way down the body with my pen, checking and cross-checking before I make an indelible mark with ink. I nearly always get the shape of the head wrong, because it’s the first thing I draw, and therefore have nothing to cross-check it with. Happily, there exist white gel pens (can you see its mucky scribble on the top of her head?). Also – heads are all the same size, give or take a frustrating hat-buying experience, so it’s sometimes only when you’ve drawn a second or third person you see the discrepancy. See white gel pen above.
- timing – you have to get the timing right on two fronts: catching your person before they disappear, and waiting for your paint or ink to be dry enough to do things next to them or on top of them. I waited patiently for my son Paddy to take the same pose that I thought looked like the most commonly-held one. Liv was done fast, and I was not averse to telling her to change positions of her arms, which goes under the heading “Be Bossy”.
- observation – in this one, it’s all about the shadows and the light. Reflections cast onto the table. Contrast between values of one part and another. Shapes and proportions. Observe. Look. Think. Draw. What else did I observe? Reuben the terrier sitting under the table. He is sooo cute.
- harmonious colour – I felt it was important to paint the green baize of the poker cloth, so I balanced the pop of bright colour with the red of Paddy’s hat. If I thought the green was too sharp for the sketch, I would have used a sludgy olive, like Aquarius Green.
Liv and The Gangster Lansky In The Same Room
- spatial awareness – again, I started with Liv, this time on the right. I am micro-measuring the distances between each part of her face and head, and then down to the hands and the phone. As I get to the cushions, I cross-check to make sure each little squashed bit is meeting each part of her body in the correct place.
- timing – I drew Liv first as I knew I would not get long out of her. Another aspect of timing is that when the movie (Lansky, don’t bother) was paused while people disappeared to go and make tea and nip to the bathroom, I took the opportunity to draw the frozen screen, which just happened to have both protagonists in view.
- observation – look at Liv’s glasses. I tried to forget that I was looking at the eyes of my beautiful child and be as dispassionate as I could: the shine on the glass would only be brilliant and shining if the area around it was darker. Also: look at the reflection of the light of the TV screen on the table, the way it has a dark vertical edge. Effective, and so easy to do.
- harmonious colour – I was all about the Payne’s Grey and browns here. I brought in the purple of the rug with trepidation, but a tiny pop of purple can go very well with lots of muted colours.
Marcel Takes The Wheel
- spatial awareness – I started with the head, as always. I don’t even know why I do that – technically, it shouldn’t matter where you start – but drawing the head first means you are really drawing the brains, the mind, the human, so it feels like life from the get-go. From there, it’s the same thing with micro-measurements. See the arm on the left? How I messed up with the length? I just did it again, so there are two creased folds with a dark shadow where there should be one. Always correct as soon as you notice your mistake, or they will propogate, as each mistaken placement leads to another. If you can’t bear to look at mistakes…white gel pen to the rescue.
- timing – not really an issue here…the motorway was long. But the hands did occasionally change position, so I waited for them to return to the wheel as I had drawn them. However, the weather was very changeable, and the heavy showers meants loss of light. I just waited them out.
- observation – nothing complicated in this sketch. The only thing I would point out is that I took note of the different light values on the dashboard of the car.
- harmonious colour – I debated with myself whether to include the green of the trees. I think they look well with the rust of the shirt. However, I debated whether to make my husband Marcel’s denims Ultramarine Intense or Payne’s Grey: I chose neither, so they are a bit weak in terms of impact.
These two are very similar so I will describe them as one.
- spatial awareness – Micro-measurements. Where does each bit of cushion hit each part of the body? Plus: I got the look of Marcel’s face wrong, first time (second sketch), so I decided to have another go, and try to get those little micro-measurements better. I did. I have to add though that Marcel has been an easy subject for me to draw since we met. Strong bone structure and dark colouring makes him easy to draw in pen – what has been less easy is the ban on drawing him that has only recently been lifted, and that only unofficially. Softly softly catchee monkey.
- timing – I did not have to worry, as Marcel was tired and not inclined to move. At all.
- observation – two things that made for an interesting sketch: the reflection on the phone screen of hoodie on glass in the top version, which I prefer (it was my second attampt in as many days), and the shadow of the glasses arm, and how you can see through the lenses, in the bottom sketch.
- harmonious colour – your sketch will always be harmonious if you stick to two colours! Skin (Yellow Ochre and cherry Quinacridone Red) and Payne’s Grey did everything I wanted them to…although I think I should have painted the wooden elements too.
Paddy Works From Home
- spatial awareness – Micro-measurements. Careful ones. This time there is a big element that I haven’t referred to much: light. Look at the face and legs – I have left a white strip where the light is hitting the skin. Also, forgetting what a laptop looks like, and drawing what it really looks like.
- timing – Paddy is the best subject in the world, and the most chilled-out – as far as he’s concerned, everything else can wait until his mum is finshed sketching (he’s a sketcher too by the way and comes with me sketching from time to time).
- observation – a little bit of squinting will help you see the light and dark much more easily than “regular” looking. Getting the creases on the front of the hoodie well-observed helped make a really cute result.
- harmonious colour – I kept the colours really simple: I could have coloured the purple rug, but chose to leave it blank. Next time I will try that.
- spatial awareness – You know what I mean by this by now. Distance from cup to mouth compared to length of forearm. Position of the back of the neck with respect to the ear, nose and chin. And so on.
- timing – can you see a splodge by the upper arm, where it meets the cushion? That happened because I didn’t allow the paint to dry before adding another colour…it happens that I like splodges, but they might be annoying if you don’t. Another thing that required careful timing: I liked how Paddy was messing with his hair at the back of his head, as it’s a gesture he does quite a bit. But I got him just as he decided to fidget with something else and I had to make do with the info I caught. Paddy asked why there was a lumo at the back of his head and didn’t “read” it as his hand Oh well.
- observation – lots of light in this sketch. Also, I like the sketch of Mark Normand on the TV screen. I don’t usually bother with whatever is happening on the screen, but Mark is a stand-up comedian and didn’t move at all, although his hands changed position continually.
- harmonious colour – the sketch looks colourful but there is a lot of white used, and all the blues harmonise well.
Okay that’s it for now! If you’re excited by the thought of capturing your loved ones in ink and watercolour, then do take the first step and join my class. No one is going to make you jump in at this level, but you’ll come away with all the basic priciples you need to become a good sketcher. You’ll know what to do with trees, reflections, people (in a simple way), perspective, how to draw (those micro-measurements again!) and how to handle watercolour.
See you – I hope – on 21st August!