Although at first, some people describe my drawings and paintings as abstract, they are in fact born from intense observation. I need to spend time with the subject matter, and experience it with all my body, not just my eyes. So, yesterday I wandered through Hatfield Forest, played with paints and did a bit of drawing, but if I'm honest, I was mostly sitting. And looking. And breathing. And listening. And touching. And looking again.
Here are a few of the quick studies that were a result of the looking. I only had limited materials, and for some reason neon paints and pastels had found their way into my little travelling tin ... but the sun was shining, and I tend to focus on the hidden colours in the landscape anyway, so I think it must have been a happy happenstance.
A lot of artists can find it overwhelming drawing outdoors, as it is hard to 'edit' the vastness of the scene. All too often a composition can end up over complicated and crowded, as the painter tries to draw or paint it all. But there are different things you can do to combat this instinct. The way I tackle it is initially to sit and look for as long as my attention is held (up to 20 minutes). I then set a timer (2 to 5 minutes maximum), and work fast. Really fast.
The limited time, means there is definitely no space for 'faffing' about. I set my timer, and go. Colours are chosen on instinct, and I haven't got time to twist the lid off another stubbornly stuck tube, so just go with what's in my hand. Having a limited palette in my travelling tin helps, and as with the accidentaI neon, I always think it's exciting to have some colours whose job is purely to 'clash' and upset things a little bit.
Another advantage to working fast is it allows for instinctive editing. Confronted with a huge landscape, and only a few minutes, there is little choice but to edit the scene. To adequately draw one tree in 2 minutes is a big ask, so it goes without saying, that the rest of the forest will have to wait for another time.
My favourite outcome of this method of working though, is in the quantity of sketches and studies that I can produce. In one short afternoon I can come away with a pile of works, that will provide food for thought for the work that is done in the studio. Many are disastrous, some have a few things in them that I like, but better still, there is usually at least one or two that make my heart sing.
And, happily I'm not alone in this approach. As songwriter Jonathan Reed has explained, the truth is whatever you're trying to produce, 70% of your attempts will be mediocre, 20% will suck, and 10% will be amazing. If you only produce one drawing or study, it is likely to fall into the 70% mediocrity pile, but get 10 or more studies done, and at least one will be a success.
If you are interested in finding out more, I will be running a short course, The Landscape Reimagined in June 2021. Please click the button to find out more x