Saturday I drove to the Oregon Garden. Cold and clear. A perfect day to get out for a walk in the garden and catch up on my homework for Liz Steel’s Sketching Now Foundations course. Founder’s Square is a large open structure that’s used sometimes for outdoor weddings. In the summer it’s surrounded by vegetable gardens. Up the hill is the garden resort. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to sketch either the resort or the large structure which is Founder’s Square. I have walked here many times and photographed the location from various vantage points. The view of the resort did not appeal to me. So, I walked around the square to pick the best angle for context. I wanted to show the structure’s placement in relation to the gardens and resort. I was also looking for depth and composition with a photographer’s eye. I picked a spot that had a foreground, middle ground, and background (for depth) and that was out of the way of foot traffic (although there was hardly anyone else around).
I sat on my new travel stool (which worked well by the way – easy to carry around with my kit and comfortable for the full hour I was there sketching). The first thing I did was to look around and pick a subject. I did a series of thumbnail sketches using a watersoluble graphite pencil.
This took about 20 minutes (about 5 minutes for each sketch). Doing these thumbnails really helped me to understand the scene and the structure and to warm up my hand/eye coordination and my observational skills, and, of course, to help me pick my subject. It heightened my experience and memory of the place and was well worth doing.
I went with my first impression which was to sketch the structure in context with it’s surroundings. I wanted to capture the massive timbers and the fact that it’s an imposing figure yet it blends in with the tress and gardens around it.
I drew a few minimal setup lines with watersoluble graphite pencil. I used the see-through method of drawing to get the shape right. I did no measuring. I judged by eye the relative size and placement of objects as I drew. I made the decision to jump right into watercolor and do pen and ink later. It was cold and the light was changing. I wanted to captured the colors and values and mood first in case I had to leave before completing the sketch on location. I tried to use juicy watercolors – lots of water and pigment – and I limited my palette of colors to reflect the limited color of a winter day.
I had two interruptions. A group of people walked by. The last man was interested in what I was doing and stopped to watch and ask questions. I was close to finishing the watercolor stage and didn’t mind. His companions retrieved him and I finished painting. Then my wife called my cellphone before I had a chance to start the ink. We only talked for two or three minutes, but it broke my concentration and took me out of the flow. However, I quickly got back into drawing.
I thought about adding people to establish scale, but decided to leave them out because there weren’t any people around and I didn’t want to put something in I couldn’t see. I left the sky white partly to leave some white on the page and partly because by the time I had finished, the sky had become overcast white as you can see in the above photo.
After I finished the sketch, I took a few photos with my iPod Touch to document the scene.
When I got home I compared the sketch with the photos. I noticed I missed a few things. I neglected to ink the edges of one of the front cross beams. I added those. I missed the line of trees behind the resort. I left those out. I didn’t draw the corner of the wood retaining wall by the path light in the lower left of the sketch. I decided to leave that out as well.
I like to do a post sketching analysis. So, here are a few thoughts about the process and the finished sketch.
Subject: I captured what was presented to me – the bare gardens, the cold quiet somewhat lonely place with few people, birds, or insects.
Impact: It’s a simple sketch. It captures the mood of the place, but it’s subtle. It doesn’t show the imposing nature of the structure.
Composition: It’s a balanced, very stable composition which places the major subject using the rule of thirds. Objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background give a sense of depth. The pen and ink details draw the eye to the midlle ground and main subject. The grassy area in front of the square uses too much vertical space. I should have paid more attention to the size of the foreground when I did my pencil layout.
Technique: My kit and materials worked well on location. Everything was well organized, easy to set up and use. I liked the workflow – thumbnails first, pencil layout, color then ink. I found it difficult to get the dark green values dark enough. I’ll have to do some mixing experiments to see what works. Also, the finished sketch verges on having a “cartoon” look to it. I prefer the look of pencil contours or thinner, lighter pen. I discovered on location that my two extra fine nib pens were clogged. I used my Kaweco Sport pen which I love, but it puts down a thicker line. Next time I’ll check my pens before I go out.
The hardest thing for me sketching on location is to do a sketch, not a mini painting. My natural tendency is to belabor the process in order to “get it right”. My analysis vs intuition ratio is too high on the analysis side. I’d like to take a more gestural, spontaneous approach. I actually prefer the four pencil thumbnails. They hold more meaning for me than the watercolor sketch because I did all my exploration and discovery in the thumbnails.