May 23, 2021
The challenge this week is to make a painting of boats and/or constructions on the river including weirs, locks, boathouses from sketches made from the riverbank. If the weather makes working by the river difficult why not look at any photos you may have of boats threading their way through the twists and turns of the Thames. It’s more difficult to draw a moving target from life so becoming familiar with the structure of boats and their effects on the water surface is easier from photographs.
However if you have the opportunity, it’s much more rewarding to work outside with a sketchbook. Start with the static objects and develop your confidence, and then try drawing the main shapes of boats and their wakes as they pass by,as swiftly as you can. With a little practice a real notion of movement can be achieved.
A few photographs of local parts of the Thames with moored and moving craft are below.
Think about the river and its banks, the relation of the boat to the water surface (the waterline, reflections and if moving the bow wave and wake, or if a motor boat how the water may be churned up by a propeller at the stern). The patterns of waves may extend far beyond the immediate vicinity of the boat.
If you attempt to draw or paint a lock, perhaps looking down from a bridge as you can at Maidenhead. Try drawing the large shapes of the lock first so that you get a feel for for its structure and aim to show its perspective. That will help you when you place a boat in it. Think of the lock as a big rather long box so the end away from you appears smaller. Then look at the water level in the lock and how the boat sits in it.
There are also occasions where boats are included as only a small element in a river landscape work so just as observing and drawing from human forms, observing and drawing boat forms will help you to be able to just ‘drop in a boat’ to enliven a composition.
Also included are boathouses and a couple of old rather abandoned looking dredgers and the turbulent water of the weir at Maidenhead.
With the weir draw its underlying structure lightly before indicating the frothy water tumbling over it. Hopefully we’ll be sketching outside but if not feel free to use any of these references or find a boat scene you would like to paint.
Some examples of paintings of boats and locks etc can be found on Jo’s Pinterest board using the link below:
Your Sketches and Paintings:
May 16, 2021
The Weather forecast is miserable for this week so here are some photographs of river birds and a few cows for inspiration, a contingency in case of rain on Tuesday.
As anything that moves is a challenge in real life, becoming familiar with bird and animal shapes will be helpful before sketching them outside. We can work in real time together either from the following references or using your own. We’ll choose a bird or a cow and make rapid thumbnail sketches in real time; four or five to a sketchbook page so don’t think too large. I will be using a stopwatch! You will see from the reference that you should be able to make several sketches of the same or a similar bird in different poses.
Where birds in groups overlap each other, as in the cygnet photos it can be useful to treat them as a single shape and then sort out the individuals. They move in amazing ways, with mother swan looking out for them all the time.
After a few warm up sketches we can move on to a more considered drawing or painting, making a good start that can be finished during the session or in your own time afterwards. This work may either be a painting that has the creature as the main subject, or a work where the beast or bird is placed in its landscape setting.
Most of the heron images are from the water garden at Cliveden where the carp fry are easy prey for a hungry bird. I watched and sketched this one before resorting to record his antics on camera. but sadly never caught him actually catching a fish.
Your paintings and sketches:
This week’s drawings include two minute drawings and two minute blind contour drawings, where looking at the image but not the paper was permitted. There are also 30 minute or longer drawings from the Canada Goose image posted just before them.
Drawings below were 30 minute drawings from the image above
Two minute drawings and blind contour drawings:
May 11, 2021
This week we’ll think about working outside, developing work from sketches or diving into a painting if you are feeling brave. The world outside can seem quite daunting if you are not used to working in the open and the complexity of some scenes can be overwhelming unless ways can be found to home in on a subject and isolate it from the surrounding “noise”.
Using a camera as a view finder is one way but limits you to composing with one shape. A better way is to take two L-shaped pieces of card which you can view the landscape in endlessly varied formats. Quite a good idea to tape these together once the desired subject and format has been found, preferably with a removable masking tape or similar.
To home in on a suitable composition it’s a good idea to make a few composition and tonal sketches first. Exploring a scene in this way focuses the mind on what most interests you and aids observation and drawing skills enormously. Last week we explored photographs in a similar way.
Below is a way of recording shape and tone in a sketchbook. Charcoal pencil was used in this case but if I had used pencil three or four small sketches could be made on a sketch book page.
This time make small sketches not worked up drawings to decide on the composition. This is a good exercise whether working directly from the landscape or preparing for a work to be completed in the studio. There is a good case for making both tonal sketches and making colour notes, not necessarily in the same sketch. If there is time separate sketches of any details you may need for the final work can be made. A camera of course is useful but because nature does not always arrange itself in the most interesting or pleasing way, small personal sketches are often a good guide to what should and should not be included.
A silly example would be if I wanted to make a picture of a coot with its reflection. I would think very hard before including or excluding a sign in red paint behind the bird saying DANGER WEIR which was only slightly camouflaged by a nest in front of the sign. If the sign and its reflection was making the painting much more exciting than just the bird, putting the bird in context with that part of the river, it may be good to include. If it did no more than draw attention away from my principal subject or led the eye out of the picture the sign would have to go. Then again I would have the same problem with the coot if my focus was river signage.
1. Equipment for working outside; minimum for preparatory sketches
Sketchbook, drawing implements: pencil, pen, eraser, small camera and view finder, light weight folding stool
Optional: a few of any kind of coloured pencils or a small box of watercolours , brush, water, water pot; for making colour notes
2. Equipment for working outside; for painting directly from the landscape
Sketchbook, drawing implements: pencil, pen, eraser, small camera, light weight folding stool;
Watercolour painters: Watercolours, pan box useful if working at a fairly small scale as usually have an integral palette, water and water pot, brushes, paper towel (few sheets), small natural sponge (if you have one), drawing board with stretched paper/ heavy weight paper well taped down or small block of paper
Pastel painters: small box of landscape colours (Sienna, green dark, green bright, ultramarine blue dark and light, white, yellow, yellow ochre, crimson, cadmium red middle tone, dark grey or black, purple. These colours are only a suggestion. Handful of pastel pencils if you have any), pastel paper and a board, clips or tape to attach your paper, small can fixative spray, craft knife, pencil sharpener, Blu-tac or putty eraser, few sheets paper towel
If the weather is stormy the challenge will be to paint wildlife or agricultural scene from the riverbank. This could include willows, cows birds, nests waterlilies, reed banks.
Outside the challenge will be to make a composition including one or more of the following; trees, boats and boathouses, lock gates and their reflections, or a weir for the fearless! Be selective; one well painted boat or tree is better than a scribble of a fleet or forest! It would be good to take on board the tonal balance of reflections and objects. Reflections are not always darker than the real object but often are. See how the sky is reflected and how ripples catch the sun, as we will see next week sometimes very literally.
For inspiration visit my as yet unsorted Pinterest Boards at:
May 4, 2021
Over the next six weeks we’ll be drawing and painting anything that can be seen from a riverbank. The first session will be online but if you do have the opportunity to sketch your subject by the river and paint afterwards that would be brilliant. We’ll start by considering water, waves and reflections and go on to explore the riverbank vegetation, birdlife, bridges, weirs and locks that can be seen locally.
Some words that sprang to mind when thinking about water were flowing, calm, reflection, spray, fierce, roar, crash, wet, wave, ripple, current, whirlpool, eddy. By the Thames locally, the extremes in appearance of water going over the weir at Maidenhead and the wonderful reflections of trees in the very calm water that can be seen from the towpath just a couple of hundred yards upstream, reveal what a varied and challenging subject this is.
We may often notice the reflections of boats, trees, poles etc. in and on the water but the sky is perhaps the most important element, being reflected not only in calm water but in every ripple and almost always brings an element of fleeting and shimmering light to the surface. The Impressionists found good ways of depicting this, using strokes of different colours and tones alongside each other to create shimmering effects.
If you can, get to a riverbank and watch the water. Better still make some sketches of what you see. Take two L-shaped pieces of card with you so you can use them as a view finder. These are more versatile than a camera as they enable the isolation of very tall thin slithers of the landscape or extreme panoramic views, as well as squarer and more conventional landscape shapes for your composition. In the sketchbook try several small sketches in different formats concentrating on the shape and tones of what you see.
If you can’t get out this week try exploring different compositions within one photo reference.
I am forced to admit this photo was taken from a boat and not the bank but the various crops show the great choice we have from the quite dark composition of crop 4 to the light airy feel of the original photograph.
Start to think in terms of shape and tone. Instead of thinking I am drawing a tree and its reflection say to yourself,” I can see a large dark oval shape. Below it is a similar dark shape that fragments into elongated light and dark shapes when the wind blows.” If you can stay long enough, observe different patterns on the water surface as a boat passes, and when there is wind or no wind. Try to translate these into drawing. Can you observe differences in size between ripples near you and those further away?
Observe and note whether there is a difference in tone between the sky and its reflection and do the same for reflected objects. As you can see from the photo taken on the Cam, the sky there was almost the same tone as its reflection but this is not always the case.
When you have found a composition that pleases you either paint or make a more considered drawing. Both the observation of the water surface and the composition exercise will be good preparation for the outside drawing/painting sessions.
Have fun and experiment!
Perhaps look at a few Impressionist paintings!
Your Drawings and Paintings:
Watercolour Landscapes: back to basics, learning from the masters
7th September to 19th October
The Zorn Palette: painting without blue
Saturday 9th October
A Year in Pastel: landscape and natural forms
26th October to 30th November