If you’ve attempted plein air painting, you soon find out that “time is of the essence”. You can’t dilly dally around. You have to make use of the time you have because your subject matter can change within a blink. The strong lighting and shadows can disappear right before your eyes and then appear again, then disappear again and so on, and so on. I’m going to let you in on the secret to painting faster and better plein air paintings…
Slow down and do a thumbnail sketch! Yep.
You have to slow down in order to speed up.
One of the biggest AHA! moments for me was when I took a Plein Air Workshop and we all had to do a Thumbnail sketch before we started our painting. I know this sounds so obvious and I’ve seen people do it for years and knew I should be doing it too. But it’s one of those things that I was thinking in the back of my mind, “That’s just too time-consuming because I want to get to painting now!” So I skipped it.
I think the truth was, I never really learned HOW to do a thumbnail sketch.
In the past, I tried to sketch the subject matter, but it never really turned out to be helpful. It was awkward and difficult to get the sketch in the same proportion and I just fumbled around with it to where it really was time-consuming and I had convinced myself of that. So I didn’t do it.
Then came the AHA! It was like a light had been turned on.
It happened at t Plein Air Workshop with Suzie Baker, a good friend of mine and a terrific artist.
She showed us how she uses her viewfinder to find the correct proportion and draw out a box in the correct proportion in her little sketch book. I remember learning this little trick of how to scale things to different sizes in the same proportion back in math class way back when, but it went in one ear & out the other. This time it stuck.
Then she proceeded to sketch out the shapes and values of the subject matter.
Doing the sketches helps you work out the composition problems BEFORE you start painting. This is how it saves time! It’s easier to work out the issues in the sketch rather than on the painting. Reworking your drawing or composition on a painting after you’ve started painting is time-consuming.
You wouldn’t think something so simple could turn on
the lights in the cob webs! But it did!
Her little sketchbook was so cute and full of all these awesome little sketches of all her paintings. Like a journal of sorts. It helps you figure out the composition and you also end up with a little journal cataloging your paintings and your trip. A two for one!
Here’s how you do it…
What you’ll need:
A sketch book ( any size but I prefer a small one that I can keep in my purse or pocket)
Pencil with eraser
View Finder (you need to have proportions marked on it as on the one below)
There are several kinds of view finders, but I like the one by Guerrillapainter.com because it has just about every proportion you would ever use, marked on it so it’s easier to use and it fits PERFECTLY in the back of my sketchbook.
1. Set your dimensions
I promise there won’t be any math! First, use the view finder to figure out the composition by sliding the insert to appropriate tick mark on the viewer.
2. Draw one corner of the box
Place it on the sketch book & trace the inside opening on two connecting sides. Keep it there and make a small mark in the opposite corner.
3. Enlarge the box
Use the view finder as a straight edge to extend out thru the other corner of the box you are going to draw. Make another mark for how large you want the box to be.
4. Daw in the rest of the box sides
Use the viewfinder’s outside corner edges to connect the marks and lines to finish out the box of the thumbnail you are going to use for the sketch.
5. Sketch and work out the composition
Now you have a box that is in the same proportion as your canvas and can start sketching in the shapes and values of the subject matter.
When Sketching, move subject matter around if necessary, and make changes if you need to for a good composition.
Make however many sketches you need to but don’t spend too much time on it, 5 – 10 minutes max.
Most people think doing the thumbnail sketches would slow you down, but if you start doing it CONSISTENTLY, you’ll find it speeds you up. I promise. Give it a try!
How do you do your sketches?
Do you have any other time-saving ideas on plein air painting?
If so, please share it with us. We’d love to hear about it.
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Originally posted at Red Palette Studio