Some thoughts on sketching

Sketching has been one of my life’s passions. I have sketched since the age of 13 when my art teacher (Mr Bibby) set us homework. To go out and draw something around our home, in a series of squares. I was living out in the countryside in West Cornwall. So in my squares, there are the hedgerows and gateways around my old house. I just used a biro and remember how much I enjoyed going out, sitting quietly and drawing.
Sketching helps you to really look and observe a scene. To sit and study something, really etches the image into your mind. You might not be so happy with the sketch, but the memory, the sights and smells will stay with you.

The greatest thing about sketching is that ‘it’s only a sketch’. If you don’t like it – rip it up and throw it in the bin. Don’t expect too much from it!!
However, it might also be a little work of art that you are really pleased with, frame and keep or give to someone.

When to Sketch

It doesn’t matter what you sketch when you sketch or how you sketch. Just pick up your materials and get going. Take a little A5 sketchbook in your pocket or set out with an A2 pad tucked under your arm and materials in your rucksack.
Twenty minutes? One minute? One hour? There are no hard and fast rules, I think it’s how you see what you are doing. If you think of it as a sketch then it is. Having said that my college lecturer stated that a sketch should be no more than twenty minutes. Like all rules in art, they are something to bear in mind and choose to ignore if you want to. My sketches can be quick or quite often they take me about an hour to finish. 
Just practice as much as you can. Change how you sketch, give yourself a time limit to loosen up. Try something new to see how it goes. Have a go at some drawing exercises such as just drawing the negative space of an object or not taking your pen off the paper. Simplify scenes by squinting at them and don’t get too bogged down with detail. Don’t let the format of the paper dictate your sketch – if you are running out of room, stick another piece of paper onto it.
“Dad you’re just scribbling!” As my young son told me.

How I Sketch


It could just be a biro and a scrap of paper. I usually have an A4 bag of Sketching Stuff ready to pick up and put in my rucksack or the car. If I’m backpacking I take an A5 sketch pad, pencil, pen and travelling watercolour set. Or if setting out with the intention of sketching then it’s an A3 – A2 pad and a full set of paints, brushes and a pallet. My usual sketching kit all fits into a bag ready to be picked up and taken out. This is an A4 zipped bag that I bought years ago (a bit like a laptop bag, but before laptops existed!)

Materials List

I often take a range of mediums with me and make my mind up how I’ll sketch when looking at the subject. So here is a list what I would usually take with me. 
 An A4 cartridge pad & A4 Watercolour pad – coloured pastel paper too sometimes. I find this a convenient size to put in my bag. However, if I’m out walking I often only take an A5 pad in a plastic bag with watercolours & pens etc. Pencils – at least 2B in softness, I usually use a 5/6B for sketching and a Graphite Stick. 
 Something to sharpen them with, I usually take a scalpel​ with the blade taped the handle​. So that it doesn’t cut anything unintentionally. 
 Watercolour set For A5 – A4 size pads, I have a pocket set. However, for larger paper sizes I take a full set of watercolours and an A4 pallet. 
 A set of brushes, again dependant on paper sizes. I often take a smaller brush 1-2 (size), medium 5-7 and a larger brush for laying down washes – I have a size 20 round that I like for this. (But they are rather expensive). I generally use round brushes, but that’s up to the individual’s​ own preference. 
 Tissue/Kitchen Roll – a sheet or two. 
 Sticks of Charcoal. 
 Pastels – Oil or chalk, depending on what you like. 
 Bottle of Black Ink – to use with either a brush or dip pen. 
 Water Jar with lid or Jar & Waterbottle. 
 Selection of pens – whatever you like, drawing pens or a biro. 
 Rubber – if you want one, putty or normal. 
 Clothes peg or two – good for holding the paper of your pad when it’s windy.
My larger watercolour set for A3 – A2 size sketching.
I like to sit on the ground and have an insulated mat to sit on, but lots of people like to take a stool with them (or find a seat of course.) As with all things arty, there is no right or wrong way, just what you like to do. I’ll see you out there sometime…

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