Going Digital?

‘Impress’: verb – to cause someone to feel admiration or respect

Over the lovely sunny days of July I have enjoyed some grand days out on walks in beautiful Yorkshire! Now, whilst I totally get the benefits of drawing en plein air I really don’t like carrying lots of stuff when out on a general day with my family. I like to travel light! As light as possible! (I am not one of those ladies who always has a bottomless bag that carries everything bar the kitchen sink!). However, I get frustrated when out on such a day and I come across a scene I just have to sketch and I haven’t got anything with me! Demanding or what!!

So, I started exploring whether I could use a drawing app on my phone. I always have my phone with me, partly for obvious reasons, but also because my husband and I find that the camera on our Samsung is excellent and often nearly as good as an SLR for general scene photography ( I realise more professional photographers may be spluttering with indignation – but it works for me!).

I tried a couple of free drawing apps from play store and was quite impressed with how you can use an app with lots of different ‘tools’ and effects. I purchased a battery operated drawing stylus which helped somewhat with fine detail but often just resorted to my finger as the app allows you to choose the width and tone of the line. The app allowed you to choose pencil, pen, or different brush effects, and the more complex one had some texture effects too. In the end I preferred the simpler app which seemed to produce more the effect I wanted and which I could quickly navigate around. It is just for quick sketching after all! The thing I had to keep telling myself was that my purpose was not to produce a finished masterpiece but to spend some time noticing and recording the shapes of the land, the layers in the landscape and any particular colours that might not come across as well in a photo.

A big advantage of using the drawing app was being able to build up layers that are independent of each other so that you can edit each one as you choose. If you mess up one layer, you can delete that without affecting other layers that you are happy with. The range of colours was not too bad either – sometimes I found it difficult to get the colour right (for a colour study for example) but that could just be my lack of experience with digital art. I think what it did provide for me was a way to sit and observe the landscape closely for 10 – 15 mins to take in more visually than just snapping a photo. I am hoping that, combined with a photo, my memories will help when developing a painting back in the studio.

One of the disadvantages I found with using the app on my phone, especially on a bright, sunny day, was glare on the screen preventing me from seeing properly what I was doing. Not to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ as it were, I have started experimenting with carrying, as well as my phone, a small, home made sketch book, the same size as my phone but just a couple of pages, with a retractable pencil and a few small coloured pencils. I am determined not to be beaten in my quest!

Of course, if I was going out on my own specifically to sketch I would still prefer to take a larger sketch pad etc.

My Second Experiment En Plein Air!

faff’ : intransitive verb – dither, fuss (well ……….that says it all!)

My second en plein air experience was again with the Huddersfield Art Society on a painting day looking across the Yorkshire Sculpture Park from the Baking Club House and Longfield Gallery. The day was (mostly) dry and the scenery lovely.

View of YSP from Longfield Gallery

I was captivated by the curve of the field (and the friendly cows coming to investigate what we were doing) so started pretty quickly, setting up my box and putting paint to a small canvas (20x25cm).

After my last experience en plein air I had made some adjustments to my pochard box and the ‘stuff’ I carried, but it quickly became evident throughout the day that I still needed to rethink a few things, especially when we had to make a quick dash indoors because of rain at lunchtime (water miscible oils and rain don’t go together – but the water streaks were quite effective!). The main thing I have realised from this is that you need to try a set up for working outdoors several times to gradually get it sorted out in the way you like to work but is still practical. I remember one friend saying it took her about 5 months to get everything how she liked and I can quite understand that now.

For the painting I followed an approach I had seen done several times on Youtube videos but I seemed to ‘faff’ about with the first canvas for a long time, layering the paint in an alla prima way quite thickly. I think partly because the canvas was small I got stuck too early on with too much detail and lost the key element of what had caught my attention in the first place – the curve and folds of the field and the gorgeous gold wildflowers.

Towards the end of the day I started a second canvas board, making much quicker brush strokes and completing it in about 40 mins.

But I just didn’t like either of them! In the end, back at home, I used a palette knife to scrape away most of the paint on both panels, which left a slightly ghostly image. Actually, that was a bit better, but neither still ‘said’ what I had wanted to say about the scene. When they were touch dry a few days later I reworked them a bit to see if they could be rescued….but they are still only just a little bit OK!

However, it was a good learning process and a chance to reflect how it felt after the ‘doing’. I have concluded that I want to experiment with changing my approach for en pleine air, spending more time at the beginning of a session just being in the space, listening to it’s sounds and really looking and seeing. When I go out with a group it might not always be to the sort of landscape I really want to paint, but I want to learn how to use these en pleine air experiences to help me look, and see, and connect with the landscape and then bring out from it the things that most caught my attention, rather than just copying a view in front of me.

Later on I did a quick sketch of a view that did speak to me and, for me, visually explains what I was experiencing during that day.