Day 20, people at the beach and a sketch from a photo

Part of being on holiday with a large family group must involve spending time together and this means sneaking off sketching isn’t the easiest thing to do….. what am I talking about?! Truth is I was enjoying taking a day to laze by the sea watching the world go by. Pangs of guilt were hitting me everytime I glanced at my trusty sketch bag so I reached out for the Hahnemuhle grey toned sketchbook and a pencil. I planned to sketch people, after all I could do with the practice.

I suffered from my usual proble of not being fast enough to capture the dynamism of people on the move, but trying is the main thing here. I must also admit that it seems to lack imagination, really? The best I could come up with is a pencil sketch, no conte crayons or ink like I was blurting on about days ago…. I wasn’t going to settle for this. I didn’t want to repeat other scenes I’d already sketched so I took myself off somewhere and sketched from a photo of the town on the mainland Guest blogger Jo and I had visited yesterday.

 I got comfortable at a table outside the hotel bar and used the combination I regularly favor namely, HB pencil, followed by Rotring Tikky 0.4mm pen on Moleskine Watercolour Sketchbook and colour courtesy of my pretty cool Schmincke Horadam Watercolour travel tin. I loaded a photo I really loved from yesterday (taken on my iPhone….groan) and got to work. I attracted quite a few passers by who stopped to watch and were very positive and encouraging and I really enjoyed the experience although a purist would have preferred me to be standing in the street sketching from life. I tend to agree but needs must.

I carried on layering and made a real effort to show light and shadow, not greatly evident as the photo shows but I’m learning, at least it feels like I’m learning to the point I now see shadows and know where I should try to place them. it’s harder than it sounds (I’m making excuses 😳)

Day 19 Note to self…. don’t forget to include people!!

I know this will sound defeatist but this sketch was a disaster and flopped massively, it’s one I’d have thrown away if it was on a separate piece of paper but this blog is 😳😳 (as promised) a ‘warts and all’ record of my 30 day sketching experience so I will show it… this ‘epic fail was also done very publicly. The silver lining was Jo was very happy to try the plein air or urban sketching and was instantly hooked! Massively uninhibited and no sign of intimidation by the crowds of people she got into the zone and stole the show… I’ll let her tell you all about that on her own ‘guest blogger’ post.

Right back to my dismal effort here! I guess I was rushing, wanted it to look effortless and sketched away in pencil, then pen on the Moleskine Watercolour Sketchbook…. but I totally ignored or conveniently forgot to include any people. I briefly considered it but they take a few selfies or group shots then move off. So… again, hindsight suggests practice painting very quick people sketches, even separately the add them into the main sketch when I’m happy. Also, these arene’t meant to be Paintings that hang on a wall, they are sketches, the formation of ideas, compositions, records of tonal value, light and colour saturations…. am I ranting?

Day 18 – The guy that wouldn’t keep still and the converted island church.

Something I didn’t foresee as being an issue with sketching, or urban sketching as I’m tempted to call it is the problem of running out of time! While waiting for our ferry at Rovinj to take us over to the island we were staying on, I decided to sketch an unusual and interesting chap at the bar we had a coke at. I used the grey toned Hahnemuhle sketchbook and a HB pencil. I’m pretty sure he became aware I was sketching him because he wouldn’t keep as still as he had been and was constantly looking over at me, this meant I had to stop drawing. Not through concerns about him wanting me to stop, more about needing him to return to the original position.

So with this one, it’s safe to say my putty rubber was useful, then our boat arrived and we had to pack up and leave pretty sharpies so unfortunately it is incomplete…

Once back on the island i left Jo to relax in our room and popped outside the hotel to sketch a church (may have been a monastery) that has been converted to a beautiful (and we were later to find out – excellent dining) restaurants. Slightly out of synch with other work, I didn’t go for the whole building but just the steeple. In all honesty I seemed to do this subconsciously.

This was using the priceless little Schmincke Horadam box on my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook plus the usual formula of HB pencil, Rotring Tikky 0.2mm pen and some putty rubber use. I went a bit crazy with the blue here and in hindsight I could do with some practice at colour mixing for skies instead of guesswork and hoping for the best, that’s one for another day though. It would have worked better if my values showed some nice contract between light and dark.

I added more layers with more saturated colour, tried and failed to lift out colour from the ornamamental feature at the top and added Naples yellow as a consolation. i enjoyed the colour mixing for the darks on this sketch and find I’m a big fan of Caput Mortuum – I think another name for it is Indian Red but I’d need to double check. So, Jo then came out to see me and we went for a nice little stroll, I’m pretty sure this was close to being overworked because of my attempts to compensate for failing to emphasize the sunlight but hey, that’s plein air sketching for you.


Day 16 did I run out of time or did I just get grumpy?



Let me explain the bizarre title…. yep! I totally got grumpy- please don’t judge me 😗… nah, go on then…. so after our breakfast we decided to sit at the beach and I thought the view was great, out came the sketching kit and away I went. I’m loving boats at the moment and plan to spend more time on them. They always put me off because they are quite intricate, stick out like a sore thumb if you get them wrong, wonky masts can make them ready for the bin, but they will add life to any scen and often create a valid reason to use a juicy saturated colour you perhaps would leave desiccating away in your paint tin (course you wouldn’t!)

I decided against using Rotring pens and left it at pencil, I used a double landscape view in the Moleskine Watercolour sketchbook and added a base layer from the delightful Schminke Horadam tin. I keep meaning to do a separate post justifying my love for this tin, maybe after the 30 day challenge. I put quite a bit of time into this one because I wanted to leave lots of white spaces for the big umbrellas scattered all over the site – the smartypants among us will call this ‘negative painting’ or something like that, anyway, that’s what happened.

So, I let it dry and started going into the next layer, the beach was filling up but I remained unmolested although i could sense the passers by behind me slowing down and commenting in Italian or Spanish. Then came the ‘what is personal space’ family… Bless him but from all the remaining beach chairs available this guy chose to sit next to me, I mean one foot away, I could have coped but as he was getting his beach chair sorted he was knocking into me repeatedly and had no concept that he was doing so… after this he settled and i thought all would be well…no, out came the fattest cigarette imaginable, it stank and I could taste it because it was only a foot away from me and then his wife lit up a long skinny one…. so I muttered a bit, packed up my stuff and convinced jo it was time to leave. I got grumpy didn’t I! I need to tolerate my situation a bit more! Now I’m writing this back in England and looking at the sketch (which I quite like) and thinking why didn’t you finish it John, you massive muppet?! 

I have this reference photo but it’s not great, I’ve got an amazing lumix camera, a wonderful birthday present from Jo especially for this but just got lazy and whipped out the iPhone to take quite an underwhelming photo… lesson learned!

Underwhelming/ What do you think? I suppose I can come back to this at some point despite it looking dull as dishwater.

Even my initial wash without the boats and buildings feels a lot more eye catching to me.

I look at this little sketch though and there’s something quite nice about it being unfinished, this is sketching, sometimes rain stops play, light changes, you run out of time, the clinical, civilized and controlled environment of the studio or kitchen table aren’t present and we heal with what’s in front of us. When it doesn’t go to plan, we pack up, move on and start on a fresh page, and I for one love that feeling!

Day 17 August 15th. Slovinj Croatia

It’s a beautiful sunny morning and Jo and I were exploring the little island we are staying on here on Croatia. We sat on some (quite sharp and uncomfortable) rocks and the view was lovely. Before I even thought about it my sketchbook had jumped out and away I went.

I did a very very basic sketch in pencil and added only a handful of waterproof ink lines with my Rotring Tikky 0.2mm pen. I laid a wash of ultramarine blue and a touch of Naples yeallow over the whole page with the exception of a side wall on the little building on the right. I mixed some very pale greens with my Prussian blue and lemon yellow, or a little yellow ochre. Got some depth by using Caput  mortuum and some shadow around the shoreline was suggested with neutral tint. 

We got a phone call telling us the rest of the family had arrived at the resort so we let this one dry and made our way off to see them. Later I peeked into the bag to see how it looked and decided not to do any more, it was fresh and delicate and the family members who saw it liked it… it would seem overkill to layer it up and it seems to do the trick as a sketch, I enjoyed doing it, love its simplicity and it probably took less than fifteen minutes to complete 🙂

Day 14 sketching on the train

In yesterdays post you may have read that we had spent a long time on the train and the sketch for day 14 started to evolve in my mind. Being on the train is quite a confined space, I am not sure how people react to being sketched and I didn’t want to get busted doing this so I picked on a poor chap who had absolutely no idea this was happening.

I used a 6B pencil, putty rubber and the grey toned Hahnemuhle sketchbook, pretty minimalistic. I don’t intend to add colour after this because I haven’t tested how well the book handles wet media, perhaps that’s a good reason why I should? Anyway, the train got pretty full and the chap was quite a wriggler – his left arm was in a brilliant position and I tried to rough sketch it out but then he moved! Then he sat right back in the chair and most of his face disappeared from view, to pass the time until he reappeared I worked on (probably unnecessary) train artifacts but he didn’t re-emerge so the subject matter is more about the train carriage than the person, this doesn’t quite match the goal I’d set. I also hadn’t got the guts to sketch the young woman who had sat diagonally opposite me, she would have been great but I felt a bit cheeky I suppose and it may have made her uncomfortable.

What I will say about this is initially I was self-aware about being seen to sketch in public but then I totally forgot about everyone and everything around me and got ‘in the zone’ and that was a really cool feeling. My wife took a photo of me working which I’ll include for your amusement.



Day 13 This sh@t just got real!!

Today has been spectacularly busy, after a month away our house and garden needed some serious work plus we needed grocery shopping a few presents for family and of course our new ‘great-niece’ Francesca – and this afternoon we have been invited to our friends for a party(thank you Paula and Felicity) so with an hour to go I sat down to draw the buildings outside our house and it started to rain… until we got back there had been a heatwave here, can you believe it? Can you also believe that yours truly didn’t actually pack any watercolour paint for this trip??? Groan… so I cannot physically produce a painting today because of time constraints and lack of materials…. but… my intentions are to either draw something this evening although I could be a little tipsy or do loads of sketching tomorrow to make up for it…. dammit I might even do both!!!

Well, a couple of days have gone by and it’s time to catch up on the events of day 13. Evidence of the few lines I drew in an attempt to sketch before rain forced my retreat is provided on this post – I’d started on the grey toned Hahnemuhle sketchbook and was looking forward to completing it but we know how that turned out. we spent that evening with friends we haven’t seen for a while so no more sketching was done. I had taken a reference photo of the scene I had meant to sketch out and had a cunning plan.

Jo and I had arranged to go and see our new Grand-niece Francesca, in Plymouth and this involved a total of seven or eight hours on the train from Reading, so I carried enough gear with me to sketch on the train but with no paint. My routine was to sketching from the reference photo on my ipad using a 6B pencil in the Moleskine watercolour sketchbook. Some putty rubber corrections were needed to correct perspective errors and the train movement and vibrations gave me some shaky lines that needed fixing.

After this I used the trusty Rotring Tikky black waterproof ink pen 0.4mm and was very happy with it. The photo has lots of tonal value shown and I left these out of the sketch (I had considered using pen and perhaps this would be good experience) my intention is to revisit the sketch with watercolour when I can get my hands on some paint….which shouldn’t be too long now. I will add the finished photo on to this post when it’s done ✅ 



Day 12: Bitter Sweet

Today Jo and I are heading home to Silchester in Hampshire (UK) and also a week in Croatia (thunderstorms predicted 🙁 can you believe it?) I’m really looking forward to it. The sad thing is I have just dropped my sidekick Tanzie the labradoodle off at the kennels. The look of desperation on her face has made me feel sick and evil and I think I need a large whiskey now. the consolation (apart from a lovely couple of weeks with my wife) will be her ‘Tigger-like’ craziness when I collect her. The kennels, by the way is a great place, really clean and staffed by people who look like they care plus lots of other happy dogs and open spaces to run around and play….. okay John….now breathe!

As for artwork, my mind is a bit numb right now but I promise I will do something and upload it although that mat be tomorrow as we won’t get to the UK until quite late tonight. John

Me again, so my little feet haven’t touched the ground in 24 hours but I did manage to make a sketch of a chap working on his laptop in the airport terminal at Stavanger.  Because I was unsure if I could take paint stuff through security at the airport I only grabbed a sketchbook and couple of pencils ✏️… the sketchbook was toned grey Hahnemühle and I worked with a 6b pencil, rotring tikky 0.4mm black drawing pen and a Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth 5mm pencil with white lead