Module 5 — Splash and Dash

Has this ever happened to you? You decide to go out and sketch in some lovely location, but when you get there, you look around and think, “There are so many great possibilities here, I can’t choose!” or “I can’t paint fast enough to capture all this. Before I start painting, I better take some quick pictures.” And then you take 300 pictures and dash off one quick sketch at the end. (Or none.)

Serious plein air painting requires a lot of practice, and not everyone aspires to that. 

But there is a key skill that both casual sketchers and serious plein air painters rely on to help them paint quickly: the ability to simplify a scene by combining “things” into larger shapes and leaving out unnecessary details. This is a valuable skill for all artists. But how do you learn to do it? 

Module 5 Thinking Prompt—Looking with a Lazy Eye

When we try to simplify, we often start by asking ourselves, “What can I edit out of this scene?” 

What if you flip it around and ask instead, “What’s the least I can get by with?” 

Choose an example scene (or photo) that you are considering using as the basis for a painting. If you only had a few minutes, what would you absolutely want to capture about this scene, and what could you safely invent or add from other references later? 

Try looking at a few more scenes—perhaps ones you’ve struggled to paint—with a “lazy eye”. Which things or shapes are absolutely essential to what you want to express? Where could you make your life easier by smushing things into one big blob of mingled colors without really losing anything important to the painting you want to create? Where could you leave out specific details in your reference sketch and safely invent them later if you decide you need them?

Module 5 Activity Prompt—Splash and Dash

One challenge with watercolor sketching on location is waiting for things to dry. Here’s a trick: Instead of making one sketch, we’ll make several, each one capturing a different aspect of the information we need for the finished painting. And, anything that we can safely invent later or get from another source, we’ll simply leave out. 

Choose a practice scene (from life or a photo) of a subject you’d like to paint. We’re going to make three small reference sketches:

  • a wet-into-wet “block-in” to capture the main masses of color/value
  • a pencil drawing with detail only for the most essential bits of information and silhouettes only everywhere else
  • a tiny 2-value ink sketch with only the most important darks inked in 

This is one activity where it’s easier to show examples than give complicated explanations, so today’s video will start with some examples to give you the idea. You may want watch that portion before starting to work on your chosen practice scenes. 

Module 5 Journaling Together Video

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