Russell Jewell’s Thoughts on Pencil Sketching and Plein Air Painting

Watercolor Sketch of Cows | SketchingI do a lot of plein air painting in watercolor, and one of my efforts in sketching is to discover what I would call the “fingerprint” of objects I paint most often. Therefore, I work at sketching objects in a composition, like people in motion, cars on a street, buildings in perspective, landscapes, atmosphere and so on. Even though when painting en plein air I’m attempting to paint what is in front of me, I find it simpler if I’ve previously approached drawing the object.

I’m not a habitual sketcher, but I envy those who are. I utilize pencil sketching as a warm-up, especially to plein air painting. When I refer to sketching as a warm-up, I’m speaking of a simple, yet full value, sketch. If I’m sketching in watercolor, I first tape the boundaries of the composition to create a hard-edge finished look. I prefer simple compositions to drawing single objects.

I prefer to sketch when riding in a car, which requires me to respond to a glimpse of an object and then place the object in a simple composition. With these drawings, I’m doing a value study out to the edge of a square or rectangle, requiring me to deal with negative space around the object as well.

I also sketch from photos, but the issue with photographs is that everything in the photo is usually equally focused. When sketching from the photo, I try to improve the image as an art composition by creating a main emphasis through value contrast, size and texture, while diffusing the rest of the composition.


Pencil Sketching Featuring Figures in Front of a Building | Sketching, Pencil Sketching

I try to create an atmosphere when pencil sketching. Painting in watercolor is very much akin to drawing, especially with a crosshatching technique. When I’m drawing and sketching, I think of saving the white of the paper and then laying down a first hatching, much like an initial wash in watercolor. As I progress through the drawing, each layer of crosshatching is like the next wash in a watercolor, until I’m finally adding the darks at the end of the drawing. Sketching gives me confidence, stemming from a better understanding of the object and the atmosphere I’m exploring.


Pencil Sketching of a Shed | Sketching Before Plein Air Painting

I suppose if you were to take a stranger’s iPod and listen to his/her choice of music, then in some way, you would feel you “knew” that person. If you read the poetry of this same person, you would feel you had an even deeper understanding of them. Personal poetry seems akin to a sketchbook, which is a personal, visual record of someone’s thoughts and interests. Sketching is a visual form of a personal exploration of the world in which we live. As an artist, we better understand our personal world. As a viewer of someone’s sketchbook, we have a better understanding of this fellow human world traveler.


Landscape Pencil Sketching | Sketching, Drawing and Sketching


Interested in other plein air watercolor paintings? Check out those of Stewart White, whose watercolor paintings are created en plein air.


Russell Jewell mentioned the importance of creating a good value sketch. Want to learn more about value sketches? Check out this step-by-step demonstration by Bill Teitworth on how to draw value sketches.


Peek inside Russell Jewell’s sketchbook in the October 2012 issue of Watercolor Artist.




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