Making Art Outdoors: Simple Advice
As you might already know and will know much more soon, I am making some very big art right now. With my current work in Sidewinder and my series coming to an end, I am going out with a bang before the next project with a few 40 x 50-inch canvasses. I will definitely bankrupt the best part of my painting supply in the process, so this is in part a clear out before I start on a slightly new development.
Having to work on a very large scale, and with this small window of decent British Summer time, I m taking a moment to create art with more space outdoors in my small garden. A disclaimer to this: I live in a maisonette flat with a small area of garden space so can paint outdoors there. I also thought I’d add in some tips for making art in public and in remote areas. This summer, I’ve seen so many sketchbook adventures where people sketch on the spot whilst out on country walks or exploring. It’s definitely been inspiring to me!
Making art outdoors in your back garden:
Long grass is your assistant – for gripping onto paint pots and jars, keeping everything stable. The grass is your friend and an extra pair of hands!
Beware the winds of change – make sure your canvasses or papers or whatever you make art on is secure. The wind will blow your work across the garden or over onto the floor, my super thick paintwork has suffered greatly from falling but life is a learning curve right? I use heavy rocks on my garden furniture to hold secure large canvasses. Maybe look to bring out your easels or get some big bulldog clips on a folding garden chair?
Sweep off debris – grass bits, sand, leaves and all sorts of filth regularly blow onto my wet paint. It’s annoying and sort of compromises my paint work as it might degrade in the paint or even rot. I figure painting really large scale in the garden is best for under paintings and getting down all of the mappings you need to do, before adding detail inside.
Watch the light – sometimes, too much sunlight throws me off because I can’t see my colours properly. I like to use really neutral pallets and lots of white. I need to be able to see the variations in my beiges and ultra soft greys, sunlight can bounce too much. I try to position my art on a slight shadow where the light is natural, but there’s plenty of it too.
Making art outdoors, in coffee shops:
Staying casual – let’s not kid ourselves that people don’t look supremely pretentious when sketching, drawing or whatever in coffee shops. I think the smaller and less conspicuous the materials the more likely I’ll be to carry them in the first place and get them out and use them. I also try to not make it obvious that I’m sketching someone near me (purely for form). I think perfection is not what you should be reaching for, rather just a collection of faster sketches that you can use to influence work in the future or develop your skills.
Be tidy – Pencil shavings, ink spills or pastel smudges are a bit disrespectful to leave behind in a place where people eat. Maybe take a few tissues or wet wipes just to make sure you aren’t leaving an unwelcome calling card.
Pick your materials – The same with making art on public transport, paint is probably not your best mate in this one. Well working pens, pencils, some small patels are ace to carrying around. Charcoal might be better if you’re seated for a while ut do clean up afterwards and watch the dust fall out too.
(above: art gallery cafes in Stockholm)
Making art outdoors, in “nature”:
Making art outdoors needs to be transportable – grab a few of those travel pots you use for beauty products or old film canisters and use to take small amounts of paints and solvents you’ll need for painting. Use small mint tins for chalks and pastels, try taking just your used small ones. Take sharpened pencils and pens that you definitely know work.
Pick your light – the same idea as painting in your garden, I try to avoid too heavy sunlight and find a balance in a shadowed, neutral area.
Channel your surroundings – although I paint people and cityscapes for the most part. Taking in the scenery of something natural and beautiful is also very inspiring. There are stunning valleys around Sussex and grand, emotional seascapes along the Cornish coasts. Take note of colour pallets, textures and patterns in nature, I think branching out into a different scene sometimes influences your work in ways you don’t even realise.
Stay sun safe – Take sunscreen, you’ll get burnt!
Clean up responsibly – try to resist the urge to pour your solvents or painty water into rivers, the sea or grassland if it seems convenient. Take your used liquids home, to a public toilet with a bin or pub with a bin and dispose of them there. Let’s not wreck nature as we absorb it eh?
(a trip to Iceland last September)
Making art outdoors, on public transport:
Small, neat materials – I say this is probably not the best place for paint! I would pick a few well-working materials eg: a fine liner pen, pastel and pencil. Any materials that can be put away and brought out very quickly with no fuss or odour. Choose medium to small sketchbooks too as I find the thought of carrying around big sketchbooks and loads of materials puts me off so much. The best times for sketching have been when I just happen to have a little book and pencil case to whip out and draw something.
Be swift when making art outdoors on trains, buses, in taxis etc. – I’m lucky in that my illustrative sketch work is very fast paced so a quick sketch of a few people I see and there’s enough content for a possible print. I think it’s a good exercise in quick life drawing and drawing with limited time.
Making art outdoors: Your Kit!
This watercolour art tin, super affordable and cute!
This rather tasty roll up brush kit is just a little bit special.
This metal travel tin is fascinating, I have a couple of friends who appreciates this as a gift too.
Aqua brush pens are a little bit of genius when it comes to transport.
These divine plain travel tins for soap, but fill with treasured crayons and pastels!
The pen sets at Cass Arts are great for transport too.
Where have you made artwork? I would love to hear stories of the places you’ve created artwork and how it affected your practice.