Plein air sketching in Shropshire

Earlier in the summer, I spent a happy weekend sketching in the sunshine in a glorious garden in Shropshire. 

Jeanne-Louise (in orange) on a garden wicker chair placed on a lawn sketching on her lap

^ Thanks to my clients for the photo of me at work in their gorgeous garden.

I’d been commissioned to create a painting of a house for a couple I know through dancing. It’s an honour to be asked to undertake such a personal project. Our homes are our sanctuaries so it’s essential to convey the emotional timbre of the subject and not just its proportions. To me, it was essential to visit the property to soak up the atmosphere and really get a feel for the home I was to paint.

Working on site for this kind of a project was an absolute treat. My hosts are lovely and exceptionally hospitable. It felt like I was on a little mini-break! Lucky me. Visiting them was a personal delight, of course, but also very advantageous for shaping the direction of the project. It gave us a chance to discuss different angles and compositions and identify which features of the property were important to both of them. In addition to some of the distinctive architectural features of their beautifully converted barn, the view across to the hills behind the house was important to them. They were proud of their garden but said “not too much grass” in the foreground. We were able to work together to explore different vantage points, using my phone camera to capture and explore the angles we agreed might work best.  

We were also able to discuss where they might hang the painting. Before my visit, they’d suggested a smaller size but once they’d had a chance to consider where they might hang the painting opted for a larger size. It was useful to see the wall and consider the light and adjacent artwork. It’s very useful to gain firsthand insight into the hanging space as well as the clients’ tastes and existing decor. Familiarity with all of these environmental factors makes it easier to feel more confident about all the little creative decisions that go into a new project.

The hardest part of working on site is having your creative process a little exposed. To get the feel for a new subject, I have to do lots and lots of really bad rapid drawings. These look terrible and it’s easy to give in to the worry that you’re going to undermine your client’s confidence in you when you’re churning out clunky scribbles. But at the same time, it’s also good to be sure enough of one’s creative process to know that this is just a necessary part of the journey and that you’ll get there once you’ve got the bad sketches out. Nevertheless, I did feel somewhat relieved when after a good night’s sleep I’d been able to distill my observations and could sketch more convincingly the next day. Incubation time is an essential part of my creative process. 

I worked mostly in brush pen at the outset. This enabled me to sketch rapidly and focus on feeling the subject rather than getting it “right”. The house has unusual proportions so it might’ve been easier to sketch on a panoramic format rather than the C6 postcard, A5 and A4 stocks I had brought with me.

I also created lots of pencil crayon sketches, especially as I began to focus more on some of the architectural and garden details. And as the light was different the next morning, I was able to pay attention to different details and textures, especially in the brickwork and roof, that the afternoon light had previously flattened out.

While on site, I created approximately 15 brush pen sketches, 2 watercolour sketches, 8 pencil crayon sketches. Of these, 3 were decent enough that I would consider them sketches rather than roughs. I've included these below. 

Set of 3 sketches of house and garden, one A4 and two postcard size

I've also given these 3 to the clients as a complimentary gift to go with their painting. Keep an eye out for my next blog in which I share the painting process that followed and, of course, the final creation.


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