“Happy mistakes” while travelsketching

Time, logistics, and the weather all add to the challenge of travelsketching. For a variety of reasons we do not always get to sit on a comfortable bench on a sunny day, with unlimited time to produce a work of art. So what is one to do? Here are a few thoughts on how to make it better.

Travelsketching is about capturing the moment, actually being a part of a time and place; creating something on paper, or iPad, that that will bring back the memories and emotions of the moment when you look at it in the future. Often the result is a quite nice piece of artwork, but often the results are a bit rough – the unpolished works actually can trigger the best memories though.

Here is a sketch I did yesterday at Château de Fougères. Tricia was off taking photos for her blog, there were school children on field trips, and the sky was a bit ominous. I found a view that represented the castle – flowers, an old stone wall, spires, and a section that was crumbling.

First off there was no place to sit, I was standing on a sloped part of the garden in grass almost to my knees. Then the real fun began when it started to rain a bit, which produced what Bob Ross would call, “happy accidents.”

When I am sketching quickly I most always start with my fountain pen. If time runs out I have the images down and can then add color later, either from memory or a photo. As I was starting to work on the right side of the wall a few rain drops began to fall, they hit the ink with perfect aim – the black dots are the results. The spires and the crumbling fortress also bear the marks of the rain.

I gave it a couple of minutes to dry, the ink that is, while I got my watercolor out. The rain added a wonderful wet-on-wet effect to the tall plants that actually look pretty good. I added a bit of shading, and darkened some of the ink lines at the cafe where we went for lunch, in the end I quite like it – more abstract or impressionistic than normal, yet when I look at it today it is easy to feel the rain drops and the breeze.

A few weeks ago we went to Château de Lassay, we ended up on guided tour; limits to our parler français also produce “happy accidents” at times. This meant I had to sketch while standing, even walking. So again my TWSBI fountain pen was the tool for the moment – added a bit of color at home.

Another technique I have learned recently is to use a cool gray marker for the initial sketch, then add ink over that and call it done. The gray marker forces quick non-detailed rendering, and it adds a bit of shading. I did this in Ceaucé, the village closest to us, while having un café. After the ink I added a bit more of the marker in the darkest areas.

One caution about markers: some will soak through the paper, even pretty heavy stock. I love Windsor Newton, but they are the worst, I think they are alcohol based, but am not sure. I had better luck with COPIC, but even they bled more than I liked. I have ordered some watercolor based brush markers in cool grays that are due to be delivered next week, hoping for good results.

What I like about the marker and pen combo is that I can stick a marker, a pen and my small sketchbook in my pocket and do some quick and nice capturing of moments.

Hope you are sketching wherever your travels may lead you, enjoy the happy mistakes, Bob Ross had it right.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. David Buehler says:

    I like it. I love the inclusion of the photos along with the sketches.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tricia takes the photos, I usually just take photos for things I want to sketch one day. So I do use hers every now and then.


  2. Shirley says:

    I just LOVED this posting. It was just like taking a Travel Sketching class. So interesting, too. You’ve been an artist for such a long time, but this posting shows that the creative process sometimes has “happy” surprises. This was a pleasure to read….and to look at!


    1. Thanks. I am going to do more on technique ideas. You might like the gray marker first idea. I have done that and then put watercolor over it, shading is done for you by the marker.


  3. elissbaker says:

    This is a great post, Travelsketcher. Your writing style (sharing detailed tips), and beautiful works make me want to travel sketch. Love your sketch of Chateau Fougeres. I want to go back!


  4. Christie says:

    I love your sketches. I try occasionally using pencils, but.. I should do it more often😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What I learned at my workshops is that anyone can produce a serviceable travelsketch, it may not hang in the Louvre, but it will work in your journal. So keep trying. I am not a fan of starting with pencils as we tend to want perfection and use erasures. I taught folks to layout the general shapes with watercolor, let it dry then add a few details over the top with a micron pen. If you would like, send me a message and I will send you a pdf of my book on travelsketching, free.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Christie says:

        I like watercolours, thank you for the tips. My dauther daunted me years ago, but never had enough time😉 always wondered if the watercolours should go first, or the pen🤔 one day I wil definetely try!! If you want to share your book, I would love to see it, I’m on my way home today, and will check it out the following days.
        Have a beautiful day!


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