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A Different Approach to Plein Air

September 3, 2015
location sketch 1a


I’ve been interested for some time in a group called Urban Sketchers. It’s an international organization of people who sketch outdoors, using any media of their choice. I have fallen in love with the pen-and-ink and watercolor sketches that many of them do. From what I’ve seen, there are local chapters in cities all over the world, and they welcome sketchers at all levels of experience and expertise, from beginners to professional illustrators.  So… I’ve spent the last couple of mornings right outside my door, sketching what’s right in front of me. Since I love pen and ink, and have been experimenting with watercolor, I decided to just take a very loose, almost illustrative approach. There is a freshness that makes these just plain fun to look at.

location sketch2a

Home, Sweet Home

When Nell and I originally talked about living and travelling fulltime in an RV, the intent was to visit new places, and paint and sketch what we saw. Because we focused more on travelling, I tended to take lots of photographs, then used them as references for paintings when we were sitting still. That was only part of my original intent. I also envisioned sitting in interesting places – parks, monuments, sidewalk cafes, markets – and with a coffee or soft drink at my elbow, sketching the passing scenes as a record of where we had been and what we had seen.

That’s exactly what Urban Sketching is all about. While I focused on landscape paintings, I could also have been doing these little vignettes of old buildings, street scenes, and yes, even landscapes. I want to revive that intent, so I’m starting right here at my own doorstep. Then, hopefully, I’ll carry my sketching bag and a folding chair and work my way around the RV park, and also down at the river. From there, I just may meet up with the local chapter of Urban Sketchers in nearby Austin, Texas, and see how it works.

I’ve seldom been completely comfortable, or confident, when painting outdoors, especially around other people. It occurs to me that I just may find my niche in the plein air world with pencil, pen and watercolor. This is a completely different genre, and while I still need practice, it’s one I’m very comfortable with.

Stay tuned.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Gordon permalink
    September 3, 2015 2:58 pm

    I like the sketch…it does feel different and is compelling. Nice work, Ralph!

  2. Catherine Hensiek permalink
    September 3, 2015 3:16 pm

    Ralph, I belong to a sketch group and find it really useful to spend time with the group. It helps with that nervous feeling and I pick up ideas for techniques and materials. I love your sketch and you just reminded me that I need to get outdoors today and do some sketching myself!

  3. Pleinguy permalink
    September 15, 2015 7:54 pm

    I really like this sketchy and loose work. It provides excitement you don’t find in more finished paintings. It will get more comfortable with time. Thanks for sharing.

    • September 20, 2015 8:48 am

      Thanks Pg. I think, once I spend more time with it, that I’m going to really enjoy working this way.

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