Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sissinghurst - and tips for time limited sketches

This is about sketching a view of the Cottage Garden at Sissinghurst and shows you my 'before' and 'after' versions of the same sketch. It also provides some tips for sketching within a time limit.

an early August evening in the Cottage Garden at Sissinghurst
11.5" x 17", pencil and coloured pencils in Daler Rowney black hardback sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This particular sketch was done right at the end of a trip to Sissinghurst in August. "He who must not be bored while I sketch" read his book sat in the chair outside the cottage while I sat on the doorstep. I also tried out my latest addition to my sketching toolkit which I'd bought earlier at the shop. This is a foam kneeling pad for gardeners. It fits neatly inside my backpack and makes a perfect lightweight pad for use when wanting to sit on the ground to sketch.

The sketch at the top is how it ended up - it's a sketch of an early August evening which means lots of lovely shadows and a warm quality to the light. I love sketching in the early evening and do it a lot as places often look much better than in the middle of the day.

However in this instance it was the end of the day and consequently I was very limited by how much time was left before the garden closed at 6.30pm - and below is how far I got while still in the garden. Below I'll tell you what I do if time for sketching is limited - and what I did to help me finish this sketch back at home.

work in progress - an early August evening in the Cottage Garden at Sissinghurst
11.5" x 17", pencil and coloured pencils in Daler Rowney black hardback sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Tips for time limited sketches - and how to complete them

I start a lot of sketches - but don't always finish them. Some are rubbish, don't deserve to be finished and never see the light of day again!

However other sketches are only starts because I'm working within a time limit and consequently cannot finish them properly. I can finish promising sketches back at home if I make sure I do a few things - which I'm sharing with you below.

If you have limited time to sketch here's an overview of some tips:
  • PRACTICE doing short sketches - if you do a lot of sketches where you only allow yourself (say) 10-15 minutes then you soon get an idea of how much you can get done in that time period. Plus if you practice you speed up a lot as you begin to understand the possible shortcuts. (You can read more about this in my sketching class exercise Sketching for Real - so you want to learn how to sketch...... )
  • the four most important lines: deciding just how much to draw is very important. You can carry a viewfinder - or use the viewfinder on your camera to work out what works for you. Some people just extract small slivers of a view if working quickly. I'm more likely to 'go large' as this means I have to simplify more. There's no right answer except what works best for you. It's worth experimenting to find out how much you can get down in just 10-15 minutes. (see also Making a Mark: Composition - the four most important lines)
  • contour drawing - shapes and lines: focus on drawing in the big shapes and getting the junctions between important lines/shapes right. Forget about the details - there are more important things to do! I tend to look for the 'big' verticals and horizontals and any important diagonals eg any lines which lead the eye into the picture.
  • sample what the photo can't give you: if you're also taking a photograph, you can use that to review your drawing of lines and shapes but it'll be useless for values (it will have a higher degree of contrast) and colours (cameras often distort natural hues - partly because of the values issue)
  • focus on the value pattern: I always try to focus on getting the overall value pattern down. What I aim for is an expanded 'thumbnail sketch' which indicates why I was attracted to this view. You don't even have to draw all of it so long as you've got a sense of the contrast. In this example, you can see where I completed the value on the background Irish yew on the right and did a patch of the foreground Yew on the left. I also made sure I drew in and captured the light acid yellow green colour of the sunlight hitting the rim of the yew. (see also Making a Mark: Composition - why tonal values and contrast are important)
  • sample the colours: if you sketch a lot there comes a point when you don't need to record colours anymore for some of your subject matter - if you've drawn it many times before from life you know what the colour is! A good reason for recording it is if it was different. In this instance the sky was a normal summer blue sky - hence no blue got recorded in the sketch! However I wanted to try and get a sample of the rim lighting on the yew and the yellows and reds of the flowers. I always do the best I can with whatever coloured pencils I have available and try optical mixes of different pencils I don't have the right colour pencil. ()
  • get the rest of the colours down ASAP: If you do a lot of sketching and train your brain to observe, name and record colour then it's possible to do memory sketches - so long as you get the colour down fast. I find I've got to be very careful about this if I'm doing a day's sketching as all the colours in the different images can get mixed up in my memory. I find that my best bet for colour sketching from memory is always the last sketch of the day - as this was.
While I printed off a photo to check my proportions and shapes, I used my colour memory to complete this sketch and capture the early evening light. I think it worked quite well for the most part. There are bits I'd like to improve on and I may well have a go at working this one up info a more formal drawing.

Below you can find some links which provide helpful information if you want to draw or paint gardens and/or visit Sissinghurst. Plus links to previous sketches at Sissinghurst.

Do you have any tips for:
  • sketching within a time limit?
  • sketching from colour memory?


  1. great post K, and thanks for the links, you are fast becoming my top place for resorse links! As you know, I like gardens too, love Sissinghurst, used to go with my garden obsessed parents when I was a kid

  2. Gorgeous result, Katherine. I love the way you have the late afternoon sunlight striking the pot between the trees.

    Also great to see the anatomy of one of your coloured pencil landscapes. Great tips. I'm afraid I don't have any. My experience of only a short time to make a sketch is 'panic!'.

  3. Wonderful post. I thought about your blog this week when a photog from Organic Gardening asked if I had sketches of my garden and could he take a photo for the magazine. Well....sort of...and I found myself wishing my very messy garden book, that mostly consists of lists of plants and drawings my son did when young and bored at the plant nursery, looked more like your beautiful sketchbook.

  4. Thank you for this. I'm reminded to work on values.


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