This is part two of my mini series on pencil drawing. Part one was about the materials I use. You can read it here.
In this post I’m going to talk about the inspiration for my drawings and how I record it so I can use it in my work. I find it easy to be inspired, but the challenge is to collect the inspiration in ways that are useful when you are back in the studio.
My immediate environment is the thing that inspires me – the countryside we live in – the fields, hedgerows, woodlands, gardens and rivers and their inhabitants. I try to notice the details in the world around me. A few of my favourite things are: the silhouettes of trees in winter, autumn colours, bees, grasshoppers, seed heads, misty mornings, reflections on water, frost on a leaf. These things delight me and make my heart sing.
Photos and sketches
We have a very big and boisterous poodle called Buddy. He’s getting older now (almost 8!) but we still have to get him out for a couple of decent runs every day. He’s not the most helpful for wildlife spotting (there are definitely otters on the river here but we shall certainly never see them with Buddy with us) but he does get me out whatever the weather and I do see all sorts of lovely sights while out with him. It is often the least-promising days on which you’d really rather stay indoors and have a cuppa that you see something that inspires. I always take a camera with me, and sometimes my sketchbook too. I take lots of pictures and then do more research and make notes and sketches when I get home (I also like to bring my finds home with me. I’ve had a mallard feather on my car dashboard for 18 months). By doing this I build up a good library of reference material.
One of the questions I get asked the most is whether I work from photographs. The simple answer is yes. I do quick drawings in my sketchbook but my developed drawings are very detailed and for them I use photographs. I often combine several different photographs to build the image that I’m trying to achieve. That’s why it is good to have a big library of images to draw from. I save the photographs in different ways – by date and in categories like ‘spring’ or ‘the woodland’. This library of images means that I’m never short of ideas for drawings, in fact I have too many ideas and too little time to develop them.
I do find that regular sketchbook work is a good discipline to have. It keeps things fresher and allows a little more experimentation than working on a more formal scale. I use my sketchbooks as a sort of diary – both personal notes about life in general and observations about the natural world. This year I decided to keep a sketch-diary about two horse chestnut trees in the woodland where our house is. I’m very much enjoying paying attention to how their year develops.
Books and magazines
I’m always reading books and magazines about the natural world. I try to learn as much as possible about wildlife – I’m gradually building a working knowledge which informs my drawings. I’m by no means an authority on birds or wildlife, but I have a genuine passion for learning. I’m building a little collection of memoirs and books about nature, mostly bought second-hand whenever I get a chance. I collect notes from these and cuttings from magazines in my sketchbooks. There seems to have been a human need to record the changes in the world around us since we had the means to. There’s something about the changes of the seasons that inspires humans to make notes (or to press flowers or collect eggs).
I find that drawing something is a wonderful way to learn about it. Drawing in pencil is quite a slow process so it gives you time to get to know your subject.
I often find that a drawing has been in my head for a while. I wait until I have the reference material I need to draw from and then try to piece it together as I imagined it. That was the case with this drawing of fungi that I have been working on during lock-down. It is compiled from three separate pieces of reference material – two of my photographs of fungi in the woodland and the image of the mouse is from a book. It is now finished and waiting for my printers to re-open so I can have it scanned!
Have I inspired you to get sketching and recording? You can find a range of sketchbooks in my online shop!
I’ll be back shortly with my next post which will be about pencil drawing techniques!
Take care! #stayhomeanddraw