Sunday, March 24, 2024

First Tips for using a Sketchbook

While sorting out my sketchbooks - as in finally getting round to labelling them with years and contents, I came across my very first sketchbook as an adult.

In it were some tips from Paul Millichip 1929-2018 about "using a sketchbook" which he very much advocated. In fact it's probably true to say he was the person who started me using a sketchbook properly

So I'm passing them on.....

The context is I signed up for his two week course on painting in Goa India in December 1993 - and a pre-holiday course in September at his studio in Buckinghamshire which was focused on sketching and using a sketchbook, so we'd get the most out of time on our trip to Goa.
(Note: I was very focused in being efficient in how I worked. I'd just started as a management consultant with KPMG and was very focused on performance improvement! Curious how your main job can influence how you approach your art...)

First the notes, then one of my sketches from Goa that I was rather pleased with and then some notes about a couple of books he wrote. Anybody who thinks they look interesting should be able to pick up second hand for next to nothing on the internet. Although I rather suspect, most owners are hanging on to their copies!

Using a Sketchbook

Think of a sketchbook as a tool - a means to an end

When starting to sketch, focus on what interests you - and state it straightaway e.g.

  • dark against light
  • dynamic
  • vertical against horizontal
  • look for the source of light
  • light from the side or from behind creates interest
  • stare at subject 
  • look at blank page - see ghost of subject
  • put down measuring points

Use your sketchbook to make notes:

  • written notes
  • colour notes - particularly relating to light
  • if a sketch is going to yield useful information, it probably needs fairly careful drawing

If sketching:

  • people - try to sketch a moment
  • group of buildings:
    • look for the line the buildings make against the sky
    • look at overall shapes (the "big shapes")
    • do NOT get distracted by drawing individual buildings
    • focus on the big shapes first - and include negative spaces
  • try a large object in the foreground
  • sometimes useful to sketch on a theme
(He was a good teacher and I was unconsciously using these tips for years afterwards.)

Baga Beach, Goa (1993) by Katherine Tyrrell
An example of how thick cloud in a tropical place
completely mutes all light, colour, tone and shadows.
This is also my very first watercolour sketch of a boat, a sandy beach and a wave!

If you have no colours/paints with you:

  • you need a formula e.g. use initials for paint colours
  • you need to make notes

Using watercolours:

  • these are a good way to get figures down fast
  • create a figure shaped blot, then work into the blot with a graphite pencil
  • practice putting figures down quickly
(I was still trying to paint with watercolours at the time. This was before I realised that what I actually like is line and dry media!)

Useful Kit:

  • have a study elastic band to hold the page of your sketchbook in place while you sketch (i.e. avoid the flapping / not lying flat)
  • Use 3B pencil
  • Try 'Bank' paper:
    • the pencil moves very fast over a smooth surface
    • good for coloured pencils
    • BUT it won't take watercolour well
(Note: For years after this initial weekend, I used Daler Rowney Sketchbooks with the black hardback covers, ivory coloured supersmooth bank paper and perforated pages - so pages could be removed easily to work with later without needing to stress the sketchbook)

Painting Light and Shade

Painting Light and Shade (June 1994 Batsford) is the first book I bought by Paul Millichip. It was published in 1994, after my course with him in December 1993. (At this point I wave to Lise Nilsen in Norway who I'm still friends with from that course)

It includes paintings of Calangute and Baga Beach where we were in Goa, although I suspect these came from an earlier trip when they researched the area. I think we saw some of the drafts for the book when we visited his studio in Buckinghamshire before the trip

This is very much NOT a conventional "how to paint" book. It's pretty much like the course. Plenty of pointers plus a big emphasis on teaching us "how to look" and "how to record", and NOT how to paint. Which suited me! :)

What it's excellent for is demonstrating very clearly how the location of place, the type of light and the type of shade vary enormously between different places.
The world can never look the same again once you become a painter. A painter's way of seeing sharpens, broadens and deepens perception so that, however skilful or otherwise your painting may be, an increased awareness of the quality of your vision is the real bonus that painting prings.
The start of the Introduction to the Book - and there's more in the same vein in the rest of it. 


The Travelling Painter

The Travelling Painter (1990) is another book he wrote - specifically for those who want to be able sketch and paint on their travels. 

About Paul Millichip 

Painter, printmaker and teacher, born in Harrow, Middlesex. Studied at Harrow and Leeds and then Leeds College of Art, 1948–50, where his teachers included Maurice de Sausmarez, then at Brighton College of Art, 1952–54, with George Hooper; at Leeds he won a travelling scholarship. Went on to teach for some years at Great Yarmouth School of Art. Showed at Gallery One, with Young Contemporaries, LG, Daily Express Young Artists Exhibition and elsewhere. In 2001–2, was included in The Silbury Group of Artists’ 10th Anniversary Exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery. Arts Council; Doncaster, Durham County and Leicester Museums; Victoria & Albert Museum; corporate and other collections hold examples. Lived in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
Text source: ART UK and  'Artists in Britain Since 1945' by David Buckman (Art Dictionaries Ltd, part of Sansom & Company)

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