Looking at Landscapes

I love taking photographs of landscapes, but very rarely sketch ‘En plein air’ (which sounds very professional but actually means ‘outdoors’ in French).

no mans fort

As the nights draw in I thought I would use my photo references to inspire some sunnier day landscape sketches. It also helped me to think about techniques for creating depth in my work, and to plan ahead for getting out and about on the Island next year.

One of our biggest challenges when we draw or paint a landscape is that we are trying to capture the look and feel of  a 3-dimensional view onto a 2-dimensional piece of paper. And our view may be panoramic, breath-taking, filled with detail, overwhelming! – so where do we even begin?


I enjoy taking photos because I use the view finder on my camera to narrow down my choices and focus in on shape, colour or objects in the landscape that interest me. You can use a camera or a view finder when you are out and about to help you do the same. Don’t be overwhelmed by the outdoors: Select a section that interests you.

The Rule of Thirds

The ‘rule of thirds’ is a great tool to add balance and interest to your compositions, be they still-life, photographs or landscape drawings.


Imagine a grid is laid over your image; 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines spaced evenly apart so that your image is divided up into 9 equal size rectangles. By placing elements of interest on these lines, or where the lines intersect, you start to add balance and flow to your composition.

It’s a technique that artists have studied and employed since the 18th Century. You will find it in paintings, photographs and cinematography.

When you’re next looking at landscapes in a gallery, ask yourself; ‘Where is the horizon’? It might be in the top third of the picture with two thirds of the composition dedicated to rolling hills, grassland or even the sea (seascapes use the same technique). Or is it in the bottom third of the picture so you have two thirds of the painting dedicated to a dramatic sky? Wherever the artist has chosen to put it, they’ve done it for a reason and it will very rarely be placed halfway down the canvas.


When we look at the section of landscape that we want to draw we should notice that the things nearer to us are crisper and quite possibly darker. As the view recedes into the distance elements may get lighter and certainly less distinct. This is called ‘atmospheric perspective’. If you want to think about depth in your landscape artwork you can use different tonal values to suggest some areas are further away than others.

Landscape artists use these ideas to create a foreground, a mid-ground and a back-ground in their artwork. They may use a darker tone and detail to suggest clarity and ‘nearness’ in the foreground. Towards the background the pencil strokes might be lighter, softer and blended to accentuate loss of focus as we look into the distance.


All of my examples are based on my original photo of Ryde sands looking across The Solent towards Portsmouth (incorporating one of the Solent Forts) but hopefully these are principles that you can use to sketch or photograph outdoors and help you think about creating depth and interest in your landscape work.

I’ve also done a blog on Linear Perspective if you’d like to know more about the subject and want to think about adding buildings into your artwork.



Say ‘Hello’ To the Cowes Library Drawing Group! Saturday 14th September

Do you love drawing, or would you love to learn? Would you like to draw different objects every week in a wonderful Victorian setting? Would you like some guidance on how to improve your technique or to try out different materials? And are you partial to a biscuit, or two, with a hot drink and meeting like-minded people?

Our new ‘term’ starts on the 17th September 2019 but we thought it would be lovely if you wanted to pop in and meet us and see who we are and what we do.

Please feel free to visit us at Cowes library on the 14th September 2019 between 10.30 am and 12.30 pm. I’ll be there to introduce myself, answer any of your questions, show you the type of work that we do and perhaps even do a bit of sketching!


I love running the Cowes Library Drawing Group. From planning the sessions to watching the confidence of the participants grow week by week. If you’d like to know more about it then please pop in to say ‘hello’ on Saturday 14th Sept.


Inspiration not intimidation

There are so many great artists out there, do you ever feel ‘I’ll never be as good as that’? Do 100’s of images on all the social media platforms confirm to you that there really is no point in trying?

It’s easy to feel that way; intimidated rather than inspired. But all of those artists have their own creative challenges to overcome. And remember we tend to see the ‘finished/perfectly photographed’ item rather than the workings, bad sketches and off days.

Last year I started the ‘Couch to 5k’ running programme and I’ve decided that for me, learning to run is a bit like learning to draw.

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The Cowes Library Drawing Group – What have we got planned for summer?

I love drawing, always have. I love spending hours wrapped up in the gentle art of sketching, coaxing a likeness of your subject out on to paper. I draw to paint too. If you want to create accurate paintings it really helps if you’re coming from a robust foundation where you know that your subject is accurate at the start.

In the Cowes Library Drawing group we focus on observational drawing techniques. Observational drawing is about looking at your subject and drawing what you see, not what you think you see. In the sessions we look at ways to improve our hand/eye coordination, understand how light and shade shape our drawing and improve our accuracy from the beginning with plotting, measuring and negative spaces.

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Printmaking with lino

Lino-printing is a form of relief printing, which means that areas are carved away from the surface using a tool and the ink is rolled on to the raised area that remains. Paper is applied and pressed or ‘burnished’ and the raised area of your design creates the print. It derives from woodblock printing which was used in the Far East for the practical application of textile printing. It was also used for printing artwork onto paper.

I love lino-printing. I enjoy the old fashioned, hands-on feel of carving the design and then the inking and printing process. I hand-print on to Japanese paper burnishing the design with a wooden spoon. It’s a timeless practice to register a fresh, modern image.

Here’s a step by step guide of how I carved, inked and printed my ‘The Island’ design.

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The Cowes Library Drawing Group and the Shipwreck Centre

At the Cowes Library Drawing Group we explore different drawing ideas every week and use a variety of objects for our observational studies.

This term we have covered texture with teddy bears, colour theory with courgettes and the complexities of foreshortening, with tin cans (of course!) But this week we had the opportunity to combine all of these techniques and principles into sketching still-life studies using a collection of objects particularly relevant to our Isle Of Wight location.

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Life (Drawing) Lessons

I love teaching, but I love learning too.

I ask my students to step outside of their comfort zone on a weekly basis. I want them to stretch their artistic muscles and try new things. They might not like them, but they may just love them! Either way it helps to develop confidence with materials and techniques.

I felt that I needed to put myself in the same situation so I had empathy with their progress and think about what it’s like to try new things, be frustrated, be challenged and grow as an artist.

I’ve started to attend ‘Life Drawing’ sessions at Quay Arts. It’s been a long while since I’ve done life drawing, 20 years in fact, since I was at college. So knowing no-one, and armed with tiny paper and a stick of charcoal off I went.

I visit the ‘drop-in’ sessions on a Monday afternoon. The sessions are run by Nick Martin.  He is everything I hoped for in a tutor. Engaging, enthusiastic, challenging and constructively critical. The models are fantastic too, holding a mixture of long and short poses. By week two Nick has already pushed me to draw volume rather than line, create reductive charcoal drawings and think about Eastern and Western principles in art.

I’ve also met some like-minded people who I didn’t know before. And my paper, along with my confidence has got a lot lot bigger.

Life-drawing may not be your thing, but learning a new skill is a brilliant way to challenge yourself, meet new people and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Why not try something different for Autumn?