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.



Creating a Repeat Pattern


If you enjoy illustrating and you would like to try something a little different, why not have a rifle through your sketchbook for some lost or forgotten sketches and create a repeat pattern of your own design?

I’ve laid out some step-by-step images for you below based on a square design I did. The images show you how to create a ‘half-drop’ pattern (which means your pattern will repeat diagonally down the page, just like wallpaper does!)


Step One

I started off by drawing a stylised piece of lichen that I picked up from a lovely Isle Of Wight Autumnal walk along the Medina River.

I drew it in a square box 10cm x 10cm and then photocopied it so I’ve got the original still in my sketchbook.


Step Two

I cut my photocopied design into 4 equal pieces (It’s very important that they are all the same size).

I measured and cut straight down, and across the middle. (I have numbered the squares to show you the process)


Step Three

I reassembled the pieces into the new configuration below (see how the numbers have moved across; squares 1 and 3 are now on the right and squares 4 and 2 have been swapped and moved across to the left). When your squares look like this, sellotape the back of your ‘new’ tile design.

This is the basis for your ‘half-drop’ repeat pattern.

Photocopy your new tile several times.


Step Four

Cut your new tiles out, ensuring they are exactly the same size as your original (in this instance 10cm x 10cm) and line them up next to each other as I have done below. You *should* get a seamless repeat of your design. If not, have another go double-checking your measurements.


Step Five

If you loved it you can run with it! How about adding a new drawing into the gaps at Step Three? (see below for my design ideas to take my pattern forward).

You can use a different size tile, what about a rectangular one? As long as your 4 pieces are equal in size at step two then it should work just as well (e.g. a 10cm x 8cm rectangle will cut down into 4 equal rectangles of 5cm x 4cm)

Have you tried lino-printing? How about carving a lino block with your template tile at Step Three and printing your design onto fabric?! What about a bag, a scarf, or metres of plain material ready to make a ‘one-of-a-kind’ garment? I’m always running lino-printing workshops across the Island if you would like to join me.

Did you know that you can sell your designs on various websites? If you love designing patterns you can visit on-line sites like Spoonflower or Tilt to upload them on to items that will be ‘beautiful or useful’ for you and your home. Wouldn’t William Morris be proud?

Let me know how you get on.



Here’s some photos of my lino-block carving in progress and how the repeat works when I printed it up. I think it would make great wrapping paper. Perhaps you could substitute the lichen concept for snowflakes and create your own festive, recyclable wrapping and tags?!


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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Finding Stillness – Life Modelling

The nude is ubiquitous in Western Art. Frequently a ‘she’, she is found in paintings, sketches, sculptures, photography and mixed media work from the Renaissance to present day. The Artist has tended to be a man – and the main focus – but I think it’s always interesting to ask the question, ‘who was that sitter? Why were they chosen? And how did they feel?’ You might be surprised how it makes you think about and engage with the artwork.

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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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Tonal Values – eggs exercise

One of the biggest challenges in drawing is to take a three dimensional object and give it depth and form on a flat piece of paper.

Observing the areas of light and dark in your subject and understanding the ‘tonal values’ in between can really help you capture realism and depth.

‘Value’ is a term that refers to the lightness and darkness of a colour. It is really useful to practice sketching ‘value’ studies where you are using only pencil or charcoal so you can see how light, and the absence of it, effects the objects you sketch. In the Cowes Library Drawing Group on Thursday we looked at eggs, how light falls across them and how we can use our pencil to capture those changes on paper and make them look three-dimensional.

“When we draw we want to mimic the way light falls on form to create the illusion of three dimensionality”  The Drawing Source

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Drawing Eric

Eric has been with me for a number of years now. He’s looking a little ‘lived-in’. I love drawing him though. He’s great for exercising my observational drawing muscles, even if he is severely lacking in that department himself.

Here’s a blog post I wrote a few years ago on how to go about sketching him. I work in a quite traditional way so I think the process is still relevant.

And here’s the man himself, and his latest 2019 incarnation,



drawing workshop notes-1drawing workshop notes-2drawing workshop notes-3

Thoughts on… Perspective

We touched on perspective in the Cowes Library Drawing Group last week. Just touched on it. You can research thousands of articles and review mathematical equations to help you with the depth, width and height of objects in the drawing, or you can ask yourself the following question to get you thinking about it.

 “I’m trying to draw things that are near and far from where I am, and I need to think about how I can represent that on this flat piece of paper”…

Artists use two types of perspective to help solve that problem: Linear perspective and Atmospheric perspective.

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