Next year we have a new venue and a different approach to working on site. I've noticed over the years that the more I use my sketchbook with my students en plein air the more they seem to get out of the experience. In June I took a group of 12 adventurous painters to Tuscany and from the first demo I worked mainly in my sketchbook stressing the ease of which the set up is to carry for a whole day of painting and the number of images you can capture in a short time. I love painting at the easel and will certainly be doing some demos there but my true passion is the sketchbook. It is my place of joy, observation, solace, and exploration. The more I work there the more my studio painting loosens up.
Those of you who have painted with me before understand first hand how much I believe the sketchbook is the perfect instrument for allowing your creative instincts to flourish. A sketch is just that. A quick observation of a moment in time that you will keep with you as long as you follow my rules of never taking a page out of your book. A sketch doesn't have the added baggage of possibly being framed or sent to some juror to ponder it's merits. It's yours and you choose who and when you share it. Too often when painting in the field I see people disappointed in their efforts. I know. I've been there. You haul your easel and kit all over creation and then carefully tape down the paper, study your subject, and then everything goes south. I believe a better way to travel is less stress and more exploration. It is amazing how much of a city you can see with just a book, a couple of pencils, a travel palette, and a brush. My first demonstration in Italy this year was to take my full plein air kit and let everyone give it a heft. Then I took only the necessary items I needed to work with the sketchbook and put that in my day bag and let the students see the difference. It is significant to say the least. The light weight set up allows you to go much longer and with much more comfort. It also allows for a bit of extra space should you find a little memento you'd like to take home with you as you wander the streets taking in a new city.
I find the surest way to ruin a painting is to allow it to become precious before it deserves even the slightest accolade. The art of keeping a sketchbook allows you to begin to shed those preconceived ideas of what your work on site should look like. You can spend 15 minutes warming up and doing little vignettes then begin to explore where you are in much more detail. The object of sketching a new place is not the outcome but the experience of sitting still amid the rush of tourists snapping photos and buying overpriced t shirts. Listening to the locals. Smelling glorious wafts of baking bread or simply a glass of wine and a table to draw with a view. You get to know "place" on a much higher level and that practice in itself begins to instill a confidence that will serve you better than any other practice I can think of.
My group in Italy and most recently near Cape Cod with the New England Watercolor Society got the full experience and there were more smiles and laughter than I've seen in a while when painting outside. The Aperol spritz in Tuscany may have helped there.
If you are interested in joining us please contact Jackie Grandchamps of French Escapade. This will be my 5th tour with her and there's a reason I keep coming back to work with this excellent tour organizer. The itinerary is exceedingly well researched, the accommodations stunning, the locations as good as it gets, and the food and wine in France speaks for itself. Here are the contacts and a few other sketches from our trip this year.