That's what my first 2010 outside sketching adventure felt like this past weekend--fumbling.
On the ground, nearly eye level with Virginia Bluebells, Bluets and some kind of unsavory large orange ants, I created a pencil sketch of the bluebells before retreating to a nearby stump to continue sketching.
I learn so much each time I try sketching outdoors--lessons in organization, coordination, focus, to name a few, and let's don't leave out memory or personality insights.
I forgot my water container. And nope, there was no paper towel or tissue to soak up excess water from my juiciest of brushes. But I did bring water in a small bottle and this served as a container. It wasn't like I was miles away from the forgotten supplies, but I treated this experience just as if I were far away. There's no better way to impress the memory.
We were having a low 80's day with no leaves yet on our budding trees. More than an hour into my sketching, the late afternoon sun became uncomfortable and I dropped my paint brush. Now, dropping a paint brush isn't normally a big deal. It's not unusual for me to flip the brush out of my hand at least once while sketching. But when I retrieved it this time, it was coated with clumps of muddy earth. That was it! I retreated back to the predictability of my kitchen.
Plein air still feels overwhelming to me at the moment. But want-to is all that's needed to get through this and that, I have plenty of. A few challenges seem obvious, like having the right tools on hand, finding a comfortable place to work, making a decision about just what out of all this wonderful nature you will choose for a subject. Practice, of course, will do its magic on these.
And what you learn on these small adventures about sketching and yourself, far out weighs the awkwardness of the moment. For example, I noticed I hurry when I feel uneasy but my natural style is to take my time. I'll be aware and remember to breathe next time. And the size of my initial bluebell sketch didn't lend itself to the kind of detail I enjoy, especially with the size brush I had on hand. So I'll pack a smaller brush in my kit and remember that ink and graphite are other possibilities for this detail. My goal is to enjoy both the effort and the result.
It's a bit like learning an entirely different skill set. No one can teach this to you any more than another person can teach you your style. It's for you to explore and discover. What you see, how you express it, and how you decide to put it all together will be all your own. And in the outdoors with nature, the possibilities for this are endless!
For a brief and interesting history lesson on the term and the factors that began the en plein air movement, visit this Wiki link. You may also enjoy seeing other sketchbook pages at Vickie Henderson Art, and my Red Shouldered Hawk sketchbook.
For other fun styles and sketching experiences visit these blogs: Drawing the Motmot, Sketching in Nature and South Carolina Low Country Nature Journaling and Art.