Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sketching on the road ~ Elizabeth Smith

We had to travel from Florida to Alabama a couple of days ago, and to while away the hours as a passenger (9 of them!),  I did  some sketching and painting in the car.

Now, picture the scenery flashing by and the challenges of capturing a semblance of it!  My first tries were not very effective, but as I fell into a flow of observation and a combination of gesture and contour drawing, I made some progress.  I found myself remembering the large shapes and referring to similar landscape details to fill in.

What resulted were composite sketches and memory drawings.  I feel that these exercises really strengthened the way I looked at things.  That was my focus, rather than the resulting drawing.  I used a kind of "wandering pen" line, searching out shapes, textures, and values.

As we traveled from south to north, I found myself noticing subtle changes in the land and the foliage - things I had seen before, but now I connected to them more deeply.  I also found myself being more aware of the interaction of time, weather and distance as I wrote down details. 

When we stopped for gas, I had a little more time to sketch an oak tree (the sketch at the top of the drawing).  The sketch at the bottom turned into a composite of several majestic oak trees hung with Spanish moss that occasionally lined the highway.  When stopped at a rest area, I was able to collect a twig and leaves for detailed study. 

I know this type of sketching might not be enjoyable for everyone, but for me it was a wonderful chance to keep my hand in.  These were sketched with a Pitt artist pen (XS size) in my Aquabee sketchbook (6x9 inches).

~  Elizabeth Smith, Naples, Florida, USA  (on the way to Alabama!)


  1. These sketches turned out wonderfully. This is an exercise I have been attempting to do of late as well,so glad you posted them!

  2. Thanks so much, Margo! I'd like to hear about and see your results.

  3. Oh my! I haven't seen a Live Oak since the last time I was in Texas many years ago. I love them and yours brings back fond memories. I also love the idea of sketching as you travel, and you've done it beautifully.

  4. Lovely sketches, Elizabeth. The connection to the land as you travel is greatly enhanced, as you have said, by sketching. This reminds me of an old African proverb, "Sometimes one must stop and sit by the roadside, and wait for the soul to catch up." In this fast-track life, sketching while traveling in a car, train, or airplane keeps us rooted to our actual experience of crossing land, allowing our perceptions to register flora and fauna, geography, and the flavors of human influence. I recently sketched the Grand Canyon on a flight, and had to capture it in about 30 seconds, as fast as the plane went over it. I found the gesture and contour drawing was most effective, as well, and never looked down at my sketchbook during the whole time, but kept my eye on the contours of the land.

  5. Thank you Mary O! Live oaks are one of my favorite trees.

    Maria, I love the way your words describe the feelings I had while sketching. The proverb is especially appropriate - we had days filled with so much input and there wasn't time to process it all. Drawing the natural world around me helped to keep me grounded in many ways. I wish I had time to reflect on it all right here! The Grand Canyon in 30 seconds! How intent you must have been...and how wonderful that that connection is part of you now. :)

  6. Your car skeches are great. I often sketch while my husband drives. Sometimes I see a composition or an idea I especially like. More often I do a series of similiar subjects, i.e. capture a variety of barns, or fense posts, or junipers. It is a great way to focus on differences along with similarities.

  7. Elva - that's it exactly: it was so interesting to examine the differences as well as the similarities. Your words also inspire me to try thumbnails of different compositions next time!


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