Time Out for Art: The Difference a Pencil Can Make

Being in a beautiful garden makes me want to capture the scene on paper!  Last weekend I participated in an art show at Historic London Town and Gardens, a county park south of Annapolis, Maryland.  As we were setting up the show, I looked outside and was enthralled by the sun hitting the gazebo in the gardens.  So after I had finished my chores, I took some time to go out and paint.  As I sat down to sketch out the scene, I found to my dismay that I had forgotten a pencil. Instead of going back inside to get one, I decided that I would just paint directly without drawing first.

London Town Gazebo, watercolor, 5" x 7"
London Town Gazebo, watercolor, 5″ x 7″

I don’t remember why I stopped before I had finished the painting.  There aren’t any shadowed spots in the overhead leaves and the small tree in front of the gazebo doesn’t have a trunk or branches.  I remember not being happy with the depiction of the sun on the wood or the roof of the gazebo, but liking the feeling of spontaneity conveyed.

I made sure to bring a pencil the next day and managed to get a sketch done outside before it started to rain.  (I have enhanced the drawing with a photo editor so that you can see the lines, as I usually draw lightly on the watercolor paper.)

Sketch for Londontown Gazebo, pencil, 5" x 7"
Sketch for London Town Gazebo, pencil, 5″ x 7″

Several days later I painted this picture in my studio, using the first painting and my memory as references.

London Town Gazebo #2, watercolor, 5" x 7"
London Town Gazebo #2, watercolor, 5″ x 7″

So what difference does a pencil make?  It helps me plan before I start painting.  I can save light spaces better if I delineate them first. A pencil sketch lets me see the composition before I start painting, and allows me to measure elements for their relative sizes.  Maybe with more experience I could do it without the pencil, but for now, I rely on it to sketch.




13 thoughts on “Time Out for Art: The Difference a Pencil Can Make

  1. I like the brightness of the first one a lot, but given enough time to complete, you probably would have darkened it.
    I like the second one, though, because it looks like your work and reminds me of you–makes me smile.

    • Katharine, you are always so kind, and you are getting to know me well. Yes, I would have darkened the first one given more time, especially the swath of leaves at the top of the picture. I also would have lightened the right side of the gazebo roof where it got lost in the shadows. With the pencil to help me sketch, I realized that a horizontal format for the second try would avoid the large stretch of grass that the first picture had, an area with not much going on. Maybe there was supposed to be a tree shadow falling across it, but that area wasn’t dry enough to put in the darker paint.

    • Thanks! It’s nice to know that there is something better about the second try, since I was disappointed that I got through and didn’t think the overall painting was better than the first. Some aspects of it are better, but I lost the spontaneous feel of the first one, and the delicious darks of the forest in the background.

      • I agree, the paintings are quite different, and both good, and they cannot really be compared it comes down to the individuals feelings for them. We tend to be super critical about our own works don’t we?

  2. hey amiga this is a great post! i feel as if i’m sitting there with you! i agree with you – wow, a pencil has its place when it comes to drawing a good map to help us keep it all orderly!

    i’m home and have internet, but it’s that slow connection – alas it’s better than zero!

    thank you for sharing!



    • Glad you are back. I’m thankful for what internet you do have, as it lets us see your work, which would otherwise be limited to those viewers in Ecuador.

  3. Oh, pencil really makes a difference! Very nice painting & lesson! I’m an absolute beginner & I love watercolours! I generally try to paint (With watercolours) without making a sketch as I’m very bad at sketching and it looks ugly:( Will try to sketch first. Thanks for sharing this post:)

    • Hi, Tarang Sinha! Welcome to the wonderful world of watercolours! It is an adventurous medium.
      I use a rough sketch as a roadmap for painting, since the watercolours are transparent and it is difficult to go back later and correct proportion or compositional mistakes. (You can see in the top sketch that the right side of the gazebo doesn’t match the left side.) Sketching doesn’t always eliminate those mistakes, but I make fewer of them if I do a quick, light sketch.

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