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Travel Sketching in Ireland Part One : Five Strategies for Sketching in the Rain

September 22, 2016

16July25_Ireland_Misty Hills

If you’re spending any length of time plein-air painting in Ireland, eventually you’ll be painting in the rain.

I wouldn’t actually want it any other way. It gives you a romantic landscape of deep greens and floating cloud that seems to be made for watercolor.

Of course you can bring an umbrella. But I’m getting averse to even the smallest extra bit of weight in my drawing kit. Plus there is the issue of how you’re going to paint while holding an umbrella? That starts to make you want to bring an easel – and then with easel and umbrella – you’re going to be in real trouble if there’s wind.

So let’s talk Five Strategies for Painting in the Rain:

16July25_Ireland_ Burren


Rain Strategy 01: Ignore it!

These two were sketched up on the rocky tableland they call The Burren. There isn’t a bit of cover for miles in either direction.  Just a huge heap of boulders with the occasional wind-dwarfed tree, and the farmers fields cutting up the landscape.

So if it’s just off-and-on again showers, or a light mist – well – that you can just ignore.

It should give your painting a kind of wet-in-wet effect that you won’t get any other way. See how the green hills are blooming into the sky? That’s a pretty nice watery bit. And in the second sketch – how there are rain-marks all over the surface?

In general, a light shower can actually work in your favor.

So I’d say, a rain coat is more important than an umbrella. Just stand your ground and keep painting. It will probably pass.

If you pack up and run for cover, I am quite sure tea and scones will sound much better than waiting around hoping to set up again.

16July25_Ireland_Cliff of Mohr_02

16July25_Ireland_Cliff of Mohr_01

Rain Strategy 02: Cover your painting, if not yourself:

These were painted at the Cliff’s of Moher, in a more persistent drizzle.

I loved the dark skies and the way the cliffs turned into silhouettes in the distance.

It was quite windy, as you might imagine, but there was a stone wall along the cliff edge, which made for a very convenient standing desk. Actually, there are low stone walls just about everywhere in Ireland. A very convenient country to be a street sketcher.

So, when it became clear it was going to rain all day, I tried something a bit different.

I normally paint on paper taped down to coroplast backing boards. I took two of my boards and hinged them together with tape, making a kind of ‘laptop’. Or you might say, a slim hard cover sketchbook with only one page inside.

This way I could work holding the boards about a quarter of the way open, peeking into the narrow gap.

This kept the paintings out of direct rain – and let me walk around with them still wet, (keeping a finger between the boards so the pages didn’t touch). I’m sure a lot of you do this with sketchbooks all the time.


Rain Strategy 03: Worst case – you can paint from the car.

I first saw this little ruin in the form of a porcelain miniature in a gift shop in Kenmare.

Then we saw the real thing across an estuary, and had to drive around until we found the one-way bridge that leads you onto its spit of land.

Most Irish castles are just lone towers, so it was nice to see the crumbling walls covered in ivy. In this case, there was a little parking lot right at the bottom of the hill – so I took the easy way out and painted this from the car.

I did need the window open to see anything so I still got wet. Until someone left and I got the one good parking spot front and center.

If you want to lay darks onto a wet painting like this – you have to use the pigment as thick as possible. I remember touching dark areas over and over. They would sneakily melt into the ground. I believe I put this under the car fan for a while to get it ready for adding the  darkest-darks. Plus I have a very opaque pigment: Bloodstone Genuine, which I use when I need good coverage.

16July25_Ireland_Thatch Roof_Adare_01

16July25_Ireland_Thatch Roof_Adare_03

Rain Strategy 04: Make an Annotated Sketch and heed the call of Tea and Scones.

Here’s a couple of thatched-roof houses in the village of Adare.

I love these cute drawings, as they look much better than the real thing.

There was a fire at the first house, so it’s partially in ruins. There are blue tarps, chain link fences, and a burnt couch on the lawn. Unlike a photographer, I can just quietly leave all that out, and still make a good sketch.

The method here was to make a very simple pencil drawing just outlining the major shapes, and underneath I write a pigment code and a value number.

You need to sketch quickly enough that your paper won’t get saturated. Once it’s wet through, you can’t draw in pencil any longer. The paper gets too soft and the graphite won’t transfer. So keep the drawing as bare bones as possible. Which is a good idea any time really.

I would jot down a letter number code for each major shape – like PG5 for Perlyne Green Value 5 (in the upper right of the top sketch for instance), or PG3, for the upper right in the second.

I’m talking about a 5 value scale here – it’s just easier to estimate than the traditional 10 scale.  With 5 values you have White(1) and Black(5) – which is an easy call – so all you ever need to evaluate is Light(2), Middle(3) or Dark(4) . That’s something anyone can eyeball.

As long as I have that simple code, I can paint it from memory.

There is a much more sophisticated method called the Munsell Color System, which I have never bothered to learn. (Feel free if you have the patience, then you can explain it to me!)

This is one benefit of sticking with the same limited color palette for quite a while. I immediately know the pigments I’ll use.

I do recommend heading straight to a cafe and painting while the memory is fresh.

You can also snap a cellphone photo to remind you of what you saw – as long as you don’t rely too much on that for color choices.

16July25_Ireland_ Rock of Cashel

Rain Strategy 05: With the right paper, even in solid rain, you can still draw.

When we stopped at the Rock of Cashel we had some serious rain.

This was one of the more interesting ruins we visited. The old walls are only partially roofed in, which is always a melancholy feeling. You can’t help but think of mortality and the fall of man, seeing these soaring walls crumbled around you. A mood emphasized by the weathered graveyard out back.

Poke around the tombstones and crypts however, and you’ll find some excellent stone carvings.

So, initially, with my new weatherproof confidence, I tried a painting. But it simply washed away. I kept putting down color and seeing it just run off the paper.

So this time I had to bail out and draw in waterproof ink (I use Platinum Carbon black).

These days I like to jump directly from my thinnest pen up to my thickest. So going from a crow-quill to a 3mm wide chisel nib. It gives you the best combination of detail and ‘brushwork’. Remember to pull the nib, not push – especially with damp paper.

But the trick here really is the paper.

For all of these, except the painting in the car and the annotated sketches, I am using Strathmore Aquarius II. The same paper I use for my accordion folding sketchbooks.

This paper is a unique blend of natural and synthetic fibers that is pretty much waterproof.

No matter how wet it gets, it won’t ripple. Even if the paper ‘swells’ and raises up off the taped board – it does not develop those rises and troughs (sometimes called cockling). Given a little time to dry out, it lays completely flat. You wouldn’t have to tape it at all – except that’s still a good idea in case of wind.


So there you go: The bottom line is – everyone should try painting in the rain!

Photographers have a saying: Bad weather makes good photos.

If you’re starting to feel all the sunny days in the park are robbing your work of some gravitas – head out on a dark and stormy afternoon, and see what you can do with it!


Note: This is part 1/2 of the 2016 Irish painting trip. You can read the second post over here.


33 Comments leave one →
  1. FIONA HAYES permalink
    September 22, 2016 6:24 AM

    Hi Marc. REALLY enjoyed this blogpost! You’re so innovative with your ideas of painting in the rain. Very inspiring! I’ll have to give it a try some time. Your sketches are fantastic and particularly lived the ones of the cliff tops with the swirling sea down below. Such a talented artist. Please tell me about the Bloodstone Genuine. Is that a Daniel Smith colour?

  2. September 22, 2016 7:06 AM

    Loved this post. Yes, it rains here a LOT but we do have 40 shades of green! You captured them beautifully.

  3. September 22, 2016 8:40 AM

    Beautiful “watery” watercolors while in the rain. My suggestion for painting in the rain (I live in the PNW where it rains a lot) purchase one of those umbrellas that fit on top of the head. No hands needed to hold it. You may not need it since I get the feeling of wet/rainy weather looking at your paintings.

  4. September 22, 2016 9:30 AM

    Absolutely dreamy and beautiful! Thank you for sharing Marc!

  5. Cassie Bouska permalink
    September 22, 2016 9:39 AM

    Hey Mark – great post! And great sketches! An idea for hands-free sketching in the rain. I was hiking a bit on the pacific crest trail a month or so ago, and ran into a gal who had a short paint roller attached to her backpack strap, just below her collarbone. I asked about it, and she whipped out this little travel umbrella, opened it up, and set the handle in the paint roller. For her, it was hands-free hiking shade. Might be worth a shot for sketching, too!

    • September 22, 2016 8:45 PM

      That sounds like a great ‘hack’ :) It’s worth a try :) I did field test my Umbrella Staff in my living room (camera monopod+clamp+umbrella) and it has a lot of potential. wonder if I can combine both of these and just attach this clamp thingy I have to a backpack strap. Maybe with Velcro. On the big list of someday to try :)

  6. Mark Jaudes permalink
    September 22, 2016 9:53 AM


    I cannot find any info about the arm like device holding your palette on the list of supplies on you web. You just mention the tripod and the en plein air product. Can you advise where the arm like device can be acquired. Thanks.

    Mark A. Jaudes JD,CLU,ChFC

    • September 22, 2016 9:03 PM

      Hey Mark. I don’t carry that thing around any more – I’ve decided it’s to heavy, so I just clip my small palette right to my drawing board. BUT – if you want to get one to try it out – it’s called a Magic Arm. There are quite a few different manufacturers. It’s a camera tripod accessory. You need a clamp for an upright post (a lighting clamp) and a Laptop Tray to make it all work. So really, I don’t all carry that stuff any more :) I’m getting old and weak! I like travelling light a lot better:

  7. September 22, 2016 10:02 AM

    Lovely stormy skies in your paintings! That’s one of the things I know I need to work on (along with a lot else but that’s a whole other deal) :-P Managing to get good color/value variation in my skies without turning them into cloudless mud messes and losing all the white of the paper is difficult for me for some reason but I did one last night that has me hopeful that I found a technique for achieving that look! Now to test it again tonight and see if I can get things even stormier and more dramatic }:-)

  8. Margaret Horak permalink
    September 22, 2016 10:42 AM

    This blog is right up my alley! I live in northwest Washington state, north of Seattle, and since today’s the first day of fall, the beginning of our rainy season, your techniques for painting in the rainy will come in handy! Thanks, Marc!

  9. Margaret Horak permalink
    September 22, 2016 10:44 AM

    Your sketches are so beautiful! They are what Ireland looks like in my mind. The colors, wow!

  10. September 22, 2016 11:45 AM

    Wonderful blog Mark. Love your work and your superb advice.

  11. terrieydh permalink
    September 22, 2016 12:36 PM

    Another great post sharing such helpful info. I live in Seattle and we’re just heading into our rainy season so I’m going to have the opportunity to try some of these techniques! Thanks again for being so willing to share!

  12. Marxo permalink
    September 22, 2016 3:53 PM

    Another great post….love the moody atmosphere of your work

  13. FIONA HAYES permalink
    September 22, 2016 4:23 PM

    Hey Marc. Thanks so much. I will get the DS Bloodstone Genuine to add to my paints. I do have heaps of DS already, as they are my preferred brand to use, but I didn’t have this one! 😊

  14. September 22, 2016 5:01 PM

    We hit the same spots in Ireland this summer, only on different weather days. Except for the day we ran into you at Bantry House. I wish I’d had this wonderful rainy day tutorial before my trip. I kept getting all tangled up with the poncho or umbrella and wished I were an octopus with at least one more arm. But now at least I can take advantage of your suggestions when the rainy season finally arrives here in California!

  15. September 23, 2016 6:24 PM

    Marc, I’ve followed you for quite some time now.. from your fantastic drawings and now a lot of watercolor. I’m a watercolor artist and was going in the opposite direction of you, wanting to learn about pen and ink sketching. I’m still trying to learn.. But you’ve already mastered the painting. They are fresh and loose. I don’t see any pen marks in these. Am I right?
    I like your 5 value scale, It certainly has a place with me..
    Thank you so much for your books, and classes . I would have loved to have been to Savannah, maybe another time.

    • September 23, 2016 7:58 PM

      That’s right – no pen with these. I still do a simple contour drawing in pencil, but it fades into the color more so than the ink line. You have to look up close to find it. A bit more painterly :)

  16. Tami permalink
    September 24, 2016 8:38 AM

    Beautiful work Marc!! Thank you for providing links to particular items that you either use or speak of in your posts. One that I would like to know, are what pigments did you use, brands, colors, etc. They’re just wonderfully vibrant and really make the picture ‘pop’.

  17. tmikeporter permalink
    September 24, 2016 11:15 AM

    Marc, I lived in Ireland before I took up art but I can very much relate to this post!

  18. joantav permalink
    September 25, 2016 10:41 AM

    Great strategies for working in the rain. I have tucked myself into doorways and balanced an umbrella on my head to sketch in the rain. lol I can relate!

  19. September 26, 2016 12:25 PM

    Wonderful post Thanks!

  20. Barb permalink
    December 9, 2016 12:57 AM

    I’ve so enjoyed your Ireland series. It looks like you’ve changed and updated your current palette. Can you share the palette you used in Ireland?

    • December 9, 2016 8:40 AM

      Hey Barb – If you head over to my watercolor supplies page ( Colors are listed part way down. You’ll see what I’m doing is listing ‘most current set’ so people always know what I’m carrying these days. If I was going to the coast, or the desert, I might change it up, but this is my ‘everyday carry’ :) ~m

      • Barb permalink
        December 9, 2016 9:55 AM

        Thanks! I grew up in part in the Killarney area and I’ve never seen watercolor paintings to capture the skies and wild beauty of Ireland as yours have.


  1. Travel Sketching in Ireland Part One : Five Strategies for Sketching in the Rain — Citizen Sketcher | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA
  2. Bergen Place Park | Red Harp Arts
  3. Travel Sketching in Ireland Part Two : What did I learn? | Citizen Sketcher
  4. USK Chicago Workshop: PDF and Video: The Broken Silhouette | Citizen Sketcher
  5. Day Two : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 | Citizen Sketcher

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