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Travel Sketching in Ireland Part Two: What did I learn?

September 29, 2016

Let’s try a different approach for this post.  Here’s the rest of my recent paintings from Ireland. With each one, I’ll try to distill down the main thing I learned from it.

(Note: This is part 2/2 – the first half of the Irish paintings are over here).

16July25_Ireland_ Muckross House

16July25_Ireland_ Muckross House_Pic

Muckrose House, Killarney:  Get further away to see the real picture. It helps you remove unimportant detail.

16July25_Ireland_ (5)

16July25_Ireland_Manor House_Pic

Portumna Castle and Gardens: Don’t avoid backlit subjects for fear you can’t see details. They make for strong silhouettes. The French call it contre-jour / against the day.

16July25_Ireland_ From Valencia_02

16July25_Ireland_ From Valencia_02_Pic

Starting up Valencia Island: Design Don’t Document really works. The blue valley in the far distance is a better backdrop to this table land. Bringing it forward / scaling it up – that worked. Those little houses are fascinating. They deserve more prominence. Paint what’s interesting, not what’s real.

16July25_Ireland_From Valencia

16July25_Ireland_From Valencia_Pic

View from Valencia Island: He who hesitates is lost. When you see a composition – grab it. You never know how long it will last. It was only about twenty minutes from sunny day to zero visibility.

16July25_Ireland_Dingle Peninsula AM

Compare these two hey? Only a few hours and 5 minutes down the road.

16July25_Ireland_Dingle Peninsula PM

16July25_Ireland_Dingle Peninsula PM_Pic

Dingle Peninsula, 11am vs 4pm:  Bad Weather makes for Great Paintings. Felt great painting in the sun that morning – but the result is empty calorie candy floss next to the afternoon’s sketch. Don’t accept the easy views. Keep looking. Get out early, take a break, stay late.

(Note: This is part 2/2 – the first half of the Irish paintings are over here).

39 Comments leave one →
  1. Sherry Rix permalink
    September 29, 2016 6:17 AM

    Thank you so much – really interesting to see what you include, and what you leave out, and when you paint a sky, and when you don’t. Its SO useful to see the ref photo of the scene alongside the painting, this is a huge help, specially when it comes to simplifying a painting. Thanks!

  2. Antje permalink
    September 29, 2016 6:58 AM

    All of this is sterlin advice. Thank you for it – and I love your sketches!

  3. erikabra permalink
    September 29, 2016 6:59 AM

    Hi Marc. This is Erika, from Chile. I took your workshop at the USK Symposium and because t was the last one you let us pick some cards and a reproduction. Many thanks for your lessons that day. It was the best and better organized workshop I attended.
    Interesting post and very instructive. Since a while you are using mainly loose watercolor paper sheets attached to a board. As an Urban Sketchers don’t you miss the watercolor Sketchbook? As a full dedicated illustrator and painter myself I struggle between the comfort, timerelated storytelling, the Book Feeling and the minimal and attractive storage space that a Sketchbook allowes vs the flexibility of the loose sheets were you can frame or sell it but you loose all the other benefits…what are your reasons to choose the sheets?

    Thank you and your charming wife

    Erika Brandner

    • September 29, 2016 11:04 AM

      I did work in sketch books for quite a while – it’s true – it’s wonderful when you have a sketchbook full of memories to show everyone. I have a few from old trips that are great to go back and flip through. BUT – I do get anxiety – as a book goes on, that I’ll ruin it with a bad drawing (or too many bad vs. good) :) It’s a strange feeling – makes no sense. I know intellectually the whole idea is whatever drawings you get are the drawings you get! So there cant be any bad drawings *technically*. Still – the more a book fills up, the more I worry.

      Bound books work best for me when I do them in a huge rush. The whole book in a week. That doesn’t give me time to over-think it. :)

      So ya, it’s easier to use loose sheets, and then I can toss out the bad ones (or draw on the back). Though – Elizabeth Alley taught me a trick – just tape the page closed if you really don’t like it. That helps the book tell a better story when people flip through.

      But also – now that I paint more on location, I find carrying complete books too heavy. (One reason I like Hand Book Travelogues. They’re slim). Because once a page is wet, you can’t close the book until it dries. I end up carrying them around holding them open, with the pages clipped down, and if I want to do another piece right away, I would have to carry two books. Sometime three. Or a bigger book and do more than one painting per page. Carrying all that paper gets too heavy for me at the end of the day. With loose sheets, one-to-a-drawing-board, I can lean the wet paintings up somewhere in the sun while I keep working.

      So that’s it – weight, speed and ease of editing :) And then for me, I put it back in a ‘book form’ when it goes on the blog :)

      • September 29, 2016 3:29 PM

        I work primarily in wire-o sketchbooks for that same exact anxiety reason! If I don’t like something, easy to tear out. I love Aquabee Super-deluxe for this reason. Great multimedia sketchbook, wire-o if you messed up what you were trying to do, and perforated if you want to take something out to frame.

        Btw thanks for all the helpful sharing of info. I’ve taken your craftsy class as well. Your work is very inspirational!

      • September 30, 2016 4:10 AM

        About messed up sketches, the other day, there was one I didn’t like on the right page of my sketchbook and I folded the page in two (btw, it was not watercolor paper). This created a shorter page which added a fun touch to the sketchbook, at last. :)
        As for me, I like to work in sketchbooks because I feel as if loose sheet watercolors would be useless… It’s weird, isn’t it?! I think I would need a good place to keep the watercolor “paintings”, allowing a nice way to browse them to recreate maybe a sort of sketchbook feeling, and to get rid of the impression of these lost paintings all over the place….

  4. September 29, 2016 8:16 AM

    I love these. I am struggling with the question of what is the difference between plein air watercolor and urban sketching. I thought it was the use in pen and ink but here you are not using the ink!

    • September 29, 2016 9:40 AM

      To me, the difference is A: not very important (less rules, more fun :) :) and B: it’s USK if the art is for journaling / reportage, it’s plein air if the art is for enjoying framed on the wall – (both are a kind of mental travel :) and C: often a piece of art can be both!

      • September 29, 2016 10:00 AM

        Good question–for me urban sketching is about a quick capture of an interesting subject/view. It’s less about ‘art’ and more about the essence of a subject/view. Although I must say that whatever Marc paints seems to be art. Thanks for sharing what you learned, Marc, and your trip to Ireland.

      • September 29, 2016 10:31 AM

        Thanks Marc. As for me, I have trouble with the lines–I am much happier doing a pencil sketch and then a watercolor, I like thinking in blocks. I started in oil painting and charcoal and maybe that is why. So I will consider my watercolors as urban sketches if done fast, on site and in a sketchbook. I agree with you that there is really no difference.

        • October 10, 2016 3:41 AM

          I’m with Carmela, although I wouldn’t say it’s less about “art” – I would say both plein air and urban sketching can be all about art and also not at all about art. To me an urban sketch is picking out whatever excites you: it’s not about the dreaded “pretty picture”, nor is about the completed scene.

    • September 29, 2016 10:13 AM

      I think that there’s not enough art in many urban sketches! A little more playing with colour and loosening up of lines doesn’t detract from, but enhances what you are depicting.

  5. September 29, 2016 8:31 AM

    So wonderful to see more into your process and trip. What a fabulous time you must have had.

  6. Elena permalink
    September 29, 2016 8:35 AM

    This was really helpful and instructional! Thank you for breaking down your process…

  7. September 29, 2016 8:44 AM

    fantastic post and great advice… I need to adopt…. “Design Don’t Document”

  8. Erik Madsen permalink
    September 29, 2016 9:20 AM

    Very useful comments, Marc. Thanks for sharing! Are you using quite a few colors or limited palette in these paintings. Also, if you only carry one travel brush, what would it be?

    • September 29, 2016 11:33 AM

      Hey Eric – all the colors are listed over here :

      And – if I could only have ONE brush – It would be a #3 DaVinci Sable Mop. You can see how much you can do with this one brush in this video:

      If I could have two I’d add a #7 Windsor and Newton Watercolor Sable Pointed Round. (So – one big, one small). And if I could add three – I have a squirrel oval round in about a 1 Inch that is great for skies and huge tree canopies.

      I have an old post about this topic – (brushes to take to a desert island) that I’ll have to update with my current answers! ~m

      • Erik Madsen permalink
        September 29, 2016 8:22 PM

        Thanks for the info. Marc. I’ve watched the video several times, wonderful technique and brush. This weekend we have the artist expo in Santa Fe, the vendor floor features 76 booths, of manufacturers and art wholesalers. In the past it’s been a great show to purchase supplies at wholesale prices. Anxious to see the brushes there. FYI, the link is
        Anxious to see what you did in Savannah, when I noticed your workshop there it was sold out.
        Best regards,

  9. Louise Boyer permalink
    September 29, 2016 9:50 AM

    The ” View from Valencia Island”, the sunny one you did, really catches my eye.
    I am impressed to see how you manage to save so many beautiful little whites, without the flow of the paint just go over them! I guess you have to make just one pass for this?
    Also, the water wowwwww, and I could go on because so many things are mastered !
    Wish you will give more drawing and watercolor courses in the future. I surely will jump on taking them for sure!!
    One of your students…and fan too.

    • September 29, 2016 10:00 AM

      “I am impressed to see how you manage to save so many beautiful little whites”

      I agree, preserving touches of the white of the paper is something I really struggle with in watercolor – I’ve done pastels for so long that the impulse to immediately cover the whole paper with pigment is strong. :-/

      I wonder if working in a larger format would be helpful in this regard…

    • September 29, 2016 11:34 AM

      Hey Louise! Thanks for the good words:) I hope to have some new tutorials and online courses out this year – but it’s all still in the planning stages. Things should come together over the winter. Now that we won’t be travelling for a while. (Home with family for a few months). I’ll have more to say for sure in couple weeks (I hope!).

      And Karen – yes – working big helps, but it takes longer to work larger :) and it’s inconvenient – carrying all that stuff. So it’s a compromise for sure. I thing you just get used to the largest size that’s easiest to carry. For me that’s 1/4 sheets. And having a sharp sable brush makes all the difference. ~m

      • September 30, 2016 4:02 AM

        Louise, Karen, I think that Marc really mastered the pigment to water balance.
        He is really good at using just enough water to get a watery watercolor look but some thick enough washes or strokes to get strong colors, not too melted color changes, and these white sparkles not “invaded” by water. ;)
        (I struggle with that, too… Sometimes, I use too much water and the painting drips too much, sometimes my pigments are all crumbly dried on the palette, even if they are not really old and it’s difficult to get a creamy consistency….)

        Marc, thank you again for the inspiration! :) We are looking forward to enjoying your new tutorials and online courses. :)

  10. September 29, 2016 10:40 AM

    Marc, I’m so enjoying your art these days. I see your using less pen/ink and more watercolor. LOL! I’m just the opposite trying to learn the pen sketching.
    Whatever your doing , keep it going. And as always, thanks for sharing .
    Barbra Joan

  11. lynne permalink
    September 29, 2016 11:28 AM

    fantastic post, marc! thank you! and your paintings are gorgeous!

  12. Jessica Seacrest permalink
    September 29, 2016 2:34 PM

    Definitely enjoy your paintings, technique, and expertise Thanks for sharing! I look forward to the upcoming classes that you mentioned above.

  13. Robb Gibbs permalink
    September 29, 2016 3:30 PM

    Really insightful, informative post. Thank you!

  14. September 30, 2016 4:21 AM

    Hi Marc! I always enjoy your colors, your brushwork and your use of water so much! The atmospheres you created are just gorgeous. :)
    Your paintings are as beautiful in the sun, as in the mist, as in the rain…. Btw, I laughed a lot, reading your last post about sketching in the rain and especially your first tip: “ignore it!!” 😂. I was expecting nothing less from you!! 😝😉 This reminded me really good memories from Portugal, with us standing in the drizzle and just keeping sketching. 😊😊😊😉

  15. October 3, 2016 3:51 PM

    I will take your advice to back up to simplify a complex scene. Thanks!

  16. Cynthia Clarke permalink
    October 4, 2016 12:06 AM

    Hi Marc, I really enjoy your “urban sketching”. Your sketches and tips are just what I need to get out and about and start doing what I really love doing. I’ll be looking for a class to join when you go overseas. I have gone 7’al times but like your style and steps you use. Cynthia

    Sent from my iPad

    • October 4, 2016 10:08 AM

      Thanks Cynthia :) It really is a great way to enjoy art making in our daily lives. Hope you have a group near you! ~m

  17. October 10, 2016 3:42 AM

    Marc your sketches – especially the Bad Weather ones – speak volumes about Ireland and really capture the smell and feel of the air. Magic.


  1. Travel Sketching in Ireland Part One : Five Strategies for Sketching in the Rain | Citizen Sketcher
  2. Case of the Missing Mansion : Bantry House, Ireland | Citizen Sketcher
  3. Day Two : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 | Citizen Sketcher

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