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Jane Milloy’s Illustrated talk on ’Sketchbooks and how to use them to create paintings’ April 2015

Updated: Dec 11, 2018

Fortunate to live at the foot of Bennachie, Jane’s studio sits among the moorlands, woodlands, rivers and farmland that inspires her wildlife drawings, writings and paintings. Combining her “two great passions in life” – wildlife and art, gives her the greatest of pleasure.

Her monitoring work with the North East Raptor study group requires her to sit around for long periods of time providing her with the ideal opportunity to closely observe and sketch her subject matter. Observing birds, plants, animals and insects in their natural surroundings she says, “is a privilege” and by drawing and painting them she feels she can share her joy and appreciation of her subject matter with others.

While out wandering she often finds herself stumbling across something that catches her attention. (She has been know to sketch on receipts or anything else she might find in her jacket pocket . She admits, "Sketching and painting is an addiction" for her.) It could be something as simple as the way the sunlight falls across the woodland floor creating patterns and colours or something more dramatic like having a close encounter with fox cubs, otters, birds or other wildlife. It is these unexpected encounters that has prompted her to carry a little spiral bound sketchbook in her pocket for quick drawings and notes that will help trigger her memory of the encounter at a later date and possibly even inspire a painting. She affectionately refers to these as her “shorthand” – jottings.

So why does Jane suggest we use our sketchbooks as opposed to our cameras?

Well while she admits photos have their place as reference material, they are no substitute for really life observation. Photos can flatten your subject matter, distort colour, they may also loose the subject of focus that originally interested you. However when you draw, you can determine where the focus should be, what background it should have and how the image should be composed. A sketchbook is your resource for capturing a fleeting moment that grabs your attention, be it shapes, textures, colour or the way the light touches an object. It is your way of recording your own personal interaction with the subject matter. I may be in the form of a quick line drawing that can capture the placement of wildlife in a scene or a tonal study of how the morning light touches a bird’s form. It may be a quick written note referring to the colour palette or a quick line sketch that is coloured to show the birds plumage detail or the otters fur texture. It needn’t make sense to anyone else, so long as it can trigger your memory when you return to the studio, helping you to relive your experience and remember its associated detail.

Jane has a multitude of drawings and ideas that fill her sketchbooks. Some she may work up to “a final painting or use in part or wholly as reference material but they stand on their own too. Each captures a moment, posture, interaction, a movement, light and shadow, special colours, sometimes nothing more than a few hurried, scribbly lines, but each with the freshness and immediacy than only drawing in the field from life can produce.”

She explains that each quick sketch starts with a horizontal and vertical guide line which she uses to as a aid to achieving the correct angle and perspective of the birds wings and legs. She explains that we should also take time to note the eye level of our sketches so that if we wish to amalgamate two images together they can be from the same perspective. This is also true of sketches that have differing light sources, for your painting to look right, both must have the light coming from the same direction. Obvious when she mentions it but a common mistake.

Her last advice, is to keep sketching. You don’t have to have any purpose in mind just draw because you like the subject. Capture what excites you, take colour notes, make small doodles of the shapes you see; try and make a note of the textures and if it happens to be wildlife, note how it moves.

Use your sketch book to record the information that will change for example the direction of the light source for the time of day, where the light hits an object and how it depicts its form and any shadows. She states that by drawing more you will become more familiar with your subject matter, which in turn will make painting your subject much easier.

I am off home now to find a long neglected sketchbook. There have been many times of late I have been out walking the dog and been privileged to witness a beautiful sunset, or see a small party of deer in the wood. More recently it was a red squirrel bounding across the road in front of me that caught my attention and at the time I have thought to myself, wouldn’t it have been great to capture that moment. Jane tells us “drawing is like breathing” – it’s just something she does. This makes me a little envious; I wish it came so naturally to me, instead it requires a lot of concentrated effort and very rarely do I achieve the desired result. But expressing myself creatively does give me pleasure. I may not be as accomplished as Jane YET, but we all have to start somewhere.

When will you begin?

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