Art in the Field: Field Sketching for All

Field sketching – drawing birds as you observe them – is for artists, right? Or at the very least for people that can draw. Well, no. It’s a sad fact that the majority of people think that art is a birthright, and you can either do it (making you an artist) or you can’t (making you not an artist). If you can hold a pencil, or pen, or paintbrush, you can make marks, and it is simply a question of practising those marks until your drawing implement becomes an extension of what you see. And I’m sorry to tell all you “I can’t draw-ers” out there: this is within everyone’s capabilities.

So, with smartphone cameras so accessible, and decent camera equipment available to all at a reasonable budget, why bother with sketching? In part, it’s because of this:

There we are, a Peregrine Falcon taken through bins on my iPhone. Yes – that grainy blob. Now, it is obviously a Peregrine, but does it represent the bird accurately? No. Does it communicate the experience I had in seeing this bird pluck a Magpie in the field behind my house? No. My phone will have the date and time, and the weather is clearly a bit murky so that is all recorded, but hardly with a great deal of grace or panache.

If you already keep a birding notebook or ticklist, it is a natural extension to make some drawings to add value to your observations. Features; feelings; foliage; these can all be captured in a scribble. Of course, if the last time you drew anything much was in primary school, it is unlikely that your skills would’ve magically improved over the years, no more than your repertoire on the piano will have moved on from Chopsticks if that’s the last or only thing you played as a youngster. Coupled with the lack of handwriting thanks to our keyboard-heavy existence, and the imagined embarrassment of knowing that our drawings will look like that of a primary school child means there is a huge disincentive to give it a go.

If you are a proficient sketcher, drawing birds in the field is more of a sport than an art anyway as they rarely stay still for longer than a second, requiring a different skill set to landscape, portraiture or, dare I say it, copying from photos.

I am running a Field Sketching workshop with South Downs Wildlife on May 15th at West Rise Marsh, where we will have a concentrated couple of hours learning techniques in a friendly, informal, and encouraging atmosphere. You can have a go at drawing with all materials provided, and learn what skills to practise in order to get the most from your observations and art endeavours going forward.

This is a focussed session starting with some specific warm-up exercises, followed by some real-life field sketching in front of some of the more cooperative birds (from an artistic perspective!) such as herons, ducks, corvids, and gulls. Group sizes are small to allow for tailored advice and plenty of questions and guidance, and the course makes a great gift for any birder or budding/returning artist.

Please see their booking page to reserve your spot: https://www.southdownswildlife.com/event-details/introduction-to-field-sketching

I look forward to seeing you there!

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