Outdoor Digital Sketching

aka Taking Your Art Outside!

By Hal Aetus

This year, I’ve been dabbling with outdoor “pleinair” sketching and painting. Getting out of the studio for some fresh air and sunshine has been really nice but it’s also been a good exercise for stretching my art abilities. I’d like to share a few of my observations.

There have been challenges to outdoor drawing. First, it can be tough finding a comfortable and safe place to sit for the view I want and having enough shade of the screen to see what I’m doing. One big drawback to digital art devices is still the limited brightness of the screen. LCD screens have come a long way but they are still very difficult to read in bright sunlight, particularly if your eyes are alternating between the view and the screen. I’ve found that a folding camp chair positioned in the shade works well. I’m considering getting a chair that has a built-in cover or umbrella with it, if such a thing exists, to make the process of setting up even more flexible. I can sometimes park my vehicle with the doors or windows open and draw from inside too. Lastly, I’ve found most restaurants and cafes to be tolerant of artists but I’m sure to order something and tip well if I stay a long time. Please do the same so that we can maintain a welcoming attitude towards artists.

Boo Boo’s Sandwiches on 2nd St in Milwaukee, WI was one of my recent drawing spots. It’s a humble shop & doesn’t have a million-dollar view of the area but you don’t need that. Just good food and interesting subject matter.

Drawing outdoors means that you are at the mercy of changes in weather and lighting angle as time passes. You either have to hurry or plan to come back several times under similar conditions. I just move quickly as none of my pleinair pieces have been intended as finished masterpieces. Rather, I use them as a good excuse to get some fresh air and hone my landscape abilities in a short time span. It’s really been for fun but if I was to turn it into a more serious endeavor, I’d probably do my initial sketch in the field and then finish later in studio from photos of the same site.

The view from Boo-Boo’s

Regarding drawing equipment, I’ve used two different set ups. I started by using my Wacom Intuos Pro Medium connected to a laptop running Windows and Photoshop CC. I did some nice stuff this way but juggling two electronic items in one lap proved impossible. So it really only worked if I had a table. In 2017 I acquired an iPad Pro 9.7″ and I’ve been using Procreate as my primary drawing software. I love the flexibility and Procreate lends itself well to painting or sketching. Only drawback has been the size. At the time I was doing a fair amount of flying so I opted for the smaller screen. For artwork, though, I recommend getting the larger sizes.

Here’s a few of my sketches– all created outdoors in an hour or less. I hope to make this a regular part of my repertoire and improve my abilities.

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