Planning your painting

Back in December I posted a couple of my recent paintings and mentioned about planning sketches as a means to making the painting process easier and less wasteful of time, paper and paint.

Rummaging around in my studio this morning I came across a pile of planning sketches and thought “I never did get round to writing about these!” So, here are three of them.

planning sketch of Thornham
Pencil planning sketch of a boat at Thornham, Norfolk
planning sketch of farmyard
A Norfolk farm, complete with pig!
planning sketch of Ely Cathedral
Another small pencil sketch, this time of Ely Cathedral

The whole idea of a planning sketch is just that, to plan how the painting will go. The three essentials of any painting are composition, tonal value and colour. By working quickly in pencil I can establish where objects will go, in other words the composition, and I can establish what will be light, dark and mid-toned. A good range of tonal values is essential to creating an eye-catching painting.

I suggest that, like me, you use a soft pencil for these sketches, say a 4B so that you can quickly shade in areas of tone.  Any old piece of paper will do, I often use off-cuts of mount-board from my picture framing. The most important thing is not to work too large, as you’ll get bogged down in detail. Remember this is just a plan, so work small and work quickly. That way you can do several sketches until you find the composition and tonal value that looks the most exciting. A couple of useful things to keep in mind are “no bigger than postcard size, and no longer to do than ten minutes”.

I think if you practise making these small sketches before you start to paint, your work will soon go to a new and higher level. you will find that the only decision that remains to be taken is what palette of colours to use, which I will cover in another post. My last tip is, when you’ve got a great looking planning sketch make sure that you keep to that plan when you paint. It sounds easy but your concentration can soon lapse. Keep to a great plan and you’ll make a great painting!