I know that Jeremy Lipking and Scott Christensen teach the importance of making small on-site sketches whenever possible. I even heard that in Scott’s plein air workshops, students only get 45 minutes to finish a painting on each location visited! When some of the best painters have great advice, it certainly is a good idea to consider it!
The advantages are obvious and multi-fold:
- It may be less intimidating to start a small sketch than a bigger painting.
- Despite the relatively small size (only 5″x6″ or so), the painting process is the same. You still need to work out values, color, drawing and edge just like in a bigger piece!
- You’re going home with 3–6 paintings instead of just one (that you may or may not like).
- Last but not least, you have multiple on-site sketches from which you can do a bigger studio piece from!
Oh, and here’s another one: often there isn’t enough time to finish before the light changes too much, but it’s almost always possible to finish a 5″x6″ piece. These sketches should really take no longer than 30–45 minutes each, no matter what medium you’re painting in.
I don’t even bother with an underpainting when doing these in oils. Since I am a watercolor guy, I just jot down a few lines with pencil and paint ‘alla prima’ (direct painting). The basic principle for Alla Prima painting is to observe, mix and put down the right amount of paint in the right place with the right value. If possible with little or no adjusting, changing etc.
Easier said than done! Practice, practice, practice!