The Freedom of Spring:
Take Your Drawing Outside!

Here in the northeast, last winter’s giant snowbanks are finally beginning to recede. It’s possible to go outside without a coat, and with more sun and less wind, we’ve been taking the dog for longer walks and finally getting some exercise ourselves. The windows are thrown open to freshen the house, and we’ve been stepping onto the porch to breathe large lungfuls of air after a winter spent largely indoors. The quality of the light is changing—it is becoming more brilliant and exquisite each day.

Nitram April 2015

It’s time to go outside! It is incredibly rare to see people drawing or painting outside these days, but this summer, I’m planning to resume the outdoor sketching sessions I abandoned years ago. We used to do this in high school, with a studio art teacher who taught us using Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. To me, the book represented an epiphany, because I suddenly found myself able to draw trees—a subject that had previously seemed intimidating, too complex, even insurmountable. We would head outside into the sunshine as a group, and spend a good hour or so in sustained focus.

If you’d like to do the same, bring along everything you’ll need—a selection of charcoal,
a hard surface to draw on, paper, eraser, water, snacks, bug spray, and perhaps even a comfortable deck chair. If you’re seeking a certain landscape and would like to make a morning or afternoon of it, add a hike into the day, and go when the light is just perfect.
If you’re a parent, ask your child to come along, and invite them to sketch; the adventure will serve as the perfect antidote to the long hours they’ve probably spent inside the classroom, and the deeply introspective focus required for the
task is best practiced in nature.

Study_of_willows_by_Thomas_Gainsborough copy

Charcoal sketch of Willows by Thomas Gainsborough

To sketch a tree, I find it helpful to begin with just one segment rather than the whole. Set down the broader shapes, then move on to the next area of focus. Alternatively, you may wish to create a nonlinear, freehand outline to fill in later with all the detail you can muster. Whatever your technique, allow yourself to see the shapes of the predominant branches and the largest areas of shadow, record them on paper, and then move on to the finer details. Take time to shade the trunk and branches, and use your eraser to clean up any stray smudges or marks.

Above all, enjoy the process. Have fun, get your vitamin D, and let us know how you did! 

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Cathryn Lykes

Cathryn Lykes

Cathryn Lykes holds a B.A. in French from Vassar College, and lives in Vermont with her daughter and two cats.