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“These places I paint, I know them intimately,” says Thomas McNickle of the tranquil surroundings located just minutes from his Pennsylvania home. “Even as a little child, I had two overwhelming interests in life: one was art, and the other was nature. When I started painting, it seemed totally natural that I’d paint watercolor landscapes of the places that I love—the fields and marshes that I’ve been surrounded by since I was young.”
He shares some sketching techniques here. Read more about Thomas McNickle in the October 2016 issue of Watercolor Artist (now available in print here and as a download here).
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1. Soak in the scene before starting.
“When you’re confronted by the beauty of nature, it’s overwhelming. Just stand there and soak it in for a while,” he suggests. “In your mind, you’ll begin to simplify the scene into color, shape and form.”
2. Forget names.
“If an Englishman, a Frenchman and a German were all painting side by side and none of them knew each other’s language, the words they had for things would mean nothing. They’d each just be painting their interpretation of the color and the form and the light on those things,” says McNickle. “If you focus on painting a ‘tree,’ your brain takes over, wanting trillions of branches and leaves. You get involved in all the wrong things instead of concentrating on the big picture—the essence of the scene.”
3. Work quickly.
McNickle might spend just a few minutes on a location sketch, up to half an hour. “If you include too much detail in your sketch, you start to lose what your primary motivation was,” he warns. “That’s very easy to do outside, if you work too slowly.”
4. Don’t chase the light.
“Establish the light in your sketch as quickly as you can—in as few strokes and with as few colors as you can—and then work on the structure of the image,” McNickle says. “If the light changes and you see something else interesting happening, don’t go chasing after that eﬀect, because then pretty soon you’ll have to reconcile the rest of your image to the new light.” Stay true to the light eﬀects that captured your imagination in the ﬁrst place and follow them through to the end.