In the Field – The Challenge of Drawing from Life

Logistical Difficulties and Weight Considerations

A pebbly beach with drawing equipment and a sketching stool

The most challenging part of my practice is, without a doubt, drawing from life in the field (and sometimes in A field!). the wildlife itself is often uncooperative, walking about and, quite often flying away. Then, assuming you have found some wildlife, there is the challenge of getting close enough to draw it. And there is always, of course, the weather! I would be the first to admit I don’t like being cold, and there is usually a lot to carry!

Equipment for drawing from life

For drawing birds, I bring a telescope and binoculars. Drawing with the use of optics is a technique that takes a while to get used to as it puts an extra visual obstacle between you and your subject. I also (unless I am really sure of the forecast) bring a golf umbrella. this keeps my drawings and kit dry and, if I’m lucky, part of me as well! If I am out for any time a flask of coffee, snacks and a sandwich have to be packed.

Oh yes, and there is the small matter of drawing equipment. A bag (or rather another bag!) with watercolours, palette, pencils, brushes, water pot and a bottle of spare water, masking tape and a bundle of kitchen towel. Finally a small A3 portfolio with my paper and 2 pieces of hardboard for taping paper to. I like to bring 2 so I can let one dry while I work on another.

This may sound like a lot, but it really is me keeping things as simple as possible. Likewise, I try not to complicate things by bringing too many colours or different drawing mediums. My current favourite pencils are Staetdler Mars Lumograph Black, a mixture of graphite and carbon. these give a lovely dark matt black line whch the watercolour sits on nicely. this combination is helping me find stylistic connection between my field drawings and my cartoon work.

Scuppered by Covid

Of course once the Covid 19 pandemic arrived , all of this carry on had to be put on hold. Unable to get out to draw birds, I turned to the back garden in search of minature wildlife. I was not dissapointed! But getting close enough to draw an insect is not the same as drawing birds.

Insects – A different drawing from life challenge

I bought a magnifying glass and some magnifying lenses that clipped onto my glasses. these worked well up to a point, but I did have to get my head close enough to be in focus. Ants don’t mind this and quite a few flies are ok with it, but bees, butterflies and hoverflies, not so much. I once followed a shield bug round and round a broadbean stalk as it tried to politely evade my gaze.

A bit of research led me to purchase a pair of binoculars that focus down to 50cm. These were a game changer. Now I didnt have to crawl about the undergrowth trying to position my head just right, but could settle down in the undergrowth and wait to see what trundles past. Even in the most unassuming little patch, plenty does!

From being a substitute for my main drawing from life activities, Insects are now my main focus in the summer. There is much to learn. What I don’t know about birds pales into insignificance compared with what I dont know about insects!


Here are some examples of the type of work I produce in the field. The efforts I’m willing to show you anyway! There is a story of challenge and discovery behind every one. And the ever present drive to improve and practice these skills