Plein-air sketching in Wales

I was away in Wales over the recent bank holiday weekend – ‘surely not another holiday!’ I hear you exclaim! This time we were camping with twenty or so friends and families and I took my sketching kit along more in hope than expectation. We were based in the Brecon Beacons on the river Usk at an idyllic campsite that we’ve stayed at a few times before. Blessed with lovely weather, the days developed their own wonderfully relaxed rhythm around cooking, washing up, swimming in the river (utterly freezing!), games with the kids then back to cooking again – all the while enjoying the lovely location and the company of friends. I did also surprise myself by managing to sneak off to do a little plein air sketching. Sometimes I didn’t quite manage to sneak off quite far enough to avoid arousing some curiosity!


Despite how challenging I often find it painting in situ – on this occasion this even included letting children help me to paint bits! – it was wonderfully energising to be painting outdoors. I ended up doing a few different takes of the same views and here are my favourites.

A6 watercolour landscape sketch by John Haywood
A6 landscape sketch
A4 waterolour landscape sketch by John Haywood
A4 landscape sketch
A4 watercolour landscape sketch by John Haywood
A4 landscape sketch
A4 watercolour landscape sketch by John Haywood
A4 landscape sketch – and probably my pick of the bunch!

I noticed that on each ‘first sketch’ I tend to go it too heavy with the initial washes, leaving me little scope for developing a broad good tonal range with any areas of strong contrast as I’ve gone in too dark too soon. My second takes were usually lighter of touch and generally more sensitive.

I’m quite pleased with some of these and feel that my recent sketching in France and then in Wales has been really enjoyable and beneficial. One key thing has been the discovery of some sketchbooks from a Bristol paper manufacturer called Arboreta Papers. I came across them purely by accident in the Abergavenny Art Shop. I have an A4 portrait and A5 landscape hardback sketchbooks but what I like most about them is the weight and texture of the paper. They’re not cheap, but quality of the paper is excellent and behaves much more like my ‘regular’ Saunders Waterford Rough so I feel much more at home painting on it. These sketchbooks, along with my customised Frazer Price Palette box and a good selection of brushes means that I now feel much happier with my sketching set up than ever before. My next challenge is to try to incorporate more sketching into my ‘everyday’ activities!

Thoughts on Plein-air sketching in Wales

3 thoughts on “Plein-air sketching in Wales”

  1. Pingback: From watercolour sketch to watercolour painting –

  2. It is interesting to hear how you need to fire a couple of canon balls over the bow before getting into the swing of things, John. A lesson to be learned there for all of us. It is all too easy to start on a piece, dislike it and think it’s not right for the day and give up. You’ve some lovely work here as always. I bet those children were feeling so good to think they have played a small part in it. Hopefully it will foster some future artists. 🙂

    1. Thanks Bella – I find with a lot of my work that I learn so much/make so many mistakes doing my first effort that I have to have another crack at it! The children were great too and yes, it did inspire some of them to get out their colouring books later on at the campsite! Thanks so much Bella 😁🙏🏻

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