it can feel somewhat intimidating to paint and draw outside in the streets, particularly on a busy market day, but in a group, when we have our backs to the wall with a limited box of pastels and a small pastel pad, it’s much easier to manage.
When I took my art group out to Cahors market, we found a good spot sitting on a step with our backs to the cathedral, where we had a view of the the side of the fish stall with the people queuing.
The first difficulty can be finding a composition in all the busy movement in front of us, but by just sitting for a while and watching, rather than rushing around looking for the ideal image, I find that I practically always find something to get me interested. Here it started with the artificial light under the canopy which was lighting the stand and reflecting light onto the faces of the clients queuing. Also the bright, natural light shining on the walls of the buildings on the other side of the square, which made silhouettes of the waiting crowd.
It’s so important to remember that we absolutely don’t have to put in everything we can see! Simplifying is the key. Forty minutes is about the limit for a little sketch like this, 20 x 20cm. This one was done on pastelmat already tinted violet. I often take out a variety of small paper, tinted in different colours when I work en plein air, it’s hard to chose in advance the background colour that is needed. In this sketch, I particularly wanted to work up the lights from a dark background.
I started by defining the immobile shapes of the structures, such as the stands and the parasols, which gave a natural grid to the composition, afterwards sketching in the mass of the crowd before the fish stand, squinting and simplifying, rather than picking out individual details.
Once the general mass was established, it is easier to suggest people inside that mass. Of course they keep moving, but so often there are happy accidents. On this day, just as I was ready to define more detail, a woman arrived with a red caddie which balanced the red of a parasol in sun in the background.
Once the sketch is completed, I find it best to put it away and move onto another scene and look at what you have produced once back home. Sometimes there are disappointments, but the more you practise, the more comfortable you become with this way of working. There is a great difference between ‘living’ the subject when you work on location, and the second hand experience of working in the studio.