Terry Dodson

Why Make Art Outside? Here's What the Pros Say..

There are plenty of reasons why we think getting mobile with your art is great for creativity – we literally designed our Art Satchel, Slate and Field Case around this idea!

But instead of giving you our reasons, we turned it over to our awesome Etchr Pro-Ambassadors to see what they love about getting mobile with their art making.


Whenever students ask what they should focus on, we hear similar responses “anatomy, composition, color, light “ and rightfully so! These concepts are so pivotal to artistic development. However, there is one seldom mentioned practice that all artists of all skill ranges should engage in, and that is the constant study from life!

There is no greater teacher than your own observations of how the world visually behaves! There is no greater lesson on how light works, than painting outside and noticing the immense differences between morning light and afternoon light.

How in overcast days, light particles bounce around, and that’s why shadows tend to be diffused. How the eye focuses on objects and blurs everything in the peripherals. You start to notice how a camera flattens space, hardens most edges, and you begin to memorize vivid color variations that cameras tend to loose.

Study from life has been a time honored tradition for artists who wish to to improve their craft. Those who wish to portray life and nature in a realistic manner need to understand it, learn it and observe it (similar to a scientist!). That’s why its so important to get out sometimes and paint what you see! So grab your coat, your paints, and learn!

When you’re art-making from life, you're drawing from something physically there, not copying from someone else’s edited photo or aping another artist whose style you admire.

You learn way more from referencing the real world, just like you learn way more from doing your own homework instead of copying the smart kid’s homework.

Drawing from life helps you to develop a greater understanding of form and volume, because you’re able to freely move around your subject and see how the light falls on the various surfaces, how shadows and bounce light delicately interact, how perspective works, and breathes life into otherwise dry abstract art theory.

It’s easier to find the answers to visual problems when you paint from life...all the information is right there, no filters apart from your own, so it feels purer.

You’re ultimately the decision maker about everything when you draw from the source, you decide which details recede and which come to the fore. And of course, you’re going to fail sometimes, but that’s how you learn, that’s how you develop taste and style.

While it’s possible to draw in a vacuum, it’s that much harder. If you always skip the step of seeking inspiration at its source, it’s more likely you'll fall into the trap of being someone who creates either derivative work or creates art with a lacklustre foundation.

Finally, let’s not forget…you get sun in your face. You are inescapably a part of it all, and there’s something invigorating about it, feeling the wind flowing through your hair, the smells of the place you set up, the sounds of life. Not looking through a virtual window.

From-life sketching helps you to build your mental database that you pull from when you are going to create...if I draw a tree, even poorly, I've still successfully made visual notes. Then I'll go to work and draw a tree creature that is much more believable because it’s informed by the rules that govern reality.

Getting out in the real world and drawing from life is a staple in my artistic journey, both personally and professionally.

The world is so wonderfully diverse and provides me with unlimited subject matter to study and sketch. Drawing from life affords me the ability to observe things in real space, which is key to helping me understand how they relate to the surrounding environment, interact with light, understand scale, texture and to observe from many angles.

Drawing from images is great - it’s very convenient and there are no time pressures, but being able to view something in real world 3d space helps me understand the actual structure and how to break it down into primitive shapes.

One of my favorite things to sketch is people and while I think it’s great fun (and important) to draw super dynamic ass kicking poses from my mind, it’s equally as important and fun to capture real world poses, interactions and expressions.
This ultimately helps me to draw more believable characters regardless of how mundane or fantastic the pose is.

Sketching is like breathing to an artist and being able to do it out in the wild is essential to our growth and overall development. Art is Life!

I find drawing outdoors certainly makes you better as an artist as you're working under difficult/different/challenging circumstances away from your comfort zone - often indelibly linked to your surroundings.
It’s hard to emphasize how much observing something in real life, in 3-dimensions really does improve your drawing acumen. 

Right now, photos can’t replicate the level of depth your own eyes can perceive from the observation of real life…not to mention the limitations of the color gamut on digital monitors or printed media. 
So creating strictly from reproduction references - while sometimes necessary with tight deadlines - is a poor cousin of actually being in front of your subject matter. Observing real life builds up a repertoire of imagery that you can pull from later on - things that you observe in the real world can be used in a fantasy or sci fi setting.


An added benefit is that if you are forced to work from photos out of necessity, the lessons learned from drawing from life, helps you to fill in the nuance that is impossible to capture even with modern photography equipment.
Then of course there’s the underappreciated aspect of mental stimulation that comes from getting away from your desk and stepping back out into the oft-forgotten realm of real life! 

And what a great way to really immerse yourself in observing the places you are visiting…not just with a quick forgettable photo amongst the thousands of other photos on your camera, but by poring over every detail and facet of what is in front of you so you can truly relive it later on.

Observation is a mirror.

When you create purely fictional images, everything is a variable. From subject matter to mood to style to technique.

It’s hard to see yourself it the process as well as the final image because it’s so hard to separate pure interpretation from imagination.

When the subject is nonfictional, every mark you make (with brush, pen, pencil etc.) is pure interpretation. And that makes it much easier to see yourself reflected in the art...to see how you see things...to see how you think. Because only your stylistic and technical interpretations are fictional.

Throughout the process, as the piece develops and when the piece is “finished,” you can see yourself more clearly...without the amorphous, unpredictable subjectivity of fiction to confuse you.

Obviously, there will always be a bit of fiction in your “nonfiction” work. Of course, your stylistic and technical interpretations are not objectively true.

But that’s the point.

You’re working with one fictional factor (your style and technique) and one nonfictional (the subject) factor.

When you add a third fictional factor in subject matter, a fourth with mood and so on, the mirror gets very distorted.

Both fictional and nonfictional images are valuable. But it’s the nonfictional images that help us see and understand ourselves, which then gives us clarity and confidence in our fictional processes.

I can’t tell you how important bringing a sketchbook with me is! I try to have one with me wherever I go as you never quite know when you’re going to be struck with inspiration; see something you want to sketch; or just get bored and want to pass the time.

Sketching and painting is something I do outside a lot. Most recently I went to Wales to do some watercolour painting…which was actually next to impossible with the wind and rain but super fun if you like that kind of thing! It really makes you feel alive with the wind flapping the pages everywhere and the rain threatening to destroy your work!

Everywhere I go, I’ll find pockets of time here and there to sketch.

When my commute was an hour and a half on the train I would do the voyeuristic thing and draw people in the carriage with me. Because of the situation of being stuck on a train, they tended to make pretty cool models!

You know, I’d never really given it much thought as to why this appeals to me, but I suppose I enjoy letting my surroundings wash over me - a little bit of subconscious inspiration from the constantly changing models and environments and lights.

The other thing is that you don’t have to force your mind into a more interesting place like say when you’re designing a character or something from scratch - some of that work is already done for you. You can just walk around until you find something that appeals to you.

In a way, I find drawing a bit like meditation – it helps me both relax and focus at the same time and it’s really not about creating perfect renderings…it’s more about just using a different part of your brain for a while so you can see things a bit differently. I find this even helps my work, giving me different art solutions for problems sitting at the back of my mind.

At work I work on production VFX, but I still draw a ton in-between things. I draw while on my lunch break; I doodle while waiting for renders or sometimes during phone calls. To be honest, I often find these chance moments to be more inspiring than a 2 hour life drawing session. You can really just sketch anywhere!


So there it is! Getting away from the drawing desk can be hugely beneficial for your art making.

If you're feeling like venturing out like our pros then check out our products that are specifically built to make it easier to create on the go.


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