What Is a Field Sketch?

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Simple drawings that usually use little more than a pencil and a pad of paper, field sketches attempt to capture the immediate environment of the observer from his or her angle and position.

Field sketches are used by artists as studies for later pieces and by a variety of professionals who must document their surroundings in situations when a camera is not effective.


A field sketch is primarily a means of recording a scene for later reference. Wildlife researchers use field sketches to record the environment and setting of animals they are studying without disturbing them with photography. Architects and landscape artists use field sketches to illustrate the terrain they will be working with and often add elements that are part of future plans. Fine artists use field sketches to capture the features of a landscape or other place, usually to be used for later pieces, such as paintings.


Field sketches vary in type, from very detailed sketches that show the position of a variety of different objects as they relate to a well sketched out landscape to fast sketches that are meant to capture the loose form of a scene or object. Field sketches are made on drawing paper in speciality notebooks, on large pieces of drafting paper and even on napkins, if the field artist finds himself in a pinch.

Drawing a Field Sketch

With just a pencil and paper, it is possible to do a field sketch of the environment around you or an object in front of you, no matter where you are. If drawing a landscape field sketch, use a horizon line to give yourself a perspective reference first and then sketch in the other details of the scene, using quick, squiggly movements with the pencil instead of straight lines. If sketching an object, person or animal, divide the subject into quarters by drawing a cross through the centre of the page and using it to centre the drawing. Field sketches can be as detailed or light as you want them to be. Continue to draw in squiggly lines, sculpting and shading in the details of the scene and objects until you reach the level of detail you desire. Adding notes to the sketch will help you remember locations, dates and any other important details that are difficult to render visually.

Creative Practice

Field sketches are often an integral part of an artist's training because they teach skills that develop your eyes and perspective and provide numerous objects to practice drawing on. After taking a drawing or sketching class, keeping a sketchbook on hand and stopping to do field sketches when you encounter a beautiful view, an interesting piece of architecture or even a brightly coloured bird in a city park is a great way to hone your creative skills.