Pencil Sketching on Vacation, Damian Osborne


Pencil Sketching on Vacation

— A Landscape, a Still Life and a Portrait —

by Damian Osborne


Pencil sketching on vacation is a great way to unwind and get some sketching practice in, without needing to produce sell-able masterpieces.

Sketching for me is relaxing and meditative. I put some earphones on with my favourite music, and zone out.

I like drawing just for myself. Most of my drawings and doodles I don’t really show anyone. So I don’t have to care what anyone thinks of them.

Drawing from life and not from photos is especially important. The best way to practice is with a pencil and sketchbook and to be inspired by real life around you. Especially if it’s a beautiful place. 

My wife and I went to a friend’s destination wedding on the weekend. We stayed at a guesthouse in a sleepy fishing town just a couple of hours drive from Cape Town, called Kleinbaai.

It’s famous for its Great White shark cage diving, whale breeding grounds and beautiful fynbos-covered plains and mountains.

Being in a beautiful place is a sure way to get me sketching, even if it’s been a while.


Do you need more than just a pencil and sketchbook when vacation sketching?

When you’re travelling, it can be a mission to pack all your paints and art materials. Although, if you set out with the intention of doing some on-site plein air painting, it can be worth it.

However, we didn’t have much time with a pretty full itinerary, and there wasn’t much space in the car to pack all my art paraphernalia.

Pencil sketching is the best because it’s quick to set up and all you need is a pencil and sketchbook.

An eraser is also useful, but I try to use one sparingly. I start off drawing lightly and often just leave the construction lines. Light lines sometimes get wiped out with my hand anyway as I’m drawing.

I do pack an A3 size piece of hardboard and two metal ‘bulldog’ clips sometimes. This helps to keep your sketchbook clipped open and gives you a firm surface to work on.

Also, a craft knife is a great tool for sharpening your pencil. I like to sharpen at a longer, more gradual angle, exposing more of the graphite. Because I prefer drawing and shading overhand.


Which is the best pencil and paper for quick sketching?

To be honest, I don’t really care. I grab whatever is closest or already sharpened. I do prefer softer pencils for quick sketching; 2B – 6B. But it’s more the way the pencil behaves on the type of paper that makes the difference.

Some papers are more glossy and ‘slippery’. Others are more rough and can handle a lot more graphite.

So it depends on what you have at hand and what you prefer. Some people like light, tight drawing and some like to draw loose and dark.

The sketchbook I used here is a 200gsm Hahnemühle sketchbook which I like a lot. The texture is not too rough, nor too smooth. For me, it’s just right.

I also like heavier papers. Personally I think the Daler-Rowney sketchbooks suck, but that’s just my experience.

I wanted to make my own sketchbook papers when I get a chance. But for now, I’m happy with a hardcover commercial brand.

The point is, stop fussing with what you have and just use it. Then buy a new one.

If you’re feeling frustrated and struggling with your drawings, check out Those Bad Drawing Days, a blog I wrote after being seriously annoyed that my drawings ‘weren’t happening’. We all have bad drawing days. The point though, is to get over them and keep on drawing.


Sketching a landscape

The first sketch I did, on the evening of our arrival at the guesthouse, was the majestic view of the open spaces and mountains. I sat at the back of the house on the patio and drew this with a 6B pencil as the light faded.


Fynbos, Mountain and Mongoose, pencil in sketchbook, Damian Osborne, 2022, pencil sketching on vacation, landscape pencil sketch
Fynbos, Mountain and Mongoose, pencil in sketchbook, Damian Osborne, 2022.


It took me about 15 to 20 minutes. I took a picture with my cell phone afterwards, but of course, any camera — especially a phone camera — can never do justice to the awesomeness of nature and the incredible lighting and colours.


Fynbos and Mountain, Damian Osborne, 2022
Fynbos and Mountain, Damian Osborne, 2022.


I saw a little Cape Mongoose sniffing around the back of the house, so it became part of my drawing too. I like pencil sketching on vacation for this reason; capturing little memories that phone cameras don’t really do in the same way.


Next pencil sketch: a still life

The house we stayed at was neat and had some lovely furniture and ornaments. So the next day I drew the dressing table in the bed room. I liked the way it was set up, with the pitcher, bowl, candlestick and little weird sculpture of a ‘mannetjie’.


Dressing Table, pencil in sketchbook, Damian Osborne, 2022, still life pencil sketch, vacation pencil sketching
Dressing Table, pencil in sketchbook, Damian Osborne, 2022.  I started drawing a mousebird at the top of the page while I was sitting outside in the morning, enjoying the birds.


It gave me some ideas for a painting I have in the back of my mind which I want to do some time.

Again, I took a photo afterwards to show what I was working with.


Dressing Table, Damian Osborne, 2022
Dressing Table, Damian Osborne, 2022.


I could’ve done a better job with the composition, and overworked it a bit. But it doesn’t matter. It’s just a sketch. I didn’t erase anything, so I just built up heavier graphite over my mistakes.

This sketch took me a couple of hours and was a bit tricky.


A pencil portrait from life

On the last day, I wanted to include a pencil portrait ‘quick sketch’. While my wife, Janine, was chilling in front of the T.V. watching ‘Married at First Sight’, I drew her face. She was scowling at some of the awful contestants on the show. (I hate reality shows mostly, but she loves them.)

This sketch took me about an hour because I struggled with it a bit. She warns me beforehand that I’m allowed to draw her, as long as she doesn’t have to remain still. So that sets up the challenge.

She’s a lot prettier in real life, but I’m still kinda happy with it.


Janine Watching a Reality Show, pencil in sketchbook, Damian Osborne, 2022, sketching a portrait in pencil from life
Janine Watching a Reality Show, pencil in sketchbook, Damian Osborne, 2022.


I was worried about overworking it, and I think I did in some places. Graphite pencil is such a temperamental thing. It’s so easy to go just ‘over the edge’ and overwork it. Rubbing it out with an eraser usually just makes it worse.


Anyways, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed my little sketches and it has inspired you do get some drawings done today too.

You can check out some more of my figure drawings here.


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2 thoughts on “Pencil Sketching on Vacation”

  1. I love the sketches you have done. The landscape looks like two old elephants lying down for a rest amongst the fynbos with another one hiding in behind. Very lovely.
    Sketching is very relaxing at times and very frustrating at others. I like that you limite eraser use because the extra lines add something special, I think.

    It’s nice to see Janine featured too, especially when we hear so much about her. A beautiful model.

    1. Thanks very much Genevieve. I see one of the elephants you’re talking about. You have quite an imagination. I agree about the sketching lines. Sometimes they are nice. I wish I could’ve done a better drawing of Janine, but at the moment, I’m a bit out of practice. Thanks again for your lovely reply.
      Best regards,

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