Would you attempt to sketch this scene if you only had 30 minutes?

October 30, 2017 | 5 Comments

How many times when you are travelling, do you come across a scene like this, a scene that you would love to sketch, but it seems too hard and you are not sure how to go about it. To make matters worse, you are travelling with other people who are not sketchers and they only want to spend a little time in the town. Is there a way you could sketch something in around 30 minutes that would adequately record this view? Or is there an approach that you could use so that you at least start the sketch?

This is the stunning town of Bassano del Grappa on the Brenta river with the gorgeous timber bridge designed by Palladio. And it’s one of the destinations on the Palladian Odyssey Tour.

The big goal of the tour is to equip the partipants with some specific travel sketching strategies so that they can tackle a scene like this.

Here are three versions of this scene which I have done – the first was during our ‘reccy’ tour in 2016 to plan the Palladian Odyssey and the other two were my demos during the afternoon workshops on the banks of the Brenta during the PO Tours in 2017. All were done in around the 30-45 minute mark (the demos might have taken a little longer because I was talking at the same time).

2016 sketch on the planning trip

PO Tour 1 2017 Demo.

PO Tour 2 2017 Demo.

The secret is to simplify and in all three sketches I put down some general watercolour washes early on in the sketch. For those who have done SketchingNow Foundations, this is an advanced application of my Abstracting Shapes approach, using a few lines initially to help with the shapes.

Here is a progress photo of the first sketch (2016 version) showing you the first few watercolour washes and my minimal setup lines.

There are lots of different ways you could apprach sketching this scene, so just for comparison, here is a fourth version (done in 2016) using a ‘feeling edges’ approach. This version would have taken me less than 10 minutes to complete!

And here are the sketches from the two groups.

I was so impressed by the work that everyone did as this is certainly not an easy scene to sketch.

Just for the record, the afternoon sketching was a few hours in lenght, so participants on the tour did not need to complete their sketch in 30 minutes! I certainly don’t want to pressure people into working faster than they are comfortable with. But my hope is that with a few of my sketching traveling techniques in their head, they will find it easier to tackle complex scenes in a limited time frame. Isn’t that what travel sketching is all about?

With all my travel this year (3 big overseas trips in 5 months) I haven’t had a chance to describe all the exciting things we did on the Palladian Odyssey Tours in May this year. So I am planning over the next few weeks to finally get around to scanning my sketches and sharing some of the concepts.

I’m so excited that we are able to run the Palladian Odyssey tours for the second time in May 2018. There are still spots available for two tour dates in May so please go to the website for more details.

So… would you sketch this scene in 30 minutes, and how would you approach it?



  • What an amazing bridge! That alone is very scary!!
    I would feel that the 7 steps of working structurally would be too slow for me to capture it all in 30 minutes!
    I would probably try two versions – one with really loose lines, just to figure out the proportions without worrying too much about it looking right.
    Then I would jump right in with watercolours!!
    But my end result would certainly not be as gorgeous as your sketches, Liz!

  • Corinne McNamara says:

    Ideally, with only a short time, I’d try to figure out what captures my attention most and try to sketch that. Then, I’d probably take a photo. Often, I just stare and later regret not putting pen to paper for at least an impression!

  • Kurt Timmins says:

    30 minutes is not much! My problem is that I always get stuck in detail and end up overworking, so I think I would put pen to paper and do the skyline as a single line. Then a few verticals to get some structure then the horizontals of the bridge and river banks, a few washes, and some more pen work to fill in a few details.

  • Like you, a 30 minute time frame wouldn’t stop me. I think I’ve gotten faster both in sketching and painting. I would probably do the watercolors first and then add some ink. It is great to see the different ways you captured the scene in the short time. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lois Courtright says:

    I gave it a try yesterday! The time limit was very helpful and made it so exciting!

    Starting with the dark brown bridge and then roughing in the buildings and roofs on the far side of the river, it was so fun to add a bit of paint!

    Some of the reflections on the river looked amazing, and some . . . did not!

    It was a great learning experience and I hope to try it again!


    Thank you Liz!

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