To Sketch or Not to Sketch?

During my time writing this blog and painting, I find that most times I really do like the structure and look of my sketch, it’s composition. However, through some way or another, or by way of a combination of short-sightedness and experimentation, I find that I have not achieved the result I desire.

As I am a rather serious person by nature, and don’t find that I like to approach new skills or tasks by halves, I have decided to start keeping a collection of my sketches. Right now, I am finishing off some pages in an old soft-cover sketch-pad that my sister ‘donated’ to me (full of old physics notes and diagrams in the front – so I could always go over currents and acceleration if I feel so ‘inclined’…did you catch that pun? :)). However, instead of relying purely on photos, which seem to constrain and leave me none too happy with the portrayal my time and efforts result in, I have decided to create my own sketches.

I began with a basic sketch of a barn I drove by this past Memorial Day weekend and completed some value studies in the passenger seat on the way home. Not only did I find that I went through several iterations of the scene before settling on one that I liked, which emphasized the focal point I eventually decided on (I like to think of it as developing my artistic instincts), but that I went through even more value studies of the sketch I finally chose.

Let me tell you, if you are not great at sketching, you can pick it up pretty quickly if you set aside the time. Just keep in mind that you should be painting lines, and not structures, because you will most likely produce things with incorrect angles, perspective, and proportions if you do the latter. Just get the ‘lines’ of the main objects in.

I cannot yet pull out ideas for sketches out of the air, but I definitely find that I am much more critical about my capabilities and composition of a painting if I sketch it. Then I can write a few notes on color and effects that I want to emphasize for the projected work. It also helps me to narrow down what I am really passionate about and what I will be willing to put in the most effort on to complete a painting. It is still not so easy for me to figure that out, but I am quick to learn that if I am sick of spending a dozen minutes or so throwing a sketch on paper, and a dozen or so more minutes playing with values, that I would not be willing to spend all the time the painting deserves. This leads to a lackluster work, stupid mistakes, and a frustrated and disillusioned painter.

Starting and keeping your sketches could also help you to plan other paintings or subjects as you work on the actual painting process of another. I know that I often start painting too early and get blooms and back-runs in my washes. However, it is at these times that it is worth getting distracted and stepping away from the work – thus removing it from potential harm. 🙂 This lets me make the most from the slices of time I can devote to investing in myself with learning watercolors.

My main interest for this post, I confess, stems from a video I saw last week regarding the quick use of a draft sketch as a template for future paintings. Apparently, you can use a window or a light box to trace an outline onto 140lb watercolor paper. I could not believe it, but the man in the video did it, so I will give it a try. The trick is to sketch in pencil and choose your main lines to outline in dark and thick Sharpie marker (any dark black marker will do). Then, you don’t have to spend all that time making new sketches, but just trace and start painting. This is something that I wish I had done for some of my previous paintings, but at least I can start doing so for pieces that I would like to hang from now on. It may also be a good idea if I am unsure of color choices on a subject, or even want to try changing the seasons in a scene (that would be cool!).

As usual, I am getting ahead of myself. However, it is always better to have lots of things to look forward to than nothing at all. This rings especially true for things we like to do, acts that give us joy and challenge us to be better. Looking back, I can see that I have made progress. However, as I delve deeper into this hobby, the more I find is waiting for me to be discovered.


2 thoughts on “To Sketch or Not to Sketch?

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