Monday, 21 March 2011

The joy of sketching

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – January 2011.

Sketching is a wonderful way to sharpen your observational skills, gather material, capture memories and further your technique. It is a crossover between journaling and art practice as you record everyday life moments or scenes on your travels. Artists have always used sketchbooks and carried them around when travelling. Famous examples include Turner, Delacroix or Van Gogh.

Sketch on Moleskin notebook - Done with Faber Castell PITT artist pens

Sketching does not cost much; it takes no time at all: so, what are you waiting for?

The main requirements for my sketching material are to be portable and easy to set-up and use. A hardback sketchbook provides a good support and removes the need for a drawing board.  There are many options and your choice will be guided by the technique you use. If you add washes of colours to your line drawings, the paper needs to be thicker than if you just use pencils. Personally, I like the Moleskine sketchbooks because they are small and open flat, so you can sketch on the double page spread. These sketchbooks also have a ribbon bookmark and an elastic band to keep them close and avoid the pages being damaged during transport. The truth is that once you start sketching, I bet you will own more than one sketchbook…

Sketch of one of my daughters painting -  done with a Pentel Color Brush (steel blue)

As far as equipment to sketch is concerned, you are spoilt for choice: pencils, graphite pencils, pigment ink pens, permanent felt pens, biro pens, fountain pens… black is the most used colour, but sepia looks nice too, in particular if you apply a colour wash on the drawing. In this case, make sure that the ink you use is permanent. Another interesting option is to sketch with brush and ink. The technique is more difficult to master but the advantage is the variation in the line thickness from a fat line to a very thin one. Art shops stock brush pens with various ink colours.

For colours, add to your sketching kit a selection of coloured pencils or a small box of watercolours. A travel box with twelve half-pans and an integrated palette is all you need. If you use watercolour or watercolour pencils, a brush pen is a good investment. These brushes have a synthetic tip mounted like a fountain-pen with an in-built water reservoir. This way, you don’t have to carry around a bottle of water.

Saturday market in Bovey Tracey - Done with sepia PITT artist pen and watercolour wash

Regarding subject, you can sketch landscapes, still life, figures, etc. Sketching is a good way to fill these little pockets of waiting time: in the train, at the tube or bus stations, or waiting at the post office. Inside cafés and restaurants are great places to sketch. Order a coffee a start drawing people around. And if your subject moves, just start a new sketch on the same page.

Sketches are not meant to be finished work. Spontaneity is better than a perfect but stifled execution. When he talked to Brassaï about Matisse’s numerous iterations of the same drawing, Pablo Picasso questioned this approach and concluded: “In drawing, nothing is better than the first attempt.” I agree with this precept. Not all drawings are good, but you will get some excellent drawings from first attempts… The trick is to make many first attempts when tackling different subjects.

A basket of lemon outside a grocery store - Done with Pentel  Color Brush (Sepia) and watercolour

Forget the eraser and skip the initial pencil drawing. Be brave and use an ink pen to trace your drawing. If a line does not look right, just trace another one next to it. Working this way will keep your drawing fresh, spontaneous and will improve your drawing skill in no time.

If you need inspiration, there are many blogs and websites with sketches by various artists. I would recommend that you check Urban Sketchers , a collective blog that features a variety of styles and will inspire you to start drawing everyday and experiment with different subjects and techniques.


Starrpoint said...

Sketching is a joyful way to pass the time. Instead of reading old magazines. I always have a sketch pad and pencil with me. Great for waiting rooms!

Vikalp Kumar said...

excellent post. And sketches don't have to be beautiful, they are just fast lines to convey a mood and expressions.