A Confession and Resolution


(This was supposed to be a New Year’s resolution but somehow it’s now April and the year is not so fresh anymore. BUT it was my birthday in late March so it’s a new year for me. Birthday resolutions are a thing, right?)

First the confession: I don’t like sketching. The archetypal artist always has a sketchbook on hand, ready to capture any passing idea, face, or scene that catches their eye. Me, not so much. I like planning everything out before hand, carefully transferring my layout to a clean piece of paper, and then methodically rendering the final piece with great detail. I find sketching intimidating, there’s this big blank piece of paper you have to fill in on the fly with no measuring or framework. And even worse, all your efforts are bound together in a book whether they turn out or not. You can always tear pages out I suppose, but those rough little page stubs are still there, mocking you. Yeah, I don’t like sketching.

This is not a good thing, mind you. I know all the benefits to sketching. Drawing is part muscle memory and the more you practice, the better the connection between your hand and eyes become. It also helps you work through ideas and discover new things. I want to like sketching, I really do. There are all sorts of inspirational sketchers out there. I took a whole class on field sketching during my Science Illustration Program at CSUMB, taught by Jenny Keller. Jenny keeps beautiful sketch books which she displays as artwork in their own right. She’s also written a chapter on the benefits of field sketching in the book Field Notes on Science and Nature. One of my program classmates, Kristin Link, has gone on to be a successful artist and illustrator in Alaska with a focus on sketching. And sometimes for inspiration/ego-crushing, I look at James Gurney’s blog, where he posts pages from his sketchbook.

The resolution: I will keep a sketch book and sketch in it at least once a week (hopefully building up to a daily sketching habit). While sketching I’ll keep this quote from David Allen Sibley in mind, found in the Foreward to John Muir Laws’ The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds:

Drawing is often misunderstood. Non-artists tend to focus on the end result, and think that the primary purpose of drawing is to produce pretty pictures. For one thing, as this book points out, that’s a stress-inducing way to think about the practice of drawing, since by that measure most of your drawings will be failures. More importantly, it misses the deeper and longer-lasting rewards of drawing – the knowledge and understanding that come from the process.

I’ll start posting some of my sketches here once I get my confidence up a bit. Be on the lookout!

Life Drawing, a little vacation from science illustration.

A 10 minute sketch in conte pencil.

Life drawing is a great break from science illustration. It’s all about observation, you draw only what’s right in front of you, nothing microscopic, nothing long gone in the past. You exercise the connection between your hand and your eyes. There’s no background research involved, long discussion about content. There’s a time limit, usually from 1 minute up to 50, so you’ve got to work fast and let go of agonizing over every line. It puts me in a sort of trance state and the time flies by. I’ve been trying to do more life drawing, both to improve my ability to draw people (lots of those in archaeological reconstructions), and also to keep up my observational skills. I’m currently taking a class at the Dundas Valley School of the Art. Today, besides the usual short gesture drawings, we worked on reduction drawings.

A 40-ish minute reduction drawing with vine charcoal.

This technique consists of coating your paper with charcoal and then picking out the lighter tones with a kneaded eraser. You can then go back in with charcoal to adjust things a bit and add more darks. I really like this technique as it very forgiving, much more so than working with pure lines. You can go back and forth between adding and subtracting values forever (or until the model’s foot goes to sleep).   So I’ve had a lovely morning sketching. And now back to painstakingly cleaning up and laying out chipped stone illustrations for a Çatalhöyük publication.