View Full Version : The Value of Learning to Sketch

09-07-2014, 10:25 PM
I wanted to earnestly thank all the experienced, senior members here for encouraging the idea of learning to sketch. Jackie especially highlighted this in a few comments on my paintings where she emphasized the use of plumb lines and measurements. Well, I am now taking drawing lessons from a wonderful woman here at the academy and we spend multiple hours measuring and sketching and doing gesture drawings. I can't say that it is always fun as my arm kills me the next day and what should take me minutes takes hours to get good measurements on. However, I am starting to sense a new freedom that may soon marry up with my painting. I notice that when I look at a composition now, I don't feel that I must first take a photo and grid it on. I am starting to notice relationships, like what portion of what I am seeing hits at different points on the plumb line in my head or the outward shape of a composition, like the wrapping paper size of it etc. I promised Nick that I would share a bit of what I am doing. Most of what we do is charcoal drawings and then placing value by adding or rubbing out but this week I started to do a few little gesture drawings of people with white pastel pencil. This one is of my son while he played soccer on tobacco colorix paper. Thanks everyone for pushing me to take up drawing more seriously!!!WC is great.http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/07-Sep-2014/1761517-nateplayingsoccer.gif

09-07-2014, 11:29 PM
Congrats! That is a great drawing - so much movement. What does he think of it?

09-08-2014, 12:48 AM
So, Mamalynn is serious about her art and willing to do the work to master her craft. This is a great sketch - simple lines, great values, terrific perspective. Congratulations, artist!

09-08-2014, 01:46 AM
Gorgeous sketch, Mamalynn. I'd call that more of an elegant, accurate drawing since I associate sketching with something looser and blockier. Loads of fun sketching white on dark too! This is masterful.

On theme, I learned to draw carefully and measure everything working from photos years and years before I learned to sketch. Even early life drawings as a child, I tended to draw slow and careful, measuring as much as I could, memorizing proportions.

Then I wound up in a life drawing group that met a couple times a month where about 20 artists took turns posing and sketching, clothing optional. It was great. I started doing a lot of life drawing and was unhappy with my life drawings but glad to get the chance to learn - until the day one artist-model decided to "warm up" with "a few short gestures."

I think she was limiting herself to one minute per pose. Two pages of headless-girl quick sketches later, I was getting to where I could get her pose and entire body into them and got some memorably cool sketches of some of her poses. I think she must also have been a dancer, some were pretty dramatic and stylized. Then she gave us a fifteen minute pose. I was done so fast with that, after all the little gestures.

That convinced me to start doing Timed Gesture Drawing. I also started sketching my cat. Using a timer, I discovered that even sound asleep, my cat changes pose every 2 minutes at least. He will actually stand up, turn around and lay down facing the other way without waking up. He looks like he teleports - if I glance away he's in a new blobby cat pose with cat parts aimlessly pointing in random directions.

So I started getting him drawn with whatever I had in hand, mostly in small sketchbooks to get him done in time, and five years later have a much better grasp of cat anatomy. I'm almost at a point where I can do his leaping poses and motion poses. Half the time when I draw him, I'm finishing it from memory because he just moved - his shortest fidget time is about 30 seconds or less.

Meanwhile, Colorix and other teachers convinced me to loosen up, get painterly and leave details till last instead of using them as measurement places to home in on. I have a dream of completing my cat in three or four strokes, just get the dark parts in and leave the rest bare paper. He's Siamese so letting his light areas fade to background could work. Still haven't gotten quite that concise but I might manage it someday.

09-08-2014, 05:23 AM
The hard work you have done to learn your craft really shows in this drawing! Terrific action shot, as if caught on camera.

09-08-2014, 06:16 AM
excellent drawing!

09-08-2014, 08:37 AM
Thanks for your comments Potoma, Madeleine, Robert, Blayne and Maryinasia--I should have been clearer. I am just Beginning this drawing journey. Perhaps like so many self taught people, I jumped into the more exciting part of art--painting, with no background in drawing and have always regretted it. This little sketch is actually the best I've done----many, many bad ones! (Robert, you are right, this started as a simple gesture, shoulder angle, hip angle, body gesture and then I filled it in) I am still mostly on still life sketching and Robert, I hope one day to have the basic skills to step into an Open Studio for life drawing. That is my goal. I agree with you, with the very little I know, that quick gesture drawing seems to speed things up. The teacher I have wants to emphasize very careful measuring with many rechecks for now to get good habits going. It is sometimes like MATH class, ugh. I absolutely cannot see a fourth or eighth of my measuring stick so my initial layout tends to be consistently too long or wide! I suppose one gets back into the flow at some point. Robert, love that you have a constant willing model in your sleeping cat. Maybe I could use my sleeping husband in his TV chair <grin> I credit all on you for my desire to get better.! Lynn

09-08-2014, 09:13 AM
Wonderful drawing! The more you draw, the easier and more natural the measuring will become! Your eye will begin to become more accurate with proportions and angles! All it takes is time and practice! You are clearly on the way!


09-08-2014, 11:21 AM
Wow, so this is what you call a sketch... hmm. :D

Thank you for sharing it :) When I draw I still need a lot of pencil marks to keep track of the important spots. I have hard time to use line or ovals. In fact I hate them. So I make the plumbing lines with one or two dots only.

I keep getting surprised by the relationships of the measurements when painting birds. You know, the "this part if the wing is as long as..." thing. People are big no-no for me :)

09-08-2014, 11:56 AM
People and cats both get easier with practice, Nick. It's not that bad, just takes practice. My first sketches in that open studio life drawing group were truly hideous, ridiculous proportions and too much detail here and there. I didn't start getting good body proportions till the day that woman did her "warm up gestures." Once something is down, it can be corrected. Light guide lines and later observation can help.

Lynn, Don is right. Your teacher emphasizing accurate measuring is wonderful. I wish I'd had her class when I was in high school or junior college. I took three semesters of Art History and various prerequisites in order to qualify for a Life Drawing class only to find that they didn't actually hold it during my last semester. Plumb lines and a measuring stick can make all the difference.

I taught myself to sketch without them because I didn't have them. To me that's a bit like using a ruler or drawing a freehand straight line. Harder to learn the freehand straight line but it's convenient afterward. My sketches aren't often as precise and detailed as yours, that is spectacular!

Usually now that's because I went to doing details last in the painting process, so sketches for paintings stay at the block in stage and evolve as I paint. They are very different processes.

Anyway if you have an opportunity for a life drawing group or class, do not think you're not good enough to show up! I went even though I knew I could not draw bodies accurately at all without 400 measurements on a photo, because I wanted to learn. I found out after going that I wasn't the only one doing giant arms and shrimpy chests or big heads or teeny feet.

Your sleeping husband may even be a better subject than my cat if his roll over time is longer than Ari. Anyone willing to be drawn while sleeping is great.

It's some holdover from the non-artist myth of talent that you have to already be really good to show up for a class or group. If it's an old group, it may look like everyone in there is good at life drawing because they had some months and years of practice and you just started. Truth is, they all started out drawing badly and may have made exactly the same mistakes along the way to learn. I did a lot of standing people with very short legs the same length as their arms... and see that in other people's sketches in Art Journals sometimes. Then I look at my cat, various dogs, horses and creatures, and realize that's a kind of natural proportion. Body in the middle and four limbs all about the same length. Do that to a human and they look very weird whether it's gorilla arms or tiny short legs.

The best way to learn good proportions is by lots and lots of separate tries. I really got that with the gesture sketches. Details are easy compared to the gesture. But after about 100 of them no matter what the subject is, that many separate observations add up to knowing the basic proportions. I do both cats and men so I know the leg length approximately, a new person to draw I look at their leg length in relation to that.

I posed once at the life drawing group and caused a lot of frustration. I should have mentioned before I posed that I'm deformed and the right side of my body is shorter than the left, leg length is 3cm shorter, arm is an inch shorter, torso lopsided, fingers and toes short and back crooked. I slumped in a chair in a position I could hold for 15 minutes and just relaxed.

Most of them corrected my disabilities, eliminated both the scoliotic high shoulder and the small-weak side problem. One of them wound up exaggerating it, her sketches of others bordered on caricature. She gave it to me and I got a gut shock by how extreme it was. I learned then that I should not pose or should give artists the cue that's what it is. I'm two different sizes and might look backwards foreshortened or something in any pose. Correct to what looks right and lose the likeness, correct to what's there and I look distorted.

Lynn, don't be shy about joining any life group. You'd shine as one of the best in it from the start and that teacher's doing you a great favor with those measuring methods.

Nick, really don't worry about it. It's okay to be a beginner at something and I know from your other sketches that you're not even a beginner, more intermediate, life sketch pretty well already. More sketching of the same subject multiple times really makes a big difference. I watched several of my favorite travel sketch artists in the Art Journals forum go from hit or miss proportions on people in crowds to always getting them cool and accurate for their build.

I love the title of this thread.

Learning to sketch, being able to just get down the essentials of what you see fast and easy (by practice) by hand is incredibly liberating. It means being able to paint on impulse.

Cameras lie. They lie about value, they lie about color, they lie about proportions too. The lens can fisheye and distort, verticals can bow in the middle one way or the other, accurate measuring from photos can mess up a still life or a person. They foreshorten to the extreme sometimes depending on point of view. We all see better than that, even me with my crummy eyesight.

Life sketching makes a better reference even if it's biro on a cocktail napkin. It can go right to the gist of a subject and leave out all the junk. You can adjust for a better painting right at the sketch stage. Photos are good for a memory jog or to see a subject never visited in life - but the better I get at drawing, the more I wind up compensating for the camera's flaws from memory of similar sights. I might not have seen a castle but I remember how morning sun at that latitude looked on a curved turret and the photo gives me some place to start.

It's also immensely satisfying to sketch in person and like the results.

09-08-2014, 12:55 PM
Jackie Simmons' blog this morning was on how to get proportions right, and how important right proportions are...interesting read...

SAS Designs
09-08-2014, 01:09 PM
Your "sketch" is so dynamic - fabulous.
I just signed up for a Drawing Class, can't wait to get into a group again. Find it inspires me to keep at it. Will go to look for Jackie Simmonds' blog now.

BTW, for those who still follow Katherine Tyrrell, she has (finally! for us book addicts) got a book due:
Drawing 365: Tips and Techniques to Build Your Confidence and Skills Paperback December 12, 2014

09-09-2014, 06:07 PM
So glad that banging on about refining drawing skills is taking fruit in at least one person............

you inspire me!!!

09-09-2014, 06:09 PM
Nick - "people are a no-no". Crikey, you want to be able to play a concerto after only just learning a few five finger piano exercises?

BE PATIENT. and join a life class. it's fun.

09-09-2014, 10:05 PM
Enjoyed your blog, Jackie!

Hee hee, look what you inspired, Lynn! I didn't even go looking for references for the pastel I just started, went to drawing from life instead. And painting. Not as detailed but it'll be done tomorrow or day after and coming out well.

09-10-2014, 01:39 AM
Nick - "people are a no-no". Crikey, you want to be able to play a concerto after only just learning a few five finger piano exercises?

BE PATIENT. and join a life class. it's fun.
Jackie, no, I don't want to, that't why I don't even try people drawing yet. :)
I work 12 hours a day, so joining a regular class is very problematic. But I have your book about sketching and I draw every day.

09-11-2014, 12:03 AM
Thanks Judibelle for reminding me about Jackie's blog. I read through it again and it is SO helpful Jackie. Suzy--I don't know about Katherine Tyrrell. I'll have to look her up. Talking about book addiction, I do love Juliette Aristides book entitled Lesson in Classical Drawing which comes with an inspiring companion DVD tutorial. This is the approach my teacher is using, a classical method. Had a two hour drawing session today, still life in charcoal mostly focusing on values. She says that she is soon going to ask me to do a drawing using value placement only with no contour lines to train the eye for value shapes and not be stuck on where one item starts and another ends. The she says we may be onto skeletons???? She believes that drawing anatomy is crucial before hanging the fat and skin on I guess. It has been quite an adventure for me as a novice but loving it. Glad to see that you are joining a drawing group and would love to know what you are doing!

Robert, I am rather terrified to go to an open studio for life drawing but since the woman I am taking lessons from is the monitor at a few open studios she says she will tell me when she thinks I have enough basics to enjoy/ profit from it. There must be different thoughts on this. One monitor said--"Drawing is drawing, just come and do your best" I get the sense though that my teacher would like me to learn some techniques and try to practice them rather than develop some sloppy habits! We'll see. Glad this thread inspired your latest pastel. I do find it more invigorating to draw from life even though my drawings are taking longer than my paintings now. Thank you Jackie and Robert for all the help on this site and the inspiration!

09-11-2014, 02:27 PM
Do whichever comes comfortably to you - if your teacher sets a level for you before you join in, you'll have the confidence of her opinion before starting. I just dived in knowing I was no good at it and trusting I would become so, being excited at every improvement and improving fast. But I have a nearly feline level of confidence in almost everything, especially art.

One way to build up to it might be some mirror exercises and self portraits, either face or full body. The one model who's got plenty of time for you is yourself. Whatever you think of your looks, the drawing or painting will usually come out flattering because most of the things people get embarrassed about are fairly minor details and get lost in areas of tone or color while it's pretty easy to set up side lighting and pose in a way that looks good. Lit from side and above anyone looks better. Be careful about the light in self portraits though, it can be awful if it's full on like a flash photo - those can make anyone look bad.

09-22-2014, 02:39 AM
Glad I found this thread. I have had just one drawing class and need a whole lot of practice. I have all these ideas for paintings in my head that are well beyond my skill level. I plan to read the blog and discipline myself to practice sketching every day. You are all great inspiration.