Friday, September 07, 2007

Jeanne asked a question about....sketching

Studies of the view from Fanjeaux in Languedoc
Top row: Rough sketch and colour study done on site
Bottom row: Drawing and final artwork done in studio
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
I am curious about how you work. After you do the drawing and decided to do a painting, do you re sketch it on the new paper? Or do you transfer the outline to other paper? Most of the time if I am going to add color, it goes on over the sketch.....I am not sure I would have the patience to sketch something more than once.
Jeanne Grant - a response to yesterday's post
Jeanne - I do like the questions you ask as you always make me think about things I do automatically! If I ever get my book on sketching written you are definitely getting a mention in the credits!

The answer really depends on the purpose of the drawing, how big I intend to do the piece and what I'm sketching in/on.

Sketching in a sketchbook

If I'm working in a sketchbook I very often work in pencil or pen first and then add coloured pencil. If the drawing goes wrong, I just turn the page and start again. However these sketches are very much 'try outs'/preparatory drawings as well as records of places I've been or things I've seen.

Developing a larger work plein air

If I'm working on a piece which I know I'm doing large and may end up in an exhibition or on somebody's wall then the process goes as follows:
  • Look at the scene and see if I can find a number of different options for a possible subject. I ususally use some form of viewfinder (four fingers making a square, a card viewfinder or my camera)
  • I then find out how the subject 'works' and what the best design might be by doing a rough sketch. I start with outlines of the main shapes - no details. This is where I often work out how much I can reasonably get into the 'picture frame' - inside the four lines which form the bounadries of the picture. If you look at Monet's sketchbooks, it's my belief that a lot of his sketches belong to this stage.
  • if the pattern of the outlines looks OK then I'll start to hatch in some values (usually 3 or 5 values only) to see what the value pattern looks like. I might at that point then redraw the picture frame because the design works better maybe with a closer crop.
  • to check the design I very often divide up the rough sketch with 'third' lines. In other words I divide up the sketch vertically and horizontally into thirds. That enables me to check where my focus is relative to sweet spots and whether I've got any key lines near the centre.
  • Once I'm happy with what I'm doing, I then make sure the lines of the picture frame are drawn on the rough sketch and I may check and resize main shapes before using this as a plan to draw the subject on to my main support. I often put very faint 'third' marks on the edge of the support so I can judge placement of key lines and shapes.
Bear in mind that the first sketch is VERY rough. It's about big shapes, values, design and answering the conundrem of where the crop should be ie where the picture frame should go.

Also, one of the things that happens when you paint plein air is it's not unusual to draw something incorrectly. For most plein air painters, the issue is whether this matters to the picture rather than whether it is a completely accurate representation of a structure. The emphasis tends to be very much more on interpretation and much less on accurate copying. Obviously, if you have the time, you can take more time over the drawing. However if you are limited for time you need to make a decision about how your time is best spent.

Developing a larger work in the studio

For those of us who also enjoy creating in the studio, material acquired on site can provide information about, for example, perspective that can then be used when back in a studio setting. Again there is no requirement to copy - but rather to interpret the scene from the material gathered during the process.

For me, I tend to use the photo to check what mistakes I've made in the drawing process and then to decide which to correct. I almost always redraw the work again and the colour again.

I also find the process of redrawing allows me to make judgements about what to include, what to leave out and what to change in the final work.

You can see more examples of how this works in the images at the top of this post and read more about them in the following posts (done a year apart!):
The images at the top of this post are:
  • top left - the rough sketch
  • top right - colour study done on site
  • bottom left - pencil drawing done in studio
  • botttom right - final colour artwork done in studio
So the answer is........I drew this particular subject three times and used colour twice.


  1. Thanks for sharing your "process" here. I am far less analytic and systematic, I simply go out and try to write down what I see. Also I experienced in plein air work that repetition is a rewarding thing to do. Instead of wearing off places seem to get loaded more and more with meaning and beauty.

  2. Martin - maybe I should have made it clearer. Most of what i do when sketching is so thoroughly ingrained with me that I don't ever need to think about it. It's been a real effort to write down all the stages that I think I use because I just get on and 'do' these days.

    However for those wanting to know more - and Jeanne did ask a question - I do try to explain it in terms of what I think I do and in stages which might make sense to somebody else. It's a step by step process until you can run.

    Maybe think back to when you were starting out - how did you start to draw, what did you focus on to improve what you do?

    I do agree with you about drawing the same things again and again - and I very much enjoy that too.

    However I enjoy travelling to sketch and the travelling does put an extra spin on things. When you know you won't be able to come back and try again it puts a bit of extra pressure into a one-off exercise.

  3. Thanks for explaining Katherine. Since I am more prone to do it once and that's what you get, it is nice to see how others work. I have picked up so much from you already, I am always looking for more I never know when things others do might work for me also until I hear or see them. I think most artists are "Works in Progress" and can keep learning forever.

  4. Jeanne - you have an unerring ability to hit the nail on the head! That's it in a nutshell - WIPs forever!

  5. Katherine, this was a very helpful post. I find, too, that explaining what I do helps to reinforce my good habits and to think about what I don't do as well to try to overcome those "bad" habits.

    We are always learning as you and Jeanne say.



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