Above: the second quick portrait sketch during my evening practice session. This one is still with the Faber Castell Pitt Artists Brush Pen and Lukas gouache washes (and flicks). There is a bit of text that was stuck on this page when I got here, “I think so, but let us try to keep to a chronological order.” That’s interesting because of what happens on the next pages, but that’s for a later post. (8 x 8 inch journal with Folio paper [a printmaking paper, not a watercolor paper] for pages.) Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Yesterday I started writing about a series of portrait sketches I made from a 19th century photograph. I made the series one evening recently, one after the other, with a break at one point to talk to Dick, who had just come home and was making dinner for himself. I thought it would be good to have a short break and have a chat. It would let paint dry, and give me a moment to rethink my approach.
Here are some additional reasons to push ahead and practice with a quick succession of drawings of the same thing/person/animal:
1. You are working on your ability to measure and place your lines accurately. You'll see you're too wide or too vertical in those placements and can adjust in the next image you create, five minutes from now. In this second round sketch I ended up going wider, which was necessary for capturing a likeness, but I also lost the plot on the placement of the chin, and so it goes.
2. You are learning what you can get away with, what line you can use to show a shape, indicate a shadow, hint at a contour—in short you’re working on your visual vocabulary, learning new “words” or refreshing your mind as to familiar ones.
3. You are becoming ever more fearless in drawing directly with a pen.
4. You are working on your concentration when you’d rather just walk away. This is an important skill to cultivate.
5. Momentum. The more you sketch in a given session the more you get a sense of your own rhythm. You warm up, you get more accurate, and as you tire you learn to push through being tired and keep working (again: concentration—it’s like a muscle that strengthens with work). And finally you learn when to stop (because you really aren’t being productive, you’re just fussing, your brain isn’t seeing things any more, whatever).
6. You get to immediately try out new color combinations, the results of which you can compare to your first or earlier efforts, while everything is fresh in your mind. This can actually have some wonderful, unexpected or unplanned side effects. While working on this second sketch attempt I turned to my palette of Lukas paints (which had been left over from another sketching project) and started working with blue and red to make a lavender and then using yellow (the complement of purple) to see where, with these pigments I would get browns, if I could get useful neutrals, and what interesting things would happen in the meantime. A couple days later I found myself working on one of my rock portraits (paintings of Lake Superior rocks on paper—for an upcoming show) and I found myself using purple and yellow as the basis for the color choices. These are colors I don’t normally work with, but because two days earlier I was messing about with these remnant paints in a way I don’t normally combine them I had the results in my mind. I could more readily work out a difficult color theory problem (well difficult to my comfort level).
And one more reason to make a series of sketches in rapid succession:
7. You get additional great “little bits” to cheer you along your way.
Left: a detail from the opening page spread showing some fun “little bits” in the way the paint handled on this paper. Look at the fun granulation in the forehead area where all three pigments show (yellow, blue, and red). Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Did you start a series yesterday after you read yesterday's post? Whether you did or not do a series today. Take a 60 minute break today and do three sketches (you’ll need about 60 minutes because you’re going to have to let the paint dry.) Make the time right now!
A thought on letting paint dry:
If you want to speed up the process you can certainly use a hair dryer or a heat gun (keep it moving several inches above your paper so you don’t scorch your paper), but I recommend that you take time to let the paint dry on its own.
A couple things happen when you let paint dry on its own. You need to watch paint dry when you are learning to use paint, because it is a process by which you learn when you can add more paint (i.e., is the paper to wet, too dry, for the effect I want; what effects can I get?). As you check the paint drying you’ll see if it lightens in value, granulates, and you'll have a clear and recent memory of how that paint passage looked only moments before when you applied the paint. You’ll also develop an ability to judge paper wetness by the coolness-to-touch method backed up with the visual cues you observe (is the water still visible, only slightly reflective, mat but still wet?).This is all information you need to ingest as you work with watercolor or gouache (or any wet media in your journal or paintings).
Finally, when you use a hair dryer or heat gun to dry your paint you end up getting a different look. It can be very subtle, but it can also be different enough that when you are painting without the aid of electricity you might end up with some surprises. Letting the paint dry naturally will also allow you to know whether or not you need to adjust the amount of water you are using in your brush. And you’ll have the time to think about all these things as you keep checking back at your painting. Speeding up your paint drying time can actually slow down your learning time.
When is a good time to let the hair dryer rip? Use the dryer when you have lots of water and pigment on the page and want to dry it quickly and want to push that liquid across the page. Go in there and get messy. (Be sure to cover pages and table tops you don't want painted with waste paper, paper towels, plastic, etc.) Dry some areas and push other puddles out into strings and webs of color. Have some fun. It’s a great way to make backgrounds on your journal pages to draw on later.
Tomorrow, the third sketch in this series of four.