Above: Page spread from a 9 x 12 inch Fabriano Venezia Journal. Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketches. Warm up on the left, detail study on the right. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I've written in recent weeks about the importance of warming up when sketching.
Here's a post about why I believe warming up is so important, and I've illustrated it with examples I drew on a trip to the zoo.
Here's a post about warming up when sketching portraits of Dick as he watches TV.
If you pop "warm ups" into this blog's search engine you'll get a string of posts you can look at.
For today I'd like to focus on how a warm up sketch can help us pinpoint what it is we need to work on.
That's the point of today's image. I was sketching a portrait of Kevin Spacey. I hadn't sketched that day yet, which is late for me. I wanted to sketch quickly and see how accurate I could be and how good my eye was at the time.
That sketch on the left is the result. It has a bit of Kevin Spacey in there but you really have to look.
What is there, however is a whole lot of information about where I need to watch myself when measuring by sight, when working quickly, when working with a brush pen, when looking at negative shapes and spaces…in short, just about everything in regards to where I was that particular moment in sketching ability.
WIth all that information I could easily pick something I wanted to work on and for me it was the shapes and porportions around the eyes—to get the likeness down.
So I taped off a bit of the right-hand page with masking tape, colored the background with light pink Montana Marker and started over.
I sketched just that narrow band of his face, focusing on the eyes, but scaled so that I would get the negative space of his ears as well. (I misjudged a little and ran out of space for the nose tip, but hey that's another bit of learning for me to judge vertical distances when setting the scale of my drawing!)
I used a PPBP to sketch. This time I worked a little bit slower. I wasn't interested in slowing down to the point of achieving exact precision, I just wanted to slow down and get a likeness—find that point on the continuum of speed if I could.
After I sketched in the features in that band I started to address the values with some of the other markers I had on hand.
I was happy with the result because I got the likeness I was after.
So why do a study like this?
1. I think the moment you do a sketch and it doesn't go right it is a great time to do another and put all that you've learned doing the first right back into the next.
2. A limited study like this (a narrow band across the features) is enough to put your recognition of what went wrong in the first sketch to the test, but doesn't take much time—it was already late at night and if I'd decided to do a complete drawing with more detail I might have talked myself out of it because I was tired and wanted to go to bed (I just wanted to sketch a little bit more).
3. The more we look at something the more we see, and ultimately the more we can get down on paper (or stylize away from so that there's no need to get it down on paper).
For me those are the main reasons. There are others, but this post is long enough.
PROJECT FRIDAY ASSIGNMENT:
Select a subject that you love (I adore Kevin Spacey) and will enjoy drawing multiple times. My students know that I love drawing Gert my Rubber Chicken Puppet, and dinosaurs from my collection. I draw Dick a lot while he watches TV and he's so problematic (it's those eyebrows) that I wouldn't select him for a project like this—I would suggest you pick not only a subject you love, but one with which you've at least had a bit of success in the past. (If you're new to sketching, don't worry about "success" just pick a subject you love looking at and are willing to work repeatedly with. My series of tick sketches is not a good example of subject choice because I don't enjoy looking at ticks—but it was for a commission and I have to say that by the time I'd reached the third sketch I had great respect for the mechanics and approach of the Wood Tick.)
Take some time tonight to sketch the subject quickly. Work rapidly but thoughtfully, with intense concentration. You might mix a bit of gesture drawing and contour drawing together to make a quick sketch. (If you don't know what gesture and contour drawing are search this blog or the internet for examples, this post is long enough already.)
Set the drawing aside and take a five- or ten-minute break.
Return to the drawing and the moment you look at it again with your fresh eye start taking notes about what you notice needs attention—e.g., are the parts proportionate? is it elongated? Is it stretched wide? Are the spaces between elements in the drawing spaced correctly? You aren't looking at your drawing to talk yourself into how "bad" it is. You're looking at your drawing with your artist's critical eye to see where you can improve the drawing. And those first few seconds of your fresh eye looking at your drawing will pick out where things have gone off track.
Take notes on all of this. Note this stuff right on your drawing. Use arrows and draw little thumbnail sketches to make a point to yourself if you have an idea you'd like to try.
Take another break if you need to. Or get right back to sketching. But this time have a new plan for what you want to focus on. Maybe it's the exact shape of the shadow shapes, or it's the spacing between related features as I did here. Whatever it is, take a small slice of the object and sketch only that slice. Give it all your attention. Hold in your mind all the reminders you wrote down in your notes.
When you've finished, repeat a round of analysis of this new sketch. Note where you might focus your future attention in a future study. Where did you improve? Which items are still eluding you?
Then put your journal away and pull it out tomorrow and do another round, focusing perhaps on a small slice of the second drawing, or begin again with a full drawing (aware now of all the nuances you want to notice and include). And repeat the note taking.
Find time to repeat it on Sunday as well. I know that by the third time you try this with the same subject you'll find satisfying improvements which will make you keen to make more studies in the future (unless of course those studies are of ticks—then you might be less keen in the abstract, but very keen on drawing aspect).
You might even combine this Project Friday with a "getting to know" a particular medium day. See my five part series on "Project Friday: Getting Used to the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen" which starts here.