I've never been a big sketcher. The received wisdom from most art educators is that sketching is a good habit to acquire, but it's just not one I've managed to pick up. I've always been the kind of artist who likes to work slowly and methodically and the idea of whipping out a pencil and a pad and scribbling away at the bus stop just never stuck. However, there are lots of reasons why I'd like to change that.
To begin with, I've been using the sight-size technique for quite a while now and while it's a fantastic approach for training the eye, it can make the student somewhat mechanical in finding proportions. Thinking particularly about figure work, it can lead to somewhat rigid drawings which lack a sensitivity to gesture. There are also situations where it is simply not practical for the artist to work sight-size.
Additionally, the rather looser handling that sketching requires is most likely good training for me - particularly as I'm one of those people who frets and fusses over the very early elements of blocking in a drawing. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be careful at this early stage (quite the contrary in some senses - 'begin slowly so you can end quickly' as the adage says) but I often feel I devote so much time to the construct that I become unwilling to make changes later when they become more visible. I waste time on, for example, minute nuances of contour, which are better left for later in the process. I think that's a weakness I need to target and sketching seems to me a good way of doing that.
Separately, sketching is a great way of exploring ideas, subject matters and compositional arrangements during the beginning stage of a new project. Like everything in art, though it requires the grasp of a few basics and plenty of practice.
The difficulty I'm having is working out a process for doing sketches. I'm going to LARA's excellent Wednesday evening quick sketch group, a series of 5 and 10 minute figure poses, followed by a 45 minute one at the end. The sketch group has been really beneficial in developing a working method. I'm not quite there yet. Currently I'm adopting a mixture of approaches. I've watched the online videos on gesture drawing from Stan Prokopenko (see under Resources) and I try to utilise some of the suggestions shown there. Drawing Tutorials Online is also worth a look. I particularly like the methodology explained in Burne Hogarth's Dynamic Figure Drawing - as it gives a straightforward logical approach to finding the major masses of the body and expressing gesture and depth. My sketches are getting better, slowly - and I can really see how a quick and lively series of sketches can help inform and invigorate longer term figurative projects.
Do you have any favourite resources or words of wisdom on the art of sketching? If so, drop me a line via 'Comments'.
Ben Laughton Smith
Aspiring artist, training in the classical tradition.