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In this little talk, I want to draw a line for you. I want to separate two categories of uses of a pencil. This will help us avoid a lot of confusion in what to do when we pick up a pencil to use it for visual expression. As I’ve said so many times, there is not a right way and a wrong way to express yourself in art. What there may, however, be is a right and a wrong time to do things with a pencil. Maybe you have already read my eBook, Pencil Portrait Drawing Techniques Easy(ier). link
Having said that, I want to separate and redefine two terms: Drawing and Sketching. People tend to use the terms interchangeably, and they are anything but that. To call a finished drawing a sketch is an insult, but to say that a sketch is more wonderful than a full-fledged drawing, is not. Let’s start with sketching, because the eBook I’ve written is on drawing a pencil portrait, and I’d like to work up to what I want to stick in your mind for the wonderful odyssey of drawing pencil portraits, while enticing you to make a lifelong artistic commitment to the wonderful art of sketching.
First of all, as implied by the name, sketching is a fast, free, off-the-cuff rendering of anything.Three very apropos words defining sketch that Mr. Webster gives are “outline, rough, and quickly.” That is the best possible way to think of sketching. It is not precise or pinpointed, but rather, it is an in-motion activity, as the term suggests. The hand flies all over the paper at once, not discriminating its marks, but rather, intentionally diffusing them, and finding one’s way to marks one likes better. Sketch lines are soft. They can employ the techniques of the trade–hatching, cross-hatching, pointillism, shading, but in a much less directed manner than one would in a drawing.
Can sketching be taught? Oh, yes, and how. It has its own look and feel. Whole notebooks are kept by master artists full of radically wonderful sketches. Sketches catch the energy and power of line more than anything, and it is no wonder that, although there are oil sketches and acrylic sketches, more often the pencil and watercolor sketches are more powerful and distinctive, each being a direct and immediate medium. I must admit that when SAS Institute asked me to teach sketching, I was blown away with the concept. But I quickly grew to the subject, reading reams of material about sketching and the supplies one uses to do so.
These pencils included the blackest of graphite, the gradual darkening pencils from 2B to 8B, charcoal, white pastel, a wonderful pencil which turns into a wash, and knead erasers, as well as rubbing erases which are harder. Sketches basically never need anything but a knead eraser to bring to completion.feathered edge of non-connected lines. Another style could be using the soft side of a pencil. It could be repeating the stroke over and over as you move forward.
It may necessitate lifting the finger, while another style doesn’t. It could be in color or black and white. Perhaps it means dipping your finger in graphite and smudging a sketch. In short, the term is only limited by the artist, his creative imagination, and his purpose. You can sketch in watercolor, or in oils. In short, you can get better or worse at sketching. You can transition from sketching phase to drawing phase, but in this case, the drawing begins to eat up the sketching, as more and more is erased when more accurate lines are saved.
One of the best sketching methods in the world is using either vine charcoal or stick graphite the way one would a piece of pastel, on the side, to slide a movement into part of a figure’s anatomy. They are perfectly adapted to the S-curve of a human body, and make delicious shaded turns on the quick. Figure drawing sessions force you to sketch with their 10-second, 15-second, 30-second, 1 minute, and 3-minute poses. And if you don’t use the pose time that way, you are losing out on its purpose.
After several times of going at it, the mind adapts and finds new inroads to expressing what it sees. Perhaps it is the fluidity of the curve; it could be the bends the body has taken on. Maybe it is even a geometrical shape with curved lines and extensions. This process sets the mind into overview position. If anyone has taken a speed-reading course, she knows about the power of the mind to absorb in overview mode quickly. Quick passes over the whole page can pull out single words, even. This is the part of our brain we tune into when we cooperate with fast mode. Whining, grinding and protesting must yield to participation.
Which brings the discussion to one of the major uses for sketching and sketch books–the trip diary. Whenever you fly to Jamaica, you want your trip journal with you. You might also take a few watercolor postcards to send some lucky friend an original back to frame. Fill your pages with quick sketches to remember the moment, the scene, but also if you have any intentions of doing a major work based on it, this quick and therefore, often, personality-packed version of the spot may wake your tired photograph back up once your return home. Label the parts with their colors and you can make a full-blown study later.
Another related use of sketch is a composition thumbnail. Small squares can reduce composition to a few lines dividing space in an interesting or dramatic fashion.
And the last point to consider is developing sophistication in the sketch itself, something a beginning sketcher should not worry about. A left brained person or a control maniac should discard this goal. Sophistication in sketching develops naturally from filling up book after sketchbook of fun, quick, different, quirky, original, expressive, and communicative sketches.
Different in nature and intent, the drawing is a pompous version of the sketch. In a drawing, you find the ‘right’ lines, the right tilt of the chin, distance between eyes, division of face into parts. In a drawing one wants the lines to be crisper, and not to have to keep erasing them forever. There are rules for ascertaining lines in faces, in perspective, in shadows, and in many other ways.
You will notice that I refer to the drawing in the book as a ‘minimal drawing,’ because, in the end, you don’t want extra lines. You don’t want inexact lines. You don’t allow the fudge factor to set up shop, or come in at all. No feathering, hesitant, hit and miss lines which are the staple of sketching in exact drawing.
Now, there are many ‘techniques in drawing that are valid techniques. I mention hatching. Hatching is a series of parallel lines next to each other to shade a section of face, say. These are not back and forth zigzags, but fast, one-only lines which have a flick at the end. So a drawing entails nuance, light and dark, think and thick, curvilinear lines. It is built up with different types of lines.
However, for a painting, one uses a minimal drawing that only suggests where shading begins, and does no fill in of any kind whatsoever. It does not make the pupil black, for instance. It is close in nature to a coloring book drawing, but I hate to use the comparison, because the lines are not all black as in a coloring book.
So, while hatching, cross-hatching, soft modeling, rubbing, are all valid techniques in drawing, they are not used in minimal drawing for painting or for transferring onto a canvas for painting.
One rule of thumb in drawing for a painting is to indicate a major change of color with a line, but nothing that would turn your canvas or paper into a map or a paint-by-numbers look. You want a lot of wide open, free space to maneuver paint in.
Some painters do a combination of the sketch and drawing techniques with a brush dipped in paint and in medium, which flows more like a sketch, but can be corrected. A la prima painters do this as their underdrawing.
Indirect painters have a well-developed drawing that they keep, transfer onto the surface to be painted, and may even save until later to reapply once the painting is underway to check how much deviation from the original drawing there has been. Many will adjust the drawing to their original. One reason for this is that constant staring at a subject and transferring it onto some surface yields more accuracy the longer one looks. So you don’t want to throw away the progress made from steady observation, but you do want those observations to continue with even greater subtlety.
In general, one must conclude these things about a drawing:
Keep it as light as possible while being clear.
Put in dips and turns; do not average out.
Make sure the eyes are even.
If you do 3/4 views, make sure one side is smaller than the other: 1/4-3/4.
Make sure eyes are halfway down a head.
Get your proportions right, even if you have to multiply fractions.
Practice making a circle and ovals to teach yourself their distinctive nature.
Erase anything wrong or confusing.
Remember the oval and the square.