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Get Something Down on Paper, Even if You Think You’re Too Close to Your Subject

February 17, 2017

This post was originally published on January 30, 2017 during my site transition.


Above: A page spread from my 8 x 9.25 inch Shinola Sketchbook. It has 112 pages of 100 lb. (148 gsm) acid free paper. I purchased it for $28 at Wet Paint in St. Paul. I’ve written about these whenever I post from it, so you can use the category list, or go to the link in the caption. Staedtler Pigment Liner and watercolor. Click on the image to view an enlargement.

You can be in really close quarters with someone and you can still get something down on paper.

Here’s a partially completed sketch (I didn’t promise you would finish it!) of a kid sitting on a waiting room couch. I was sitting at the end of the table, literally three feet away from him.

Is this a great sketch? No. The lower part of his legs should be longer, and it would have been fun to get his face. But I’m pleased that I got down what was interesting to me. That slouch, and some of the lighting and cast shadows.

Yes I had my duck-billed cap on, and I started with the corner of the table and did his legs right away because I thought if I worked on things without looking at him, and only out of the corner of my eye, he wouldn’t catch on. And he didn’t, not until I pulled my watercolors out.

I had hoped to get his arms and head before he left, as the final part of my sketch. I saved those for last because to get them down I would have had to look right at him. I painted before finishing the sketch because of that. (Typically I finish the entire sketch before getting paints out, but I knew getting the paints out would draw his interest.)

Then just when I was going to start on the face he looked over at me and started asking me questions about my tools, that pesky water brush! And it turned out he’d just realized I was painting him (I came clean when we chatted). (I do have some ninja skills left.) He was a really sweat kid and also an artist. He does graffiti. He got out his notebook of sketches and of course I started talking to him about Montana Markers. I cannot help myself.

We talked about tools until it was time for my appointment so I never got to get his face down, but I had a great discussion with a fun young man.

My point today is you need to go ahead and sketch even if you’re right on top of your subject. With earbuds and phones these days people don’t typically notice what you’re up to. And when they do, they usually are more interested in your tools than annoyed. And if they are annoyed, just apologize and draw something else.

Every moment you practice seeing light, shadow, color, is a moment that adds up to make you faster in another situation—and some days you get a whole picture. Either way, you get everything you want—the fun of drawing from a live model.

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