Changing It Up: When Your Drawings Aren’t Working—Part IV

September 5, 2011

See the post for complete details. This post wraps up my discussion of what media I decided to use at Paws on Grand—why and how it evolved.

110801ADog Left: Stabilo All (black) on Stonehenge white. WIth some smudging and a bit of water. Working from a photo of a friend's dog.

(Parts I through III of this series appeared on Monday, August 29; Wednesday, August 31; and Friday, September 2, respectively. Please check them out if you want to know what I'm going on about. I'm probably still at the Minnesota State Fair and haven't been able to put links to those posts in.)

You will recall that something about the colored pencil sketches still wasn't working for me. They were too fussy, too detailed, and I also didn't think they had enough contrast where the darkest darks should be.

I didn't want to use paints at Paws on Grand, so I thought, "I'll use the Stabilo All" which is a watersoluble wax pencil, that is very smudgy when dry. In the first image I tested my theories by smudging things with my finger. This added the mess factor I was looking for.

110801BDog Left: Another 7 x 7 inch square piece of Stonehenge white with a quick Stabilo All (black) sketch. The water used to dilute the shadow areas was added with a squeezed dry tip of a Niji waterbrush, and then I also smudged things around with my finger. I was using a photo of a friend's dog as a model and working as fast as I could. I got down to 4 minutes here. I figured if I could do that with a stationary reference I might have a hope at 8 minutes for a moving one. By working small with a very sharp pencil I was also able to work faster. I've pretty much abandoned all detail here.

The first two Stabilo All sketches appealed to my desire to be messy and smudge the lines for quick shading, as well as use a little water. I didn't know how close I'd be sitting to the dogs, but assumed it would be about 4 feet, like last year. (There are some tent awnings and the artists sit in a row facing the dogs who also sit in a row with their owners.) Because of that I decided to do a full-body sketch as a test. (See the next image.) I kept it small so I could manage to complete it quickly.

110801CDog Left: A full body sketch of the same dog.

The third sketch clinched it for me. I started doing all my practice sketching (from photos or from life) with the Stabilo All and my Niji Waterbrush. I kept a paper towel handy, but this is a very messy way to work—I'm using my fingers to both smudge dry lines and move water laid down by the brush. I went through a lot of different breeds to see if I could get something "recognizable" and interesting.

Regardless of the mess the enjoyment factor was high. I was a happy camper. I see this adventure as just another example of how my approach to sketching is evolving.

Things don't always go as we plan, however, even when we plan and practice and time ourselves! On the day of the portrait sketching I found that faced with all the smiling faces of the owners, I didn't have the heart to massively smudge and wet the portraits of their beloved pets. I fell back into a more detailed mode. I did some smudging of the dry lines, to fill out the shading and cut down on time per portrait, but I didn't get the Niji brush out. I got frustrated in the first 2 minutes with pencil sharpener problems (broken waxy leads gumming up the sharpeners I'd brought) and it moved my focus to "just get something on paper now." I also admit I got caught up in what I thought the "client" might want. This is a good lesson for me to be reminded of periodically. I think almost every one of the sketches I did that Sunday would have been improved by the smudge and wet follow through. But there would have been no time to fix something that was too smudged or too smeared; and even without that constraint, confronted with all the adorable pups it was hard to resist the urge to not go in for detail. Another great lesson learned.

But now I have an approach I can work on from time to time, to explore and find if I hit a comfort level with it. I can always go back to detail by taking out a pen. And it satisfies my urge to get messy.


  1. Reply

    I think that these are totally charming sketches Roz. I am going to get out my Stabilo All and pack it for the trip I am taking today.

  2. Reply

    Donna, take a regular graphite pencil as well on your trip, and sharpen it every other time between sharpenings of the Stabilo All, as I think that will keep the sharpener free and clear—and take a back up sharpener. I had the worst time with sharpeners at Paws on Grand. It was a little hot so the “leads” of the pencil got a little soft and got stuck in the sharpener. Also I did a newbie mistake earlier in the day and dropped a lot of them so they were prone to breakage.

    Have fun.

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