Sketching Is the Best Choice 99% of the Time

December 10, 2012

Above: 7 inch x 5.5 inch (approx.) piece of Folio paper stuck into my journal. (I didn't have my journal with me when I was out and about, because of needing to travel light. I just had small scraps of paper.) Sketch made with an 0.1 Staedtler Pigment Liner.

This is an atypical drawing for me. FIrst it's a landscape. I don't usually do landscapes. Second, I really started without any focus, except on that central tree, and then the squirrel appeared, and then the tree at the right seemed more than interesting to me, and then I thought the small tree on the left seemed interesting because the squirrel was long gone, though I first had to put in the bench and some of the flowers and leaves, and since I'm here what's going on across the river because I really need something there compositionally and the sky is so flat and gray…

You get the idea, when I'm upset I don't really follow a logical plan when I'm sketching. On this day I was particularly upset, having had a bad experience with Dick's 91-year-old parents, specifically his dad.

At this point I felt I had three options. 1. I could interrupt my best friend at work, three blocks away, while sobbing in frustration; making her wonder about my sanity because I was unable to speak intelligibly. 2. I could run away and join the Peace Corps (OK there's that whole problem I have with anti-malarial drugs). And 3. I could sketch.

In 99% of situations, any situation, the best option is to sketch.* Even if you don't sketch in your usual manner. Even if you don't focus on what you normally would focus on. Even if the squirrel abandons you for finer fare elsewhere.

I love sketching on Folio with a fine pen so much that my attitude improved in the 30 minutes I was sketching.

In hindsight my best course of action would have been to sketch first, before calling C.R. a drongo (for insisting he could revamp his old bathroom into handicap accessibility by simply chainsawing down through the bathtub wall and constructing a sealed "doorway" in the tub.)

Learn from my mistakes.

And I will keep repeating—He's 91, he's 91, he's 91.
*Exceptions to the "it's better to sketch in 99% of situations guidelines" include all situations involving the operation of heavy equipment, and any situation involving Ninjas or the care of young children. (Both Ninjas and young children require constant observation so that you can plan your next response, though those responses are obviously widely different as the case warrants. I cannot actually think of any situation in which it would be safe or reasonable to sketch in the presence of Ninjas. I can say the same about the presence of children, unless of course there is another responsible adult present—preferably not just tending to the child's needs but also keeping watch for Ninjas and other dangers while you draw.) 

    • Frank Bettendorf
    • December 10, 2012

    Great sketch! I think that on some occasions it’s better not to sketch and call 911!

  1. Reply

    The only way to sketch a squirrel is to sit quietly with a camera in your hand until one appears and click fast. The composition in the sketch was fine anyway. Is it kosher to add something like a fast moving animal to a sketch afterwards?
    I’m sorry you’re having a difficult time with someone extremely old. I didn’t realize for a long time how lucky my husband and I have been. Both sets of our parents did not live past the early 80’s and they were still reasonable mentally. The illnesses did not last long and we were spared the agony so many others have to live with. I’m hoping our family will be also be spared when it’s our time to go. We lost our oldest daughter to brain cancer last March after an illness of 7 months. She was only 49. That’s much harder than losing parents.

  2. Reply

    Frank, that’s the other 1% of the time, that’s when you have to call 911! Hope all is well with you. (We got a foot of snow last night and it is definitely winter here today!)

  3. Reply

    That’s funny Molly. I usually have a small camera with me but it is the last thing I pull out of the bag—the things I like to sketch are all gone by the time I can get it out.

    You can of course add a fast moving animal to a sketch afterwards, you’ll just have to leave a hole for it.

    I prefer to just have at it and get it in there while it’s there—at least as much of it as I can. He was darting around a lot so I picked the easiest to reproduce (i.e., least amount of detail) pose I could, from what he was offering.

    For me that’s the easiest way to get a fast moving animal in the picture.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your daughter. I can’t imagine what that’s like.

    I love Dick’s parents very much, which is where the frustration comes in. I’m glad that they are with us and hope they continue to be with us for years to come, but in the meantime I have to learn that the man I used to argue with about so much is no longer present and I have to step back and see that. And open my heart to some new form of patience I’ve yet to discover, in part because I’m still fighting against the inevitable loss. Sketching helps me remember that.

    • Carol
    • December 10, 2012

    It’s funny you should have posted this today. I just got back from a vet visit where my very unhappy and unwell cat had to be manhandled into a few routine tests. As I listened to him screeching from down the hall, I realized I could calm myself in the exam room by taking out my sketchbook and drawing his x-rays on the viewing screen, along with a tangle of cords. It worked – the wait didn’t seem that long and I was able keep fairly sane until the wait was over.
    Not the same as losing children and parents and dealing with older relatives, I know, but sketching does help to keep my mind steady when things are stressful. I’ve noticed that more and more this year.

  4. Reply

    You remind me:
    Sketching is a major sanity booster: that’s why drawing should be done for 15 minutes every day at 3 pm in classrooms everywhere. CALMS. Focuses. Makes one fresh for the next round of life.
    I know you do not do landscapes often—but his is a really nice urban sketch!

  5. Reply

    Oh…chocolate also works real real well.

    • Chris
    • December 10, 2012

    Well I think you should do MORE landscape sketching. You are really good at it and it’s a whole different “muscle” for you.

  6. Reply

    Carol, I’m glad you were able to sketch in the waiting room at the vets. It seems to me the perfect application of sketching’s stress relieving characteristics. I hope they have discovered what is wrong with your cat and that he recovers soon. You’ve got my best wishes.

  7. Reply

    Thanks Ellen. I think sketching should be done SEVERAL times a day in classrooms everywhere, for exactly the reasons you state!

  8. Reply

    I’m finding chocolate not as appealing as it once was. And in those classrooms it will probably lead to agitation.

  9. Reply

    Chris you are right it is a different muscle and I should use it more. It is a constant reminder to myself. The other day I was at the opening of the Depot in St. Paul and had horrible vertigo that I had to work through so I focused only on the figure and a couple details. I would have loved to have done something about the architecture and the whole scene, but in those circumstances I focused on the figure. I wanted to have a little bit of success first. Then interruptions kept me from pushing in a different direction. So even when I have good intentions…

    • Carol
    • December 10, 2012

    Thanks 🙂

  10. Reply

    Hi, Roz
    This is my first visit to your blog. Just so you know, I clicked a link on the sidebar of A sketch in time blog to get here.
    I very much enjoyed reading your honest account of what your state of mind was while sketching this picture.
    And, you did a great job!
    Squirrels never do stay put, do they?
    I am just now, at nearly 55 years of age, beginning to sketch. I used to as a child, but stopped after high school, and never once had a lesson. My mother-in-law was an artist, and she started to give me lessons, but she died before we got anywhere, and it made me sad. That was years ago, and I realized I put sketching on hold, and never did try any form of painting.
    So, I am reading blogs of people who do these things, trying to see what I can learn.
    It turns out, it is so inspirational, and I tend to become more happy, alert and energized while browsing peoples’ art and stories.
    Thank you so much for your sharing and honesty. I will be stopping by more often to “visit”.

  11. Reply

    Shelley, thanks for stopping by and I hope that you come back often. Please use the category list in the left column to find topics you might find useful. I think my “Superstitions” series might be of interest to you as someone who is just returning to sketching. And “Project Friday” is a series that has tips on doing certain things, like working with a brush pen (there’s a five-part series on that).

    I’m very sorry about the early death of your mother-in-law. I think it was wonderful that she was sharing her artistic gift with you through lessons. I’m glad that even though it initially made you sad you have returned to sketching. It is a wonderful way to not only honor her spirit but honor your own spirit and observations and life. I hope you have started on a life long journey.

  12. Reply

    Thanks for reminding me that doing art can be relaxing especially at those times when you think you are too stressed out to do any art (or is that just me?). I don’t sketch very often, but I do like to doodle patterns and different shapes or just make believe landscapes and it does indeed calm me down to do so. I hope you soon find some acceptance in the changing of Dick’s parents. One day it will be us on that end and I hope somebody will be understanding of my no doubt annoying stubborn and illogical ways. 😉
    Also thanks for reminding me to never draw in the company of a ninja (I gave up drawing in the company of small children ages ago). 😉

  13. Reply

    Caatje, glad I could be a helpful reminder! If I didn’t sketch when I’m stressed I wouldn’t sketch. I think I should have called the post, “99 percent of the time you’ll be stressed so sketch anyway.”

    I’m hoping I don’t develop any annoying stubborn or illogical ways—wait, more than I already have!

    Yes, don’t sketch in the company of a ninja! You’ll be fine.

    I can’t sketch in the company of small children because I am of course the responsible one keeping watch (as I’m sure you are too). But there are not a lot of kids in my life so it’s not a lot of down time from sketching.

    Good luck with the stress reduction sketching scheme!

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