Project Friday: Keep Drawing Even if It Isn’t Working

April 5, 2013

130214_BSophiaGraceLeft: First sketch of a French Bulldog, while I'm still warming up. Sumi paper, 8.5 x 11 inches, Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, and gouache (which soaked through the paper and buckled it in interesting ways).

I'm still working on my dog portrait project. In February, while I was still under the weather I got out my sketches (made on site from life) and my reference photos from my visit with Sophia Grace and started to sketch. 

My first attempt pushed her nose in too much and elongated her face. But even though I wasn't happy with the sketch I thought it would be a good sketch to experiment using gouache on, since I was working on a sumi paper that doesn't let paint flow like watercolor paper.

I had a great time making a mess with the paints, and I also got a better understanding of how I might render her eyes.

130214_CSophiaGraceBRLeft: Second sketch of Sophia Grace, from the same drawing session). Also Pentel Pocket Brush Pen on sumi paper.

Despite the fact that I wasn't happy with the likeness in the first sketch I was happy with the experience of creating it—it's always a good day when the gouache comes out.

What I want to point out today, however, is that we can't let disappointment about "nailing" a likeness or a technique in our sketch or painting, diminish our desire to keep trying.

Assess what you like and don't like, rethink how you're going to handle shading and line quality now that you know the subject better, the paper better, whatever.

With a new plan of attack jump in and try again, immediately! In the same sketching session. 

Don't worry that two consecutive pages of your journal will have sketches of the same subject all over them. That's actually a great thing because each sketch shows that you're learning something and there it all is in your journal. Embrace what you might otherwise consider clutter. It definitely isn't a waste of paper or time.

I knew after my first sketch that I was making Sophia Grace's muzzle too long and not wide enough. I also knew that her entire head had turned out too long. And I didn't like the expression in her eyes. (Sophia Grace is a lovely dog and she is soft and sweet and I am continuing to look for that elusive quality.)

Armed with my observations of where I was off I launched in to my second version and hit something much, much closer. This looks like Sophia Grace to me. And I'm pleased with the brush strokes I used and how I approached the shading with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I liked this piece so much in fact that I didn't pull out the paint. Painting on the sumi paper was problematic and I wanted to keep my line work.

So here's the Project Friday plan:

Pick something that you love to sketch (pet, friend, peppers, landscape, whatever). It helps if you really love the subject because then you'll stay engaged even with repeated efforts.

Sketch it.

Get up and walk away; get a drink of water; stretch a bit. Come back in less than 5 minutes (I think 2 is actually best) and look with a fresh eye at your sketch/painting. What jumps out at you immediately?

We aren't looking for "how awful" it is. Look for where your focus is (or isn't). Look for what attracts your attention. Look for what you like. Look for what you could do better. Look for lines that really have no business being there (if it's a pen sketch in particular and you're trying to be economical with your line work).

Put your sketch aside, take a deep breath and draw your subject again. (If you are working on a journal page spread just work somewhere else on that spread and ignore the first sketch while you draw the second. Cover it if you prefer.)

Apply all the new information you picked up in your critique. (For mine I used different eye sketch references to change my approach for rendering the eyes, but my main change was to really concentrate on what the shape of her head was and get that the way I wanted it in the second sketch. I also slowed myself down so that each of my strokes was very deliberate on this very weird [to me] paper.)

If you're working with a still life feel free to change the arrangement of the pepper you were sketching, or go stand in a different vantage point for your second landscape attempt. Sometimes a simple change in vantage point can make all the difference. Especially since you now have so much more observed information.

Set your second drawing aside and take a short 2 to 5 minute break, and repeat if you have the time. In my example I only did two. I would have liked to do two more because I think four versions is a good number for me (I don't tend to fatigue until I do the fourth one). If you are just trying this for the first time, aim for only two approaches. If you are accustomed to painting in quick series do at least 4 sketches for your session.

(You'll find over time your stamina for concentrating will increase.)

If you are experimenting with new media or with new paper, and after your third sketch things are still not coming together for you and you know you're fading, do your fourth and final sketch on paper you're totally familiar with and with media you use often and easily. (In other words, try to eliminate some of the variables that are frustrating your attempts so you can end on a positive note.)

Set your work aside and take a longer break. Come back in an hour (or tomorrow) and look at the progress in the entire, quickly-executed series.

That's your Project Friday assignment!


    • Miss T
    • April 5, 2013

    You found a French Bulldog!

  1. Reply

    Yes, I thought I had told you. It’s so chaotic now I can’t even remember how I first got contact, but I think it was a friend mentioned it at her vet’s, yes, I think this is right, and she got a name or gave my name and then the owner and I made contact and chatted on the phone and the owner was SO wonderfully open to having me come over and meet SG. So last fall, before it was horribly cold that’s exactly what I did. SG was actually the second dog I sketched, after Carmen the Dachshund, and before your Maxwell. SG is on the 2013 IFJM button! (And in my fake journal for 2013.) She’s creamy fawn and just so beautiful. And so sweet. Also her owner is full of suggestions for me to meet other FBDs, but I’m resisting all that until I can finish an actual painting of SG and the other dogs I got to sketch last fall. Then I think it might be FBDs for as much as possible for some period of time.

  2. Reply

    I love your treatments of the Frenchie!! You inspire me to sketch more. I’m printing this post.

  3. Reply

    Thanks Chris, and I’m glad that you are going to be sketching more! More sketching is always the best approach. Have fun.

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