Rooster Study—a Possible Project Friday

December 6, 2013


Above: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Stabilo Tones on Nideggen paper.

My injured arm/elbow/shoulder has kept me from writing alot. I have a long list of topics I haven't been able to address. One is "studies."

Today's image is a study I made using life drawings made at the Minnesota State Fair this summer. 

People always ask me what I do with those sketches I make from life, on site at the Fair. Well first I have to explain I don't feel compelled to do anything with them as they just are what they are: a record of my time at the Fair.

130912_RoosterStudyDetailLeft: Detail of the rooster's head and comb.

But because I'm a bit compulsive when it comes to birds (especially poultry and pigeons) I have to say that I also look at the Fair as a time for gathering information and reference work that will help me all winter long when I'm making paintings, or when I'm simply experimenting with media as in the above case.

On the 12th of September, not long after the end of the Fair I found myself with only a few pages of my daily journal left. I really wanted to finish it up that night. 

I had just been scanning my Fair sketches (this year I used 8 x 8 inch cards made of 140 lb. Hot Press watercolor paper).

I threw a couple scans up on my computer monitor and looked at them.

What worked, what didn't, what did I like, where did I want the focus? Now that I wasn't in the noisy poultry barn, standing, being jostled by hundreds of people, it was the perfect time to look at my choices and make new choices—so that I could make even better choices the next time I stood in that noisy, crowded barn.

I picked up the PPBP and drew this rooster "again," editing down everything but the few details I thought were most important. I drew quickly, as you would for a gesture sketch. It probably took less than 2 minutes. I wasn't second-guessing myself, I was just letting my hand move and capture those shapes. If I didn't like an area in my reference drawings I drew from memory, thinking about my ideal rooster.

Then I grabbed some Stabilo Tones: a couple blues, a green, a red, and a white. I scribbled in color, and smoothed it around with my fingers.

In the detail of the head you can see the layers of Stabilo Tone and the heaviness of application that allowed me to smooth the color around with my fingers. Stabilo Tone lets me feel around a shape with my fingers.

I'm not sure if I'll do anything more with this study. I don't feel I have to plan for that. But I do know it helped me think differently about the sketching of roosters, and that new knowledge will be there the next time I go into the Poultry Barn.

I hope this winter you can dig out some sketches to revisit, and find new ways to to approach familiar subjects. 

Project Friday Assignment If You Want To Give It a Go


If you decide to take this task on as a Project Friday dig out 3 or more sketches of a subject that you made at different times. If you can, put them up on your computer screen so you can view them all at once, or place your open journals on a large table.

Look from one sketch to the other and analyze what you like or don't like about each pose, each gesture, the line work, the colors. What paper did you use? What paper would you like to use now, because of the media you're about to sketch in? Is the paper you want to use suitable for the goal you have in mind? State the goal you have in mind (you might want to write it on a slip of paper if you think you'll forget over time when you look back at the drawing).

A goal might be to simplify because you have an area of your drawing that is too cluttered with lines. Your goal then is to do the one "true" line all around the bird. Or perhaps you want to give life to the eye? Or perhaps you want to texturize the feathers. If you're drawing a piece of pottery perhaps you want to create symmetry. Or maybe you want there to be more freedom in your line.

If you want to edit and simplify I recommend you use a thicker nibbed pen or marker tip, or brush size; and draw larger than your original sketches. The change in the tool and the size will force you to think in simpler lines. The larger size gives you room to move your tool without getting caught in a fussy cul-de-sac of detail. 

If you want to alter your colors from those used in your original sketch, think about whether you want to simplify those too (in which case you might select analogous colors and render less of the detail in the image) or if you want to be more realistic and take time to match a color you saw in life (of course at this point, unless you have very detailed color notes that's going to be a job for your memory).

Then start to draw.

The experience will be different for you depending on what your goal is. You might work faster, you might work slower than usual. Go with the process.


When you finish note down what you have learned to look for the next time you come face to face with your subject—perhaps you want to know how the beak attaches to the head in the case of a bird, or how a part of that vase bends away from view when viewed at a particular angle?

This is what you'll take forward.

And if you feel you're on the right track—tomorrow set up and make a finished painting. Test out your theories. 

  1. Reply

    Love, love the color on this – and the line, of course.

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