Don’t Knock Your Head Against the Wall—Try Something New

January 31, 2014


Above: Sketches of Dick as he sat on the sofa, on 8.5 x 11 inch Fabriano Tiziano (cream) using a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen.  

Wednesday I wrote about the difficulty I have when I try to sketch Dick. I know it would probably help if I didn't wait until the end of the day when he's tired, and it would help if I set up some decent lighting—but there you have it. (And the above two sketches weren't even at the end of the day!)

When I was preparing for the 6th MCBA Visual Journal Collective Portrait Party I would get Dick to sit for me so I could have some daily practice. And I found it almost impossible to sketch him.

In the above page you can see that I folded the sheet in half and folded in the top a little. I was creating a rectangle that would be roughly the size of the box I'd have to sketch in at the portrait party. 

In my defense I could say that I had been sketching almost exclusively with brush pens in the previous weeks and I wasn't doing the mental shift to the calligraphy pen tip.

But it's more than that. 

And more than the fact that I was trying to work as quickly as possible. (We have limited time to sketch at the portrait party.)

I was starting with the left eye (eye on my left) and working out, and it was getting me into all sorts of trouble.

Problem is I don't like to draw large shapes and then work in. I can be petulant that way.

But if you try something and give it a good faith effort two times, then it's time to try another approach and see if you can't get a better result. (I even tried different angles.)


So that's what I did. In the third sketch shown in the second image in this post I still focused on getting the face into the small rectangle of the folded sheet, but I allowed myself the luxury of extending the lines to the right as well.

And when I did this third sketch I changed my approach. As you can see from my writo-filled note I started with the forehead shape and then drew in a line for the eyebrow level. (Those eyebrows threaten to take over the world.) I told myself I'd worried about building them later—because it was difficult for me to think of a quick visual notation for something so blond and colorless on a pale face while working with black ink. Click on the image and you can read my note at the top of the page on how I proceded.

Three minutes and it looks like him. 

Taking the different starting approach and working from the outside in was exactly what I needed to do. 

So the next time you find yourself treading water with one failed sketch after the other, take a breath and shake yourself out. Then give in and try another approach.

Even if you aren't pleasantly surprised, it will jostle your mind up enough that when you go back to your original approach it will probably go better.

Sometimes we have to look more closely. Sometimes we have to rein in our hand and make it go where we want it to go, whether or not we are actually watching it go there. Maybe we really do need to pick up a different pen that will work better on the day, on that paper. Sometimes we have to remember to breathe. 

    • Karen
    • January 31, 2014

    could you have succeeded in the third sketch if you hadn’t explored the subject the first two sketches? Probably not.

  1. Reply

    That’s my philosophy exactly and why I have shelves filled with journals filled sketches—I keep trying and everything leads me to something.

    Most notably this:

    I love that second sketch of Sophia Grace, but I would never have got there without the first.

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