Above: While watching a TV show one night the excellent actress Jean Marsh was dying and sick in bed and it struck me as an interesting angle to work. I had already scribbled some yellow Montana acrylic marker on the page. I had a red watercolor brush pen I wanted to work with so I sketched quickly with it. I didn't like the line quality or result so I went in with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen to define some areas and detail. I didn't like that either and was upset I was loosing what I wanted to capture. I decided to throw down some gouache quickly and see is I could get any of what I had originally hoped to get. Then I made notes. Continue reading below.
Messes give me details about where I have been and where I'm trying to go. In images like the one I posted today they show me when my experiments work and when they don't but ALSO what portion of the experiment worked.
That's valuable information to have. Just because something didn't work doesn't mean our time spent on it was wasted. In fact if we don't spend time experimenting we can't see over the top of the hill to the next thing we want to try.
Because of tis I find pages like this one from a lined paper Japanese Journal that I like to work out various ideas (written and visual) in so helpful.
I can pinpoint immediately where things don't work like the angle of the forehead or the length of the nose, given her position, But I can also rule out various approaches that don't work as executed and need to be refined in a different way, or are simply not something that's going to work for me.
Pages like this one contain so much information that they make me absolutely giddy. I can't wait to get back into the journal and make more of them. This is work. This is FUN. This is where learning and discovery happen. It doesn't matter that there isn't something "pretty" and delightful at the end of the 20 minutes. What matters is the new possibilities you just unearthed and can now pursue.
Look for and identify happy accidents you want to play more with and even create a "style" out of.
Find rich textures and experiment with recreating them in other paintings or drawings where they help you communicate focus.
Make repeated tries in the same image to capture what you see, WITHOUT worrying about "muddying up things." Take notes if you think you are loosing the plot.
Identify the weaknesses you see so that you can work on them and remedy them.
These all add up to strategies for doing the next image quickly, efficiently, and with greater fun.
I encourage you to take time to experiment and embrace the resultant mess on your journal page when (not if) something doesn't quite go as you expected.
Look for where you can go next—whether that means to a book on anatomy, another life-drawing session, or more considered work on a better paper choice.
Mine your messes for insights that will take you somewhere new. Really churn up your page. You'll learn a ton.