Project Friday: Just Get Something Down on Paper

July 22, 2016

Above: Selfie made with bold Uni Posca pen (orange, the tip is about 1/4 inch wide) and a Sakura Pigment Medium Brush Pen (solid tip). The drawing is in a 9 x 12 inch Dylusions journal—which I cannot recommend for structural reasons specific to how I work. I'm sorry, but when I've worked in it more I'll review it and you can read all about it. I just have to give you a head's up because many people read a post and go and buy a product before I review it.

Whether I'm having a bad day, week, or month; whether I'm feeling great or have a cold or find my head swimming from vertigo, I think it's important that I get something down on paper. Often a selfie will fit bill. So here I am, up late one night after a couple hard weeks, one hour into a bad bout of vertigo, practicing how to tilt my head down.

I posted this today because I was trying to explain this approach to a drawing student and couldn't find a current example.

If you want to see more examples I know you can find a ton of them in the "Japanese Lined Journal" category. It's something I got into the habit of doing when I started going to the Atelier for life drawing in 2011.

At the Atelier, instead of starting at a feature and working out as I frequently do, they advocate starting from the outside and working in, refining as you go. I think that's a pretty sound approach. I'm too impatient however, so I like to take a first whack with some sort of tool, and then go in with a bold pen. It might look too messy for some, but to me it's like the whole conversation with my subject (in this case me). And sometimes as  you can see in the image below, the first pass adds dimension and a "sort" of more than random shading.

I suppose I could call it "whack and revise" or "two-pass sketch" or "revise, revise" or… Anyway you get the idea. People all over the world are working this way in life drawing—using materials that they love, to make a sketch, to revise a sketch; to sometimes hide the first pass and sometimes to embrace the whole discussion. Try it for yourself this weekend?

I use a light or mid value tool of some sort—usually a fairly broad tip because I want to stop myself from getting tight and fussy right at the start.

I use that tool to put in lines for where I think the outer dimensions of the make subject are. In the case of a portrait, that means I'll put the outline of the head down, the hair outline. I'll put in oddly shaped "circles" that will be the ENTIRE eye socket placement, and make some indication of nose position and size, as well as a lip line. I'll put something in for the neck and shoulders if the paper size allows it. 

Then I'll look at everything all over again, but this time I'll use the final drawing tool (typically for me that's a bold brush pen). I find that when I do this, I can use the marks on the page to help my eye and hand readjust my measurement and positioning judgements. And I can go in and make the bold "final" line with confidence that it's going to be in the right place. 

I draw directly with brush pen all the time, so why bother with this? Well we all need to practice and improve. If I practice the same thing over and over but don't take either more care, get some outside advice, or take a different approach, there isn't any place for improvement. No one's around at 11 p.m. to give advice, so I've got to work it out for myself. And it's what you always have to do when you face your paper anyway—make decisions and make marks.

I've found that when I play with this technique over a couple of days, my ability to sketch directly a brush pen actually improves. I'm insisting during this revision process to take time to consider all my measurements, and to slow down a little and be careful. If I'm working only with a brush pen I'll work more quickly and finish my drawings whether they are accurate or not. Then it takes more drawings to get to accuracy. Instead, I can get to accuracy on the same drawing faster. It seems like an efficient sort of game to play.

It doesn't matter if you can't attend a drawing class—you can learn something by jostling up your own practice; by putting yourself in a position to learn.

And your experiments might create just the crack in your drawing practice that allows something new and fresh to come in, or shows you a new route to something you hadn't considered before. All the while helping you to improve your eye and your hand.

Set up a project for your weekend (not just Friday!) and plan to work this way 3 or more times in the next few days. Do a portrait of a family member if they will sit for you. (Let them watch TV for 15 to 30 minutes and you should have enough time.) If no one is around sketch yourself while you look into a mirror. Sketch your family dog while he sleeps. Get out some of those Bell Peppers you've been saving for dinner or those pears on hand for dessert (or both) and set them up in a still life with lots of interesting negative spaces. Then get out a bold pen with light to mid value ink color (avoid red or any of your dark blues or browns) and take a first whack at getting your subject onto the page. 

Don't worry if your lines are wonky, really in the wrong place, and describe nothing anyone would recognize. Just work gesturally and loosely as I've described in the process description indented above.

Then move on to your second tool—I recommend the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, one of their squeezy pigment pens, or the Sakura Pigment Brush pen (with a solid tip). You can also mix up a batch of gouache in a darker color than your first tool's ink, and use a brush (a flat might be fun, or a filbert) for you revision stage.

Have fun. 

This approach allows you to exercise your editing eye—that helper you have inside who looks at your sketches and tells you what corrections need to be made. This is a positive voice and a positive helper who ALWAYS speaks in concrete and specific terms. You'll never hear him say, "your drawing sucks." 

That would be your internal critic. If you have trouble with your internal critic always piping up and telling you that your "drawings suck," "you don't have any skill," etc. this experiment will help you silence him. He's not giving you any useful information, he's only playing into the resistance to draw you are already feeling. But if you begin your drawing with no attempt to be accurate or spot on, holding always in your mind that you are going to just get something down and then revise, your internal critic will have to walk over to the corner and fume. This doesn't mean he won't come stomping back. You may have a very strong internal critic. But this approach will at least help you flush him out and tell him "I'm not trying to be accurate right now."  

And it will give your editing eye, who, remember, has constructive criticism about concrete and specific things, to get a word in edgewise. If you let your editing eye speak to you you'll soon find yourself enjoying the process more, which means you'll practice more, which means you'll improve faster, and that you'll have more fun. 

It's time to step out of your own way.

Don't let anything stop you from getting something down on paper!

Below: Uni Posca and Black brush pen on Seawhite journal page. Sketch made while watching a documentary.




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    • Suzale
    • July 22, 2016

    Great post!thanx

  1. Reply

    Glad you enjoyed it Suzale!

  2. Reply

    Great Ted. Let me know what you think about the book and how all this might play into what you’re working on. Have a great weekend!

    • Frank Bettendorf
    • July 24, 2016

    Timely post that went right to the internal spot to reaffirm my thinking. Thanks.
    Frank B

  3. Reply

    Frank, Thanks for writing in and touching base. Keep sketching!

    • Diane
    • July 27, 2016

    Just back from a trip and catching up with my favorite blogs. Great sounding exercise which I will use to finish off the last couple of pages of my trip sketchbook. Will show just how I look after seven days in a camper in the mountains!
    This post reminds me of your wonderful sketching class which helped me so much. Time for a review (if I can still get on.) Will you be teaching another sketching or watercolor class in the future?

  4. Reply

    Diane, go back into the classroom and check your email address hasn’t changed from what you registered for because you should have received notices from months ago saying class would stay open. Also mentioned in some of the webinars.

    Also look for recent notifications from me about signing up for ongoing webinars of the combined drawing classes.

    I will be teaching a lot more classes coming up. Obviously it takes time to take video and edit it so they will keep coming but it may seem slow. I hope to have a several more classes up this year and into next year—some bookbinding and some sketching/painting. So make sure that if you changed your email since class and want to be on the email update that you send me a new email. (My mailing list for people interested in classes is built from student lists but if you change your email it doesn’t change on my email list unless you notify me.)

    Hope that helps. Glad you had fun sketching on your trip!

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