Use What You Have Out

March 17, 2017
9 x 12 inch Wave paper “waste sheet” for cleaning silicone tipped spatula tool of acrylics. With Pentel brush pen sketch on top. (Sktchy photo inspiration—Macho Iberico.)

I have a lot of students who tell me they don’t have time to sketch. They tell me they have to make a space to work or they have to get supplies out. They tell me that they don’t have time to make background textures. They also admit that they are doing about 15 other things at any given time, many of which are creative activities involving supplies that could be used for sketching.

So I say, “Use what you have out.”

What do I mean by this?

Well a few weeks ago I was working on a printing demo and I had acrylic paints out on the table. It was late and I wanted to go to bed soon. I really wanted to sketch a portrait before bed because I’d spent the day at the computer editing videos, and then the evening shooting more videos. I wanted to sketch.

I found an image on Sktchy that appealed to me, picked up my Pentel Brush Pen (with pigment ink, the gray barrel) and went to town.

I liked the quick sketch, but I had wanted to paint. (It’s the second image in this post.)

I looked at the other side of the table. All the acrylic paints for the print demo were still out. I grabbed some of those that were nearest and squeezed some paint right out on another sheet of paper, one color at a time, beginning with the dark values. I then used a silicone tipped spatula with a 3/4 inch edge to pick up acrylic paint and smooth it into areas of the face I’d just sketched.

I didn’t stop and think about getting out gouache or watercolors, I just painted with what was already out.

9 x 12 inch Pentel Brush Pen sketch on Wave paper with “spatula” applied acrylic paint. This was my first sketch and painting of the evening. (Sketchy inspiration photo used.)

It was so fun to be moving color around, even if it was a few odd colors that had just been within reach.

Sometimes the thick opaque paint obscured an ink line. Most of the time that was OK. But I didn’t worry about it. I added back any crucial lines when the paint was dry.

Throughout the process I cleaned my spatula tool by moving it across that same sheet of paper I’d squeezed out my piles of paint. I kept smoothing them down as I finished with a color.

The great thing about using this acrylic straight out of the bottle was that there was no extra water added. Wave paper isn’t designed to take wet media but it was perfectly happy with the spatula strokes of paint. I’d discovered a fun way to work that I can return to whenever I want.

When I finished my first sketch (which appears second in this post). I was happy but not satisfied. I wanted to sketch some more, but it was late and I didn’t want to do more painting.

I grabbed the waste sheet—the paint was already dry on it. I started to sketch from another Sktchy photo. This time I worked right on top of the color that was already down on my waste sheet.

I’d taken two quick pen sketches and played with color, without getting any supplies out (because the paints were already sitting there), and without ANY CLEAN UP—OK I rinsed off the spatula.

If I’d taken time to think about getting out paint and getting out watercolor paper and so on I would have used up all the time I had to paint.

I know you aren’t always going to have odd bottles of acrylic paint sitting out in your work area. (If you do find that happening think about fun ways to use them—maybe prepaint some journal pages so you have something to paint on tomorrow????)

Even if you don’t have supplies sitting out you can keep things handy so that even when you’re tired and ready to pack up for the day you can still manage to squeak in a couple sketches.

I keep a Pentel Brush pen in every room of the house. (Really.) I always am no more than 6 feet away from a brush pen if I want to sketch something. There are watercolor palettes on my work surfaces, a gouache palette on a stand next to the chair I sit in when I am in the TV room—you get the idea. There are color pencils in various stands so I can reach for one at any time. You never know when Dick might walk into the room and the light will hit him in such a way that I instantly know how to break the code of his eyebrows!

My journal is always peeking out of my bag so that I can grab it as I run by towards another room. My studio journal is always on a table in the studio. I have a shelf where I keep oversized pads of paper for warm ups and other sketching.

You can hide these supplies if you think they “mess up” your room decor. You can place them up out of reach of your dogs. (Cat owners you’re own your own for that one—maybe you could start collecting vintage breadboxes and set those boxes about the house—each full of supplies and cat safe?)

The point is I don’t believe you should be waiting for inspiration. I believe you should be drawing right now. I mean it, as soon as you finish reading this I think you should get one sketch done before doing anything else. And continue to make drawings throughout your day because your materials are at hand and ready to go.

This removes the “thinking about drawing phase” from your process and moves you right into the “doing phase.”

You want to be always in the “doing phase.”

The side benefit to jumping right into the doing is that you are training yourself to work whenever you have a moment of down time. Over time you’ll improve your drawing skills, but along with that you’ll be able to sketch at the drop of a hat. I’m not suggesting that you use this as a party trick, which of course it can be. I’m suggesting that developing this facility is the best way to keep up your productivity.

Out of productivity comes practice and improvement. But also a sense of possibilities.

You can hit five misses in a row, but you know that in another few minutes you’ll have another opportunity to do something else and you’ve identified (with the help of your editing eye—which tells you honesty what’s wrong and which SPECIFIC things to work on) where to focus next time.

You’ll be eager to start the next painting, and the next.

So the next time you think you don’t have time to sketch, don’t argue with yourself, just grab what’s at hand and start working—even if you’re working on a waste sheet. It’s time to have some fun.

  1. Reply

    This post really spoke to me. I am a beginning and am trying to teach my brain and hand to sync up and also how to see shapes. Too many times, I’ll put off sketching because I have something specific in mind that I want to do. Instead this morning, I grabbed my inexpensive larger sketchpad, a pen, and spent 15 lovely minutes sketching different portions of my cats followed by an outline of the newspaper and arm and hands of my hubby. The page is a mess (in a good way) with lines all over it, but it was good practice and a good warm up. Thanks! Your posts about the editing eye have also been very helpful!

      • Roz Stendahl
      • March 17, 2017

      I’m so glad that you got right to sketching! That’s what I’d hoped. Keep using those moments to sketch!

  2. Reply

    Can I ask where you got the spatula? I haven’t been painting much lately (twin babies) but if I didn’t have the juggle a water bottle I could paint more often. I was going to use my wipeout tool but when I went to add it to my kit this morning I couldn’t find it. I painted with my fingers instead (I use only non-toxic paints, again because babies) which went okay, but a tool would give me more control and less paint on my fingers at temple.

    1. Reply

      Yes, where I get most everything: Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN on Grand Ave. if you’re local. They do mail order too.

      They have a huge selection of tools like the spatula I used. I can’t find it on their site under catalyst, but I found this one

      You might give them a call and ask them for help. Mine says “Mint 02” on it and is about 3/4 inch wide at the leading tip, and about 1-3/4 inch on the side, which is also sculpted to be a blade edge. The Catalyst line is made by Princeton brush company. I have found these tools to be great quality and they stand up to a lot of beating. I hope you check them out, there are tons of different shapes. Good luck with those twin babies!! See if during their nap time to you get a little sketching in just to keep yourself going!

      1. Reply

        Thanks! I think I saw those at my local art store, so I’ll keep it in mind for next time I’m shopping.

        I sketch when I can, though of course sleep tends to take precedence. For a while I was even sketching them while nursing, with the sketchbook propped over their hip and my knee, but if I try that these days they try to grab my pen. Which is its own kind of interesting, but now always what I want 🙂

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