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Two Reasons to Work in a Series

June 14, 2017
Here’s a 9 x 12 inch journal page on which I sketched Carl Too with a water-soluble brush pen and a Niji Waterbrush. I was working on quick capture of negative shapes (below) and shading.

Background Information You Should Know

Yes, I have a collection of plastic dinosaurs. They are scale replicas. Yes they are technically toys but did I mention they are scale replicas.

If you’ve taken any drawing class from me you’ll have heard me talk about these subjects—still life subjects who are great stand ins for live models when there are no live models around.

They are more useful than regular toys. That’s because regular toys are stylized or may have cartoony features or exaggerated proportions (for cuteness). Because the replicas are realistic and to scale you can practice accuracy while sketching, without having to visually filter out the style of the figure.

(And yes I know that all these dinosaur replicas are ultimately an artist’s interpretation—but it’s not a level playing playing field with these and a Square Pants Sponge Bob figurine which is all stylization, at least I think so because I’ve never lived below in the sea or wherever the heck SPSB lives.)

All my dinosaurs, cattle, and other mammals and birds (it’s quite a collection), have names. I name everything. It’s just more companionable and it seems less rude.

About six years ago I purchased a fantastic dinosaur from Schleich who is a giganotosaurous. His name is Carl. Sometimes he has adventures and I post about them. 

One of the reasons Carl is so great is that he’s over 12 inches tall and so it is really easy to see detail on his body, and therefore it’s really easy to sketch Carl. (I have some lovely sheep replicas that are only a couple inches tall and I only sketch them in prep for the Minnesota State Fair because they really are too small to be fun for regular sketching.)

A couple years after I brought Carl home I found another gianotosaurous from Schleich that was standing in exactly the same pose, except that he was smaller, and he had an articulated jaw.

I saw him across the crowded aisles at Hub Hobby and ran to him.

That’s “Carl Too.” (For doubly obvious reasons.)

While he’s smaller than my original Carl, he’s still pretty tall and he’s a lot of fun to sketch.

Carl is off on adventures with Des right now. 

So Carl Too has been happy to help out.

Today I wanted to show you a couple of sketches of Carl Too. He doesn’t go off on adventures like Carl, but is content to stay with me and watch TV while I sketch.


Why Sketch in a Series?

There are hundreds if not thousands of reasons to sketch in a series. I write about this a lot on the blog.

Today I want to point to two reasons with the help of Carl Too.

All the images in today’s post are sketches of Carl Too. And they are placed in chronological order so you can see the time sequence as well. (These are not all the sketches I’ve made of Carl Too, just a couple that are representative.)

Reason One: Experimenting with the Familiar

One of the reasons I think this type of work is valuable is that if you use the same model (or muse if you want to use that word, Carl, original Carl, likes to be called a muse) you become familiar with the subject in all its moods and in all its poses and forms. You will see this relationship in my work with Gert my rubber chicken puppet. (See the Category List in the side column under “Gert,” or use the blog’s search engine.) You’ll see that because I’m familiar with Gert I’ve been able to use her to test new papers, paints, and drawing materials. I’m as familiar with her shape as I can be, so when I draw Gert I am focusing on the materials I’m testing, even if it’s a technique and not really a material. That means I can focus with abandon on the task at hand.

This quick brush pen sketch with an acrylic marker background allowed me to assess a new type of illustration board in under 5 minutes. It was late and I have a writo in his name. The other great thing about models you’re familiar with is that they are familiar with you and very forgiving of your foibles or frailties. They know you and don’t need to be impressed. They already know they are dazzling. (6 x 9 inches)

It helps me rule out the “noise” that humans interject into everything, the “gee I’m having a bad day and don’t feel like sketching,” “it’s too humid to use this paint,” and “the moon is some sort of astrological house which is messing up my energy”—whatever.

When you have a relationship to your subject you don’t really have to get ready to draw, you just draw. And that’s the best gift you can give yourself.

I’m sad to report that Gert is decomposing. She’s actually a hand puppet which means that despite stuffing her hollow insides to help her stand tall, the pressure on her bottom half has proved too great. Time has worked against the cheap rubber that she’s constructed out of and it’s starting to crack away. I’m actually thinking of getting a glass display box for her to retire into. She’s earned her retirement and would rather rest on her laurels than her decaying base.

Carl, Carl Too, Des, and all their dinosaur and animal friends are happy to take up the slack.

So that’s the first reason I wanted to share—if you use a familiar model you free yourself up to experiment with your materials and judge more accurately whether you like the way those materials are working based solely on those materials and not extraneous matters like the weather.

Reason Two: A Series Shows You Where You Are in a Given Space of Time

One of the reasons many of us love working in journals or sketchbooks is that our work is saved automatically in a chronological record. By paging through our journals we can see where we were in our development at any given time.

When we keep using the same models and subject matter we can see at a glance what our skills, interests, and favorite materials were at any given time. We can see also what we need to work on, or what we might want to work on next. It’s like a filter which focuses our intention and gives us clear feedback.

Because of all this working with a familiar model allows us to streamline the self-evaluation process and get back to setting and pushing towards new goals as quickly as possible.

One of the things that you might see in the images in this post is that two of the poses are very similar. Another part of this “knowing where you are in a given space of time” is that you can catch yourself when you have a default to an “easy” view, and start pushing yourself to something more challenging. (I’m happy to say that if you looked at all the images of Carl Too from this time span you would see that I’ve been careful about changing up his positions.)

Carl Two across the spread of the largest Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbook (it’s about 8.75 x 11.5 inches I think). It was late, a quick sketch of something on TV didn’t work out. I rarely (this is probably only the 8th time in my life) work over a sketch, but I wanted to sketch something else and there aren’t many pages in this journal left so I started in with Carl Too. I didn’t have my glasses on. At the time of this sketch I was having trouble with my eyes and feeling around for ways to go forward with some mixed media, and sketching in general. I needed a mental boost from a familiar face, and the comfort level of sketching and playing—because sketching from a model is really about a dance, an interaction between the model and the artist. Carl Too understands this. I included this piece in today’s post because it shows how working in a series can be a way to keep a record of where we are in our process and progress.

Reason Three: Yes I Can Count

OK, there is one more reason I wanted to share with you, in hopes of encouraging you to work in a series with a favorite model.

Working in a series allows you to fall in love.

It’s that plain, and it’s that simple.

When we draw something again in a different place or time, when we look again, look closely and really see, then our wonder is activated. We are most susceptible to love when we are in that state. Why is that a good thing?

I believe falling in love with our subjects is a good thing because it causes us to look closely and see how something is made, structured, articulated, whatever you want to call it. And we learn not to waste our time on those things which are not of interest to us. We all, after all have limited time in which to work.

So do yourself a favor and start gathering some helpful sketching muses around you. They should be large enough that you can see their detail. They should be in interesting poses. It’s important that they are realistic and to scale, whether you are talking replica dinosaurs or fake flowers. Then start drawing. Look at negative space, look at relationships of parts, look at angles, look at textures. Fall in love.




    • Susan
    • June 14, 2017

    I have an assortment of models, thanks to your influence, but I have been neglecting them lately. This is great incentive to show them some drawing love.

    1. Reply

      Susan, models have feelings too! Stop neglecting them. And they will reward you with adventures and confidences and who knows what! Have fun.

    • mary
    • June 14, 2017

    I love this post! An example of the contrast between what changes and what does not change (except at an imperceptible rate- Gert). Recording this in a series is an awesome idea!

    1. Reply

      Mary, I’m so glad that you enjoyed this post and I hope that you start working on some series to help you towards your goals!

    • Tina Koyama
    • June 14, 2017

    Excellent post! My urban sketching version of this is that I have some buildings and trees in my neighborhood that I have sketched repeatedly, and it’s amazing what I learn each time, even though the models haven’t changed at all (well, except for the leaves as the seasons change). And another variation of your concept: Whenever I want to focus specifically on color, I get one piece of produce from the counter or fridge and sketch it multiple times, experimenting with color in different ways.

    But now I want a dinosaur, too. 😉

    – Tina

    1. Reply

      Thanks Tina I’m glad you enjoyed this one. It totally translates to anything anyone is interested in, like buildings and scenes for you. One of the great things about scenes and buildings is that you can do seasonal captures which really are fun when viewed together, e.g., sunny days, spring green, fall color, winter snow, rainy days.

      Like you I love painting and sketching produce. I have a post coming up about some peppers (they tend to be my default). I also use peppers when I’m testing new paper and new commercially bound journals. It simply removes so many variables from the equation.

      Dino’s are a lot of fun though! Check out the Schleich website sometime and see what they have on offer.

      Keep sketching! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Daniela Schütte
    • October 8, 2017

    Loved this post, Roz. My boyfriend has a big Schleich dinosaur collection because he loves these scale replicas….looks like I will have to borrow them and get to know them better!

    1. Reply

      You most definitely need to borrow your boyfriend’s dinosaurs. I have six large T-rexes that all get along very well, and several others as well as Carl and Carl Too who are Giganosauruses (sp?) It’s adventure city around her for sketching.

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