Warm Ups: Some More Thoughts…

August 15, 2018
Sometimes I will do a whole page spread of small warm ups. I’ll sketch things I have at hand, or in the case of this spread, and because the rain was keeping me inside, I’ll sketch from muse photos in Sktchy.  (Some text obscured for privacy.) This is in a hand-bound journal I made with the OLD Winsor & Newton 90 lb. hot press watercolor. The paper had arrived with a ding in one portion of all the sheets so I made the sizes I wanted by tearing the sheets down to leave those portions and used the remainder to create a landscape book. (I don’t often make a landscape book.)
A quick brush pen sketch to test how the ink reacts to Canson Art Media paper.

I’ve written about warm ups many times, but readers still often forget how important they are. So I’m sharing some warm up pieces from my journals again today, before I get some more warm ups done and get my day going.

My goal with warm ups is to check myself on my ability to correctly get proportions down. You’ll see notes to myself and you’ll see little diagrams like I did for the dog head, where I quickly test out corrections or other approaches.

Another factor I’m warming into is what tool I’ll be using. 

Sometimes I’m warming up because I have to work on a piece that is on-going, so I may select tools that will set me up for that work.

On other days I’ll pick up my favorite tool and see if it works for me on a particular paper (see image two in this post); or I will use it as a gauge to see whether or not I’m feeling connected to any paper, since it’s my favorite tool and the connection should be immediate.

Detail of brush lines on the Canson Art Media paper.

The tool I pick up might be selected because I want to work with a certain scale in my drawing, or I want a certain line content. There are hundreds of reasons to pick up a specific tool. But in my early warm ups the goal is to get something down on paper and just get feedback. 

I’m running diagnostics to see what is working.

I the detail for the second drawing of today’s post you can see that my arm and hand are already working well, and I’ve got control of my pressure, but I’m still feeling out the density of the line and the drag of the pen on this paper. 

After I did that sketch I actually went on to do other sketches on the same paper. I found that over all, while there were some good qualities in the paper, it wasn’t that fun for me to sketch on and I knew I wouldn’t be buying more of it, or using it for the main work I’d be doing that day.

When you discover these things in warm up it’s particularly freeing. You feel light and trouble free. With almost no effort you have eliminated possible issues and even disasters that you might have encountered later in the day after spending considerable time on a sketch that you were invested in.

For some warm ups the idea isn’t even to focus on line or proportions but to start to look at values and think how I’ll build them up. When That happens I’ll work monochromatically.

In the last sketch shown in this post we can see how I used my warm up time to play with values and make decisions on how I would lay those values in when I started laying in color. These practice runs can make your painting session run more smoothly. You don’t have to be sketching the subject you’ll be sketching later. It’s simply about seeing values. Working monochromatically removes the effort of thinking about colors until you are warmed up. And of course working on values gets your squinting mechanism fired up.

Do I do these warm ups on cheap papers, or scraps? I could.

I prefer to warm up using the same paper I’ll be working on later.

This allows me to start getting used to the way the paper responds so that by the time my warm up is over I’m ready to respond with my real subject.

Does this waste paper? 

I don’t think it does. I think it uses paper wisely to get me tuned up to sketch or paint as necessary on that paper.

And because of that, working on the same paper saves me time! As I have written many times before, your time is your most valuable asset. Your time is worth many sheets of paper. 

By working on the same paper you’ll soon be painting on, you’ve already set yourself up for a productive sketching and painting session.

One final note: what I warm up with isn’t what I ultimately end up sketching. It will have components in common, i.e., it might be a bearded man and I’m in the mood to paint a beard; it might have similar angles and lighting.  

So next time you start your sketching day, think about all the great reasons to warm up. Set yourself up to have a great day.


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