Project Friday: Working Quickly in a Series of Sketches

January 25, 2019
Brush pen on a rust colored sheet of Canson MiTientes.

There is always a lot of paper around the studio.

Recently when I was putting away the camera equipment I “found” a large copier paper-sized box full of packets of 9 x 12 inch toned papers. There are light colors and dark colors. Some of it is smooth, some is textured.

I purchased these packets of paper when a local scrapbook keeping store was going out of business. 

Since I keep a “loose sheets” journal alongside my bound journals during the year, it’s a given that I’ll use up the paper.

Maybe you have loose sheets sitting around too? Or maybe you want to test a new paper?

If it’s the first, just start sketching. Use that paper to test different media, to make preliminary sketches or even final paintings.

If it’s the latter, go to a store and buy a couple large sheets of the paper you want to test. Tear or cut it down to a size you like to work with. (I recommend that you stay in the 8.5 x 11 or 9 x 12 inch size as you can be loose or detailed in such a space.)

Fine tipped brush pen on a rust Canson MiTientes.

Then decide on what you want to sketch. Ideally you’ll have a dog, cat, or parrot at home that doesn’t mind your intense sketching gaze. Or a human family member might ignore you as you sketch him or her watching TV. If you like to paint and sketch flowers, stop on your way home from work and buy an inexpensive bouquet at the grocery store. If you are really stuck for something to sketch check out the Sktchy App where people called “muses” post photos of themselves that you can use for drawing reference. (That’s where these faces come from as it’s just Dick and me now, and he went to bed before I found the time to sketch!)

I recommend that you think of the paper as non-precious. For some that’s difficult. Yawn widely, then smile. Think a happy thought. You should then be relaxed enough to have a go on the paper.

You aren’t trying to do a finished drawing or painting. You are aiming to experiment. You are testing one type of pen on the texture of a paper. You are using a particular pencil.

Keep your experiments loose, and relatively quick. (All the images shared today were 5 minute sketches).

You might even stand in the middle of a room and turn 90 degrees every 5 minutes. (I’d end up with a lot of sketches of clutter, but I’m betting you have lovely vignettes of your various collections.) 

Fine tipped brush pen with light Prismacolor pencils on Canson Mi Tientes.

I also recommend that you work in ink. Just dive in. Don’t worry about erasing, there’s no erasing ink. If something starts to go awry go with it (and have the face look like someone else, the dog breed be transformed, whatever). Or redraw right over the offending line. In other words don’t let anything stop you.

Use one pen for the whole session, or if you don’t like the way the first pen worked on the paper try a different pen, but don’t keep switching back and forth.

Work in as few media as you can the first time you are testing a paper. Keep it simple.

Do at least three sketches. If you can do five that would be even better.

After each sketch make a couple notes on the page or the back of your sheet. Note how the pencil or pen feels on that paper; what you like or don’t like about the texture of the paper; or anything that occurs to you to try for future experiments. (You might use the reverse side of a paper in your second experiment! Then you can compare the top and bottom surfaces!)

Around the fourth or fifth sketch you might find your energy is dropping, but keep working on that sketch anyway. It’s how you build stamina.

You might find that you are slowing down a bit and putting more detail in the third, fourth, or fifth one. If it feels good, go with it. I often find that I’m warmed up by then and something really fun can happen.

When you finish, put them all aside without looking at them. Leave them alone for a couple days and come back and view the images and the notes with a fresh eye.

That’s when you can make plans on how to use more sheets of that paper (or pages in the journal you’re testing) in your next experiment. It helps to write your plans on a page in your journal. Why? Because stating your plans in writing actually helps you put them solidly in your brain. And if they happen to fall out of your brain, all you have to do is go to your experiment page in your journal and remember what you planned to do next with that paper.

BONUS POINTS: Take your sheets to your favorite life drawing co-op and experiment with the tools you like to use there. Or take your skeets with you to the Zoo! Get some of those live subjects on your paper. You might discover a new favorite combination of tools and paper. (I use large binder clips to attach my loose sheets to the stiff heavy cardboard that is left over when you finish most watercolor blocks. You could also cut down a piece of plastic corrugated board that’s just a little larger than your sheet.)

    • Cynthia Sexton
    • January 25, 2019

    You always have such good ideas. Thank you so much.

    1. Reply

      Thanks so much

        • Kathy Wedl
        • May 15, 2019

        Dang, I wish you would teach an in-person class in the Twin Cities.

        1. Reply

          Thanks Kathy, I used to teach locally all the time, but current personal circumstances prevent it. If that changes it will be announced on the blog and in the classes listing. So stay in touch.

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