More on Default Scale and Tools

October 2, 2020
The sketches here are on an 8.5 x 11 inch page in a custom book I bound with the OLD Gutenberg. (Note the new version of this paper is not suitable for mixed media work.) In the text of today’s post I discuss what’s going on in the two page spreads. Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB.
This is part 3 of my farewell to teaching series.

If you haven’t watched the video I posted on Wednesday then this post isn’t going to mean anything to you.

This post is about showing additional examples and discussing the same idea, without going back into all the basics.  

Simply put, in today’s post you see three 8.5 x 11 inch pages from a hand bound journal. I was working with the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB. It was a good way into its life so the lines are starting to get a little dry, especially on the pebbly texture of this laid paper.

Background—Why Sketch Tattoo Artists?

First you need to know that I love watching tattoo artist shows. I’ve written about it before on the blog, you can search for the posts. There have been two different tattoo artist competitions, and “Ink Master” has survived. Additionally there are tons of shows based around a particular tattoo artist or particular tattoo shop. This is the one good thing that has come out of reality tv.

I find that tattoo artists are some of the most accomplished artists working today. They put something permanent on the body and get immediate client feedback. And there are no take-backs. 

Also, a lot of tattoo artists have beards. That means that I can enjoy a show and sketch beards at the same time.

If you don’t know by now that I enjoy sketching portraits of men with beards then you haven’t been paying attention. Maybe you landed here by mistake? Maybe it’s time for you to go off to a different blog? 

What’s Going On In These Two Page Spreads?

In Monday’s video lecture I explained how important it was to discover your default comfort level for scale, and how it relates to your eyes, your brain processing things, and of course the comfort tool you’re working with.

Second page spread, same series of sketches continued from previous page spread.

Throughout 2019 and this year I’ve been working steadily to understand how to use my defaults so that I can salvage something of my drawing practice through all the double vision and “special effects” I’m having with my post cataract surgery lenses. (I have a couple defaults, each for a different pen/tool size; I’d say the one we look at today is the master default. I use a lot of pens/tools that are about the size of the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB.) 

It has been a rollercoaster ride trying to get back to this/these defaults after new lenses were put in my eyes. I would go from days when everything seems to be working to days when nothing is in sync and proportions are way off.

If I hadn’t been the one living it I think it would be interesting to page through these journals and see how I was pushing, what I was pushing on, and how things varied. (Maybe I’ll page through them in my 80s?!) Of course, as the ultimate chart and log keeper there are logs and notes on everything. 

Paying all this attention to something I’d always simply “thrown on” like a familiar and comfortable sweater because I had immediate access to it (before surgery) was essential work for me right after the surgeries. The effort allowed me realize what was going on with my eyes. I was able to start working on a way to climb back out of the hole so to speak.

Instead of walking away from drawing (after a lifetime where it was the center of my life) I realized that if I just went back to my comfort “defaults” in scale whenever things were going badly I could actually get back on track.

Getting Back on Track

These three page spreads show you how in one drawing session I could find a scale for speed sketching which also mostly caught likeness. But I had to go to my comfort scale with this pen—remember that sketch of John Malkovich from Monday’s video—these are really the same scale on the first page spread shown at the start of this post.

When we move to the second spread I try to go big, a larger scale, out of my comfort range for this tool. It doesn’t go well. Part of the issue is that I’m seeing so many double lines when I look up that I can’t hold them together when I “project” them down onto the page. The other thing happening is I’m not able to hold my individual relationships between the features together.

I go back to my smaller scale, and it starts to work. I do a better version of that artist. Then I move across the second page spread still working small. Sketch 3 on the second spread is a good value study of that guy. 

Then I move over to sketch 4 and I up the scale a bit with the same pen because I’ve gone to my comfort level, I’ve not synced with the large scale on the opposite page, but recovered by going back to the comfort scale, and this time I’m able to hold the accuracy and likeness at a scale slightly smaller than the face on the opposite page. It’s a minor difference, but it’s hugely important.

It gives me an outer reach. It gives me a zone for success with my eyes in the current state that they are in when I use that tool. 

It doesn’t matter that I found it with a sort of “Goldilocks-this-is-too-small-this-is-too-large-this-is-small-this-is-just-right” approach. What matters is I pressed on until I could get there and had the sketches to compare, done at roughly the same time. 

(Note: If I hadn’t reached this syncing with the fourth sketch on spread 2 I would have simply had to start again the next day, because I was reaching the end of my vision strength—I don’t have the ability to work for 8 or 9 hours at the Minnesota State Fair for instance, my vision tunnels down. But because I was pushing for exactly this reason, and I’m comfortable making a mess, it wouldn’t have been a problem trying the next day. It’s just better when you can reach it in one easily compared session.)

Now it will help you to know that I tend to use a subject’s eye as my increment of scale. I often begin a sketch with an eye and then work out placement of everything else from that eye, “three eye heights to there, two eye widths up to that.” I compare what is real on the model, and then using the eye scale I’ve created I can translate it all around the page.

The difficulty with this approach is you can get some odd angles that can take you out of bounds; and each error magnifies distortion as we see on the verso page of spread 2. That’s one reason many people find it better to start by capturing the gesture of something, and working from the big shapes down to the small shapes.

I do that too sometimes. I have come to believe this is sort of an “I say po tay toe, you say po tah toe” issue and that people will pick one based on their eye geometry (which differs more than people realize).

My recommendation is that you work on both approaches. It’s always good to have a back-up plan. But don’t beat yourself up if you find you have a preference for one approach over the other.

Sketch 4 on this second page spread ended up being just slightly smaller than sketch 1 on the same spread, and it allowed me to go larger. And for the rest of the journal I pretty much played in the range of either 3 or 4 recalibrating how to get to those comfort defaults with the new lenses in my oddly shaped eyes.


I just want to put a plug in for momentum. I think it’s always better to stop a session when you’re having success. But it’s more important to generate enough data (i.e., sketches) while you’re really honing in on a particular thing like scale. It’s important to learn to sit with the discomfort of that search (and perhaps mess). And then what you can end on is knowledge of where to go next.

And that’s how I think you need to end every drawing session. You’ve got to at least be invested enough in your drawing practice to ask yourself where you’re going next.

Third page spread on the day. The ink only page was done on the same day as the other tattoo artist portraits. Note the “no glasses” comment at the top of the page.

On this day I do one more sketch which I was going to put in another series of posts later in November, but I have to include it here, I realized, after I went to look at it again.

On the third spread of that session, seen here at the end of this post,  you see my final sketch for the night on the verso page.

It’s very fast, about 3 minutes, and I’m losing the scale as I move down his face, but I am pretty happy with this sketch.

Mostly I’m happy because I hit the right default scale. It’s slightly smaller than sketch 4 on the previous page spread, which was the upper limit of my range with this tool.

What’s really amazing to me is that I hit it even WITHOUT MY GLASSES; and I caught a fairly good likeness. My new eye lenses always see at distance so this means I had no close vision.  

Because I was at my default scale I could actually move my hand about, without seeing what I was doing (no glasses or close vision), and without worrying about the double lines. (Because of my eye geometry there is no way to correct my eyes and remove the double vision and other issues of flare and glare.)

I wouldn’t like to try to do this all the time because my vision tunnels down fast, in fact the reason I took my glasses off in the first place was that my eyes were tunneling down so fast I wasn’t even seeing a full frame within my glasses.  The fact that I could do this made me very happy, and confirmed I’d hit the right default scale.

The next day at lunch, since I’d recalibrated the night before I didn’t have any difficulty drawing a sketch of the young James Cordon. 

Hitting Your Default Scale

Don’t be frustrated if you can’t hit your comfort scale yet because you haven’t drawn enough and don’t know what it is yet. Practice more, with intention. Stick with your favorite tool.

Don’t be frustrated if you can’t hit your comfort scale because your head is full of snot, or you’re running a fever, or seeing double.

Just keep trying. Knowing this is going to help you in the future. It will make all the difference in the world.

Oh, and watch “Gavin and Stacy,” even if all you do is watch season 1, episode 3, because really Gavin’s mom does the funniest thing I have ever seen anyone do in any television show. 

Often comedy is like life. You dig a hole, and then you dig deeper. 

At some point, in comedy, and in life, when you do this, things ultimately bust apart, and in that moment you have clarity.

Clarity in life can come and go, but as long as you have breath and choice you can get back to clarity. Don’t forget that.

    • Georgy
    • October 2, 2020

    Thank You For All You Do!!
    M heart is grateful.
    love & love,

    1. Reply

      Thanks Georgy! I’m glad it has been helpful for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Cookmode

Pin It on Pinterest