But my life is full of drawing the same subject over and over. Life drawing models I see every other week or more, Dick and his eyebrows, his parents (when they were alive), a succession of peppers (red, green, orange, yellow), eggplants (in various states of decay), skulls, bones, taxidermy, rocks, and of course my Schleich dinosaurs.
Unlike my friend who professed that repeat sketching bored him, I find that sketching a subject a second, third,…tenth,…100th time helps me do a deep dive into the shapes and angles and constructions of the figure of that subject, whether it’s a nose, receding hairline, body proportions—it doesn’t matter, each revisiting helps me understand something not only about the subject but all similar subjects in the world, and ultimately helps me understand what surrounds me in my world.
I can’t encourage you all enough, to sketch the same subject multiple times. Last year in March of 2021 I even encouraged you all to join me in discovering how actor Alun Armstrong is put together—and how we could put him down on paper in a recognizable representation. (See March Is Sketch Alun Armstrong Month in the blog’s search engine.)
Don’t expect that every challenge you set yourself is going to result in a series of perfect drawings. Let go of that expectation and you’ll be rewarded with lots of lessons along the way. Lessons you’ll be able to call upon when you’re out and about sketching.
Today, as the year winds down, I want to remind you to really dig into a single subject yet again.
I’ve dug up some sketches I made while recovering from cataract surgery (dealing with new vision artifacts and visual problems) in 2020. I was watching “Longmire.” An excellent crime drama which is available on Netflix.
My focus for these sketches was mostly the actor Robert Taylor (an Australian actor you may have encountered while watching “Ballykissangle.” (An Irish show.)
I’ve watched “Longmire” 3 times through. (With time in between.) I love it more each time. I keep sketching all the characters and there are lots to choose from if you watch it and want to sketch.
In my first sketch you’ll see a list of what I find difficult about drawing Robert Taylor. (Long-time blog readers will get a laugh from the list.)
On other days, I’ll do a series of quick sketches focusing on one feature, like his eyes, seen in the third image in this post.
Doing quick sketches like this of your subject will help you focus in on the features that convey likeness.
Of course when you’re doing portraits the eyes are important. But I’m also quite fond of Longmire’s hat hair.
Profiles are important views that help you understand a face. They help me look at noses as you can see in the fourth page spread of sketches in this post. And I’ll be the first to admit that hats both fascinate and stump me, so I’m constantly looking at hats, especially when the calendar creeps up on the Minnesota State Fair in August—because then I know I’ll be encountering a lot of bill caps.
Tips for Diving into a Series of Sketches
Don’t feel that you have to do a ton of drawings every time you sit down to repeat attempts at understanding a particular subject.
Set a goal to work for an hour and do 5 quick sketches each under 10 minutes, or decide that you’ve already warmed up for the day so you’re going to do 2 longer sketches of 20 to 40 minutes each.
Limit your materials to a single pen or medium that you love working one, and a paper that works well with that medium.
Work on paper that your tool and medium respond well too—but also pick within that range of papers one that is less expensive. In this series I was working on the drawing paper contained in the Hahnemühle Travel Journal. It’s not watercolor paper, but with a little water management I can get it to work for quick sketches. And besides, I really love the light drag that my favorite pens have on this paper.
You could also simply work on loose sheets and keep them in a folder.
It’s nice to have them together so you can review them later as a whole.
If you’re working on a series and your subject is not coming to life for you in a way that you had hoped, do try a couple times and from a couple different angles. Learning what you can with each sketch.
But don’t forget that sometimes it is also good to take a visual break and sketch something else. (In the final sketch in this post you’ll see that I drew a sketch of “Fergusson,” who has wonderful ears, and also was wearing a bill cap so that was additional hat practice.)
Taking even a five minute break like this is great. It allows you to refocus, to capture something familiar (like ears!) and build up steam for another attempt at the main subject.
In my State Fair Journals you’ll see me move from cows to people, to sheep to people, to birds to people. The people are just what I sketch while I’m walking to another barn or taking a break to look really hard at the animal subjects (which are my preferred subjects at the Fair).
I find that it’s like sorbet between meal courses—palate cleansing.
Sometimes too you discover the key to what was stumping you visually in the series of sketches.
Whatever it is you want to sketch better, I hope you’ll give sketching in a series a shot. Before the new year, start a new habit that helps you build your drawing practice.