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Studies: Observing the Subject Over and Over

April 10, 2023

Studies are something all visual artists do, pretty much every day. 

Studies are about cementing the observation of a subject into a visual approach you can apply to your paper or canvas.

But studies don’t always happen before you make a more finished piece.

On this page spread, which is in a Canson 180 Sketchbook (that’s about 9 x 11 inches) you can see on the verso page a brush pen and ink wash sketch of comedian and actor Ryan Stiles. 

(I like to watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and sketch his malleable plastic face.)

There’s a lot of detail on that page. I could have stopped at that point and closed my book.

But sometimes when you are sketching your eye and your mind start to ask questions that they want the hand to answer on the page. And it might be that you don’t feel you have the exactitude to make that answer.

Something about the first sketch made me think I needed to keep looking. How can Stiles have such a square face some moments and a long face at other times?

On the recto page we see me trying to to answer those questions.

Here’s a closer look at the ink wash portion. I was trying to resist making ink lines everywhere, like I typically do. It’s good to play with this.

I’m making studies of his forehead, the angles on his face, and trying to understand the proportions of that face in a sort of resting phase, while he’s waiting to jump into one of the improv games.

More observation and quick visual notation will help me organize his features on the paper the next time I sketch them. I find post-main-drawing studies help me assess where I need to look more closely in the future.

I’m also struck by how in the 3o some years I’ve been watching Stiles on the various iterations of this show, he still has the same controlled body language we could see in him as a young man. Sure the baggy clothing is less baggy on his older form, but the shoulders, spine, and balance are all the same. Something so individual you could recognize it in silhouette.

There is so much going on in improv when you take a careful look.

As for sketching studies,  I’ve been doing that on Patreon. And in the natural course of events it has also led to discussions on color choices, which is always a fun topic. Come and subscribe if you’re interested in more.

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