Quantity Your Way To Success In Sketching

You don’t have to look far to find some experienced artist telling you that the way to become good at sketching is to carry a sketchbook with you at all times and sketch whenever you have a few minutes.  It’s a message that, sadly, seems to fall on deaf ears for most people.

I think I know why.  We’ve all grown up thinking that “art” is something you hang on a wall.  We’ve been taught that “do your best” is a good thing and when it comes to art this translates to “gotta do something significant” or some such sentiment.  Whatever it is, this view causes most sketchers to sketch only “when they have time”, which translates directly into “not very darn often.”

And here’s the secret behind all the advice that experienced artist give about sketching constantly.  That’s how they got good!!!  Like it or not, you learn to draw by drawing.  No class will make you good.  No instructor can make you good.  No fancy tools will make you good.  The most these things can do is provide you with is help you get the most from that associate piece of advice – practice, practice, practice.

I thought I’d share a couple incidental sketches I did, where I was, and what I was doing as a practical example of how to fit sketching into a busy schedule.  You see, I had an appointment to be interviewed as part of the Canadian citizenship process.  Yep, I’m becoming Canadian (yippee!).  Anyways, I arrived at the site of the interview about 15 minutes early.  With nothing to do, I went into a coffee shop and ordered a cup.  I could have just sat and drunk my coffee.  I could have paged through innane Facebook posts on my cell phone.  Or I could sketch.

Because I was traveling light, I had only the pen (Pilot Prera), a waterbrush with dilute brown ink, and small sketchbook I carry in my coat pocket.  I got it out and started a quick sketch of the barista area of the coffee shop.  I had less than 10 minutes before my interview which was on the 2nd floor of the building next door, and I had to drink my coffee too.  Nevertheless, I did this small sketch of the area.

2016-02-25interviewdayI had to stop sketching so I could get to the interview.  When I arrived I found 50 or so people there ahead of me.  Oh no…maybe an 8 AM appointment didn’t mean what I thought it meant.  I sat down at the back of the room, a bit glum and expecting a long wait.  Oh well, there were a bunch of sketching targets available so I got out my sketchbook.  I started sketching a woman in the row in front of me.  I was, maybe, a minute into this sketch…

2016-02-25interviewday2…when a guy came out of a room.  He read off a few names, including mine, and told everyone else to head into the “examination room.”  All my potential sketching subjects got up and filed into the room to take an examination to see if they knew who the first Prime Minister was, who the current Prime Minister was, and whether they knew what the heck a constitutional monarchy was.  You see, if you’re old, and filing for citizenship, they realize you’re not smart enough to be taking exams so I was exempted from that exercise.

I added a few lines to the sketch before a woman came out and called my name.  I was being called for my interview.   So, two sketches, done during time frames that most wouldn’t consider as a ‘sketching session.’  You’re right; these sketches are not great.  But they were both fun and good practice.  This is what all those experienced artists are talking about.  Fill your hurry up and wait time with little sketching sessions and when you do get more time to sketch, you’ll be better at it because you did those little sketches.

And what have you got to lose – that you’ll never be bored waiting for an interview?  Oh, and the interview went well. The only thing between me and citizenship is the swearing in ceremony.  I even got to tell them that I was a sketcher (grin).


Winter Food Court Sketching

My daughter’s was home from university for a week and we’ve had some snow storms.  These two things combined to keep me from going out sketching.  I was longing to do some so I headed out one morning to one of the big malls, and their food court.

2016-02-22womanorderingFood courts are great places to sketch people, either while they’re eating or when they’re standing in line to order.  All food courts are not created equal, however.  There’s a mall really close to my house that has two food courts and they’re both horrible sketching locations.  Why?  Because it’s hard to sit so you can  draw people ordering and their tables are crammed together, making it hard to sketch without someone slopping their Big Mac sauce on your sketch (grin).

But the one I went to is the newest in our city and it’s big, very roomy and there’s just the right distance between tables and vendors to allow lines to form in a couple directions (providing different angles) and the view open.

2016-02-22blondieThere’s not much to tell about the session.  I got a cup of coffee and started drawing.  I was using my Platinum 3776 with Platinum Carbon Black ink and I was sketching in a Stillman & Birn 4×6 softcover Alpha series book.  Great combination for this sort of thing as I like to add a bit of color when I finish up and the S&B paper accommodates that nicely.  I did time the session as I wanted to see how long I could keep doing it without getting tired.  I’m a lazy sketcher and have to push myself to sketch for long periods of time.  Come to think of it, long periods of time is a very relative term and, for me, “long periods of time” means relatively short.  Quick sketching is rather intense as people are moving a lot, but I managed to draw for 45 minutes, punctuated by coffee drinking.  I ended up with 14 sketches.  Here’s some of them.  I got tired of scanning.  I told you I am a lazy sketcher (grin).


2016-02-22people 2016-02-22oldman 2016-02-22tancap

Sketching Polar Bears On A Glacier

Shari Blaukopf is a master at painting snow.  I am not.  Whenever I try I feel like I’m sketching a polar bear on a glacier.  Everything is white.  Yesterday I tried again, working from a photo I took from the window of the Maison Dorion-Coulombe, the site of our recent sketchcrawl.  I always feel that my sketching from photos reflects too much my disinterest in sketching from photos but still, I should be able to do better.  I thought I’d share the results with you anyways.  Maybe I’ll get better at snow…some day.

Stillman & Birn Beta, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Beta, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Softcovers: An Exciting Announcement

Via Giphy.com

I am so excited to be writing this post.  As many know, Stillman & Birn, my favorite sketchbook company, released a line of softcover sketchbooks not very long ago.  Sadly, what most also know is that there were manufacturing problems with those books and they had to recall all of them, at great expense, from around the world.  I applauded them for this as it hit their bottom line hard, but they didn’t want we artists to bear the pain of the problem.

Excepting the manufacturing problem, these softcover books looked like a dream come true.  Available in all of Stillman & Birn’s great papers, in a variety of sizes, and with cover colors that reflected the paper type.  The covers had an almost suede-feel to them.  They weighed only 55-65% of the weight of the equivalent hardcover and they were much thinner.  A dream come true for someone like me who carries several sketchbooks and walks a couple hours a day to sketching locations.

Stillman & Birn sofcover prototypes

Stillman & Birn sofcover prototypes

Well, they’re BACK!!!  Or at least almost back.  Stillman & Birn says they should be available ‘real soon’ and they sent me a couple of their prototype books to get my opinion about whether the problems are fixed.

To that I can say, they are fixed and then some.  I’ve gone through both of my prototype books, one page at a time, and the problems we saw with the initial release are gone.  But it’s better than that.  These books lay flatter than their early softcovers and certainly better than the hardcovers.  I didn’t have to bend them backwards as you do with the hardcovers to get them to lay flat.  They just do, though I still recommend going through each page, folding it out flat before using the book.  I do that with any sketchbook, regardless of brand.

As I said, the books they sent me are prototypes.  They came with Delta and Gamma paper so I could check both the 150gsm and 270gsm binding.  The covers are the same material as the production versions but these aren’t color-coded; they’re prototypes.  Still, they are amazing books and I’m downright giddy that I have them to use.  I was planning to get somewhere to do a sketch for this blog post but a snowstorm prevented that.  Truth is, everyone knows how great Stillman & Birn paper is so I decided it was more important to get this announcement into the ether.   So here it is, without a sketch.  Here’s the money shot of the books laying flat. Ain’t they gorgeous?  Coming soon to an art store near you.

Stillman & Birn softcovers, laying flat.

Stillman & Birn softcovers, laying flat.


Clowning Around With Thursday Sketchers

We were back at it on Thursday, as we met at the museum to sketch.  Winter may drive us indoors but it doesn’t slow us down much.

clown toy

Canson XL watercolor, Pilot Prera, DeAtramentis Document Brown

I found this little, three-inch high clown sitting in the bottom of a small display of early children’s toys.  His right foot was missing but I made one up.  He was lots of fun to draw.


Canson XL watercolor, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

This lantern was nearly invisible and I have to wonder if it’s a forgotten exhibit.  It was hanging on a dark wall, in the dark and it was black.  Hard to see but it whispered ‘sketch me’ as I walked past.  And so I did, or tried.

When I finished Claudette and Lisette were chatting, making plans to have tea and while they were packing up I did this quick sketch of a top hat in the case where we were standing.  Then we headed for tea and had a great discussion about the value of sketching whenever we have a few idle minutes.

top hat

Canson XL multi-media, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black