Mistakes: The Best Learning Opportunity

I have caught more than a little criticism when I’ve said things in internet groups that are less than flattering about my own sketches.  Mostly those comments come in the form of ‘don’t be hard on yourself’ and ‘there are no mistakes in art.’  I often wonder if these comments don’t say more about the people writing them than about me.  It’s always seemed to me that the best opportunities for learning come from when I’ve made a mistake.  If I don’t acknowledge my mistakes, I can’t learn from them.  One thing is clear, I NEVER learn anything from my successes.  They are but a reflection of what I already know.  It’s the mistakes that expose what I don’t know or things I’ve yet to master.

Maison Alphonse-DejardinsI study my mistakes often (I’m comfortable enough with myself that this doesn’t bother me) and I thought I’d share one such analysis.  This sort of thing doesn’t see the light of day very often, though, in this case I did post the sketch as documentation of a sketching session I did with Yvan at Maison Alphonse-Dejardins.

When doing a sketch like this I would normally draw, very lightly in pencil, a series of cubes to locate and proportion the two cabinets and the table.  I didn’t do that in this instance.  I just “went for it” as some would advocate.  Not bad advice but when the drawing becomes more complex, it’s far better to start with a bit of scaffolding for two reasons.  The first is that it lets you compare that scaffolding to what you’re looking at and allows you to correct it before continuing.  Second, once the scaffolding is in place, you can stop worrying about proportions/locations and just have fun drawing.

My approach started with “Simple enough, I’ll just draw the high and low angles of the scene and proceed from there.”  With those two lines in place and a horizon line, I felt everything else would fall into place.  You can see that decision reflected in the red horizon line and the two blue angle lines that frame the scene.

This is where things went haywire.  Notice the two  green lines.  I drew the left-most line first.  I’d let my vanishing point wander left quite a bit.  Then, wanting to nail down the table edge, I drew that line.  Notice that my brain pulled it back towards the proper vanishing point somewhat but as I drew it I’m sure I was looking at the countertop line and “saw” the relationship between them and my brain struck a compromise, trying to accommodate the proper vanishing point as well as the relationship between table and countertop.

In my opinion, THIS is the sort of frustration that comes from not doing preliminary scaffolding. You’re constantly chasing your last error, trying to accommodate it into the drawing and one thing is certain, two wrongs don’t make a right in sketching.

Notice that when I drew the doors on the lower cabinet (orange line) my brain had returned to the vanishing point and while these look the worst when it comes to alignment to the rest, they are actually more accurately drawn.

So, what did I learn?  First, the power of early scaffolding (or blocking in if that’s the terminology you prefer) is invaluable.  I actually know that but I guess I needed a reminder.  Sadly, this step is so under-reported when people teach sketching that I didn’t learn it until I’d been sketching for a couple years and it seems that too often I revert back to my pre-scaffolding days, generally with the results you see above.

The other thing I learned is that while my brain tries to accommodate for an error, even without my knowledge, it doesn’t do a very good job of it.  In this post-analysis, I’m not sure what could have been done at this stage as long pen lines are hard to move, so maybe I should forgive it for not finding a solution.

In the end, by actually thinking about what I did wrong, no emotional trauma occurred but I did learn something.  Maybe this will reinforce my brain to insist on locating objects and getting their proportions correct, BEFORE I start drawing rather than trying to fix errors as they occur.  Hope this short analysis has been helpful to some.

Sketching The Red Door

I love the doors of Quebec.  I’ve often thought that an entire sketchbook filled with doors and windows of Quebec City would be great.  If were even a little bit organized in my approach to sketching, I might just do one.  For today, though, here’s a single door, well actually two of them, done from a photo (my photo) on 7.5×11 Fabriano Artistico cold press.  I love this paper but it’s a bit rough for my very fine fountain pens.


Domestic Sketching: Quebec City When I Was Born

I’ve mentioned that this winter I was going to try to learn to draw at an indoor workspace and to draw from photos.  I know it sounds odd to those of you who do it all the time, but I’ve spent five years drawing on location and have a really hard time drawing in a ‘studio’ or from photos.

In this I’m very much like the dog that’s got to walk around in circles a couple times before it lays down.  Location sketching, for me, is about discovering something to draw, which requires wandering a bit.  There is no wandering in a studio.  Once I get going on an indoor drawing I seem to be able to do it and even enjoy it, but initiating the behavior… that’s harder.

I decided it was time, though, to draw from a photo.  Looking for something that would motivate me to do so, I decided that I should draw from a photo that is not of something I can go out and see.  The idea of historic sketching must have come from my watching the new Timeless series, which is about time travel, but as I already have a lot of historic photos of Quebec City I thought that was where I should begin.  I chose a photo of a trolley, both because I like trolleys and because it was taken in the year that I was born.

I started by lightly drawing everything using a Platinum Carbon Pen, keeping the lines very light so I could cover my errors if needed.  This is what I ended up with:

7.5x11 Fabriano Artistico cold press, Platinum Carbon pen

7.5×11 Fabriano Artistico cold press, Platinum Carbon pen

To bring a more solid nature to the drawing I started increasing the contrast, using a Platinum 3776 pen and a Platinum brush pen.  This got the drawing to this point:

2016-11-21trolly_bwThen it was time for color and touch up.  I still struggle with watercolors but at least I’m starting to pay attention to it.  I was pretty happy with the results.  Hope you are as well.  I think I’ll be doing more historic sketching.


Domestic Sketching: Let’s Try Imagining A Pine Tree

It seems there will be a continuing series of sketches being done by this urban sketcher that have nothing to do with urban sketching.  I’m forcing myself to draw at my desk.  I’ve even cleaned it off so I don’t have to shove stuff out of the way to do it.  I’m going to call this domestic sketching and label results as such.

Anyways, my first sketch was a small, defoliated tree and I thought it only fitting that I should follow it up with a pine tree.  As it turned out, I drew two of them, the second coming simply because I wanted to try to do a classic Christmas tree shape.  Probably shouldn’t have cuz it looks out of place in this sketch, at least to me.  One thing I’ve noticed about sketching at home, with good light, a desk and a good chair.  The sketching is a whole lot easier.

Fabriano Artistico (7.5x11), Pilot Falcon

Fabriano Artistico (7.5×11), Pilot Falcon