Doing The 100 People Challenge

This week many people are drawing, or trying to draw, 100 people in five days.  Run every year by Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel, this is a popular annual event.  It’s no small coincidence that the two people leading this charge are two of the fastest sketchers I’ve seen and a pair that place a VERY high premium on sketching quickly.  I don’t say that as a negative, just a fact.

I still remember the first time someone suggested that I draw people on the move.  I was sketching with a couple people, both my betters, and they said, “Let’s go downtown and draw pedestrians waiting for the light to change.  I didn’t see my face at the time, but I’m sure my expression was “Are you nuts?”  The thought of drawing a person, a whole person, as 15-20 seconds was so far beyond my comprehension that I knew it was a joke.  And it was a joke… when I tried it that first time.

Sadly, the people who do this stuff regularly think it’s normal and so they don’t talk much about how people who don’t find it normal can do it.  I thought, rather than just another rally cry for the event, I’d mention a couple solutions that some use to do this.  I should preface this with the important fact.  All of these approaches are done by people who, if they have the time, can draw very detailed people.  There’s an old adage that if you can’t draw something slowly, you can’t draw it fast.  I think that’s true.

I’m going to describe “capturing” a character with the full knowledge that the results aren’t going to hang in the Louvre anytime soon (grin).  You’ve got to be ok with that before you launch into the 100 People Challenge.

Draw the bare minimum

The first thing you have to understand is that you’re not doing Sargent-level portraiture.  You don’t have time.  Many add two things together to accomplish the task.  They draw their people very small and do little more than draw lines for legs and arms with a round ball for a head.  I’d call this the stickman approach except that most grab for drawing something a bit more complete, where the arms and legs are positioned, bent appropriately, and so you can easily see what the character was doing.  This is a really good approach if you’re happy with these simple results.

Loosy Goosy approach

Artists throw around the term “loose” a lot.  With no solid defnition of the word it’s said that we should all be this, so we’re not “tight.”  My guess is that a lot of the great artists of our past would take issue with this but that’s how the modern world rolls.

Anyway, a lot of artists, realizing that there’s little time for drawing leg and arm musculature accurately in the few seconds they have simply abandon the idea entirely, drawing arms and legs heading off in the right direction but not necessarily with proper geometry.  They keep everything “loose” and are ok with that, no matter how “tight” they might do their next studio portrait.

Sweat the small stuff later approach

This takes on different forms depending upon the artist.  Some will draw an action line defining the subject’s orientation and then add only a few points defining joints, clothing boundaries, etc.  Some will go over these drawings with more ink later, correcting errors.  Others will do a complete contour of the subject while thinking about how color will help them complete the figure.

Still others will do a continuous, or nearly so, pencil sketch, all the time thinking of what they’re going to do with color to bring the character to life.  There is no one better at doing this approach than Marc Holmes.  He is so adept with both pencil and brush that it’s a joy to watch him draw characters.

All of these approaches require that you’re planning on working on your drawings later, probably at home.  The hard thing for many is drawing while thinking color, light and shade, etc. placing lines to indicate shadow borders, etc.

Make sure you’re drawing someone who will stay put for a couple minutes (grin)

The master of this approach is Alvin Mark.  His targets are people eating, people on buses, people on trains, anywhere that people stop.  His ability to draw precise contour drawings of people, reflecting not only their personality but their weight and its balance, is uncanny.  But he chooses his targets wisely.

So, these are some of the ways that people accomplish the task.  What I haven’t said is that it’s a LOT of fun and the more you do of it the easier it becomes.  I’m still not good at it and may never be.  I’m the slowest sketcher on the planet and so my “skills” aren’t amenable to quick sketching.  When sketching people I guess I’m closer to a “loosy goosy” sketcher than anything else.  I’ll let you decide.  These are the sketches I did yesterday, during the first day of the event.

Oil Paint Sketching

Long ago I saw Cesar Santos, well-known oil painter, doing what he called “studies” in a sketchbook.  He’d apply a couple coats of gesso to the page and then paint gorgeous portraits, that should have ended up on a wall, but Cesar was in training mode, working on his techniques and he needed to organize painting, notes, color swatches, etc. into a book.

That was before I considered oil paints but I didn’t forget the possibility.  Of course, when I decided to try oil paints I had to try it.  You can see my attempt and discussion here.  At the time my thought was that all the gesso stuff would just not transfer well to street sketching.

But, as they say, “I’ve seen things that can’t be unseen.”  Like artists sketching with oil paints on raw paper, Kraft paper no less.  It’s being done as a way to augment a pencil value study, providing color notes for a painting to be done in a studio.  BUT, the results would be perfect as a sketching medium for quick landscape/urbanscape sketches.  The problem, of course is what I reported in the post I just mentioned – you’ve got to wait a couple days to close the book, not exactly what you want as a street sketcher.

I continued to think about this and here’s where my mind went.

  1. When we need to do watercolors on thin paper we do “light washes,” using less paint and water to do our sketches.
  2. Water-mixable paints can be thinned with just water and the water dries much faster (too fast for normal painting) than with typical oil mediums.
  3. Paper is more absorbent than gesso’d board which would help wick the water away from the paint film

Hmm…says I.  What if… and an experiment was born.  I had some paint mixed on my palette, not the right colors perhaps but they would do for an experiment.  How to get a sketch done in “no” time so that I could time how long it would take to dry?  Solution is to keep it small and not worry about the quality of the sketch, all emphasis on getting the area covered as quickly as possible.

I used a cheap Kraft sketchbook.  I create these by taking a generic 9×12 spiral sketchbook and run it through my bandsaw, creating two 6×9 sketchbooks that cost me around $5, less if they’re on sale.  The paper is 120g.  I’ve filled several of them and they’re good for “light washes.”  A Stillman & Birn Nova book would be far superior.  Anyways, this is the result of this test.

Just toward the end of my “sketch” (total time less than two minutes) I decided to add a bunch of white in the foreground.  Titanium white oil paint is very slow to dry and I thought it a useful addition to the test.  Sorry this isn’t a better sketch.  I tried to keep the paint thin and used only water to thin it.

And then I waited, but I’m not a patient guy so at 15 minutes I was sticking my fingers in the paint.  Most of it was dry, or dry enough that I wouldn’t worry about closing the book.  The white areas were still tacky though (no book closing yet).

Then I remembered Cesar Santos.  He puts waxed paper over his sketchbook oil paintings.  I cut a sheet to fit the book and used a tiny piece of scotch tape to hold it in place, and throwing caution to the wind, I closed the book.  I even placed the book in my sketch bag to simulate me carrying it to the next sketching location.  Throughout the evening I checked it and no paint moved or was transferred to the waxed paper.  This morning, everything is quite dry except for the thicker dabs of white, which remain just a bit tacky.  I suspect even this can be improved upon as I put the white on without thinning and purposefully put it on thick.  My understanding is that zinc white dries more quickly but I don’t have any.

This is starting to look like fun.  I really like the opaque nature of oil paints for sketching and the fact that I can prep 3-4 colors in a tin and be able to see the colors of my mixes before I use them in a sketch.  I enjoy investigating my subject by mixing some the dominant colors as I decide how I’m going to approach the subject.

I know that the majority of the three people who follow this blog are watercolor and pencil types but I hope at least one of you finds this interesting.  I’ve spent most of my art journey without much experimentation and it’s refreshing to do some.

Significant Event <-> Trivial Result

I’ve mentioned before that this blog is as much me documenting my sketching events as presenting great art work.  This is fortunate as I have very little great art work to present.  But here in Quebec we’ve lived through some of the most strict anti-COVID policies for two years.  We’re still partially limited in what we can/can’t do and still use vaccination passports and wear masks everywhere.  And, right or wrong, we’ve all become trained NOT to go anywhere.

But the last few days has brought relief from our bitter cold and so I’ve gone out walking, mostly in the snow and rain but as the temps have been right around freezing, I’ve enjoyed it.  Anyways, I walked through the farmer’s market that’s right down the street from where I live the other day.  The place is dead right now due to people not going out but also because there are no farmers there selling stuff so aside from a few permanent stores, there’s not much to be had there.

There is a place that sells coffee, though.  It’s located along a big hallway and there are some places to sit on the opposite side of the hallway.  There were two women sitting there when I showed up.  I decided to get a coffee and draw them.  I sat down, got my little 4×6 scribble book out, marked the top/bottom of her head and…they both got up to leave.  I quickly sketched a face from “memory” and that’s what you see in the middle of this sketch.

Then I was alone, nobody to sketch.  I was thinking of drawing one of the tables when a woman walked down the hallway.. so in the few seconds she was visible, I drew the back of her head.  Then another person walked by… another few seconds of scribbling.  Each of the people gave me 5-10 seconds to draw them so the results aren’t great.  But this was my first foray into a coffee place in two years and so this was downright exciting.  I had to post this miserable sketchbook page for posterity.

While I’m posting, here are some other quick sketches I’ve done.  There’s no rhyme or reason associated with them.  Done on the fly and on a whim.

Here I found an Indigo Prismacolor pencil, decided to sharpen it for some reason and this led me to draw a bit with it.

I’m quite excited about the prospects of getting out sketching again.  Hopefully spring is coming early this year.  I’ll be posting a massive oil paint project I’ve been doing soon.  Just need to turn everything into digital images and I’ll post them.

Drawing Straight Lines

I have to begin with an apology to the person I’m addressing with this post.  A couple weeks ago I had an email dialogue with someone who told me she couldn’t draw a straight line.  I couldn’t explain how to learn to do it in a way that was clear to her and I told her I’d do a blog post on it.  This is that blog post, albeit at least two weeks late.

Truth is, you don’t have to be able to draw straight lines, but it helps to be able to get them somewhat straight.  Artists talk a lot about “hand-eye coordination” and “muscle memory,” neither of which have much to do with eyes or muscles, but we don’t do much to show people how to achieve it.  The reason is that, well, it’s boring and the internet has become all about showing people fun stuff.

In fact, we don’t do much at all to teach what we mean by “practice” and everyone believes it means that you should go out and draw stuff.  But a home run hitter doesn’t get good at the craft by playing baseball games, they get good at it by endlessly hitting balls off a tee, practicing one-arm swings along a particular path, and watching videos of themselves doing these exercises.  We need to be more like home run hitters.

Anyways, I went back into my piles of sketchbooks and found one set of exercises done back when I “couldn’t draw a straight line.”  Let’s discuss them.

2-point lines

The first thing you have to do is learn HOW to draw a straight line.  You don’t do it by drawing very slowly while watching the tip of your pencil.  This NEVER works.  Instead, you look at where you want to go while quickly drawing the line.  A good exercise for this is to 1) drop pairs of points all over a piece of paper. 2) put your pencil on one dot, look at another dot, and 3) pull  your pencil to the dot you’re looking at.   It will take a bit of getting used to but you’ll soon see that drawing straight lines isn’t so hard afterall.  In short, hand-eye coordination isn’t about drawing buildings, it’s about acquiring these sorts of skills such that it become automatic.

3-point curves

The same sort of exercise is done to draw curves, only now you’ve got to start the pencil on one dot and take in two other dots with your eye as you draw the curve.  Just don’t look at your pencil as you do this.

Super-imposed lines

This is another useful exercise.  Draw a series of line (use a straight edge) on a piece of paper.  Then, repeatedly draw lines on top of those lines.  I found this enforces the hand movement and improves your brain’s ability to do these movements, and it is your brain, not your hand, that is doing these movements.

I hope this helps at least as much as it embarrasses me to post all these crooked lines.  They say that looking back on your earlier work is a good thing.  I’m not so sure (grin).

Quick Sketching In The Cold

I started posting my sketches to this blog as a way of maintaining a history of them.  It’s since morphed into a way of sharing with others but that original idea remains, although I long ago stopped posting everything I draw.

And this week has been a cold one.  The beginning of the week had us enjoying -32 to -38C temperatures.  The 58C difference between our inside and outside temps stretched our house heating system to its limits.  But on Wednesday is “warmed up” and we needed milk so I decided to walk to the store to get some.  It was -16C at the time but the walk is only 3-minutes in each direction and so I headed off.

And here’s the crazy part.  That morning I’d seen Alissa Duke’s post of some quickie sketches she’d done of the backs of cars and I couldn’t help but see every rear-end of a car as a target.  It was nuts but I drew several really quick, really frozen sketches.  By the time I got to the store I was frozen, though each sketch took less than 30s.

The funny thing is that you can actually see the shivering shakes in some of the lines.

But since pursuing the oil colors, purposely putting my pens down, it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed pen sketching.  When I got home and warmed up I drew this guy from a reference photos used by a YouTuber to do a very detailed charcoal drawing.  Let’s just say mine was less detailed.  Then again, mine only took a few minutes (grin).

It was fun to lay down some ink again.  We’re back to really cold and a blizzard is swirling outside.  What kind of stupid people choose to live in a place like this?