Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Cormorant Drying His Wings

Three Pears Top View

Girls Looking Out to Sea

A fellow painter asked me the other day for a tutorial on sketching. That got me thinking about how to explain why I sketch, and what I get out of it. The why is easy: because it's fun! Like daily painting is to painting large, so is sketching to daily painting: you have less invested, so you are willing to try something new, to experiment; and because it doesn't take long, you can do the same subject/composition over and over, until you get one you like - and you learn something in the process. What do I get out of it? A chance to try out multiple compositions, when I'm not sure which one will be most compelling. A chance to find out ahead of time what is going to give me trouble, and either figure out how to handle it, or make it go away! A chance to do the first pass in a simple medium where only values matter, and in a medium that is enough different that the subsequent painting will still be fresh.

So what kind of options are there for sketching? Well, lots. Let me again recommend Bert Dodson's book, which is a treasure trove for sketchers.

Above I show three kinds of sketches I have been doing recently. On top is a really quick (5-10 seconds) drawing of a subject that was constantly moving. There was only time to make a few lines tell the story, so I did four versions. I love this kind of sketching, trying to capture just the shapes, with maybe one quick look at the subject. In the middle is an approach from Bert's book, where I used a thin pen and did an initial drawing, redrawing (restating) as needed to get the right shapes and shading, then I came back over that with a thicker pen for the final version. And on the bottom is a more labored approach, where I used pencil to draw and redraw until I got it right, and then went over it with pen and finally erased the pencil marks. The lobster boat drawings I posted previously were done this way, with the added use of a grid in the pencil layer to make sure the drawing was proportionally correct.

Oh, and one more thing! I draw the little boxes first, that's part of making the sketch a composition exercise.

Try some of these ideas for yourself, and let me know if you enjoy it, and if it helps make the subsequent painting of the subject more straightforward and enjoyable.


  1. I find that my paintings are always very different from my sketch. I usually like my first sketch better than the rest!

  2. Blu, I find this too. I always think the initial drawing on the canvas (usually with a brush) is more interesting than the final. Quickness leads to freshness and that is good!

  3. Sketching is a great discipline to improve the way you structure and edit your paintings. I find that drawing "forces" me to really look, study and compose my scene. I don't enjoy drawing that much and prefer to go straight to the paint but you inspire me to stick with. Your sketches are really great and I look forward to your paintings that result from them.