Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Sketching Goals, Frustrations and Fears

7/30/14 various inks, Zig markers, Caran d'Ache
Museum water-soluble colored pencil, Canson
XL 140 lb. paper
(Balloon man at Maple Leaf Park)
Recently Larry Marshall blogged about his sketching goals – the things that motivate him as a sketcher – and he asked readers what motivates them. I realized I have done a lot of thinking about this subject myself, but I had never consolidated and articulated my thoughts into a blog post. His post prompted me to do that.

These are my sketching goals, in general order of priority:

1. Have fun. If it stops being fun, I’ll stop doing it. Life is way too short to have a hobby that doesn’t fill me with joy. That said, I’m not unwilling to challenge myself and work hard while having that fun. For example, when I’m struggling with a difficult perspective study, I don’t necessarily think of that as “fun,” but some forms of intellectual challenge are, indeed, enjoyable (in a masochistic sort of way).

2. Document my life by sketching the life around me. This is essentially my interpretation of the parts of the Urban Sketchers manifesto that mean the most to me: capturing what I see from direct observation; telling the stories of where I live and travel; being truthful to the scenes I witness.

3. In the interest of No. 2 above, speed and efficiency trump accuracy and beauty. I would love to develop my watercolor skills to the point where every sketch looked like a mini-painting. But if that were my focus, I think I would miss a lot of the world going on around me that requires greater speed and efficiency to keep up with. Capturing the moment is more important to me than making a “good” sketch. While buildings and trees make good painting models, people, animals and vehicles move and go away. In addition, I rarely travel alone, and I want the people I travel with not to be burdened by my sketching. I’d rather capture the moment quickly so that we can move on rather than feel frustrated that my companions won’t give me time to sketch.

7/31/14 Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku ink
(Taekwondo demo at Queen Anne Farmers Market)
4. In the interest of both Nos. 2 and 3 above, sketch quickly without rushing. There’s a big difference between fast and hurried. I sometimes feel hurried and rushed, so I do both, and I rarely like the sketch that results. But if I relax, focus and work quickly, the sketch comes out much better. Sketching quickly takes no more time than rushing.

5. Improve my skills – both my ability to render accurately and my overall compositions. I have some conflict putting this goal after Nos. 3 and 4 above. I realize that when I slow down, I’m more likely to improve my skills than when I speed up. If I believe speed trumps accuracy, then I’m unlikely to learn to draw more accurately. But I do care about becoming a more accurate renderer. And I’ve heard from more than one source that a strong composition is 90% of a successful sketch. So I do think about accuracy and composition, study the sketches of others, take occasional workshops and read many books to gain skills. But not all of the time.

I have one more goal, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, while I’m in this introspective mood, I’ll add a couple more thoughts.

What frustrates me most about sketching:

My growth is sporadic and not continual. During my first month as a blogger in March 2012, I mused about this very subject. “I want a straight upward trajectory, not a horizon of gently rolling hills,” I whined. Now, more than two years later, my whine hasn’t changed. I might make my best sketch ever, and then later that same day, make a total dud. I can see gradual progress over time, but then I’ll make a sketch that sets me back several months. I feel like I learn from each sketch I make; why, then, doesn’t that learning get applied directly to the next one, every time?

My greatest sketching fear:

Obviously I don’t fear revealing sketches I find fault with; I do it regularly on this blog. I don’t fear criticism, either (my years as a writer, both creative and commercial, toughened my skin). My greatest (perhaps only) sketching fear is that I will eventually hit a plateau and stop seeing any change or progress. Perhaps realistically, I can’t expect to improve forever. But that fear is there.

Which brings me to my final goal, which has no numerical priority because it’s more like an over-riding philosophy:

Sketch every day. If speed is in direct conflict with accuracy, then just make more sketches, because accuracy is bound to improve with practice. If today’s sketch is a total dud, then make another one tomorrow, which might (probably will) be better. If I haven’t seen improvement in weeks or months and I fear I’m hitting a plateau, then go into denial by sketching some more. If something is fun, do it every day. I’m convinced that quantity trumps quality.


  1. Your goals sound like you can achieve them realistically. I agree with you that sometimes speed is necessary, but I find I'm happier when I take my time. Since I am usually with other artists I don't usually worry about my sketching being a burden. I do a lot of plein air painting in addition to sketching so I guess I've gotten over that idea. Love the balloon man in his colorful shirt and the kids waiting so patiently. The light treatment of the figures in the background works well.

  2. Once again, Tina, you've said nearly exactly what I feel about my own sketching! It's amazing. I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agree with #4. It's striving for that balance that I find challenging. Sometimes I feel rushed because of others, and sometimes I just feel I'm rushing myself. To be in a state of relaxed awareness and sketch efficiently with whatever time I have always feels better. Also, pulling myself out of a funky mood takes time, time I could be sketching. And I've found my mood definitely effects how my sketches turn out. Awesome, spot-on post!! Thank you so much!!

  3. You approached this exercise from a different perspective than I did but it's caused you to think about a lot of other interesting concepts. I'll have to think about some of these things myself, Tina.

    As for that rushing vs fast thing, I feel "rushing" when I sketch with others. It always seems that I'm the slowest sketcher on the planet :-) And I definitely agree that quantity trumps quality, particularly until you master the craft. I'm still trying to draw straight lines so the more I draw the better chance I have of doing just that.

    Cheers --- Larry


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