Sunday, April 24, 2016

Discovering and Losing Edges with Liz

4/21/16 line weight exercise
As I mentioned briefly yesterday, I’ve been taking Liz Steel’s SketchingNow Edges online course the past couple of weeks. A mix of generously illustrated written lessons (on her website and downloadable as PDFs) and video demos, the course is rich in content for all levels of urban sketchers. (For sheer beginners, Liz recommends going through her Foundations course first.) Two concepts she presents are especially of interest to me right now: Using varying line weights to emphasize the visual focal point of a sketch; and “losing” very specific edges in a composition to let the viewer fill in the part that’s unstated (undrawn). Liz herself is very excited about the latter concept, and although I haven’t practiced it much yet, now that I understand it, I find it very exciting, too.

Although I went through all the lessons in the presented sequence, I’m a bad student J, so I skipped some of the exercises and did others out of order. You’ve seen most of these sketches already on the days that I made them, but I’m including them all here again so you can see them as I summarize what I learned from the exercises.

The first sketch shown (above) was an exercise in varying line weights. I used a fine-tip brush pen (with a firm tip, not a hairy brush) for the foreground water bottle and desk, and then I used a very fine point fountain pen for everything else behind them.

4/18/16 line weight exercise
The second sketch (at left) was the one I did at University Village last week. An on-location example of the same lesson in varying line weights, in this case I deliberately made the line weight of the foreground tree much heavier than I normally would to bring it forward. Instead of using a light pen line for background elements (as Liz did in her demos), I used colored pencils very lightly. I’ve been doing this colored pencil trick for quite a while, but not with the intention of pushing those elements into the background. Instead, when I'm not interested in stuff in the background, I scribble them in with colored pencils just to get them done quickly. Perhaps my intentions aren’t the best, but at least those elements get pushed into the background!

4/23/16 line weight and tone exercise
Yesterday at the Pike Place Market, I completed two more Liz assignments. My first was the front entrance of the Market and its iconic clock and sign. As recommended by Liz, I chose the central column supporting the shelter and the right side of the “Public Market Center” sign as my vertical lines to guide the placement of the rest of the compositions components. My initial intention was to use full watercolor as Liz did in her demo, but standing on this busy intersection on a crowded Saturday morning wasn’t ideal for painting (I was frequently jostled by crossing pedestrians, and once I had to pin myself to a lamp pole when a passing truck drove up onto the curb!). I decided to stick with gray and black tones for value instead of color, but I think I was still able to practice Lesson 4’s objective of prioritizing tones even without using color.

I had also intended to use the sunlit building on the right as an example of some “lost” edges, but I became so much more interested in the sign and the shelter that I forgot. As Liz said in her own demos, it’s exactly the sort of thing that happens when you’re sketching on location. J

Of even greater interest to me was being able to incorporate what I learned in Lesson 3 about prioritizing lines. After putting in set-up lines for the composition and drawing secondary elements with my finest-point fountain pen, I then took my heavier Sailor fude nib to sketch the elements I wanted to draw attention to: the central column holding up the free-standing shelter, the “Public Market” sign and its scaffolding that supports the neon letters, and the clock. Finally I used a brush pen to put in the darkest areas (the windows, the dark Market interiors and the underside of the shelter). Although I was pleased that I had darkened the underside of the shelter and column for contrast and to draw the eye, I may have gone overboard with all the windows! (Once I get started doing something to one window, it’s almost impossible not to keep doing it to the rest of the windows.)

Unlike in the first two sketches, which were also an exercise in varying line weights, in the Market sketch I used a heavier line to emphasize the visual focal point, not just the spatial relationship of the foreground to the background elements. I feel like this sketch was sort of my Edges “term paper,” as it solidified many of the main concepts presented in the course!

4/23/16 hard and soft edges exercise
Another assignment was to sketch food because of the variety of textures, colors and shapes that are usually present in a meal. (She did advocate sketching dessert or cold food so that we wouldn’t waste a hot meal!) These varied textures are a useful way to practice both “hard” and “soft” edges. In addition, when you have hunger and rapidly cooling food as motivators, you have to sketch fast, which encourages spontaneity.

As you know, I rarely sketch my meals, hot or cold, because I just cant seem to focus when Im hungry! Yesterday after the sketchcrawl when several of us decided to continue sketching over lunch, it was a prime opportunity to sketch my food. Unfortunately, true to form, I devoured my veggie burger as soon as it arrived, but the remains on my plate left plenty to sketch. The onion slices (a beautiful shade of pinkish-purple) and a few home fries, as well as the knife handle, were good examples of hard edges. By contrast, the lettuce had many challenging folds and ruffled edges – kind of a combination of hard and soft. I forgot to save highlights on the ketchup blob, so its just a red blob. (In the spirit of the assignment, I did finish the sketch in probably 10 minutes, so even though I wasn’t motivated by hunger or cooling food, I’m always motivated by a desire to have a fresh, spontaneous and therefore relatively fast sketch.)

Although Liz recommends using a real paint brush rather than a waterbrush, I still used my waterbrush for convenience (especially at a cafĂ© table). I didn't have much space on the table for both my mixing tray and paint box, so I didn’t get out the mixing tray until I was almost finished and needed to mix the gray shadows. Consequently, almost all my colors were mixed right on the page or in the paint pans themselves with the waterbrush. I like the intensity of the hues much more than when I try to mix paints in the tray (which usually results in watery, washed-out hues). In fact, I thought it was a good solution for getting more intense color when using a waterbrush (which, for me, is all the time).

I still have a long way to go in mastering all the concepts in Liz’s Edges, especially the whole exciting “lost” edges idea that engages the viewer’s involvement more actively. But I think making these four sketches with those concepts firmly in mind will help me to integrate them into my own sketching process going forward.


  1. Great analysis of your sketches and how they fit each of the lessons from Liz. Thanks for sharing this!!

  2. thank you so much for this post Tina - a great read. Looking forward to seeing you get lost and found next!

  3. Great post. Thanks for it. Helena Monteiro

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Joan, Liz and Helena! The class introduces exciting concepts that I'm eager to practice going forward.

    - Tina


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