Tuesday, April 17, 2018

More Reasons for Lightning Sketches

4/12/18 Mercedes in the post office parking lot

Several years ago I posted about the necessity of making “lightning sketches” when sightseeing with people who aren’t sketchers. I don’t want to keep companions waiting, so I’ve figured out strategies for sketching very quickly. Keeping materials, compositions and subject matter simple is a primary strategy, but just as important is adjusting one’s expectations and, when possible, planning for potential opportunities.

Recently I started thinking about all the many day-to-day situations (or to look at it a different way, opportunities) in which lightning sketches are necessary – not just when I’m with others whom I don’t want to keep waiting. When I think my subject matter may depart (people, animals, cars) or change (natural light, weather conditions) at any moment; when I’m due somewhere and have only a moment or two to spare; when I’m waiting for something else to happen, and once it happens, my sketch time is over. These types of situations happen way more often than having a leisurely few hours to spend as long as I like on a sketch.

One day last week was filled with opportunities like that. First, I went to the post office, and I had only a few minutes before I needed to run the next errand, but I thought I’d sketch a car in the parking lot. When I arrived, I backed into my space (planning) so that I’d be facing toward other cars when I finished my postal business. I knew the driver of the Mercedes would return from the P.O. quickly (indeed, he did – immediately after I finished).
4/12/18 Space Needle
Right after my errands, we were destined to see an exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry. The show was almost all photography, so I figured I wouldn’t have much to draw in there, but I wanted to find a way to squeeze in a sketch or two. The first opportunity came right after we’d ordered lunch in the museum’s cafĂ©. It doesn’t take long to grill a couple of sandwiches (and you know me – I can’t sketch if I’m hungry and food is on the table!), so I didn’t have much time, but it was enough to capture the Space Needle (still looking top-heavy due to its remodeling, which has grown tiresome to a native like me) through the window. As soon as the sandwiches arrived, I decided I was done.

Before we left the museum, Greg stopped in the men’s room, so I looked around nearby. I’ve made leisurely sketches of the bright pink Lincoln Toe Truck on multiple visits to MOHAI, so it wasn’t new to me, but it’s always a favorite. Again in my pocket-size Field Notes, I lightning-sketched that giant mobile foot and even had time to scribble on some pink by the time Greg was ready.
4/12/18 Lincoln Toe Truck, MOHAI

One of my favorite ways to flex my lightning-sketching muscles is watching the view out our kitchen window. Our bird feeder has been endlessly entertaining as well as endlessly useful in training my eye, hand and visual memory. Unlike the others (which took, literally, a few minutes each to complete), the sketches of birds shown below took quite a bit longer in total duration – each was completed over the course of several days – but I’d guess that the total amount of time spent on each sketch was still only a few minutes. These finches would give me a few seconds at a time, so I’d grab whatever gesture I could, from sight and from memory. The next time I saw the same bird (or another just like it), I’d correct the gesture or add more detail.

I remember when I first started sketching more than six years ago, I marveled at how quickly other sketchers seemed to work and wondered whether I would ever be as fast as they are. Over time, I have gotten faster and faster, although I don’t know how I’ve developed this skill other than through regular practice. When I have time, I enjoy working on a compelling subject, a more complex composition or more details, but I like having the choice of being quick if I need to. Regardless of subject matter or the reasons for being fast, my lightning-sketching skills are useful and worth continual honing.

4/4 through 4/12/18 finches at our feeder


  1. Sketching quickly is a useful technique...as is being ready to sketch at all times. I haven't tried sketching too many birds. My eyesight isn't that good, but I think having the bird feeder makes it easier for them to come closer. Good samples of what you captured.


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