Monday, February 13, 2017

Small Page, Big Picture

2/13/17 ink, brush pen, graphite, Field Notes notebook
The sun came out today, and I was eager to try one of the exercises we did in Gabi’s “Pocket Urban Sketching” workshop to firmly cement the concept in my brain. I took a 3 ½-by-5 ½-inch Field Notes notebook (same size as the Stillman & Birn we used in class) and hit the streets.

When I sketch a neighborhood street scene from my car, I usually choose an intersection and include a parked car and some trees – and that’s typically the horizontal scope of my view (using a 6-by-9-inch page). I found such an intersection today in the Bryant neighborhood, but instead of focusing on the usual view, I looked as far to the right and left as I could see easily through my windshield. Holding up my pen against the height of the house on the right plus the tall tree behind it to determine my measuring unit, I roughly measured out all the other elements that I intended to include in the composition – the other trees in the background and foreground, the parked vehicles, the utility poles and the house on the left. Imagine that – they all fit!

Mind you, that concept is not new to me; in fact, I use it all the time to gauge the relative size of one side of a building compared to its height, the size of a car compared to the tree next to it, or the length of a guy’s arm compared to his torso. But I never really pushed myself to use the same technique to make any scene fit onto any paper space – it just seemed easier to choose a narrower scope. Now I realize it’s not difficult at all!

While I don’t always want to squeeze this large a view into such a small page, it’s nice to know how to do it when I want to. Sometimes I want to include more detail, so a smaller scope is appropriate. But there are many times when I do want to capture a fuller sense of the type of neighborhood or general area by showing more context. It happens frequently when I’m traveling. Being able to do this easily and quickly will be a helpful sketching tool.


  1. I hope you saw my comment in the previous post 🙂 When you say that you " roughly measured out all the other elements..." do you mean mentally/visually or did you lightly block them in on paper? Just curious. And... does the dot grid help in any way?

    1. Yes, saw your comment! :-) I made small marks with my pen for the major items, and for the rest I just eyeballed it. I don't even see dot grids or graph grids when I draw (or when I write, either, for that matter! Totally crooked writing no matter the ruling! ;-) ).

  2. Sounds like you have this idea down pat!!! I like how much you were able to get into the sketch.

  3. I took a watercolor workshop last summer. The instructor shared a scaling tip she gained from a former student: using a sewing gauge. It looked helpful, because it had marked inches, parallel ruler edges with an open center, and a sliding marker.


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