Friday, September 28, 2018

Thinking Visually with Sketches

9/11/18 Arboretum

My Gage instructor Suzanne Brooker (whom I studied colored pencil and graphite with) offered some of her current and former private students a mini-course this fall in sketching on location. Unlike all other location sketching classes I’ve taken, this one doesn’t focus on making completed drawings. The sole purpose of these sketches is for what she calls visual thinking – a method for taking visual notes that will be informative when we refer to them back at the studio to make finished drawings using photo references.

Since I don’t make finished drawings “back at the studio,” my main motivation for taking the class is to continue learning from Suzanne – but this time in the field instead of using photos. (I kept my fingers crossed that September’s weather would stay hospitable, and so far it has been beautiful.) We’ve been meeting weekly at the Washington Park Arboretum, where she has found much subject matter for her own work. Very familiar with the park, she has taken us to her favorite spots and shared some of her vast knowledge of trees.

9/25/18 Arboretum
Having just completed Kathleen Moore’s course in Drawing Nature, in which Kathleen strongly emphasized making thumbnails as a tool for developing drawings, I was pleased by how well the two instructors’ reasoning reinforced each other. While Kathleen encouraged us to spend no more than a few minutes on a small thumbnail to design the composition and understand the values, Suzanne takes a little more time to develop a small sketch, but the intention is the same: Explore a composition and take note of the values.

Composition and values. Composition and values. Composition and values. These are the most important elements in any drawing or painting (at least those based on realism). Did I mention composition and values? (I’m repeating these mantras so I won’t forget!)

Because we aren’t taking the time to complete sketches on the spot, Suzanne’s class has been somewhat frustrating to me – I find myself automatically working furiously to finish sketches in my usual way and sometimes missing the point of visual notetaking. But I thoroughly appreciate the opportunity to see how she looks at a given view – for example, a densely packed mass of trees and foliage that just looks like a huge mess of green to me – and designs a composition based on some part of it. Seeing her small sketches that result from that mess of green gives me a glimpse of what she’s thinking about. Visual thinking. It’s both informative and fascinating.

Shown here are a few examples of my visual thoughts. Yes, the thoughts have been as muddled as the sketches, but I’m working on better clarity in both.

Here's what I saw...
... and here's what I was thinking about when I saw it.
The mind is a messy place to look.

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