Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hit and Miss

12/17/19 a few folks at Green Lake Starbucks

A couple of weeks ago, dashing into Starbucks for a quick break, I opened my sketchbook and aimlessly went after some victims – no plan or page composition in mind. Usually I’m good at reading body language to gauge how long someone will remain, but I was wrong; first one and then another victim got away before I could finish. By the time I got to the third victim, I sketched faster than ever, not wanting to lose him, too. It’s the older man at lower left, deeply engrossed in his book.

12/17/19 detail
I make lots – lots – of small portraits like this whenever I ride public transportation or otherwise have a few minutes to kill with people in view (I don’t post many of them here on the blog, but you can see most of them on Instagram). This tiny ballpoint pen sketch, which I finished in literally a couple of minutes, is possibly my favorite small portrait of the whole year. I think I captured a relatively good resemblance, but the reason it’s my favorite is that I captured his essence. I don’t really know how to define or describe a person’s essence except that it’s the thing that I believe his family members or friends would recognize as him if they saw this sketch. It’s the thing that indicates that he’s a living, breathing individual reading at the Green Lake Starbucks – not a mannequin.

Today is the 365th day of 2019, which means I finished my sixth year of drawing daily. Of all those sketches, some were carefully planned compositions, and some more spontaneous; some were of dazzling, exotic subject matter, but most were of the mundane. Sometimes when I start out making a sketch that is somehow “special” – either the subject matter is exciting or important or just intriguing to me – the result disappoints me. Equally often, I’m faced with a boring scene that I don’t care about but I want to draw that day, so I’ll make a “throwaway” sketch – and I end up liking it better than anything I’ve done that week or month (or year).

Despite daily practice for six years (and mostly daily practice the two years before that), my skill level is such that I still can’t make reliably good sketches every time. (I always imagine that at some magical point, every single sketch I make will come out great. I’m sure that’s a myth, but I keep hoping.) Lately, I hit more than I miss, but it’s still hit and miss.

The point is, I never know when I’m going to get a hit; it might be on some random trip to Starbucks when I wasn’t even planning to sketch. But the only way to be ready for the hit is to sketch all the misses. Every day.

Best wishes for the fresh year and decade that begin tomorrow!


  1. His personality shines through in this sketch!

    1. Thank you, Cathy... I think so, too! Happy New Year!

  2. Sometimes it is easier to capture someone in a quick sketch rather than something you spend more time on. When my art group was doing portraits I was usually happier with the quick ones I did in a few minutes after I did the long pose. See you in the next decade!

  3. The other two are not too shabby but the chap with the beard is a cracking sketch. He's alive and reading his book.

    Thanks for the blog - I love reading it in all it's diversity. Looking forward to your plant class.

    1. Thanks so much, Jan -- I'm happy to hear you enjoy the blog!


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