Thursday, January 14, 2021

Tight, Loose


1/11/21 Derwent Lightfast colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

Our record-breaking, 2,700-mile-long “atmospheric river” is the kind of weather event that prompts me to look around on our kitchen counter for colorful produce to sketch. Feeling anxiety and dread about current events, I took my time to make the still life above, calmed by the relaxing, meditative quality of the time-consuming pencil strokes.

Although I sometimes wish it weren’t, my natural tendency is closer to the “tight” (for lack of a better term) end of the style spectrum, and the drawing above is a typical example. The next day, with tightness out of my system, I pushed myself to let loose – as “loose” as I’m capable of, anyway. Using chunky Art Stix, which don’t allow me to get into fussy details, I gave the lemon, tomato and garlic another try (below). Although a greater challenge, expressing this degree of looseness is as enjoyable as my more natural, tighter style, but in a different way.

The first sketch is more about the close study of form and details to be as accurate as possible (without being scientific). The second sketch is less about measured accuracy, but I didn’t want it to look sloppy or unobserved. In fact, I think it helped that I had already observed the produce closely during my first sketch so the forms were somewhat familiar. I could focus more on raw shapes.

Instead of “tight” versus “loose,” I’ve seen the two ends of the spectrum defined as “descriptive” versus “expressive.” I’m not sure I like those terms, because they would imply that a descriptive (tight) drawing lacks expressiveness. I would hope that both styles are capable of being expressive (whatever “expressive” is).

I did a similar tight/loose exercise last winter when I was taking a botanical drawing class at Gage (the most scientifically accurate type of drawing I have ever done). Taking some beets from one end of the range to the other, the drawings differed in many ways, but I enjoyed them all.

Whenever I show comparisons like this on social media, some followers let me know which they favor. Regardless of which way they “vote,” I appreciate that they have engaged with my work enough to have an opinion. In any case, I’ll continue to work in my natural way as well as push myself to try other ways because they all have something to teach me about drawing.

1/12/21 Prismacolor Art Stix in S&B Zeta sketchbook


  1. Both are really good! Hard to pick a favorite since the top one is more realistic but the bottom one is so colorfully expressive.


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