Sunday, June 12, 2022

30-Day Challenge: Initial Learnings


From photo taken at Cannon Beach. I tried
different crops and redrew the one I liked best.

I’m a week and a half into Ian Roberts’ 30-day compositional challenge, and so far, it’s ideal as a challenge: It’s pushing me to explore compositions mindfully, but it doesnt feel burdensome (as my 100-Day Project sometimes felt). It probably helps that my studies are not very different from the thumbnail-sized sketches I often make – except that I’m thinking more as I make them (as well as afterwards).

As Roberts recommends, graphite is a useful medium for this exercise because it enables a wide range of tonal variations easily to indicate values. It’s my preference, but when I want to make a really quick one, like when I’m out taking a walk, I use a brush pen and white Gelly Roll or white colored pencil in my red Field Notes. It’s easy shorthand for capturing three tonal values.

An interesting thing I’m finding is that I often change the cropping of the composition I had intended once I get the sketch on the page. When I see other possibilities, it’s easy to simply draw lines through the thumbnail to try out different compositions.

I thought I wouldn’t be using photos much for these studies because I prefer drawing from life so much more. I concede, however, that using photo references does have advantages at times, such as on rainy days. Unfortunately, it’s annoying to discover that my phone is filled with badly composed snapshots! I’m trying to become a more mindful photographer, if only in the service of my compositional studies.

For many artists, the purpose of compositional studies is to prepare for final paintings. However, in most cases, I feel no need to make larger or full-color drawings based on these studies. Maybe that’s one major difference between a studio painter and an urban sketcher: Even a five-minute sketch fulfills the need to capture a moment. For example, the sketch of the electric bike next to a tree (below) is complete. A larger size or adding color would not have more to say.

from photo taken at the Arboretum. The numbered
lines indicate more possibilities for cropping.

Last Friday was International Ballpoint Pen Day for those who celebrate, which I happily do -- with a couple of Bic 4-Color pens! I regret my messy hatching, though. These would look better if I took as much care with them as I do with graphite.


  1. It has been great to watch you analyze a scene and show a variety of compositions. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks for your encouragement! I think I'm learning more from this challenge than most that I do!

  2. Glad you're enjoying your challenge! I really liked seeing your vacation sketches, and this new sketch with the bike is so concise!! Your remark on taking sketches to the point where they've said what they have to say is so lucid; it's something I think about often. I tend to work very small and am interested in working larger, too, but often my "sized up" work falls flat. Maybe this is why! Thanks as always for your thoughts, Tina!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Lee! I have a lot of trouble with larger pages, too. I prefer to say whatever I have to say in a small way. ;-)


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