|10/25/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood (9 minutes)
The online courses I’ve been taking with France Van Stone
this month have got me thinking about speed – how long I take to
make a sketch. France often talks about how her natural proclivity is to spend
hours on a single drawing, meticulously and meditatively crosshatching every
detail until she is satisfied with the result. The downside of this approach is
that she would need a solid block of time (or several such blocks) to draw, but
once she became a parent, those blocks of time were no longer possible.
Frustrated, she began to develop faster drawing methods that would accommodate
her busy life while still giving her the satisfaction of continuing a regular
drawing habit. Even if the result wasn’t the same finished quality that she
might have preferred, it was more important to her to draw regularly than to draw
only when some chunk of time materialized.
Speed is not an aspect of drawing that I consciously thought about until I had been at it for a while. During my early years, I just took as long as I needed to, and sometimes that was frustrating when the subject (a car or a person, for example) disappeared before I could finish. But when I was a beginner, it didn’t do much good to try to draw faster – I only had one speed, and I didn’t know how to vary it. I also didn’t have the experience to know that if I used smaller pages or different media or simplified the composition, I could save time.
Maybe it was my experiences while traveling, especially in the company of non-sketchers, that made me conscious of how much time I took to make a sketch – and taught me to speed up when I wanted to.
Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but I think that anyone can work on a single drawing for many hours, continually correcting, fixing and changing, and eventually arrive at a result that looks resolved (though possibly overworked). I say this because I’ve seen the works of certain artists who are able to make a polished studio drawing, yet they have a much harder time making a spontaneous sketch in a short time, especially on location. I also know this from my own experience: When I’ve made carefully studied botanical drawings, I know the laborious hours I’ve put into them to make them look finished. It seems counter-intuitive, but to arrive at the point of being resolved in 15 or 30 minutes is much more difficult. By “resolved,” I mean the point when a sketch includes everything I wanted to include, and the page tells a complete story.
|9/15/22 In a dental waiting room. Definitely an unresolved sketch.
In the 11 years that I’ve been drawing, I’ve gained many skills, either from books, from instructors, or on my own. The one I value most and that serves me best every day is my ability to draw fast. Or more precisely, it’s my ability to adjust my drawing speed as desired – a skill that comes mostly from experience and that I am constantly refining.
That’s the main reason I’ve been focusing this month on making crosshatched portraits in 30 minutes or less. If I took more time, I know I could make them look better or at least more finished. But how much can I capture and still have the sketch look somewhat finished in a half-hour? That’s a much greater challenge. I’d like to be able to choose any subject I want to sketch, decide how long I want to (or can) spend on it, and still end up with something resolved on the page – not half done (or, for that matter, not overworked).
France is an ideal teacher for this goal, as she seems to set herself a time goal with every demo. “I think I can do this in about 20 minutes,” she’ll say, as she sets her timer. Indeed, when her timer goes off, her drawing has reached a stage that looks resolved. She knows her own sketching speed well enough to know when she’ll reach that stage. She also sometimes says she might keep going to darken some values or add details she’s interested in, but even without those additions, she finds the drawing acceptably finished. It took her many years of drawing to be able to gauge her own speed accurately.
7/30/19 An hour-and-a-half with graphite by a Delft canal: my choice.
Of course, I don’t always want to sketch quickly. After the extreme heat and hustle-bustle of the 2019 Amsterdam Urban Sketchers Symposium, I welcomed the cool, calm serenity of Delft a few days later. Sitting by a canal (yes, I actually brought out my stool – I knew I would be there a while), I took nearly an hour-and-a-half to make a sketch in graphite and enjoyed every minute (at right). Sometimes I take my time – but I want the speed to be my choice.
On a walk last week, it was cold and windy, and a dark gray wall above the horizon promised rain. I was thinking about how I hadn’t sketched any Halloween decorations or even a pumpkin (well, except the huge one, of course) yet this year when I spotted a house with a nice spider web across most of its front yard (top of post). On a warmer, sunny day, I might have wanted to spend a half-hour making this sketch. But on that chilly morning, I didn’t want to take more than 10 minutes. I was done in nine. It’s a handy skill.