Sunday, October 2, 2022

Quick and Even Dirtier Crosshatching


9/28/22 20-minute exercise. Bic ballpoint in Stillman & Birn
Epsilon sketchbook (photo reference)

Following some practice exercises in fast crosshatching, France Belleville-Van Stone’s next assignment was to make another portrait – in only 20 minutes. That’s a very short time, even for a fast sketcher like me. But like the first assignment, this portrait is small – only about 4 inches square – and she emphasized focusing on the key facial features and tones that define the face while ignoring hair, turban and other details. Over and over, France urged us to make fast pen strokes, “keep things moving,” and “embrace those faster strokes.”

While it is impressive to watch how quickly and confidently she moves her Bic, what’s much more impressive is how quickly she blocks in the facial proportions – within seconds. Her ability to do this is based on many years of drawing experience and has nothing to do with her ability to make fast crosshatching marks. Although I thought I was working pretty dang fast, I had to remind myself that I had used more of my 20 minutes on measuring and blocking in – at least a couple of minutes – which left less time for hatching. I’m not sure how to speed that up except with more practice. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge that.

In her demo, she had initially blocked in the nose too short but corrected it before the mark was more than a pale line, so it was easy to cover up. I did the opposite: I blocked in the nose too long, but I didn’t notice until I had already started making it darker. Although I tried to correct it (not enough; I can see that it’s still too long), my original marks still show. So that’s a key takeaway: Be sure that my proportions are accurate before I start to dig into darker values. (Or use pencil to begin, but in 20 minutes, who has time to erase?)

Photo reference from France Belleville-Van Stone

A second key takeaway: Wipe the Bic tip more often! To constantly wipe off ink blobs is a basic maintenance operation if you want to draw with a Bic, so I’m used to it. With 20 minutes on the clock, however, I was not paying much attention to my pen tip – and it shows. In addition, I used a Bic Velocity because the barrel is more comfortable than a Bic Cristal, and I assumed the tip and ink would be the same. Wrong – it “drools” (France’s term) even more than a Cristal! What a mess! But just like embracing faster, messier strokes, I’m embracing
ink blobs. It’s not called “dirty crosshatching” for nothing.

Proportions are not as accurate as the first portrait exercise, and therefore I see less resemblance, but again, I’m happy with what I was able to capture in 20 minutes. I would like to work on developing a greater range of tonal values, which France is so good at, even with quick and dirty crosshatching. I also have a habit of hatching instead of crosshatching, especially when I’m in a rush. I’d like to learn her crosshatching techniques, though, so I’m going to pay more attention to that going forward.


  1. I see that the nose is a bit too long, but the wonderful hatching wouldn't have let me notice if you hadn't mentioned it. I love the looseness and freedom that your lines have. I've never really sketched in ballpoint. You make it look easy.

    1. Like any medium, ballpoint takes getting used to, especially the wiping off part! But it's so cheap, it's worth trying. ;-)


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