Sunday, April 23, 2023

Unfinished in Five (Plus Another Inktense Redux)

4/19/23 Green Lake neighborhood

“When is a sketch done?” On her blog, Suhita Shirodkar recently asked that question and tried to answer it for herself. She likes to bring a sketch to a stage that, if she doesn’t have time to work further, it still looks finished. Then if she has more time, she might add color and details that give the sketch a different look – what she calls “a new avatar.”

Although at first glance Suhita’s method might seem similar to that of sketchers who use the “coloring book method” – make a line drawing first and color it in afterwards, sometimes after they’ve left the scene – her first stage is more than a line drawing. She puts in values and indicates enough compositional depth that it feels complete.

After describing her interesting process, she invited readers to leave a comment about how they answer that question. I wrote, “If it’s a sketch on location, then it’s done when I leave the location. Even if it feels ‘unfinished’ (I got interrupted or didn’t have time to do something I wanted to do), I don’t add more later. I kind of lose momentum and even motivation if I’m no longer at the location.”

I can count on one hand the times I’ve finished a sketch after I’ve left the scene (I recall one I made about a year ago). If I used the “coloring book method,” I think I might be more inclined to finish a sketch afterwards. Even so, my motivation is usually gone.

Unfinished stage reached on location in 5 minutes.

Coincidentally, the day after I read her post, I found myself with exactly five minutes to make a sketch before I had to leave for an appointment. (Yes, a more reasonable sketcher might have decided it wasn’t enough time and not attempted it, but apparently that’s not me.) Grabbing my secondary triad pencils so that I wouldn’t have to think about local color, I quickly blocked in the composition and the values (at right). I snapped a photo in case I needed it, then left for my appointment on time.

Unlike Suhita’s ink and graphite stage, I don’t consider this sketch done – it was definitely unfinished when I left the scene. But because I had put in the necessary information, I didn’t have to look at the photo. All it took was an additional five minutes at home to add more color and use a little water to intensify the pigments. It was a rare case of finishing a sketch later, but that’s because I had done the important parts – the composition and reminders of the values – on location. The end of my first stage didn’t look finished as Suhita’s did, but I think we are using the same principles.

Pencil notes: A couple of keenly observant Instagram followers noticed immediately when I showed my on-location photo: I used Derwent Inktense for this sketch instead of my usual Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles! Whaaat??! I’ll talk more about why in a future post, but I’m giving Inktense – a pencil I haven’t given much love to in the past – another try. And I’m all in this time: I removed all the Museum Aquarelles from my bag and replaced them with Inktense so that I wouldn’t be tempted to grab the Museums.  

The skeptical side of me wonders how long it will be before I switch back. But another part of me has always wanted to love Inktense. Like a “complicated” relationship, I keep going back, despite being disappointed repeatedly.


  1. I almost always try to finish a sketch or painting on site. It doesn't seem to feel the same when I try to work on it at home.

    1. What do you do if you get interrupted or run out of time? Just leave it? That's what I usually do, but I'm also fast, so it rarely happens. I bet you're pretty fast, too!


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