Pencil Jam

Some thoughts on sketch books

Posted in Sketchbooks, Techniques by George Supreeth on June 9, 2010

I’ve noticed a few habits when I use sketchbooks. Some of them may be useful? Or funny. maybe.

1. When I sketch, I turn my book around a lot. So sketches are at multiple angles on a single page.

I noticed I do this a lot. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want the lines from the previous sketch to bias the current one. It also helps me to ‘free myself’ from the previous image. Also it allows me to use bits of white space on the page. Finally the overall ‘accidental’ composition of sketches on the page sparks off an idea for a full composition on it’s own.

2. I am concious that someone’s going to look at the sketchbook later

I often find myself concious that someone is going to look at my sketchbook later. So while i’m drawing I find myself studying my subject less and prettying the drawing more. I also find myself trying to maintain a pretty sketchbook. I tried to break this habit by not using bound books but loose leafs and immediately destroying the drawings after I was done with them. That helps a bit, but the problem still crops up from time to time.

3.  I use both sides of the sketchbook simultaneously

In a previous avatar, I was an information architect. It fed my penchant for structured information. Now that’s creeping into my sketchbooks too. I tend to use both sides of the book. For instance the current sketchbook has nature studies and general sketches. My nature studies are of plants, birds, seeds etc and start from one end of the book. The general sketches that I draw everyday start on the other end.

4. Sketchbooks are more evocative than photographs

For me sketchbooks are more evocative than photographs. A single page dredges up many images from that moment. I’ve thought about this a lot and I figure that the precise detail in a photograph freezes a moment forever and thats why the memories from a photograph are very precise. Like a checklist. A sketchbook on the other hand because of it’s indefinite structures requires the brain to create more information. This makes for colourful and vivid memories.

5. Sketchbooks are the best place to discover new techniques

I’ve seen that sketchbooks are the best place to discover new techniques. Not only that it gets documented and archived, but also for the fact that sketchbooks are the place that I loosen up the most. On a professional project I am wary of using experimental techniques, but give me a sketchbook to blow paint around on anyday!

So that was a bit of a ramble, no? That’s my little ditty on sketchbooks.

Want to read a really great post on sketchbooks? Read Prabha’s what sketchbooks are for.

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What’s a Sketchbook For?

Posted in Sketch Club, Sketchbooks, Techniques by crabbits on June 2, 2010

There’s piles and piles of sketchbooks around me as I speak. Real physical sketchbooks (courtesy George and Smee, and me) and the sketchbooks I can remember my classmates made when we were all together back in art school, and of course online  sketchbooks of famous people we’d gawk at on the projector screen during class. I’ve come to understand very early on, that a sketchbook is a hopefully not gory peek into an artist’s head. The kind of things they like, what they observe, what they remember, where they’ve been, how they think, and how they see themselves, too. Fancy all that being revealed by drawing! Grab someone’s sketchbook and take a look sometime.

The obsessive-compulsive need for classifying creeps in now. I realise there’s different sorts of drawing people do. So a sketchbook may serve different purposes, sometimes all purposes rolled into one sketchbook. Sometimes unintentionally.

1. Studies

You draw objects, people, trees, dogs, over and over in different poses and from different angles to study them and understand how they work.

2. Journal

Your sketchbook is a visual diary, that you carry around with you and draw even while the person opposite to you talks to you. Often contains words, phone numbers, poetry, comments on the people you’re drawing.

3. Experiment Space

You try out those weird new media that you’ve got your hands on, in the sketchbook. Watercolours? Wet-on-wet? Light-on-dark? Newspaper collage? Inky-doodley technique? Yes, yes, yes! Your techniques see the light of day here and are later on used in your finished work.

4. Idea Bank

Your sketchbook is a space where you store ideas for later use.

Remember what we said earlier about Drawing What You See. By that logic, I suppose in category 1 and 2, The Study Sketchbook and the Journal helps you draw exclusively what you see. However the Journal may sometimes wander into the realms of What We Know, when you draw little imaginary butterflies where you actually See none. Category 3, the Experiment Space can be either about what you See or what you Know. I suppose category 4, the Idea Bank, is made of what you Know, most of the time!

Check out some sketch books over at the Pencil Jam community.

A Note on Colour.

Posted in Resources, Sketch Club, Sketchbooks, Techniques by crabbits on May 22, 2010

You’re the manic sort who sits in a corner of a cafe and viciously draws everything and everyone you see. You’re the crowd-puller in the park, as spectators sprout behind you, watching you work as you make a detailed study of a tree. You stop traffic in a crowded market street by setting up an easel, ready to capture life as we know it on a A4 sheet. Well! And you’re equipped with one or more of the following colouring materials to sketch away at the world outside exactly the way you see it.

Coloured Pencils: Quick, handy and clean, coloured pencils are useful for shading in as well as for drawing.

Watercolour pencils: Shapeshift gracefully from the clean clayey stroke of a coloured pencil to chaotic, transparent watercolours at the touch of a wet brush. Very convenient for watercolouring  in quick sketches, if you’re not the sort who lugs around watercolour tubes or palettes.

Watercolours and Inks: The unforgiving medium, that can create an almost magical happy accident with their tricksy bleeds and watery edges, or sometimes for these exact same reasons cause a tragic disaster of a finished artwork. Watercolours really shine when they’re used on white (light-coloured) paper because they’re transparent and rely a whole lot on the brightness of the paper for their overall effect.

Get hold of the school-kid’s box of 12 (or more) watercolour cakes for a convenient carry-around set of colours, or create your own by allowing inks or tube watercolours to dry on a white palette. Remember to use a watercolour brush with this medium, the kind that have soft bristles and that absorb and hold water while you paint.

Acrylics and poster paints: The antithesis to watercolours; forgiving in their opacity! They let you paint over and over your work till you’re finally done. Poster colours are have a chalky consistency and can be used even after the contents of the little bottle have gone dry. Acrylics can be layered and can be used to create “brushy”, textured paintings. Both media can be dry brushed, and when watered down enough, can even be a worthy substitute for watercolours.

You can carry just a few basic colours like blue, red, yellow, white and black and create an infinity of shades and tints.Use a poster brush with strong, coarse bristles because these paints can be quick-drying and tacky, which would mean a quick and sorry death to a watercolour brush.

{ Never, ever let a brush stand in water for too long. Try it and see, the brush tip gets all bendy and impossible to straighten and work with. }

Pastels and crayons: Pastels and crayons are soft media that can be used to create fuzzy lines and soft gradients of shading. Try them on darker-toned paper to really let them sing!

Paper collage: If you’ve got some interesting bits of coloured, patterned or textured paper or fabric lying around (else go collect some…! gift wrap, newspaper, craft paper, or paper that you’ve painted on.) this can make for a really fun, wacky technique of colouring.

So go on, give your sketchbook the zap of electricity it needs by using a whole lot of colour!

Winnie the Pooh’s Pencil Case.

Posted in Sketch Club, Techniques, What's in that Pencil Box? by crabbits on May 17, 2010

I thought you, lover of pencil boxes and their collection of tools and other oddments, might enjoy this. I know I did!

An extract from A A Milne’s Christopher Robin Gives Pooh a Party.

“When Pooh saw what it was, he nearly fell down, he was so pleased. It was a Special Pencil Case. There were pencils in it marked “B” for Bear, and pencils marked “HB “ for Helping Bear, and pencils marked “BB” for Brave Bear. There was a knife for sharpening the pencils, and indiarubber for rubbing out anything which you had spelt wrong, and a ruler for ruling lines for the words to walk on, and inches marked on the ruler in case you wanted to know how many inches anything was, and Blue Pencils and Red Pencils and Green Pencils for saying special things in blue and red and green. And all these lovely things were in little pockets of their own in a Special Case which shut with a click when you clicked it. And they were all for Pooh.

“Oh!” said Pooh.

“Oh, Pooh!” said everybody else except Eeyore.

“Thank-you,” growled Pooh.

But Eeyore was saying to himself, “This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.” “

And here’s Pooh enjoying his Special pencil Case in one of E H Shepard’s heartwarming illustrations.

If you’re Pooh Bear-crazy like me, walk over to Blossoms, Bangalore and pick up an armful of secondhand baby books of Winnie the Pooh short stories, in the kids’ book pile out on Church Street. The illustration above is a scan from one of these books, previously owned by a kid named Starlet who’s scrawled her name in green marker inside the book.  =)

Learning to See

Posted in Drawing-Seeing, Techniques by George Supreeth on May 14, 2010

Is there such a thing as objective reality apart from the observer?  If you’re like most people, you’ll argue that there is. It takes a lot of time to try and teach people that there is no such thing, and if there is we can never know it. Of course, mystics from across the planet have been saying this for a really long time, but science has only now started to piece together evidence that once and for all proves that the mystics were right.  There is no such thing as objective reality.

Now what does this have to do with drawing?


Big bad scary drawing.

Posted in Drawing-Seeing, Resources, Sketch Club, Sketchbooks, Techniques by crabbits on May 14, 2010

Drawing is really darned scary for so many people. “I can’t draw.” “Did you draw that with your own hand?” (Yes, who else’s!) “Eeee… these are really bad drawings. Don’t look at them.” “I don’t draw because I don’t know how.” “I am a graphic designer so I don’t have to draw.” “My left toe hurts so I can’t draw.” The list of excuses is endless. So here’s some more demystifying tips for those happy folks who’ve got a sketchbook close at hand and a desire to draw in their heads.

1. Why not?

Remember art classes and those good ol’ Navneet drawing books from back in school? Everybody created versions of the familiar “scenery”, stippled, dabbed and scraped across layers of mucky oil pastel.  Nobody stopped to say “I can’t draw.” What changes now that we’re “all grown up”? Perhaps its a feeling of being watched, judged, or of measuring up to something or the other. (Read Vinod’s post on Belief.) The first thing to do is to draw like nobody’s watching (not even you). You’re drawing it for you the way that you keep a diary for you. When you let go of the Watcher around you, you can really observe your surroundings and make those visual notes about them that we call drawing.

2. What do I draw?

Well, lets look around. We’ve got a beautiful, wacky world around us waiting to be captured on paper.  There are people, trees, houses, dogs, squirrels, birds, vehicles and so much more. Besides, you can look to your immediate surroundings and draw your own  toes and fingers. You can pull out old photographs and try to turn those into a drawing. You can delve into your own head and pin down that awesome conceptual butterfly that just floated in there a moment ago. You might have a sudden urge to draw a dinosaur out for a walk with a top hat on. Draw it.

3. How do I draw?

Grab some paper and a pencil. As George has mentioned in his earlier posts, the pencil is superb for soft lines that you can mess around with endlessly, erase (if you’re the sort that likes a “perfect”, finished drawing”) and shade with in gradations from dark to light.

A great idea for “loosening up” your drawing hand is to draw a whole lot of circles on a plain old A4 sheet. Fill the sheet with circles, and then fill another sheet with straight lines. Make your strokes loose and quick without any aims at exactness, perfection or neatness. Draw until you’re on a roll to draw more complex stuff. Like this.

Pick a subject to draw. You’ll find that most subjects are either still or moving, and I’d recommend drawing the still ones first, practising on them till you’re cool enough to take on a mover and shaker! You could be drawing outdoors, and pick an interesting building or tree or sleeping guy to draw. Or on an exceptionally rainy day, you’d be indoors, still itching to draw, and pulling off photos from the Internet as your references.  The general rules of drawing apply to all of these subjects.

Observe the form of the object. Or the shape or silhouette that it makes against the surrounding space.For example, look at this doggie here.

When you start to draw him you’d find that what you “know” about a dog’s shape will kick in and you’ll start to try and draw those without “seeing” what this particular dog is all about. Then issues of exactitude creep in and could possibly make you so bent on creating a perfect doggie that it could drive you nuts. For now, we’re only trying to draw what we see, because what we see is going to sit around for some time, and we can look at it for as long as we like and draw it real slow. Drawing what we know is important in a case of a moving object (like a real, moving, live people) our subject has posed for us for practically 10 seconds, and we need to fill in the blanks of our drawing with what we “know”.

So look at the subject through half closed eyes and spot areas of “light” and “dark” that soon resolves into shapes that you can put down on paper. Like this.

And you get this.

Which you shade in to get this.

This could very well be a completed sketch! Or you could get real finicky and add some detail. You might get something like this.

And that’s all there is to it. All. I promise you.

Here’s another example.

If you give this method a think, you’ll realise that what you’ve just captured is one still frame of a moving object. And it took you a certain amount of time to do this. If you keep drawing subjects of this kind, for a while (anything from one day to a few weeks) you’ll realise you get faster and more confident at dashing out lots and lots of  drawings. You’ll find you can get a light-dark-shape analysis of any subject more easily, and you’ll take on a moving object quick-scan-and-draw sometime.

Who ever imagined that you couldn’t draw?

4. Now what?

Go draw, you. Go.