Another Spent Sketchbook and Something Learned

Started December 13, 2015 • Ended January 21, 2017

This was one of those Strathmore 400 Series Sketchbooks with the wire binding that I prefer. It laid flat; was easy to draw in and was a pleasure to sketch in. It measures 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches making it easy to take along on the commute, but not too small to work within.

As I shoved it into and pulled it from backpacks, the cover started to get dog-eared so I encrusted it with stickers from various places. My family was put on alert to snag whatever stickers they came across. As the stickers got beat, I covered them with fresh ones. They did a fair job of holding the book together for the year+ of service.

The most important thing about this particular sketchbook is what I’ve learned from using it.

I think detail has been the most important thing and probably the most crippling thing to me as far as drawing was concerned. I would kill myself and all of the potential dynamism of an illustration with needless detail or noodling or endless cross-hatching. The tools I chose to use may have been the culprit.

Drawing with something the size of a sewing needle used to seem like such a great idea when I was fixated with detail. I remember that my first technical pen I purchased as a teenager was a 4×0/.18, but what I really wanted was the virtually invisible 8×0. What was I thinking? Did I intend to draw on a microscopic level? Fortunately, the drafting supply store I shopped didn’t stock them.

Following art school, technical pens followed me into my published work. There were a lot of overly busy cross-hatchings and slow, painful builds of tone. The work isn’t terrible, and art directors continued to hire me, but it felt like an exercise in obsessive-compulsive behavior rather than artwork. I would sketch up a notion and then scratch it to death with technical pens. It reproduced and printed well; I was illustrating, and, being that my regular job was in a retail art supply store, I sorely needed the money. It worked and I stuck with what worked.

I thought of the detail first, and the shadow areas were sort of an afterthought. I would toil and toil with the pens, and by the time the due date arrived, I may have built up the darkest area of the drawing to a 50% gray. It worked, but the work never had the impact I wanted.

The thing that was the most important was not to mess up the nice drawing I drew. Follow the contours. Fill in some shades. Make it look nice, but don’t wreck it!

My style did evolve, and I started using brushes, and then I moved to Pigma Micron pens and brush markers which I have dozens of all over my house. I’ve also written about my experiences with attempting to draw, ink and paint with digitizing tablets which I have to finally admit is not fun and the results are not necessarily pleasing.

It felt as I rediscovered fun when I started sketching directly with Japanese brush pens like the fabulous Pentel Pocket Brush pictured above. It’s sort of a fountain pen with a nylon brush tip, and it’s an absolute pleasure to use. Rather than start with a pencil sketch, I sketch directly with ink. There’s no dilly-dallying. Once the line is drawn, you’re committed to the drawing.

These are a few of the sketches that I’ve done while riding on subway trains, at the YMCA or at work. I don’t really draw from life — it may present a problem staring at somebody on the subway. This stuff is all from my head. They are just doodles, but I’m getting a real kick out of this approach. I’m shaking the rust off and losing the trepidation of spoiling a nice pencil drawing. I’m thinking more of shadows and boldness. I’m excited about drawing again!

Stay tuned. I have new sketchbooks waiting to be filled and some fabulous new pens to use.

This entry was posted in Adventures in Commuting, It Came From the Sketchbook, Technique and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Another Spent Sketchbook and Something Learned

  1. Old NFO says:

    Nice, and glad it’s fun again!!!

  2. Joe_Williams says:

    Thank you!

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