Sketching For No Reason

We’re all keen to tell newcomers that it’s “all about the process, not the product.”  And, we’re just as invested in being concerned that most newcomers find it difficult not to be concerned about the product.  But you know what?  The existence of the internet and all of the social infrastructure built around it by art groups, flies in the face of all that process, not product stuff.

Listen to nature journalists.  For them its all about “documenting” what they see, building a “record” of the places they go and coupled with it the “share it in our Facebook group” request.  I don’t know how many Facebook groups exist for the sole purpose of people displaying their work but it’s a lot.  And don’t even suggest those groups are social groups.  Facebook groups stopped being about talking a long time ago.  If you’re a member of these groups you will have experienced some bit of guilt if you haven’t posted sketches in them.  Ya gotta participate, right?  Heck, the Urban Sketchers require posting of your sketches if you’re going to call yourself an urban sketcher; it’s in the manifesto.  Any 30 day challenge or online workshop comes with a hashtag you’re supposed to use when you post your results.

Generally I think we see sharing sketches to be a good thing but it does change what we do and how we do it.  And I realized this morning that it has actually affected whether I feel productive (or not) as a sketcher.  I’ve mentioned a couple times recently that I haven’t been doing much sketching and this seems a direct response to not posting as much stuff.  I didn’t really realize this to be true.

But this morning was garbage day and so I emptied my studio garbage can and took it out to the recycling (it’s all sheets of paper).  For some unknown reason I thought about the bag in my hand and how it represented somewhere between 50 and 100 sheets of paper, each filled with scribbles and doodles, often on both sides of the paper.  It made me realize that I’m doing a LOT of sketching, though it’s done “for no reason” since it doesn’t appear on the internet.

Does that make any sense to anyone?  I don’t think so.  But I know I’m not alone in how the internet has changed how we make decisions and how we do our art.  It might be time to give a bit of thought to this, an introspection of sorts.  I know I’m going to ponder sketching for no reason and its virtues.

When I came in from the garbage trip I noticed these three sheets laying around on my desk.  Though they aren’t the most complete doodles, I thought they could illustrate what it means when I sketch for no reason.

Find A Piece Of Shade And Draw

It’s hot.  It’s humid.  Too hot for an old man to be out walking, that’s for sure.  So, I put my stool in a shady spot in the yard and drew a small “scene” designed by Chantal.  I thought these little guys were going to be hosta-guarding soldiers (wrote about that), but Chantal had other ideas.  As usual, hers was a better one.

My New Ticonderoga Checking Pencil

Never let it be said that I don’t love buying pointy devices.  I’ve got so many of them that I could build half a house by stacking them.  So, when I went to buy a new printer cartridge, I came home with a printer cartridge AND a couple of Ticonderoga “checking” pencils.

Many people like Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils, not so much because they erase, but because they provide a range of colors while still retaining sharp points and they have a pencil feel, rather than a waxy colored pencil feel.  I like them too, but I think that most would agree that they don’t produce the saturated color of a quality colored pencil.

Still, for quick sketching, C0l-Erase provides a good experience.  I picked up a pack of Ticonderoga “checking” pencils with that in mind, and the fact that it was only a couple bucks to try something new.  This pencil didn’t disappoint.

Like the Col-Erase they do hold a sharp point and may feel even more like a pencil than Col-Erase pencils.  They may also produce a slightly more saturated line, though the difference here is small.  I confess to being a Ticonderoga fan.  Their #2 “soft” pencil is so much better than most of its school market competition that they rival much more expensive pencils, something I would never say about the basic yellow Dixon pencil that dominates the school market.

Here’s my “experiment” with the checking pencil.  Not a completely polished portrait but I think it demonstrates the possibilities with this $1 pencil.

Doing A Bit Of Pencil Pushing

Like many artists, I collect things to draw, or at least that’s the excuse I use.  Along the top of every bookshelf in my office/studio are crammed old bottles, vases, skulls, diecast cars, animal figurines and statues of all sorts.  In the old days, pre-pandemic, I loved to visit flea markets and garage sales, looking for something I “needed.” A few years ago I found a plaster head that I think is Japanese.  As I recall it cost me a buck, maybe two. Like so many of the items that I’ve bought to draw, I’ve never drawn this head… until this weekend.  Here’s the result.  The time spent was well worth the $2 purchase price.

What Is Drawing, Anyway?

I remember, it must have been a decade ago, and I was taking part in a Cathy Johnson workshop/tutorial on pen and wash art.  It may have been the one she did for Strathmore.  Anyway, one person asked, “does this require drawing?”  I thought this was the stupidest question ever because Cathy made it clear that we were going to draw THINGS from life or photos.

Since then I’ve given little thought to that question because I have run in urban sketching circles where everyone understands that the base skill of everything urban sketching is drawing.  But now that I’m wandering in the world of oil painting, things are different.  All the instructors have to emphasize that to paint well you have to draw well and if you don’t, you won’t.

And so I ask you, what is drawing if one assumes you can paint without doing it?  I bet, as a person who draws themself, you have an answer.  I thought I did but here’s what The Primacy of Drawing, a 500+ page book on drawing has to say about it:

“It should be reasonable to expect that a book devoted to the exploration of drawing should begin with an authoritative definition of its subject.  However, my examination of many, many definitions of drawing, both contemporary and historical, has proved to me the futility of attempting such a task.  Any formula would have to encompass the indefinable status and contradictory aspects of drawing, and therefore would immediately dissolve into a web of disclaimers.”

So that’s why people don’t understand what drawing is (grin).  One of the big problems of defining drawing is that definitions should not only define the thing being defined is, but also what it is not.  We have a similar problem in modern definitions of art, which exclude nothing from being considered art, including cans of excrement contributed by the artist.

And so we’re left with “drawing” being an amorphous activity where people believe they can paint scenes or objects without drawing, all the while using a brush to define the outlines of said things.  Very confusing.

Oil Painting of biscuits

Pen and wash sketch of biscuits








And so I come to the earth-shaking question.  When I draw an onion with a brush, using oil paints, is it a painting, or is it a sketch of an onion in the same way it would be if I drew it with my fountain pen?  Why is this relevant?  It isn’t really.  Only something to ponder.  But I was adding tags to my latest oil painting/sketch/drawing and I came to the choice of “Sketch” and I wondered, is it a sketch or not simply based upon the medium I used.  Yes, yes, it can be anything I want it to be.  But which is it really?