Quantity Your Way To Success In Sketching

You don’t have to look far to find some experienced artist telling you that the way to become good at sketching is to carry a sketchbook with you at all times and sketch whenever you have a few minutes.  It’s a message that, sadly, seems to fall on deaf ears for most people.

I think I know why.  We’ve all grown up thinking that “art” is something you hang on a wall.  We’ve been taught that “do your best” is a good thing and when it comes to art this translates to “gotta do something significant” or some such sentiment.  Whatever it is, this view causes most sketchers to sketch only “when they have time”, which translates directly into “not very darn often.”

And here’s the secret behind all the advice that experienced artist give about sketching constantly.  That’s how they got good!!!  Like it or not, you learn to draw by drawing.  No class will make you good.  No instructor can make you good.  No fancy tools will make you good.  The most these things can do is provide you with is help you get the most from that associate piece of advice – practice, practice, practice.

I thought I’d share a couple incidental sketches I did, where I was, and what I was doing as a practical example of how to fit sketching into a busy schedule.  You see, I had an appointment to be interviewed as part of the Canadian citizenship process.  Yep, I’m becoming Canadian (yippee!).  Anyways, I arrived at the site of the interview about 15 minutes early.  With nothing to do, I went into a coffee shop and ordered a cup.  I could have just sat and drunk my coffee.  I could have paged through innane Facebook posts on my cell phone.  Or I could sketch.

Because I was traveling light, I had only the pen (Pilot Prera), a waterbrush with dilute brown ink, and small sketchbook I carry in my coat pocket.  I got it out and started a quick sketch of the barista area of the coffee shop.  I had less than 10 minutes before my interview which was on the 2nd floor of the building next door, and I had to drink my coffee too.  Nevertheless, I did this small sketch of the area.

2016-02-25interviewdayI had to stop sketching so I could get to the interview.  When I arrived I found 50 or so people there ahead of me.  Oh no…maybe an 8 AM appointment didn’t mean what I thought it meant.  I sat down at the back of the room, a bit glum and expecting a long wait.  Oh well, there were a bunch of sketching targets available so I got out my sketchbook.  I started sketching a woman in the row in front of me.  I was, maybe, a minute into this sketch…

2016-02-25interviewday2…when a guy came out of a room.  He read off a few names, including mine, and told everyone else to head into the “examination room.”  All my potential sketching subjects got up and filed into the room to take an examination to see if they knew who the first Prime Minister was, who the current Prime Minister was, and whether they knew what the heck a constitutional monarchy was.  You see, if you’re old, and filing for citizenship, they realize you’re not smart enough to be taking exams so I was exempted from that exercise.

I added a few lines to the sketch before a woman came out and called my name.  I was being called for my interview.   So, two sketches, done during time frames that most wouldn’t consider as a ‘sketching session.’  You’re right; these sketches are not great.  But they were both fun and good practice.  This is what all those experienced artists are talking about.  Fill your hurry up and wait time with little sketching sessions and when you do get more time to sketch, you’ll be better at it because you did those little sketches.

And what have you got to lose – that you’ll never be bored waiting for an interview?  Oh, and the interview went well. The only thing between me and citizenship is the swearing in ceremony.  I even got to tell them that I was a sketcher (grin).


17 thoughts on “Quantity Your Way To Success In Sketching

  1. I’ve been a portrait artist for decades, and thanks to sketchbookers like you, I’m finally learning the fun and importance of this. Sometimes I even sketch in the line at Walmart, to the annoyance of those behind me when it’s my turn and I’m not paying attention.

    • I have no great insights beyond my own experience with a few artists, but it seems to me that it’s actually harder for an experienced artist to think in terms of quick-sketches as their standards are higher because of their success in a studio. Those of us who stumbled into sketching via Danny Gregory or urban sketchers create wonky sketches automatically and we’re amazed that they look like anything (grin). Sounds like you’re having fun, which is what it’s all about. I confess to not noticing that the line moved a time or two as well 🙂 — Larry

  2. So true, everything you said! I have not had formal art training; I’ve just sketched . . . a lot! . . . since 2007. Like learning to write cursive (which is in fact “drawing a line”), you learn by practice. And like handwriting, everyone’s “style” is as unique as they are themselves.

    Today we waited over 1 1/2 hours on a waiting list to eat at a special small-town Texas diner (browsing antique shops part of the time) — sketching made the wait time fun!

    • Well, Vicky, I guess that means you’ve been sketching like crazy for 8 years or so. I can only hope to be as good as you are in another four years. Something to look forward to. It is kinda crazy to look forward to sitting in the doctor/dentist’s waiting room, isn’t it (grin). — Larry

  3. What brown ink did you use and at what dilution. Or is a little of this, a little of that!

    • Connie, these days I use De Atramentis Document inks almost exclusively and this is no exception. I’m something of a geek when it comes to fountain pens and inks so I have DAD brown ink with some black added (makes a really nice very dark brown, and mixed with a lot of the DAD solvent to to give me a very pale, almost pink, brown. You might have seen Marc Taro Holmes recent blog post about using dilute inks for pre-watercolor drawings. I’m playing with it but I’m not much of a watercolorist.

      The ink in those sketches is standard DAD brown from the pen and I wish I could give you something definitive about the dilution in the waterbrush. I almost fill a Kuretake medium brush and then I start adding drops until I get a fairly light tone coming from the brush. I prefer the light tone as I can use multiple layers to go darker but it’s hard to go lighter if the waterbrush puts out too dark a tone. Hope this helps. — Larry

  4. That quantity thing: I’m all about that, too. . . lots and lots of little sketchbooks filled with lots of idle moments that turn into fun and hopefully better sketches someday. 😉 Congrats on becoming Canadian! I guess I didn’t realize you were still American.


    • Yeah…I know you are, Tina. It’s such a simple road to improvement that it baffles me why it’s such a hard sell. Yes, I’m still American and within a few months I’ll be Canadian. Then I can run for Prime Minister 🙂 — Larry

  5. Becoming a Canadian citizen – awesome!!! Thanks for the post, I am doing more and more of this, I have many sketches of my coffee cups 🙂

    • Yes, coffee cups are a favorite of mine as well. Reluctantly, I’ve turned my pen towards people when I’m quick-sketching, simply because they’re everywhere. These days I’m trying hard to “zoom in” when doing a quick sketch, sketching a foot, a hand, or maybe a muffin 🙂 — Larry

  6. Yes, 100%.

    This’ ll be a little long 🙂

    They are right, all those who say carry a sketchbook everywhere are use it. You are right, Larry when you say no individual lesson or course can make anyone a better artist.

    And, I so agree with Lisa who notes the joy of, even as an professional professional artist, in discovering the fun and importance of being a contstant sketcher. N9thing like draw, draw, draw to become a better drawer. For me that is the precise value SketchbookSkool.com, not the specfic technical training, which is not atbthe level of other courses, is in the manner in which it vibrantly provides inspiration and the reclaiming of the belief in self and motivation to make art.

    One friend wanted to not waste the sessions and decided to wait to disvover what her “important work is”. I ventured to say just draw, draw anything and let the doing be your important work. Don’t wait. In the doing you will discover whatever it is you seek. She said no, she would not waste her time. I was sad because by waiting she is indeed wasting her time.

    Just days ago I was chatting with a new sketching friend who remarked that they were “just an amatuer”. I said, remove the qualifier “just” and embrace being an amateur as the Latin root of that word is to be a lover. May I always be an amatuer. I know I am not even close to having what the Zen Buddhists call a beginner’s mind where all is new.

    P.S. Welcome to life as a full citizen of Canada, eh.

    • I think, when you’re just starting out, that you need a good dose of inspiration, but I find that it’s no substitute for learning drawing principles and practicing them. I found Sketchbook Skool to be full of the former and lacking in the later.

      Constant sketching changes how you see everything. It’s another level of awareness of your environment. Everything is worthy. If only we could get people to understand this. Love the reference to the beginner’s mind — Larry

      • I agree totally that to be inspired/given permission is necessary at the beginning and I also think along the way depending on a person’s journey. Nothing, however, beats the growth on developes simply by drawing and drawing and drawing sime more.

        My SBS experience was different. I agree it’s light on fuller technical methods yet big on badic drawing principles too often missed and found new or refreshed ideas and always something affirming even though I am a life long drawer. 🙂

        Yes, everything belongs / beginner’s mind / and my own say mantra that everything is interesting. Draw, draw, draw

  7. Congratulations on your citizenship! I´m sure you would have done the test with honors, too… 😉

    I am so happy about the sketchbook habit I have cultivated in recent years. It has almost completely stopped me taking photographs, and I feel good about that. Also, it has made me less critical of what I produce; with little time, limitations in subjects, and sometimes not being the least bit inspired, but drawing anyway, I feel proud of every little scribble and much encouraged to continue. I hope your post and blog will inspire many more to start!

    • It seems everyone who actually does quick sketching knows how valuable it is. I suppose that’s why we all talk about it regularly and why we all wonder why most people don’t ‘get it.’ I think the key is that “become less critical” thing. So many have the view that art is either good or bad and they can only do it when they have all their materials and as much time as they need. One key for me was when my mentor suggested there was benefit to drawing within different time frames, sometimes in 1 minute, sometimes in 2 hours. If you accept value in that you also have to realize that the 1 minute drawing isn’t going to be as good as the 2 hour drawing.

      I take fewer photos too, but mostly because when I started sketching I took tons of them with the idea of drawing from them. Then I figured out that drawing from photos wasn’t that much fun so now I tend to take them as reminders of places I need to return to in the spring to sketch this or that. — Larry

  8. I’m always a little surprised there aren’t more of us, i.e. people who like to sketch — a lot.

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