Sketching For You Or For Me?


“Remember, you’re not doing the painting for you, you’re doing it for us.” – Tom Lynch


I was watching a video by Tom Lynch, a great video by the way, and you can see it here.  He’s talking about painting mood and atmosphere rather than objects and he made the statement I’ve quoted.

2014-03-02Jazz2It got me to thinking about why I do what I do with pointy devices.  It seems I’m different from Tom Lynch in that I don’t do my sketches for anyone but me.  If others enjoy them, fine, but that’s not why I do them.  I don’t enter contests.  I don’t present them anywhere.  I don’t even have a single sketch that I’ve done framed and hanging in my own house.  The only ‘for someone else’ sketches I’ve ever done have been Valentine’s day cards and tags for Christmas presents.

It’s clear that different artists are motivated by different things and goals are whatever you want them to be.  But have you thought about your own motivations and goals and how these things affect the choices you make with your art?

I decided to do just that and made a list of things that motivate me and that guide my decisions.  I found it interesting to do this and then prioritize them.  Here’s the first five things on that prioritized list:

1) Have fun with the process of sketching.
2) Sketch on location.
3) Draw mostly with fountain pens.
4) Color is secondary to line.
5) Enjoy learning about techniques and tools and try to improve.

Here’s how these things affect what tools I use, when I use them, how I use them, and what ends up on paper:

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9), Pilot Prera, Noodler's Lexington Gray

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9), Pilot Prera, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

Emphasis on process

For me it’s all about the process.  Sketching is my meditation, my connection with my city, my therapy.  The end result is irrelevant, or nearly so.  What’s important is that I’m having fun when I do it.  Sure, I want to improve like anyone else but this priority on process rather than product  affects everything I do, from the subjects I choose and how I approach them.  It also spawns the second and third things on my list.  It’s everything.

Emphasis on the process of sketching opens a lot of subjects to me.  I’ll draw pretty much anything if it’s in front of me and I’m comfortable.  Likewise, if I can’t get comfortable, no subject is suitable.  I won’t go out of my way to find subjects either.  I’m never looking for the ‘perfect scene.’  Such things are simply too low a priority for me.  Our local castle, the Chateau Frontenac is one of the most photographed buildings on the planet but I’ve yet to draw it.  It doesn’t interest me as much as it does the tourists.  Go figure.

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9), TWSBI Mini, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9), TWSBI Mini, Platinum Carbon Black

Sketching on Location

To maximize my first priority, I have to sketch on location.  Now, location can be a city street, a park, a forest, or a museum.  It can even be someone else’s house.  It just can’t be mine.  I don’t know why.

How does this affect my art?

1) Methods and materials must be a) light, b) easy to carry, c) easy to manage while sitting on a tripod stool.

I carry one pencil and several fountain pens with me.  Color comes from either a tiny palette of watercolors or a few watercolor pencils.  My art is done in sketchbooks.  I own no easel, have no studio, and no desire for either.  Further, my sketching is a day time activity.  While I’ll doodle while watching TV, I never do a ‘real’ sketch in the evening.

2) Weather plays a big factor in my art.

I can’t look out the window at snow and rain and head for the studio.  I’ve actually tried and thus far I’ve been unsuccessful at drawing at home, from photos, or any of the methods used by normal artists to have fun.  I have to go somewhere.  So, my art has become “museums all winter” and “streets all summer.”  You can see, though, that my _decision_ in this regard is a big determiner in what I do and don’t do in art.

TWSBIOpenComparisonDraw mostly with fountain pens

I’ve used fountain pens for decades so it was natural for me to use them when I started sketching.  I enjoy them.  I’ve mentioned on the blog that I’m starting to play with pencils.  I’ve been sketching for about 2 1/2 years and have never learned to draw with a pencil.  That’s how wed my sketching is to fountain pens, which are actually a separate passion of mine.   Fountain pens result in an emphasis on line which, in turn, affects choice of subject, approach, and probably the importance of color.  It’s resulted in the cartoon style I enjoy so much.  And while I enjoy chasing half-tones with a pencil, I don’t enjoy it as much as I do drawing lines with my fountain pens.

2013-08-27HouseColor is secondary to line

I am mostly ignorant when it comes to watercolors.  I use them like crayons to add color to my ink sketches.  The more I draw the less often I add color to the sketch.  I admit that I go back and forth in my own mind about this and I’m sure I’ll continue to use color… sometimes.  Clearly, if I were doing sketches for other people, or at least because I was more concerned about product than process, I’d be more interested in color.  But, by the time I’ve completed a sketch in ink, it’s done from my perspective, the fun gleaned from it.  Adding color is is simply a job to be done quickly, haphazardly.  Ironically, I get more involved in applying watercolor if I use my watercolor pencils.  Not sure why that is.

2013-01-02Samurai11_700Enjoy learning about techniques and tools and try to improve

I very nearly put this higher up in the list.  I love the toys.  I own more pens and pencils than any human ought to own and many more than I’ll ever use.  I buy them “just to try them out.”  I attribute this at least in part because I’m weird but also because compared to other hobbies I’ve been involved with, art materials are dirt cheap.  And so I buy…and buy…and buy.  If comments around the Internet are any indication, I’m not alone 🙂


How we view our art affects, in a big way, how we practice it.  If shows and such are important to you, then you have to worry about what judges and the general audience views your work.  I feel lucky that I don’t carry that burden.  It allows me to draw and draw and draw without ever worrying about what anyone else says about the results.  That continues to be the case.  I guess this is the end of the spectrum that Danny Gregory was talking about.  He got me sketching after all.  But in any case, it seems a useful task to take an inventory of your own motivations and goals as they can tell you not only something about what drives you but also how those motivations and goals limit or unleash you to do what makes you happy.  I’d love to hear from anyone who has done this sort of soul-searching.  What did you find?




2 thoughts on “Sketching For You Or For Me?

  1. Excellent post, Larry. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, too, over the past couple of years, but I haven’t consolidated my thinking into a list of goals this way. You’ve motivated me to do it!

    • I actually wrote that post a while ago. I often ‘think’ about stuff by writing about it and I felt this was something I really needed to get a handle on for myself. Let’s face it – when we do anything creative there are these two components. There’s the doing and there’s other people looking at the result. The internet makes it very easy for others to start determining what you ‘want/need’ to do. “Don’t use a pencil.” “Loosen up.” “Real artists do portraits.” But now I have my list, based upon my thoughts, and I can always refer to them. Maybe my priorities will change. Who knows.

      Cheers — Larry

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