Sketching When You Have No Time

This is a topic that is discussed regularly.  For the most part it comes up because so many people claim they have no time to draw and those of us who draw spend lots of ink explaining that it’s easy to find time to draw.  I suspect those saying they have no time take those ‘explanations’ with a grain of salt and dismiss them as “well you may have time but I don’t.”

So I thought it might be interesting to start my own approach to this subject by saying that it can be hard to find time to draw if you define drawing as creating a masterpiece.  If you’re picky about what you draw and when, time may become an insurmountable problem.  It’s sort of like a pianist deciding that “playing” means a complete concerto.  But that same pianist sees a piano and they’re inclined to sit and play a few notes.   I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, my recent trip to Ottawa will present a few solutions to the time problm and maybe loosen up the definition of an acceptable drawing.

Before I do this I want to point out that the value here, of ‘drawing’ or ‘sketching’, isn’t defined in terms of the finished product.  Value comes from the experience and fun of the doing.  That simple shift in perspective changes everything and opens the doors wide.

Most of what you’ll see here are quick sketches done in a cheap sketchbook that I wouldn’t normally scan or present them to anyone.  But I had fun doing each one and each of them gave me joy and experience.

Ottawa trip conditions

This was a very busy trip for me.  It wasn’t a “let’s go sketch in Ottawa trip.”  Rather it was a “let’s move our daughter to Ottawa” kind of trip.  Our daughter was moving away for the first time so lots of emotions were heaped on top of the pragmatics of such a move.  There was no situation where I was alone and had large blocks of time to sketch.  I did sketch, however, and the thing that allowed it was having a pen and sketchbook in my pocket at all times.  In this case I carried a pencil, pen, and a small Monologue sketchbook.a

Drawing while resting

2014-09-01RideauQuickSketchMy wife and I went for a walk along the Rideau Canal the morning after we’d moved my daughter into her new apartment.  We needed to decompress a bit and the relaxing walk did us a lot of good.

At one point my wife decided we should sit a minute and I always do what my wife tells me.  We sat.  There were two people looking at the canal on the other side, so I pulled out my sketchbook and, in less than a minute, I drew this quick sketch of them.  It’s not very good but it’s useful to try to capture a subject in a few lines, even if they’re wavy lines (grin).


Sketching at night

2014-09-01nightsketching1Beginning drawing classes love to have people who can’t draw try to draw without looking at their paper.  This is supposed to be good for you.  I don’t believe it for a second, but once you can draw a little bit, this exercise can be valuable.


After spending the day moving stuff into an apartment and dealing with separation anxiety issues, my wife and I found ourselves sitting in a boring hotel room.  We decided to walk to get some coffee.  She suggested that we walk to the Parliament building and enjoy the evening drinking our coffee plein air.  When we got there we found out that the great light show they do every night was going to start in half an hour, as soon as it got dark enough.  We decided to stay to see it and so just relaxed and chatted, sipping coffee on a wonderful summer evening.  This moving stuff wasn’t so bad after all.

2014-09-01nightsketching3As the show was about to begin we moved to a spot where we could sit on a curb (hard for an old man) and watch the show.  It was dark by then but we still had to wait a while for the show to begin.  I got the crazy idea that if the art world thought I could draw without looking at my paper, maybe I could draw the vague forms moving around in the dark without seeing my paper.  I’ve never been accused of being sensible.

I got out my TWSBI Mini, my Monologue A6 sketchbook and started drawing.  These are three of the sketches done in the dark.  I did hold the book up over my head once in a while as it allowed me to catch a bit of reflected light from the street to look at my progress.  Then I’d stick the pen tip on the paper and return it to drawing position so I could continue drawing.  It was so much fun I think I’ll try it again sometime.

Sketching time?

2014-09-02ParliamentGableOur daughter had to spend some time at the university picking up stuff, signing papers, etc.  We were “free” for a couple hours.  We made a disappointing visit to an art supply store that was, well, short of supplies in my opinion.  So we decided to wander around the Parliament grounds with the thought of sketching.  It would be tough for me to do one of my “takes forever” sketches so I had to choose something that wouldn’t take a long time… maybe a piece of something.  I chose to do one of the gables on the original Parliament building (built in 1883 I think).  Perspective suffered due to the rush but dems da breaks.

Then we went back to the Rideau canal where I managed to spend half an hour drawing one of the modern buildings which will be made famous by our daughter attending her classes within its walls.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

These last two sketches consumed less than an hour of time and that time was hard to come by.  For the rest?  Easy peasy if you have a sketchbook and pointy device with you.  Are the quick sketches worthy of showing to your friends?  Not sure but they were just as much fun to do as these last two and isn’t that why we sketch?




9 thoughts on “Sketching When You Have No Time

  1. I read this with interest because we’ll be going on a trip soon and I am the only sketcher. Have pretty much decided that small and loose can be the only way to go and end up with some some sketches. I am not willing to make people wait for me, at least not for very long.

    Thanks for your blog. I was using some of your reviews to decide which of the Stillman journals to take for ink with a watercolor wash. I am using the Alpha right now but was thinking the Beta might dry faster with better results. Do you have a strong opinion about it?

    I just may end of with my Alpha because I like the size of it.

    • Diane, I don’t have strong opinions about much when it comes to sketching, with the single exception that using good paper improves your chances of success. When S&B first released a sketchbook, I started using Alpha as many did. We were surprised by how well it handled watercolor. Beta got a slower start because S&B labelled it as “rough”. Later we realized that while it was a bit rougher than Alpha, it was very similar to a cold-press paper and, of course, it was thicker than Alpha.

      At this point I’ve filled at least a dozen S&B sketchbooks. I’ve tried all the papers but the majority of those sketchbooks are Alpha. Then again, I’m constantly thinking I should use Epsilon or Zeta because pens flow over it so smoothly and watercolors sit high on the paper and are easy to move.

      I don’t see a difference in how quickly things dry between Alpha and Beta. One of the drawbacks of Epsilon/Zeta is that it does take longer to dry as the ink/paint doesn’t absorb as quickly into the plate finish.

      The obvious difference between Alpha and Beta is thickness and clearly Beta wins when it comes to amounts of buckling that occurs. With Alpha I find buckling minimal and acceptable. So, it seems, whether you’re a single-side or two-side sketcher is an important consideration in your choice. I like working one-side only so with Alpha I get 64 ‘sides’ but with Beta I only get 25. If you’re a two-side sketcher, you’d get 50 with Beta, which gets closer to Alpha’s page count. If you avoid solvent-based markers or heavy doses of water, you could get 128 from Alpha. Certainly something to consider.

      I hope some of this babbling provides some answer to your question. Since you already have Alpha, I’d use it. They’re great.

      Cheers — Larry

  2. Your comments are what was needed this morning. I am in Europe at the moment. Just arrived with my first travel journal. started the journal at home so I would not have jitters. I sketched quickly at the airport . Not excited about my sketches. Darn it …no one would stand still…however I did it. I need to keep that in mind. Not that I think my sketches suck. I think I need to forget about the details and just get lines down on paper. I did find someone asleep on the plane … A captured person! I have been a daily sketchers since last Christmas. The trick is to make it a part of your day. Make it important and you will find the time!

    • Sounds like you’re having fun in Europe. I find it advantageous to have a small, less expensive sketchbook in addition to your normal sketchbook. I think we’re all reluctant to scribble a 30-second sketch in the book where we’re doing more developed sketches. I always carry a 3×5 or 4×6, cheap sketchbook with me. Too cheap and you can’t add watercolors but even though, I’ve filled a bunch of $2 sketchbooks I bought at the dollar store. These days I try to use better paper so I can add some light watercolor washes to my quick sketches.

      Cheers — Larry

  3. I Read what you wrote and did it today. I Brought my S&B alpha sketchbook , a pen, water brush, A Water soluble graphite pencil and watercolor pencils and managed to do two quick sketches while waiting in parking lots. First at a Walgreens parking lot in the water soluble pencil and the second at in a nursery parking lot using the watercolor pencils. Neither took very much time at all. Because of a earlier comment you had helped me with in a group, I realized it is so easy to just sketch anything. I enjoy sketching to have Something to look back on. So, why worry if everything is done perfectly. Do the best one can, when they can and enjoy the world around you always. Thanks Larry for this particular message you did today. I think I got something out of it:-)

    • That’s great, Lynne. I think the internet provides a false impression of what sketchers are doing. While Danny Gregory talks about keeping it simple, sketching everywhere, etc. most of what we see on the internet are the results of far more formal activities. I just counted and I’ve filled 14 small sketchbooks with quick sketches, done whenever I have a couple minutes and NONE of them have been posted on the internet. I’ve done approximately a gazillion ‘practice’ sketches while I watch TV and those all find their way to the garbage can. For me, this is where/how I’ve learned what little I know about drawing. The sketches I post are my application of that practice. It’s sort of the difference between giving practicing scales and giving a concert. Maybe we should all post more of this sort of sketching. Dunno.

      But I’m glad you have taken to doing some parking lot sketching. I’m sure you had fun and I suspect you’ll do it some more. Before long you’ll be doing it all the time 🙂

      Cheers — Larry

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