If you know Brenda Swenson’s “75-day Challenge”, you know the concept of casting aside the pencil, even for organizational purposes and sketching directly with pen. It’s said, and I believe it to be true, that doing so for a lot of sketches, will improve your ability to see and put what you see on paper. The process moves a lot of thinking to early in the process, ensuring that when you do lay down a line it’s in the right place.
I do a lot of ink work but typically use a pencil to lightly outline main masses and relationships in a sketch. But sometimes a guy just needs a challenge and I was feeling like one when I started looking at this railing and post.
I set up to sketch it (Stillman & Birn Zeta -5×8, Pilot Prera) and decided to do it ‘ink-only’, though I confess that I drew a pencil horizontal line at the top of the railing and a vertical line at the inside of the post. Then I got out my pen and stared. And then I stared some more, measuring, seeing, and occasionally putting a dot on my paper. Then I drew the lines… and the curves. For me it was a struggle with all the curved wrought iron to render. And there are screw ups… there are always screw ups. It’s my signature move. But generally, I like the results and had a lot of fun with the process.
Brenda Swenson is one of my favorite online artists. This is mostly because she has one foot in the fine art world and another in the sketching world. She’s written books on both. So, while she understands what I’m doing as an urban sketcher, she also brings a wealth of talent from her fine art and so while I’ve never had opportunity to take one of her classes, I’ve learned a lot from studying her art.
But Brenda brings something else to the table… imagination and a penchant for helping new sketchers and artists. And from those things came her “75-Day Challenge”, where you create one sketch, every day, for 75 days. The only rule is that and you use only pen to do it (no pencil; no erasing). You can add color using anything you want but the sketch must be drawn in ink. This isn’t the imagination part though, as she says she went through the challenge long ago as part of her training as an artist. She claims that if you do this challenge you’ll ‘see’ better as an artist.
She knows people, however. She knows that we’re like the donkey with the carrot hung out in front of his nose; we need motivation. And from her imagination came the notion of the Artistic License. This isn’t that mystical kind of artistic license that we simply means we took liberties with our subject(s). This is the cold, hard physical kind of license – like your driver’s license. You can show it to the cops if you’re caught sketching too fast.
And I’ve just received mine because I’ve recently completed the 75-Day Challenge. Best of all, it came enclosed in a Christmas card that featured a Swenson original and that is cute as can be. Thanks Brenda.
I had fun doing this challenge. Do I ‘see’ better because I used pen only? My view is that anytime you create 75 sketches you improve. In my case, I don’t think the pen-only thing did much for me, mostly because almost all my sketching is done with pen, though I normally start a sketch with some basic pencil lines. But this challenge got me to try a bunch of different pens and work in a smaller size (I chose to do the whole challenge in a 3×5 notebook). I also did a few sketches that weren’t done on location and that was fun too. So I feel I know a lot more than when I started and I think that was the goal. Besides… did I mention that I now have my very own artistic license?
I’ve included a few of the sketches I did during the challenge. You can see all 75 of them, however, on my Flickr page. If you’re interested in the challenge, here’s Brenda’s Challenge. I encourage you to give it a try.