Sketching matrix games

Last month, I sketched a matrix-game workshop at the University of Queensland — a type of roleplaying game designed not to be “won”, but to create & identify problems inherent in (or that could affect) the scenario, for later investigation.

The workshop was part of the Defence Innovation Bridge — a joint project between the UQ Business School, the UQ Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Australian Defence Force, and several startup companies in very interesting fields. The workshop was run by Dr Helen Marshall and Professor Kim Wilkins.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. Person rolling dice. In a speech bubble, a person waving a flag points to the sea.

The scenario being played through involved an evacuation being conducted in diplomatically awkward circumstances, with an eye to raising questions about systems, strategies and limitations to do with communication technologies (among other things).

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. A man rolls dice and says "yes". Another writes while someone off the page describes a reporter in a storm. A hand waves into view.

I was (always!) looking forward to some documentary sketching — complicated in this case by the physical people mostly just sitting at tables (no dramatic poses, I thought) and some technical things happening into the situations they were describing (for which I might not have mental reference).

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People stand in front of paper on the wall. One says "Tron motorcycle system. Fireworks - pew pew pew pew"
Very serious technical discussions

Of course, the combination of physical presence and stories being told turned out to be delightful to draw. People got invested in characters and situations, which made their movements interesting.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People describe a spider, someone meditating, a dictator, a ship and the name SHUFFLEBOTTOM, and a backyard communications array with a satellite dish, tower, Hills Hoist and very tiny bird.
I’m particularly pleased with the backyard communications array

It was also enjoyable considering how groups related to each other at tables.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
Three groups sit at tables, one discussing a person in a helicopter writing a media release, others discussing a radio, and the third saying POLICY

Or moved between tables.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue marker.
One person sits at a table while another scoots their chair to a different table.

I also discovered that it can be fascinating watching what people do with their feet when sitting for a day — not as consciously communicative as hands, but definitely expressive.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
People talking and rolling dice, describing sock-puppets, crowds, soldiers, a bulldozer and a police car

Drawing what was happening in the game was more difficult than in other role-playing games where each person controls one character — this was groups and interests and technical details, and a fairly high-level view of the situation, and all being discussed and refined and changed.

I solved this by drawing the scenarios and fragmentary suggestions into speech bubbles, which at least amused me. However it also had the effect of creating rough time-stamps, capturing attitudes in the room around particular points in the game — an unusual but intriguing record alongside the more traditional formal note-taking.

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker.
People sit and stand at tables, talking. A woman describes a girl climbing out a window.

Materials

The notebook is a pocket Moleskine sketchbook, and the pens are all Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens (I posted more about the colour choices here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.):

  • Small Black Fineliner 199
  • Sky Blue brush tip 146
  • Green Gold brush tip 268.
Photo of a hand holding 3 pens.

Lessons: 

  • 6 solid hours of live sketching is a lot. Especially after a year of doing very little out and about.
  • Documentary/reportage sketching involves rather intense alertness. Not just the drawing, and the noticing what you’re drawing, but noticing things to draw, and patterns, and so on. It burns up a bit of energy.
  • I do like documentary sketching, though! It’s very useful for other work, of course, but there’s a liveliness and immediacy and plausible-deniability to drawing in the moment, picking out flashing fragments of the day, sharing things that charmed me, or jokes, or fascinatingly human gestures. Also, sometimes it’s nice to just draw a thing, intensely, and then be done with it.
  • Feet are surprisingly expressive.
  • Drawing conversations as speech was a lot of fun, and has worked its way into some projects since.
  • The blue and yellow combination feels very effective — a hint at colour difference, warm/cool separations, delineating areas. It’s starting to feel more naturally and flexibly communicative. I posted more about that colour combination here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.

Note: This post started as a post for supporters on Patreon. If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel(and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

Sketchbook colours: blue and gold

Three Pitt Pens

When I’m sketching, I work in a Moleskine pocket notebook, and use mostly Faber Castell PITT artist pens — often quite vigorously. However, these are three of my current favourite sketching pens (for more on favourite colours, see Loving the tools):

  • Small Black Fineliner 199
  • Sky Blue brush tip 146
  • Green Gold brush tip 268 (note — it’s not metallic, but more of an old mustard colour)

The first time I really started using them as a set was at the Natural History Museum in Oxford — and mostly because it was a very blue-and-gold place.

sketches of architecture and skeletons at the Museum of Natural History, Oxford
Museum of Natural History, Oxford

At this point I was mostly using the two colours to identify the blue and yellow of what I was looking at, as well as using the blue for some shadows.

I’d already been using blue for shading, sometimes — especially when I didn’t have the time to record more detailed colours. It’s more vivid than a grey shadow — I like how it lifts the picture off the page as a little object, instead of making the figures sink into it. (By “shading” I mean both adding actual shadows, and indicating darker colours.) And while the blue is cool, it doesn’t look cold on the warm cream of the Moleskine pages.

Sketches of people in medieval and hobbit costumes
Costumes at the Arthurian Festival at Château de Comper

I began using the mustard yellow to do the same. It had a much warmer effect than the blue, but I liked its old-school monochrome effect. And neither of them seemed to say This Is What The Scene Is About in the way some other colours, such as green, do.

Sketches of people sketching in Boston MFA, and in transit at Penn Station
Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Amtrak Penn Station

But since I liked both the blue and the yellow for this purpose, I kept using them together.

Sketches of people browsing in Book Moon Books
Book Moon Books, Easthampton Massachusetts

In these sketches (above) at Book Moon Books, I used the blue for the figures — for shadow and cold and to make them stand out, and because their backs were mostly to me — and yellow for the books and store, for the warmth and light. I really like how the use of the two colours distinguishes the figures from the background (which doesn’t really happen with the white dress in the grey sketch at Château de Comper, earlier).

By the time I got to Avid Reader for Love Your Bookshop Day last year (context: Queensland, Australia, where that was safe and legal!), you can see the use has shifted again. You can also see that I bought new pens which hadn’t begun drying and darkening.

A sketch of people browsing in Avid Reader
Avid Reader, Brisbane

In the Avid Reader drawings, I’m using both colours on each figure, instead of using them to separate elements. I suspect this was in part because it was daylight, and warm weather — there’s a breezier feeling to these than the Book Moon sketches! But I was also using the two colours to quickly note the direction of light and where shadows fell, as well as to distinguish some areas of different colour, even if they weren’t exactly these colours.

Recently, I’ve been sketching some workshops at the University of Queensland (I’ll post more of these soon — but the art is already up for patrons on patreon.com/tanaudel). Going back over those pages, I realised how many things the colours were doing.

A sketch of four people at a table talking
University of Queensland — Defence Innovation Bridge

Even just in the scene above, you can see where I’ve used the colours to show shadow, the direction of light, the colour of the background, to separate figures from each other and the table, and to keep the events in the speech bubbles at a remove by only using blue in them. And in the image below, I’ve also used the yellow over the blue to hint at a khaki uniform.

A sketch of an army officer talking about a bulldozer

So! Here are a few benefits/uses of very limited colours, especially for fast sketching:

  • Speed
  • Portability
  • Shadow (and shape and direction of light)
  • Warmth and cold
  • Tone and more colours than you’d think
  • Separating elements
  • Separating styles
  • Pulling a sketch together
  • Anchoring a drawing to or lifting it from the page
  • Very quickly communicating the most important details
  • Unifying a group of drawings/creating a consistent style for a project
  • Echoing particular printing styles (I love, for example, what Evaline Ness could do with two colours.)

Writing/Illustration activity

  1. Choose two colours you like. It doesn’t have to be blue and yellow. Blue and red is another popular choice, and an image search of Risograph prints will give you some ideas of what can be done with a limited palette. Or pull out two coloured pencils at random.
  2. Do a few small monochrome sketches (in words or pictures!). If stuck for ideas, perhaps do 20-second sketches (e.g. this very fast Ramon Casas study) or one-minute written descriptions of some famous paintings. Work in black line or pencil or, if writing, in bare-bones description with no colour.
  3. Now, rework each sketch by adding hints of those two colours (coloured pencil, watercolour, markers, digital colour, words…). Here are a few approaches you could try:
    1. Show the direction of light and shadow, or where the highlights are (Dorothy Dunnett does this fabulously in some of her novels, and John Dickson Carr creates lurid effects with green and red in The Waxworks Murder).
    2. To pick out as much of the original colour as you can.
    3. To distinguish between a figure and the background.
    4. To show warm and cold areas.
  4. Bonus round: Change the colours and see what happens.

Note: This post began as a post for supporters on Patreon — if you’d like to support art and posts about it, patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

Sketching once more

Sketch of woman carrying a small suitcase. Black pen with mustard-yellow background.

It has been lovely to be gradually getting back into the world and sketching again (I’m in Queensland, Australia, where — with the odd short sharp lockdown — it’s mostly safe and legal to do so).

A note — these close-ups are really close-up, and likely larger than the original drawing. The sketches are done in a pocket Moleskine sketchbook (3.5″ x 5.5″), with Pitt Artist Pens.

Sketch of father and son walking from the back. Green background.

I’ve written about trying to keep sketching when this wasn’t an option (sketching adventures; experiments with sketching; sketching the people glimpsed from the corner of your eye).

Sketchbook pages with a drawing of a boat and a number of people at a shopping centre.

I’m still only getting the chance to do it occasionally, but I’m trying to take more of those chances! I’ve missed being in practice watching little mannerisms, the way people stand or walk or put their weight on one hip, or hold bags. It’s a whole vocabulary of human movement that’s very useful to know — and the more I draw it, the more it’s likely to come out of my pen when I need it to.

Sketch of three women looking at art.

My pens dried out last year and I had to replace them in order to do the QLA portraits. So I’m getting used to the colours again, and to seeing people in the wild, and to finding where the corners and chairs that I’m allowed to linger in are.

In more crowded times, sketching makes me like people more. This year, I’m just happy to see anyone again.

Sketchbook pages with people looking at art, the audience at a concert, and singers on stage

And it’s been lovely to move from drawing individuals decently spaced (as in the shopping centre sketches earlier in the post), to groups at art galleries (the border was open again, so Angela Slatter and I drove to see the travelling Archibald Prize exhibition at the Tweed Regional Gallery), to going to an actual gig (the Wildflowers collaboration at The Old Museum), and realising how wildly different pen colours are under coloured lights, and the joy of sequins.

Love Your Bookshop Day sketches

It was Love Your Bookshop Day today! My most-frequented (and beloved) local bookshops are Avid Reader/Where the Wild Things Are and Pulp Fiction, but I know and love many others, including a variety of those I haven’t yet visited in person.

So today I finished cutting out silhouettes early (mid-afternoon, after Pulp had closed for the day, alas) and snuck out to sketch in bookshops (as opposed to sketching on bookshops, as I did for the launch of Flyaway).

Avid Reader — Window Drawings

This time I bought books, delivered books, chatted about books, got advice on books, and then sat on a chair behind a column and drew people.

I thoroughly enjoy drawing people in bookstores. There’s this quality of arrested movement. People deliberately settling to read tend to have very stable poses, but browsers are like living statues.

A friend met me there and we stopped for a drink and live music across the road (very quick backlit bar sketch, there!) and discussed scandals and the possible uses of observation journals.

Another bookshop that feels local is Book Moon Books in Easthampton, Massachusetts — these are some sketches from last November.

About 2/9 of Travelogues is actually me travelling to and from Book Moon Books.

It was at Book Moon that I finally discovered that my ideal of bookshop work (although I very much enjoyed my time on staff at Avid a few years back) is doing my work in the centre of the store while people murmur about books around me.

And finally — here are some rather older sketches from a Love Your Bookshop Day six(!) years ago, done for Avid Reader.

Sketches and notes: their purpose

2020-04-19-KJennings-RiverBankSketch

I was going back through photos and found this unused sketch from Kij Johnson’s The River Bank.

This stage of a project is very charming — the snapshots of moments, the hint of movement (or, as here, stillness) and expression. They are usually just notes for myself, but a lot of the work involved in finishing a more formal final illustration is about trying to capture that lightness. (Although when I’m making sketches that will be the final illustrations, there’s a lot of unseen work involved in trying to teach my hand the shapes of what I’ll be drawing).

 

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Sketches in progress for Angela Slatter’s The Tallow-Wife

 

Something I’m gradually learning with writing is to treat the early stages in a similar way: quick notes on an aesthetic, lists of “lush language” (per Kim Wilkins), just sketching the best bits (including sketching with words) so that the heart and movement is there.

2020-04-26-TweetScreenshot

And if you are looking for a pleasant, gentle, sunlit story, with nothing more nefarious than foxes and stoats, written with a deft touch and a loving eye, I highly recommend The River Bank.

Beyond the main event — experiments with sketching

I’m testing ways to sketch in the absence of my usual opportunities to people-watch. (Of course, unusual opportunities still show up.)

2020-04-11-KJennings-sketchbook

I’ve posted about using household objects as stand-ins:Sketching the people glimpsed from the corner of your eye, and A discovery of headstrong obstinate girls.

So in an effort to find people going about their daily lives, I tried sketching people in the background of TV shows.

2020-04-11-KJennings-sketchbookMidsomer

Advantages:

  • The background business is frequently less composed and dramatised than the main action (not always).
  • Generally, the full figures are shown.
  • There’s less detail, and so there are fewer distractions from considerations of pose and movement.
  • It’s pacy, especially with rapid-fire changes of camera angle — you have to sketch or lose the moment.
  • Watching just the background actors and extras is frequently delightful, and also a great way to rewatch shows.
  • Keeps my hands busy while watching Midsomer Murders.

Disadvantages:

  • It’s still cast and staged and costumed of course. I want to try this with background views in news or tourism or documentary footage.
  • Sometimes the camera cuts away too quickly — but then, passersby are often lost to view in the ordinary course of affairs.
  • The temptation is there to freeze-frame and sketch, but that would be defeating the whole purpose. (Leading to thoughts about sketching and temporality.)

I have more experiments to try, but this one was quite enjoyable, a pleasant challenge and an excellent excuse to watching the goings-on on Midsomer.

Writing/art exercises:

  • As above — have a sketchbook (or notebook) handy and sketch (or describe) background characters while watching a show (no pausing the show). Concentrate on movement, distinguishing poses, unusual lines — it’s about noticing, and training your eye and hand to communicate people.
  • When watching (more especially when rewatching) a show, pick a background character and imagine the scene or story from their perspective (sketch or write accordingly). I watch Pride and Prejudice with my dad a lot under ordinary circumstances, and much as I love it, I find myself reframing it as a different person’s story each time.
  • When looking at pictures (Pinterest, an art book, a virtual gallery tour), allow yourself to quickly acknowledge the main action. After that, you can only look at the background. What is going on there? Textures? Sidelong glances? Centurions being thrown off cantankerous horses? Tiny gilt angels no bigger than sea-monkeys? (I tried this with a friend once in a Renaissance exhibition and ended up in a very strange conversation? conspiracy theory? with a guard about rabbits in art).

Sketching with words

The post on Illustrating Flyaway, over at Tor.com, has a few location sketches on it from when I went to Hanging Rock with Belinda Morris (yes, that Hanging Rock, and yes we had a picnic), trying to figure out how Joan Lindsay did it.

I also went out to the area around where I grew up, and which partially suggested the region of Inglewell in Flyway, and although I did get a few sketches on the way, it proved difficult for two reasons.

2020-04-09-KJennings-WandoanSketchbook

(Thanks to the Cecilie Anne Sloane Postgraduate English Creative Writing Research Scholarship made both trips possible)

First, I was driving alone, and it turns out I find it easier to say “stop! pull over! back up!” if I am not in fact the person trying to get from A to B before nightfall. Second, I draw with line and shape more than light, and it was the light that twisted something in my heart and stomach.

2020-04-09-KJennings-WireGrass

But I’d also deliberately abandoned any photography skills I had back when I first started seriously sketching, and there are qualities it requires real skill to catch in a photograph (looking back to Hanging Rock, it’s as intensely, dizzily beautiful in real life as in the book, but in photographs it is just as eerie as in the movie).

So I started dictating as I went. Not dictating paragraphs of prose — I haven’t got into the stride of writing that way. Just… sketching. Going over words, looking for phrases or descriptions or similes or ten ways of seeing a set of silos, in the same way I’d draw a Blue-faced Honeyeater again and again, trying to find the shape, the line, that means the light that I see.

2020-04-09-KJennings-AudioNotes1

Not all of these show up in Flyaway. I went on this trip as part of the editing process, confirming my memories and tightening what I’d already written, checking the way the light shifted over a day, what it did on the road. What the road did. Recording bits of other places, for other stories. Memories. Small wonders.

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Beautiful horrors.

2020-04-09-KJennings-AudioNotes9 - stones copy

Sketch as sketch can

I’ve mentioned that I like sketching people (and sketching helps me like people): The Madding Crowd.

Since many of my preferred methods of relaxing (cinemas, cafes, people) are somewhat curtailed at the moment, I’m working out alternative approaches.

But for now — taking the opportunities where I find them.

2020-04-03-KJenningsFluVaccines

 

On notebooks: Questions and declarations

My notebooks are full of little questions I rarely go back to — and if I do, it always seems such an effort to worm my way back into the original excitement of the idea in order to answer them. I could just be drawing something new.

2020-03-29-question

I’m learning, gradually, to phrase the questions as answers, even if only tentative ones.  To catch ideas as a sketch or the most fragile of outlines. To just paint the thing and see if, as usual, that solves the conundrum.

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It’s a small way of staying in motion.

Cats

Cats are great fun as decorative elements, but often difficult to catch on paper.

2020-02-24-Saffy

Saffy, a descended ceiling-cat

When I visit friends with cats, I spend a lot of time chasing their cats around trying to draw them.

This is further complicated by cats who gradually vanish between the sofa cushions while they are being sketched.

2020-02-21-KJennings-Reginald

From Cassandra Clare’s December 2019 newsletter

It’s fun to glance back occasionally and see them over time — both changes in the cats and in my pursuit of an explanation of how Scottish Folds work.

Here’s Reginald (and Maggie) in 2017.

2020-02-24-Reginald-&-Maggie

And some bonus lions from the Melbourne Zoo the same year (“lion-coloured” is one of my favourite colour descriptions):

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