My week as artist in residence at Concordia Lutheran College was wonderful (lively, inventive, intense), but without much time for drawing. So, since I finished just before lunch on the Friday, I sat out in the quadrangle and did some very quick sketches.
The uniforms have changed since I was there (ours were brown, white and yellow). (Also I hardly ever sat in the quadrangle when I was there — I mostly spent lunch hours in the library).
I don’t draw groups as often as I’d like to, but it’s always worthwhile — the different attitudes and interaction, the necessary speed.
The flocking which happens in any group of people with overlapping interests, but concentrated, like birds wheeling on the sound of a bell.
I’ve been scanning in some sketchbooks and found this page. I was in a queue by an upstairs window, so I passed the time drawing people passing along the street outside, below, in the morning sun.
I often need to remind myself not to draw (or write) the obvious, eye-level view of things. When I actually do this, new details (the location of parts in hair or the structural role of boat-neck tops) abruptly become important. Sometimes the part of the sketch doing the heavy lifting (explaining where things are in space, hinting at movement, orienting the viewer) shifts from the figure to the shadow.
Some previous thoughts on viewpoints (and points of view):
Viewpoints — Tirra-Lirra, Cinderella, camera levels, descriptions and drawings
Last week I snuck out to visit GOMA with Shayna, and see the exhibition of European Masterpieces from the Met. They’re renovating, we’re briefly not in lockdown…
I don’t sketch much when I’m visiting galleries with friends — there are important conversations to have, the backgrounds of Renaissance paintings to examine, people with cameras to dodge.
But I did get to do some of my favourite gallery sketching, which is sketching OTHER people sketching.
But I did get in a sketch of one of my favourites — which is MUCH larger than I imagined. I like it because it is so direct and frank, odd in its blank expanses and then unexpectedly detailed, not unlovely but far more concerned with what the sitter is doing. And if you look at it too long, it feels exactly like when a friend is drawing you and staring very hard at you but never quite meeting your eyes because they’re fixated on the shadows of your nose.
Here is the portrait — you can find out more about it on the Met’s page.
The left page often functions as a sort of sketchbook, anyway — little notes on the day, attempts to capture a sound or a movement or a glimpse (as here: pigeon shadows sliding up a roof to meet their pigeons). Some of these would work as drawings, but might need more work to capture what I wanted to remember (as compared to, say, a sketch of a single puffed-up topknot pigeon).
On this day, I took the observation journal with me on a walk, which is a sure way to fill the page up up far too quickly, and also to walk extremely slowly. But it creates a lovely lyrical impression of the day.
I’ve used this approach for some space/place-based projects — one is forthcoming, but of course Travelogues was written that way, and I’ve talked before (see: Sketching with words) about using this approach when writing Flyaway.
Left page: ROYGBIV
I also did a variant of the ROYGBIV exercise here (see: Observation Exercises). I was looking for colours from the spectrum (in order) in plants that I passed. This is complicated by my limited botanical knowledge, but it creates both a lovely structure for looking at the world and — as a result — a framework for an image of a place and time (Oxley at the end of autumn). Here’s the list:
Bottle-brush/poinsettia; duranta/grevillea; banksia candles/jacaranda leaves; new leaves on various/olive-honeyeater; eyes on ditto/spear on bird-of-paradise flowers; ditto/shadows in rolled tiger-tree bark in cleft; lavender-y patches of bark ditto; purply-pink berries (?); periwinkles; tips & edges of succulents.
Right page: A themed sketch / sampler
When sketching in my sketchbook, I will often pick a single topic to sketch (see sketchbook posts generally). These are frequently (but not exclusively) hands — hands in cafes, hands on books, hands on guitars…
Sketching thematically is useful for several reasons:
It’s a great way to pass time.
It makes me look closely at something obvious, and find the variety and personality in it.
It creates a framework for capturing an aspect of a setting (or moment or demographic).
It creates a useful thesaurus or sampler — even if I don’t refer back to the sketchbook, these poses are somewhere now in my hands or mind (see also: On making samplers of various kinds).
So this observation journal exercise was the same activity, but written.
It is a list of the ways people were holding their hands in a cafe.
They are loosely sorted into phone-holders (“Hand holding laptop & notebook, one finger extended to wrap phone & clasp against book”), coffee-holders (“Fingers tucked under saucers, thumbs on edges, fingers supporting sides (of saucers)”); and other (“One hand loosely clasping cardigan closed, other towing dog”).
I was surprised at the variety (although I shouldn’t have been) — perhaps because when I draw hands it’s just a matter of arranging lines and shadow — I use the same lines, the same shadows. But when I write these notes, I suddenly need to use a whole vocabulary of words for movements (flexed? extended? crooked?) that I don’t usually default to.
Take up a position from which you can observe life. I’m a fan of cafes because the life is in motion so no-one knows if I recorded it accurately or not. Socially-distanced vaccine queues are an option. Livestreams and documentary footage and birds out the window also work.
Pick a common/obvious detail of life: how people hold their hands in a cafe, or what they do with their feet in a supermarket queue, or what they do with their faces when listening on Zoom, or how dogs wait…
Fill a page with sketches (written or drawn) of just that detail — all the versions you can notice, the commonalities, the slight variations, the personalities that come through.
Switch — if you’re a writer, try sketching a couple poses (they can be diagrams); if you’re an artist, see what words you need to capture them.
If you want, do a quick (written or drawn) sketch of a scene in your preferred genre or from a favourite drawing, and see if you can incorporate that detail — a dragon waiting the way you saw a dog sprawled in the middle of a thoroughfare, a royal advisor holding a goblet the unexpectedly complicated way someone held a glass in a cafe, a detective scuffing their shoe childishly while thinking… See what it does to the scene or the character.
Note: 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).
I was working in a pocket Moleskine sketchbook with Pitt Artist pens — I’ve written more about why and how I use so much blue and yellow for rapid sketches here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.
It was a very full and interesting and thought-provoking day, organised for the State Library by Jackie Ryan (to be found at e.g. LinkedIn, UQP, Burgerforce), who has cultivated that really valuable creative gift of being able to put the right people together in the right room, and let good conversations happen.
I sketched for most of it, with occasional pauses to breathe/eat/stretch my hands. At the end, I presented the art and talked about the story of the day as filtered through a sketchbook — the necessity of selecting, the power of limitations, the charm of tiny details, the way those tiny details can accompany and elaborate on more formal records of an event, the mood and attitudes and fashion, the poses and thoughtfulness, the interactions of groups and personalities.
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.
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).
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).
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.
It was also enjoyable considering how groups related to each other at tables.
Or moved between tables.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
But since I liked both the blue and the yellow for this purpose, I kept using them together.
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.
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.
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.
So! Here are a few benefits/uses of very limited colours, especially for fast sketching:
Shadow (and shape and direction of light)
Warmth and cold
Tone and more colours than you’d think
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
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.
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.
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:
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).
To pick out as much of the original colour as you can.
To distinguish between a figure and the background.
To show warm and cold areas.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.