When a field sketch is under drawn (as shown above), it is problematic to bring it into the studio. Note that in this drawing, the features are too undefined, the shapes have not emerged solidly. The heavy lifting - development and discovery - is still there to be studied and worked out in the field sketch. In the studio, I want to simply dust in the transitional mid tones and deepen the shadows a bit. That's it.
What gets our attention and entertains in a most fundamental way? And what is it that we immediately dismiss and allow to fall away into informational oblivion? Restraint and subtlety play a role in drama. Things need to be predictable in order for there to be a surprise. It's always about setting up these design dynamics - a vocabulary of contrasting relationships that impact our senses.
I scribble and scumble around to loosen up and get in a playful frame of mind. I make these hen-scratches (below).
It's just a way to sort of warm up and get a feel for the pen moving on the paper ...completely spontaneous and random. This very light hatch of scumbly lines is what I call the 'under drawing.' It is a good way to begin my process when I need some extra encouragement. It seems that the paper fiber along with the little swirls of all the scribbles give me an encouraging safety zone in which to draw more comfortably.
As I scribble around the page, I reach some point where I begin putting down marks for the actual drawing. The next layer sort of starts automatically and grows out of the under drawing in a very organic way.
Getting started is often the hardest part. I have more than one strategy to get started. The sketchbook picture below shows an example page of a 'first layer sketch', a way of getting directly into the work.
Using a ballpoint pen, I begin by brushing in some very light lines that establish the play of different directional forces.
As a side note, in this sketch I'm using handmade paper. Although both sides of the paper are very soft and fibrous, there is a big difference between the feel of the front and back. The front side is well-pressed and crisp. The back side is a little too fuzzy for ballpoint.
One further note on working with ballpoint on handmade paper: I have not had much luck with the fine tip gel pens that many graphic artists like. I prefer the plain, old .7mm medium tip ballpoint with regular ink. I guess it depends on what line qualities you are looking for. I like the sort-of dry-brush effect that you can get with regular ballpoint. I don't know the exact science, but it seems gel pens are super wet which makes the ink flow in an extremely consistent manner. You always get a fine, solid black line no matter what angle you hold the pen or how softly you press. And this is exactly what many artists are looking for. But I like the variations I can get with a regular ballpoint pen.
To get started ...what am I looking for? I put a big emphasis on observing a scene in terms of a collision or intersection of contrasting directions. It's not about shapes or structures. It's more about the force of light, flow, and movement. And of course 'line' makes perfect sense for producing these types of directional ideas.
Although I put down marks very softly, I do so without haste. It is a very light drawing, but it is not tentative. In fact, you can especially notice that the hatch marks are sassy, loose, and rough. Overall - I think, maybe, it could be considered a kind of energy-gesture layer.
Hi, Chris here. I’m the author of the Artist's Kayak blog.
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