Sketchbooking VII

This is a post about personal process. My drawing skills are middling and my imagination is what it is. I have some vocabulary to help convey both of these things to people who are not me – and this now is what you see.

I often have no idea what my drawings are saying or doing

I’ve recently mostly-finished filling the handmade sketchbook I was sent the other day – I left a few pages blank or lightly used and will soon be passing it along to the next artist to do something with or otherwise daydream within and/or upon. I enjoyed drawing on something made by Human hands – thank you again to the talented book-maker, M.E. Smith!

This week I went back to a dollar store sketchbook I had picked up last month. The paper is a good weight for my cheap pencils. Erasability is not bad – I am not using particularly fancy gear.

Years ago when I was still something of a young lad living at home and also working, I had a bit of disposable income and loved buying more expensive pencils and tools at the local art supply store. I even bought a small airbrush at one point. I did a lot of learning around that time; I drew nearly every day, inspired by music suitable for my faerie tale sensibilities: Enya, Princess Bride, Henry V, Legend, Robin Hood… I had a small but familiar library of sounds that put me in a headspace for creating characters, and from those characters, stories of my own.

I am an undisciplined sketch artist. I went to college in my mid-twenties with dreams of becoming an animator, and the experience forced me to add a lot of discipline to the task of making pictures. Left to my own whims though, I prefer getting the pencil moving and then seeing where it leads me. This is either a lack of discipline, or maybe another kind altogether.

I often don’t know what shapes will happen when the pencil starts to move. I can tell you that the picture above started with the young man’s head and back – early on I decided to draw a person sitting. Maybe a few seconds after the head circle was done. I find drawing people at rest against things or interacting with them a bit more of a challenge than drawing them standing, and so sometimes i force myself to contend with weight and form I might otherwise cheat my way around (floating characters are so freeing to draw, but how often do we float in real life?).

From the back shape, I added a pelvis form and then followed the right leg, getting a good bend in there, and planting the foot as best I could. Foot-planting is an important part of drawing characters (except the floaty ones) – everything else will look off if the character is not properly connected to their environment. Of course, if you’re into drawing more abstractly, this might not matter a whit.

The outstretched right arm came before or after I figured out the leg-foot combo. Probably filled out the hair a bit around that time. Some details remained lightly penciled, others, a bit more darkened.

The damn chair and the damn table probably followed – I needed after all to show what it was this fellow was sitting and leaning on. Perspective is always a bit tricky. Squared-off objects are different than organic and sack-like ones (animals); horizon lines and vanishing points need to be at least lightly considered, otherwise things again look incorrect. Stuff need to be seated upon other stuff: tables and chairs upon unseen-but-still-perceived floors, human elbows and legs pressing down properly upon those. Little nuances make or break the feeling of gravity – you can sit in a relaxed manner or a tense one; the difference can be a matter of a line a few millimetres one way or the other, or a bit more or less curved.

I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, except I have put a lot of hours into sketching characters in sketchy poses and situations, and so I have opinions and observations. Maybe some of these could even be considered insights. Who knows where those come from.

The table’s angle is a bit off. The chair looks like it’s being leaned back on, but that’s what I’d be doing too – I felt the lean as I was drawing it.

Drawing a 3-dimensional picture on a 2-dimensional surface is an interesting mental exercise. Where the pencil cannot literally go into the scene, the artist’s brain can still feel that the pencil is doing just that. You can feel the gravity and friction of what you’re drawing if you choose to, though they are only figments. The physics properties of the scene are in your mind while you create it. I tried to feel the tension on the man’s calf muscles as I drew the bend in the knee and its opposite in the ankle. I tried to imagine the grit on the wooden floorboards as I drew the bottom of the shoe. That kind of thing. My face expression changes when I draw, when I’m really into it. Lots if imagined stuff in the margins.

It seemed the sitting man needed context, so the woman formed from her headshape down, behind the table, and then the three needed a room, and so vague shapes were sprinkled in. I began to imagine they were in a tavern, or maybe in their home. I put some things on the table. I like how the candle / mug thing turned out. They are home.

All the while, I went back and blacken in some things, using a freshly sharpened pencil to delineate edges and shadows. Vary that line thickness! It makes things more interesting and lively. The edges move. I put in some foreground element – a simple depth-producing trick learned in drawing classes at college. I am ok at layout but not great.

When the drawing is mostly done, I’m already wondering and imaging what’s actually going on. The creation of a scene with its own story happens by following my own fingers and reacting in realtime to what they seem to me to be making. The made things gain personality, mood, attitude, and context. Background and foreground gives them a place to inhabit and reasons for being there (or somewhere else). I care about these two characters, and their situation. I want to know what’s up!

I have come to feel as though these two are grown siblings, having a conversation about what to do about something. I’m not sure what to make of the woman’s smile. The man’s posture seems standoffish, or resigned, or upset, or distracted. She seems at ease, or hopeful. Maybe she is lending emotional support. Maybe his facial expression doesn’t match his posture at all – he could be laughing at a joke she’s telling. Will we ever know?

Sometimes my story ideas pop out of a page after I’ve drawn some characters to kick things off. Sometimes I have an idea for a story and I try capturing something of it on the page – it can work both ways. The stories are always some kind of good – not perfect, but mine, and then mine to share.

I drew this thing and liked it so I thought I’d share it. It has not point but to be shared. Maybe you can use it to tell a story of your own, or line a birdcage with it in your mind. I welcome you to find within it what you will.


All these Things are Open-Source