The joy of sketch

Rough­ing it Sketch­ing isn’t just a means to an end, it’s a way of life, as finds out…

ImagineFX - - Contents - Tom May

Pro artists in­clud­ing James Gurney and Ter­ryl Whit­latch re­veal how and why they scrib­ble away each day, be­fore they turn their at­ten­tion to the job in hand.

Every artist spends time sketch­ing, usu­ally at the start of a project, as a tech­nique for for­mu­lat­ing and re­fin­ing their vi­sion. But sketch­ing shouldn’t just be a means to an end. It’s also vi­tal part of de­vel­op­ing your­self as an artist.

As Ter­ryl Whit­latch puts it: “Sketch­ing is the equiv­a­lent of the daily bal­let barre. It gets your imag­i­na­tion go­ing and gives your skills a work­out: it’s foun­da­tional for any artist. Sketch­ing reg­u­larly helps you be­come bet­ter as an artist, and gives you a plat­form to ex­per­i­ment, mess up, try again (and again), and grow.”

It’s also a good way to come up with new ideas, as long as you’re pre­pared to open your mind, let loose, and see where the sketch takes you, says Miles John­ston. “One of my anatomy teach­ers once told me that every time you sit down to draw, you want it to look good,” he says. “But that can get in the way of many other kinds of think­ing.” Sketch­ing with no for­mal plan, in con­trast, can free you from these re­stric­tions, and lead to un­ex­pected ideas and con­cepts spilling out onto your can­vas.

That’s some­thing Olly Law­son reg­u­larly ex­pe­ri­ences. “Some days I’ll sit down with noth­ing in mind, just to let my­self doo­dle, and an al­most fully formed idea will come out of nowhere,” he says.

Ev­ery­one’s agrees, then, that reg­u­lar sketch­ing is es­sen­tial. But how do you go about it in prac­tice? That seems to be more of a per­sonal thing.

How of­ten?

Take fre­quency. James Gurney, for ex­am­ple, favours Ed­win Austin Abbey’s ad­vice to a young art stu­dent: “You should be sketch­ing al­ways, al­ways.” So he tries to fit sketch­ing into every spare mo­ments he has, es­pe­cially when wait­ing.

“In re­cent months I’ve sketched in the gro­cery store while my wife shopped, I’ve drawn the in­te­rior of the car re­pair shop while get­ting an oil change, and I’ve sketched fel­low peo­ple around me in the diner,” he says.

Ter­ryl, how­ever, says her best work is done in the morn­ing, af­ter she walks her greyhound, Josette, and she avoids sketch­ing in the evening.

“I like to sketch just about any­where, but sketch­ing at mu­se­ums is par­tic­u­larly re­lax­ing,” she adds. “At the zoo, I’ll sketch sleep­ing an­i­mals; when they’re mov­ing around, it’s like a work­out. I also like sketch­ing on air­planes, on cock­tail nap­kins. That’s of­ten where I’ve sketched some of what I con­sider my best ideas.”

Miles, how­ever, lim­its his sketch­ing to work hours only. “There are those artists who are never not draw­ing, but it works bet­ter for me to let my­self rest a lot,” he ex­plains. “So I try to limit my sketch­ing to stu­dio time; oth­er­wise there’s no time to let your brain just process ev­ery­thing.”

Sketch­ing tools

Some­thing else that varies from artist to artist are the tools they use for sketch­ing, although each of our cre­atives of­fers a clear rea­son for their par­tic­u­lar choices.

Ter­ryl, for ex­am­ple, favours Can­son trac­ing pa­per. “It’s a great sur­face with a sub­tle vel­vety took, and fairly sturdy,” she says. “The fact that it’s ‘only trac­ing pa­per’ and not an ex­pen­sive Mole­sk­ine that I’m afraid to mess up gives me a psy­cho­log­i­cal per­mis­sion to be free, ex­per­i­ment and ex­plore.”

Fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar logic, Miles uses pen­cils with a thick lead, or ball­point pens, “for any sketch­ing where I want to be loosey-goosey. That’s be­cause when you’re sketch­ing in pen, you ex­pect to muck it up a bit, so that makes it eas­ier to think in the right way. You’re tak­ing visual notes in­stead of try­ing to make some­thing pretty.”

Olly, how­ever, has al­ways found it “very daunt­ing” us­ing pencil and pa­per for sketch­ing, and so since Jan­uary he’s been us­ing the iPad Pro and Ap­ple Pencil in­stead.

“With pa­per, you’re mak­ing a per­ma­nent record, and you feel like you’re un­der pres­sure to cre­ate some­thing per­fect,” he says. “I like to have a warm-up for maybe the first half-hour to an hour, in which I ex­pect the draw­ings to come out ter­ri­ble, so

I try to limit my sketch­ing to stu­dio time; oth­er­wise there’s no time to let your brain just process ev­ery­thing

I don’t want to do that on pa­per. It’s a lot eas­ier if I just wipe the can­vas like the iPad lets me do, and it’s just as por­ta­ble as a sketch­book.”

James, mean­while, uses wa­ter­colour, gouache and ca­sein, and sketches in a wa­ter­colour jour­nal, typ­i­cally a Mole­sk­ine or Pen­talic 5x8 inch. “They’re the fastest and most ver­sa­tile me­dia, and they com­bine well with each other,” he says. “I use a home­made sketch easel when­ever I can, to get the work up out of my lap and near the line of sight.”

For Robh Rup­pel, how­ever, the tools aren’t im­por­tant at all. “I have sev­eral Mole­sk­ines, but I also sketch on my phone,” he ex­plains. “The ideas are more im­por­tant than the medium, I’ve found.”

Stor­ing your sketches

Fi­nally, what to do with your sketches once they’re done? While Olly likes to delete his dig­i­tal sketches as he goes, he’s very much in the mi­nor­ity.

“I keep all my sketch books,” re­veals Robh. “They are diaries, arche­ol­ogy, time ma­chines, maps, jour­nals and test­ing grounds.” James, mean­while, shares his sketches on­line, videos them for putting on YouTube, pub­lishes them in mag­a­zines and books, and has even re­leased his own iOS and An­droid app based on them, called Liv­ing Sketch­book.

Ter­ryl doesn’t go that far, but does store all the sketches she likes in la­belled fold­ers in a ded­i­cated flat file drawer. “That or­gan­i­sa­tion light­ens my heart and mind, and fu­els my cre­ativ­ity,” she says. “There are enough things in life be­yond our con­trol, and be­ing able to lay one’s hands on sketches is one less thing to worry about.”

Tony DiTer­l­izzi’s sketch for a poster pro­mot­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive of his work. “Off to a good start, but I er­ro­neously com­posed it ver­ti­cally in­stead of hor­i­zon­tally…” “…so I scanned char­ac­ters from the orig­i­nal sketch and then loosely roughed out a new hor­i­zon­tal layout in Pho­to­shop,” re­veals Tony.

“Here’s what one of my typ­i­cal thumb­nails looks like,” says Miles John­ston. “My sketch­ing process is very chaotic and messy.” Sketch by Robh Rup­pel. “I don’t put a time limit on it,” he says. “I sketch un­til I have an idea that’s worth pur­su­ing.” James Gurney’s sketch of his son glass­blow­ing: “I’m in­trigued by the colours of his skin tones as they’re lit by the warm light of the torch,” says the il­lus­tra­tor.

James’ sketch­ing kit fea­tures a wa­ter­colour sketch­book, about 10 pan wa­ter­colours and a few tubes of gouache. “If I feel that my heads are weak, I’ll draw heads every day for a month be­fore work,” re­veals Olly Law­son. Ter­ryl Whit­latch took in­spi­ra­tion from Dr. Seuss when she sketched out The Gack. Noc­tur­nal Gryphon con­cept for Grif­fan­dia, by Ter­ryl Whit­lach.

“I treat my iPad like a pricey magic sketch­book,” says Olly. “It has no other apps or dis­trac­tions.”

Top: “Be­fore I use ref­er­ence I’ll sketch from imag­i­na­tion and fo­cus on de­sign­ing in­ter­est­ing strong shapes,” says Miles. Be­low: “As you can see the orig­i­nal plan shows through, un­der­neath all of the de­tails and pol­ish,” he adds.

Sketch of San­dro Ot­ter­celli by Ter­ryl Whit­lach, for the up­com­ing book Punny An­i­mals, Vol. 1: Fa­mous An­i­mal Artists of Art His­tory.

“Sketch­ing isn’t about com­ing up with a fin­ished draw­ing,” says Robh. “It can be a loose doo­dle to try out as a con­cept, too.”

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