I’m thinking about taking an around the world trip and was looking at some of my old sketchbooks for inspiration. When I saw some sketches from Egypt, I was annoyed with them. They are very superficial-a drawn version of postcard photography, of subjects that have already been "done" much better than I could by 18th century Grand Tourists.
My favourite sketches were drawn on a holiday in Shetland. Every morning I’d find an interesting-looking place on the map, walk to it and draw it. If I spotted anything along the way, I’d draw that too. By the end of the holiday my idea of a good day out was to walk six miles, draw an interesting rock, and then walk back. I churned out some really nice drawings this way by the law of averages- if you draw 10 pictures a day some are bound to turn out well. It also makes for a cheap holiday! But if you’re on holiday with anyone else it will drive them crazy and it’s difficult when on holiday with a group, as in Egypt. We’d often be whisked away to the next tourist site before there was a chance to finish anything properly.
An alternative is to draw a quick sketch on site and then tighten it up in the evening. This makes sketches look more finished and you can improve accuracy by using photographs. But a there’s a value attached to sketching on site, a sense of authenticity that you don’t get by copying a photograph. Hurrying can give the sketches a sense of spontaneity and life that you wouldn’t have in a more controlled drawing.
Why do you sketch?
• Practice? To quote Walt Stanchfield “we all have 10,000 bad drawings in us-the sooner we get them out the better”. I think I have more than 10,000. I guess the number varies with the person.
• To sell the artwork? I have occasionally sold sketches but 99% of the time they just don’t come out well enough. I suspect unless you’re lucky or at a particularly high standard this would be tricky.
• Reference? Sketches are sometimes not detailed enough to use as reference- but they can give you fresh and original ideas. Depends on your drawing style.
• An urge to record beautiful objects or meaningful places? Craig Thompson writes in Carnet du Voyage that he draws the things that make him happy as an act of love
• A technical challenge? Restrictions can help you discover new ways of working. I started using pencil shading on black line drawings because one of my markers ran out of ink while I was sketching. I’ve also drawn in biro before when I lost my pencil sharpener. Both techniques work quite well.
• Nostalgia? Because sketching is time-consuming comparing to taking a photograph there can be many more memories attached to a drawing than a photograph. This can make your sketchbooks very evocative.
While I was searching for reasons why other artists might have sketched I found the quote below by Enrico Casarosa, founder of Sketchcrawl, which sums sketching up nicely:
Like you I feel sketching hasn’t been about bettering my skills, not anymore … it has become more than that.
I very much agree with Bagel about slowing down and observing … it’s like really seeing something, in depth. It’s like touching something with our eyes …. and pencils .
I feel more alive in general when doing that.
It’s very akin to being a writer. I think they can see the world differently, they are able to find interesting things around them where a regular guy might just find them annoying...
I think sketching, in its best form, makes us like writers. It makes us curious and positive about what is around us.
It makes you cherish the world in all its details, be it looking at lamp post in the street or a lion at the zoo .
Have you tried drawing for a full afternoon in your apartment?
You are gonna discover so many amazing details and treasures in the last place you’d had thunk to find them: in the objects that you see everyday.
That is the perfect example of seeing but not “really seeing”. Everything in our homes is familiar, easy to take for granted … when you stop
and really start looking at those objects to draw them you are gonna have some great discoveries.
I think outside our apartments, the world out there, can work the same way. In our daily routine it’s easy to take it all for granted, but there’s great beauty and care in all things around us, manmade or not.