Sketchbooks are for Sketching

I’ve often recounted the story of buying my first sketchbook, how odd it felt to walk through the art supply aisle feeling that I didn’t belong there, how certain I was that I was wasting my money. I truly believed that after a few days of “learning to draw”, I would realize how hopeless it was and would give it up. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Now I’m quite comfortable strolling through aisles of art supplies, even sharing opinions with other artists on different products. Of course, I have a variety of sketchbooks now — different sizes, different shapes, different textures of paper. Those sketchbooks serve many different purposes, too, but I recently learned something very basic — but very important — about our sketchbooks.

They are for sketching.

Yeah, you already knew that. It’s almost embarrassing to say, “Well, I didn’t realize that,” but it’s true. Sketchbooks really are for sketching.

Most of all what I’ve learned lately is that there can be a big difference between sketching and drawing. I’ve learned the basic principles of drawing, and now it’s time for me to learn more about sketching. 

The difference between drawing and sketching is nothing more than a matter of semantics for a lot of people. The two terms are often considered synonymous. But, are they really? Maybe I once thought that way, but not any more.

Drawings are refined, suitable for framing. They usually involve a considerable amount of time — and thought — to create. A sketch, on the other hand, is rough, unfinished, wild, and free. It may not look much like the subject, but it holds valuable information for the artist.

In the past I’ve done gesture drawings —  I love doing them — and I’ve always felt an energy about them. But, shouldn’t they more accurately be called gesture sketches? 

Until recently, it never crossed my mind that I could feel the same sort of energy and liveliness through landscape sketching. As I learn more about oil painting and find my own personal approach to the creative process of art, I’m focusing more on quick sketches, rough drawings that capture a moment in time as much as the memory of a place.

Sketching is a useful implement in the artist’s toolbox. We can quickly sketch several views of a scene, changing elements if necessary to create a pleasing composition. We can experiment with ideas — all in a matter of minutes.

I’m now learning different techniques for sketching — starting with lines and edges, or starting with basic shapes. I’m having fun, and I’m feeling more excitement as I approach a canvas, ready to create a scene based on a recent sketch.

Here are two recent sketches I’ve made en plein air. The first is the one I did on Saturday when we went to the Fishing Tournament at our city park. Yes, by the way, the tree is the same one I later painted in watercolor. Earlier this morning I re-did this quick pencil sketch on my teal-blue canvas. I’ll begin painting it soon.


Sketch from City Park 06-09-2018

The next is a sketch I made one morning when I walked to a nearby lake. I have it re-drawn on a canvas, too. I’m looking forward to painting this scene.

BotLittle White Oak Lake

Both scenes are very similar — a lake, a rock wall, trees — lots of trees — and bushes. It’s difficult to see, but there’s also a huge log in the second scene.

Now that I’ve learned that sketching and drawing aren’t necessarily the same thing, I’ve been able to take a lot of pressure off myself. I feel much freer in making marks on the pages of my sketchbook. Some look a lot like scribbles. But I know what those scribbles mean. I know what they represent. I’ve learned, too, that sometimes it’s helpful to make notes on a sketch.

I’m still working on my drawing skills, still hoping to improve my abilities, but I’m also learning more about sketching. Both skills, I think, are necessary if we’re to express all we want to say through our art.

Sketching is fun, and if my sketchbooks look messy, who cares! Sketchbooks are for sketching, and sketching is sometimes messy, indeed.

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