Sketching people in the field

11 February, 2016. So this blog seems to have generated a lot of email about sketching people in the field. Let me first state categorically that I take a lot of liberties with my subjects, poses, and locations. In a very large sense, every person I sketch is a composite of several people that pass by as I am drawing.

Many of my sketches aren’t made to “faithfully” represent reality (I rather enjoy a loose, sketchy quality to a drawing, quite frankly.) But to address the recent questions I’ve had about creating a likeness, I’ve put together this process graphic.

First: Unless I’m sketching directly with ink (which I do a lot), I’ll make very, very quick and rough gestural sketches. Most of those are crap, take just a few seconds to scribble out, and a lot of times I never look at them again. I’m very unconcerned about detail at this point. Why? Because I’d never get beyond a nose before the subject wandered off. Instead I focus on gesture and very basic structure. The tilt of the head, the angle of the jaw line, for instance. Maybe a few rough indications of personality, like the glasses or the “poofiness” of the hair. I’ll get as much as I can while the subject is within sight.

Once they disappear from view I’ll often try to tighten up some of the details while the subject is still fresh in my mind. To be honest, I may spend more actual drawing time at this stage than at any other, simply refining the overall structure. I use shorthand that I understand and can interpret later on, and don’t care at all if anyone else can do so. The lines are my own personal visual language.

If a sketch resonates with me I really do like to complete it in the field in ink. Life being what it is, however, it’s not uncommon that dinner comes to an end to quickly, that transportation is too bumpy to draw, or I’d simply rather join the locals for a glass of red wine than draw at that moment in time. So inking may or may not take place in the field, and I’m good with either. Inking, by the way, is often nearly as quick as the gesture sketch. As long as I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the construction and structure, I enjoy working quickly and loosely, varying the line quality as I go. (Approximately 5.5 x 8.5 inches, Pentel Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook.)


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