Thumbnails are important.

2 August, 2018. I’m in charge of this month’s Urban Sketchers demo tomorrow night. A lot of sketchers seem to be curious about the attention I’ve been giving to gouache on gray-toned paper, so that’s going to be my focus. But it occurs to me that the technique is really only a delivery vehicle; unless the drawing or painting has been designed to create visual interest the technique really doesn’t matter much. With that in mind I decided to outline some of the steps I occasionally take when I plan a “people” sketch.

The first thing to understand is that people move. They are there and then gone. So it’s important to capture the gesture as quickly as you can (see above) if you want your figures to be believable. Focus on the most basic key lines. I seldom spend more than ten seconds doing so. (Think about it: In ten seconds, your subject is gonna be a hundred yards away, so you have to work quickly.)

Once you’ve got a gesture that you like, and a location that tells a story, take a piece of scrap paper (or better yet, tracing paper!) and place it over the gesture. Use the gesture as a guide for planning the form and how the clothing drapes. 

It’s ok to think about some general detail, but don’t focus on eyelashes or nostrils at this stage!

Figures move, but your “stage” does not. You can take more time to make as many thumbnails of the “space” as you like to ensure that the figure is placed in the most interesting position. Look for details that imply depth and scale now.

Design is important. It’s what makes a visual story interesting. Think about design as you redraw the sketch, dividing the composition into thirds. (Asymmetry is always more interesting than symmetry.) Experiment with eliminating detail, and with the figure ground relationship by massing values. Now, you’re ready to make a drawing.

This is the handout I plan to have on hand for tomorrow night’s demonstration. I’m hoping it will provide a little context before just diving into the technique. Feel free to download the image.


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