Archive for category Medium: Sketching

The Addictive Sketcher || Adebanji Alade

Sketching is the artist’s secret weapon. Often less intrusive than a camera, it also allows a degree of interpretation and note-taking that isn’t available to the photographer. Sometimes a quick image can be an end in itself, at others it’s the basis for a more considered work completed in the studio. The trick is to learn to see and to look, to be completely at home with your materials and to know exactly which details are important. All that comes with practice, so practise you must.

Adebanji Alade is, as the title suggests, a compulsive sketcher. In the introduction, he tells us how he learnt sketching from a battered copy of Alwyn Crawshaw’s Learn to Sketch, a slim volume that, while an excellent introduction, was hardly a full course in drawing. To learn this way requires not a little inherent skill, but Adebanji is too modest to say that. What he does tell us, though, is that, having discovered sketching, he fell in love with it. He also tells us that he loves God. This isn’t an essential part of the narrative, and he doesn’t pursue it, but what is important about it is that it tells us about him. He loves sketching and he loves God, so should we be surprised that he clearly loves his audience too? This isn’t a book that preaches, but rather one that explains. What leaps from every page is the sense of joy Adebanji feels when he out with paper and pencils. It’s infectious and I defy anyone not to want to get out there with him (probably in person, too).

This wouldn’t be an instructional book without instruction and that’s here in plenty, but it all comes from example. There are people, buildings, interiors and open spaces as well as seasons, light and weather. A huge variety of techniques are covered, but always in context and always leading to a worthwhile result – never a series of marks made for their own sake. There’s also handy advice on the etiquette of sketching – ask permission if necessary, thank people who comment on your work, be polite and, above all, stop if asked. If this is a book filled with love, it’s also one lacking in any kind of disrespect.

Adebanji immerses himself in sketching and this is a book that’s itself immersive. It’s also a joy, both tho read and to look at. “Once you catch the vision, you will never remain the same; you will spread the gospel of addictive sketching wherever you go, for the rest of your creative journey.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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DVD Planning Your Painting || Joseph Zbukvic

This is a film about looking, seeing and refining. It’s less about the mechanics of painting and Joseph spends quite a lot of time walking around Rome in search of subjects, rejecting the obvious, the pretty and the main tourist sites – “Don’t start just because it’s beautiful”, he says.

He begins with a short lesson in the basic shapes of composition and shows how these guide the viewer in and balance the elements of the picture. This leads on to a watercolour sketch in a quiet back street that demonstrates the use of shapes and tones: “I don’t think about colour, I just think about tone … warm, cool”.

Rome is a busy, bustling city and Joseph is at pains to show you how to find and isolate a subject in the middle of crowds and confusion. He is looking all the time for shapes and edges and the time spent not painting in this film contains some of the most important lessons. He is insistent about understanding and absorbing a place in order to commit it to memory: a photograph takes a moment and isn’t a real memory, he explains. Joseph is also insistent on the importance of working and sketching all the time: “Not matter how good you are, you should practise your craft”, he reminds us. The result of this is that he is able to produce pencil sketches quickly and accurately, although he also emphasises the importance of not getting bogged down in detail and accuracy: “Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to put it in” is perhaps the most sound piece of advice in the whole film. Details can overwhelm both the composition and the viewer.

This film comes from a different perspective to many, but Joseph is an astute observer and an excellent communicator and his message: observe, practise, simplify comes across loud and clear.

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Dare to Sketch || Felix Scheinberger

Felix Scheinberger has appeared here before, talking about urban sketching. This book, to be honest, is little different. The title suggests a wider view, but the previous book covered the inhabitants as well as the city and the catch-all concept is broadly similar here.

The drawing style is quick, rough and cartoon-like. The people are caricatures rather than likenesses, although they also stand for types that can be seen on every street. This is not, it should be said, a record, but rather an impression – perhaps a soundscape – of the rush, bustle and noise of city life. Felix does not stray far from the centre and there are no landscapes here. Yes, there are animals, but they’re mostly street-dwellers too.

The title and subtitle (a guide to drawing on the go) tell you the philosophy behind the book – use your sketchbook as a kind of life-log (remember them?) and draw everything you see. Don’t make a record, put down how it felt to you. This is a valid approach and encourages observation and fast working. How you use it beyond that, though, is very much up to you; for Felix it seems to be more or less an end in itself.

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5-Minute Sketching: Landscapes || Virginia Hein

I’m not normally a fan of the quick-work approach. If something’s worth drawing or painting, it’s worth taking time over. However, I’m happy to make an exception in the case of sketching. Here, speed is frequently of the essence and less is definitely more. Stop and fiddle and the scene will be lost, or have changed substantially while you’re still dithering over whether to use Payne’s or Davy’s Grey. Photographically, it’s the equivalent of having your camera out of the bag and on a full auto setting.

There’s much to like in this new series, which originates with RotoVision, purveyors of all kinds of good ideas. This book is full of ideas and exercises, each one executed in just 3 pages. Sections move from technical to creative via observation and planning. Practise now and develop ways of working that’ll stand you in good stead out in the field or on the street corner. Subjects include, as you might have guessed, landscapes but also urban scenes, skies and trees as well as the considerations of working at different times of day.

The approach is visual, vibrant and really rather exciting.

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5-minute Sketching: Animals & Pets || Gary Geraths

Animals are prime candidates for quick working. Rarely still and often found in less than ideal places, the ability to grab a quick sketch while they’re visible, or at least reasonably still, is a useful skill.

This new series carries great promise and the ideas and techniques here do it full justice. There’s plenty of information and variety, with something for everyone. If I have a reservation, it’s that the execution perhaps leaves a little to be desired, but there’s nothing wrong with the ideas and you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied.

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Learn to Paint People Quickly || Hazel Soan

This series from Batsford is shaping up nicely and any book on painting people, especially as furniture for a larger work, is welcome.

Not everyone by any means wants to paint people as a subject in themselves, but an unpopulated painting always has a neglected look to it. In common with the style of the series, this is very much illustration-led and the text is concise to the point of terseness and mainly confined to explanatory captions. It should also be said that this is very welcome – if you don’t want an exhaustive in-depth study, being shown what’s going on rather than lectured at length is the proverbial breath of fresh air.

This is not to say that Hazel doesn’t manage to make the coverage comprehensive. There’s information on shape, proportion, pose, lighting and clothing and the chapters are arranged so that you can locate one particular topic easily. If you want to venture into portraiture, Hazel offers good basic advice, although you will probably want to graduate to more dedicated books as well. Groups, action and settings all get a look-in as well, making this one of the best starting-points you’ll find.

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From Sketch to Watercolour Painting || Wendy Jelbert

This isn’t the first book about sketching but it is, as far as I’m aware, at least one of the first to cover the whole process right through. Yes, other books habitually include a chapter on working your sketchbook up into something grander, but this takes the logical step of following each subject from observation right through to the finished painting. And, of course, it’s Wendy Jelbert, whose expertise in this field is second to none.

The structure of the book is familiar enough, with lessons, exercises, demonstrations and tips. This is good, as it means you’re on solid ground right from the start. What you get initially are some basic lessons in seeing and observation – getting the essence of your subject. There are also useful hints on what to draw and what to annotate so that you have structure, shapes and colours at your fingertips when you get back home. There are also plenty of demonstrations that cover buildings, people, flowers and so on – typical Wendy subjects, in fact.

It’s always going to feel a little odd working from someone else’s sketches – they are, after all, intensely personal – but the way this is put together never feels intrusive. In fact, it’s more like a sketching trip with an old friend, and all the better for that.

Since writing this, I’ve realised that this is in fact a re-working of a book that first appeared in 2003. (I should have – the back cover makes it clear!) As ever, Search Press’s work is so good that it’s by no means obvious and it felt new from the start. I don’t think you can give that aspect of it higher praise.

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