Archive for category Subject: Sketching

Sketching For The Absolute Beginner || Peter Cronin

Peter Cronin tells us that he found drawing in “special” classes at school, having been diagnosed as “slow”, but in reality dyslexic. For him, it was a release from the tyranny of the worded page and an introduction to a world that was all his. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this book is, as much as anything else, a paean to the joy and freedom that Peter finds in working with drawing materials.

Yes, it’s a book of instruction and, yes, it covers all the basic principles, but Peter also manages to convey throughout the joy he feels when working, and he’ll share it with you the reader. So, yes again, it’s a course, but it’s also a journey of discovery.

Peter’s drawings are subtle and sensitive and he works mostly with pencil but also pen & wash. With plenty of examples and short exercises, he introduces line, composition, perspective, form and hatching as well as ways to control the weight of the mark to create values, tone and shading.

There’s a huge amount to get to grips with here and this is a book that you can easy work through or just dip into for advice and inspiration.

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Addictive – an artist’s sketchbook || Adebanji Alade

I’ve remarked before that looking at an artist’s sketchbook is an intensely personal thing and can be as intrusive as rummaging through their underwear drawer. However, every so often we’re presented with one – sometimes, I suspect, highly edited – and the invitation should feel like a privilege.

This has plenty of hallmarks of authenticity, not least in the page numbering. However, every good exhibition should be curated and we’re entitled to suspect that those fluffs and mis-steps that add nothing to the conversation have been removed. Try-outs, variations of approach and discontinued starts, they’re something else altogether and we don’t mind a few of those.

Spiral bound and presented with no more text than forewords by Pete Brown and Ken Howard (those being the kind of circles Adebanji moves in these days) and an introduction by the artist himself, this, as a whole, is a piece of art in itself.

You can read it as simply as an exhibition – being a sketcher, you’re not really going to ask for more from Adebanji than sketches. However, the sheer heft and volume become something else. It’s hard to put a finger on what that is, but I think I’m going to settle for “variety”, maybe also “humanity”. Adebanji is at home in crowds and these pages are nothing if not heavily populated. There’s a wealth here of faces, poses, expressions and situations. You don’t need to know who the people are or always what they’re doing. They’re studies and deserve – demand – to be studied themselves.

If you’re coming at this to learn, then marvel at precisely that cornucopia of material, at all those ways to represent human beings at work, rest or play, at the sheer inventiveness of the observation that captures them. You could also use this like one of those manuals of poses that were all the rage a few decades ago. Those were reference books, but this adds a pleasant and valuable edge of creativity.

Yes, to be here is a privilege, so take advantage and be exhilarated.

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Five-Minute Watercolour || Samantha Nielsen

This is not – praise be – a book about painting for those who are too busy to paint. I’ve ranted about that elsewhere: art is something that takes time and deserves to have time taken.

No, this is far better. It’s about working quickly and grabbing the idea before it fades and then not over-working it so that the soul of the subject and the painting are lost. It’s not a particularly new idea and you could call it sketching, except that it’s more than that because it’s more than a notebook. This is about seeing, interpreting and distilling.

There’s a wealth of ideas, subjects and techniques here and plenty to pick up and run with. The illustrations are attractive (essential given what’s being presented) and, although Samantha analyses them, they’re not demonstrations and you’re not intended to copy them. You should instead go out and find your own ideas, but what’s here will give you plenty of inspiration and jumping-off points.

There are plenty of books like this and they usually end up with a qualification – yes, but … it only goes so far. Not so here. It’s a rather joyful book and provides a wealth of encouragement.

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Draw Your Day || Samantha Dion Baker

This is by no means the first book on keeping a sketch journal, but it is among the most attractive. The idea is simple enough: you simply draw elements of your day, journey or interests as a record, a notebook or a source of ideas for other work.

What marks this out is the sheer variety of material and the fact that the author gives every appearance of practising what she preaches. Her examples don’t have look as though they have been drawn to fill the brief and are entirely credible as actual slices of life. There’s plenty of talk about materials and techniques and the book would work well as an introduction to sketching. If you’re looking for inspiration, journaling has much to recommend it: you simply work with what you see rather than having to spend time searching for subjects and getting bogged down in what might or might not be the right one.

Samantha’s style is loose and free and she incorporates all matter of objects as well as text. Some pages are simple representations, other more complex compositions that tell a longer story.

It’s intriguing, inspiring and rather a lot of fun.

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Sketch! || France Belleville-Van Stone

Subtitled “the non-artist’s guide to inspiration, techniques, and drawing daily life”, this is a rather delightful book packed with fun, inspiration and ideas. The text is somewhat anecdotal and is probably best dipped into, stopping when you see something that interests you, rather than reading through. It’s as much an observation of life (and, sometimes, a statement of the obvious) as anything else. Nevertheless, France is an engaging writer and you’ll find as much to divert you here as you will in the drawings, which are eclectic and varied. There are objects, shapes, still lifes, colours, hatching, people, buildings – well, everything you see as you make your way through daily life. If this was a website, it would be a life-log, and it’s none the worse for that.

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Reservoir: sketchbooks and selected works || Alice Maher

I’ve remarked previously that looking at an artist’s sketchbook is a view into their most intimate thoughts and not unlike rummaging through their underwear drawer. It’s not something you’d do uninvited and, even then, it can feel more than a little uncomfortable. As Alice herself says, “Sketchbooks are freewheeling workshops of the mind”. Sketches are not finished works, maybe not even fully-formed ideas but rather a stream-of-consciousness that reveals, often deliberately, the artist’s state of mind and innermost thoughts. Kept for private use, this is fine, desirable even, as it allows those same emotions to be picked up again when it comes to more formal work. When the viewer is allowed in, though, it becomes an unweeded garden.

Whitney Chadwick, an art historian specialising in surrealism, contemporary art and gender issues, says as much rather more succinctly in her introduction, while at the same time expanding on the themes of the book and drawing a parable between form – the graphic line – and function and content. Alice says that a sketchbook is “a process of letting ideas flow back and forth … a vortex out of which comes the beginning of an artwork.”

I suspect that this book is going to mean a lot more to you if you’re more familiar with Alice Maher’s work than I am. You may then be able to see the germs that became major works, and how themes have developed. As such, it would be a glossary on an oeuvre rather than a piece in its own right – which is rather as it should be. However, as a standalone, what it lacks more than anything else is a commentary. The introductions are useful, informative even, but they’re short and pretty much say the same things as you can say about any sketchbook without even looking at it. What you don’t get is any very clear idea of what the ideas and themes are that are being explored There are some handwritten philosophical musings, though these are not the easiest read, especially on a heavily-coloured background and don’t, so far as I can tell, relate to the drawings, being rather an occasional verbal- rather than visualisation.

I’m conscious of missing something here and if you want to tell me that’s the main body of Alice’s work, I wouldn’t disagree. It does, I feel, limit the appeal of the book. If you know the corpus and this illuminates it for you, then it would be one of the most valuable books you own. Equally, though, it could tell you nothing at all, other than that the artist works raw material up into finished pieces. I simply don’t know the answer to than one.

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Kurt Jackson Sketchbooks || Alan Livingston & Kurt Jackson

I’ve always felt that looking at an artist’s sketchbook can be, or at least feel like, an invasion of privacy, a bit like reading private correspondence. However, when it’s offered freely and is of this sort of quality, those reservations don’t need to be applied. The fact is that many artists would be pleased if their finished works were up to the standard of what Kurt knocks off as an aide-memoire.

Sketchbooks are a central part of the process of Kurt Jackson’s exhibited work and are, as becomes clear, more than just visual notes made at a specific time and place. Rather, they are the place where he evolves the finished result, almost in the manner of a discussion with himself. As a result, they’re even more illuminating that you might think. The other useful thing here is that we have Kurt’s own words to describe the process. This is much more than just an “I did this, I did that” progression, rather a description of the way the scene developed and what was happening at the same time – “A buzzard flaps from bank to bank as we pass underneath – a continuous line on my page, up one bank the birds shape and come down the other bank – all joined together, all connected. A dark, fluid pencil line.” This stream-of-consciousness becomes poetic and all-absorbing, merging the written word and the painted shape into a single work of art.

This is a remarkable book that says much more about the creative process, practically, intellectually and spiritually, than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s utterly compelling.

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The Tao Of Sketching || Qu Lei Lei

When this landed on the mat, I nearly choked on my Cornflakes. I have a diagnosed allergy to any book that has the word ‘Tao’ in the title and isn’t about Chinese philosophy. Actually, I tend to come out in spots even when that is what they’re about, but I’m too old and too cynical to be a new-ager.

However, this is by Qu Lei Lei, who has produced some very good books in the past, so I felt it could be worth a second glance and, my word, it is. According to the press release that came with it, “The Tao of Sketching explains Taoist symbolism revealing the spirituality of Chinese Sketching and how to create ‘chi’ or the essence of living energy in a sketch, showing how you can use it as a powerful means to self-development”.
Pass. The. Sick. Bag. Alice.

The truth, of course, is that there’s a lot of philosophy in Chinese art and it gets down to the point where individual brushstrokes matter. The other truth is that this gives it a simplicity that is enormously attractive and that a lot of western artists like to study and emulate its techniques without necessarily buying into the whole mindset behind it.

Put simply – and the whole point of this is that it is put simply – this is probably the best book on sketching ever. Bar none. No, don’t even bother because I’m not going to listen to you. All that stuff about creating the living essence?, well, isn’t that pretty much the heart of sketching? Get the broad outline down quickly, work from life, don’t fiddle about with details, the sonnet is a moment’s monument, etc, etc. This is packed with illustrations, but there’s one in particular I keep coming back to. It’s a panda eating bamboo and thing is that you can sense the pandaness of it. It’s not just a picture, it really is alive and has depth and substance. Oh, OK, ‘chi’. You see, there’s just no other word for it There’s another one (this is in the 30-45 minute section) of an elephant coming down a bustling, colourful, market street and it really is, you can see it swaying through the throng, feel its sheer bulk, even hear the chatter of the market sellers. I tell you, none of this stuff is two dimensional, it’s scary.

There’s a link below. Click it. Buy this book. Do it now. You can’t afford not to.

First published 2006

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