tumblr friend sol—sum, (check out her sketches—really awesome stuff!) had noted in one of my posts that I had said I was trying out a more “natural way of sketching” lately, and wondered via tumblr messages what I meant by this. Thinking it was in my ask box, I had initially written my response with a more general audience in mind, and it wasn’t until I had finished that I realized that tumblr wasn’t going to allow me to publish my response. So with sol—sum’s permission I’m answering here in case anyone else might garner something from my musings:
how would you compare this new, more “natural” way of sketching to the way you had approached it before?
I suppose “natural” in the sense that I mean it is simply a way that is more at home with me, as opposed to a more “organic” method or anything of that sort. What I mean is that the way I am drawing lately has been less dependent on the information of the reference, and less inhibited by the notion that the drawing must be accurate to what I see. Observational drawing (from life) I think is the most informative way to draw, but I think it should inform what you are creating; not dictate it.
In his book, “Imaginative Realism” James Gurney noted the difference between two sketchbooks he kept—one full of observational drawing and one that was strictly inventive; saying that he felt like they were both drawn by different people. But as his skills progressed he felt the two styles slowly merge into one, his observational skills informing his inventive skills and vice versa.
I have often felt the same way, looking at my drawings from life and my drawings from my head and also feeling like they are done by two entirely different people, and has been something I’ve struggled with since I started seriously creating images. As an illustrator, from the get-go you realize how important it is to develop a style and to market the hell out of it, and my experiences at art school have strongly reinforced that notion. Being successful is all about marketability—especially in the freelance world. Art directors are going to seek you out (well typically you should be seeking them out) for a certain aesthetic and are going to expect a certain level of consistency if they choose to hire you again. As an artist you are selling your skills as a product and if making money is of interest/importance you have to brand/position yourself effectively. This is in many ways completely contradictory to the growth of an artist. It takes a long time to learn how to draw well, develop a technique, to design good compositions, be a compelling storyteller, etc. A style is something that an artist will always be chasing and developing as their interests and skills change, and shouldn’t be settled upon for the sake of marketability. The whole situation is very unfortunate, but that’s besides the point.
As we start out we have a very limited knowledge of what the world actually looks like, and also how to express it through our hand. In many ways I think the observational sketchbook is representative of our technical skill. How accurately we can take the world around us and put it on paper to the best of our control of the medium. Nothing created by a drawer/painter can be strictly objective, but this way of drawing is as close as it gets. (i.e. Thomas Eakins) While the invented sketchbook is the other side of the spectrum. The world as we remember it and have practiced to portray it. It is fueled by our imagination and emotions, but dependent on how well we can recall what things look like and our ability to render them together.
What is important and what I have been trying to focus my efforts on now is learning how to let the two inform each other. To learn from what I see around me and to let it inspire and inform my imagination, while not being a slave to accuracy. To take what I see and cut it up and redesign it and make it my own and fuel it with my own experiences and emotions and create something new. Natural to me means simply to draw with more abandon and imagination—something I’ve often struggled with for the sake of creating accurate drawings or producing a consistent style. And as my visual library builds and my skills progress hopefully there will be a less jarring juxtaposition of those two sketchbooks—it will be one less barrier to overcome in my creative journey.