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Observational Sketching

Through experimentation , you’ll find an approach that works for you. You might like to begin at the heart of your subject, placing the eyes and mouth in pleasing relation before moving on. Or you might find that a horizon line and intersecting vertical gives you a place to land your subject in space. I like to start with the objects in the foreground before placing my subject. These things, whose shapes are unbroken by overlapping objects, give a landing place for my subject, and insure I don’t continue a line or form into an area actually obscured by surroundings. This also gives me an area of relative size that ensures that I can fit my subject into its surroundings, rather than discover, too late, that an arm placed in one spot on the picture plane means the head will actually miss the whole page and land in space, beyond the margins.

It’s valuable to try a variety of approaches to find the method that gives you the most satisfaction.

Before I put pen to paper, I consider the challenges of perspective that my chosen composition will give me. Look at your subject. Now, don’t turn your head, but move your eye to the edges of your planned picture plane. The more eye movement your composition requires, the more distortion of perspective will be needed to execute the sketch successfully.

If you want to ignore observed perspective, which will make your sketching life easier, hold you drawing surface roughly at arms length. Now back up until your paper covers your chosen composition. There! You’ve placed yourself in a spot where you’ll be able to largely ignore rules of perspective. It is like using a telephoto lens on your camera. This long lens tends to flatten your subject. If you are too close, and your eye needs to travel a great deal from top to bottom of your subject, your point of view becomes more like a wide angle lens, causing substantial parallax distortion. Think of an image photographed with a fish eye lens. This is the logical extreme of wide angle photography. Just imagine the distorted lines needed to compress this space into a flat picture plane when your angle of regard is so broad.

Now you can picture the opposite end of the ocular focal length. How simple it is to render the observed lines in a pleasing fashion.

If you are like me, there is nothing more perfect than the unbroken field of a plank page. Your first mark is like a contrail crossing an azure blue sky. The simple perfectction of the open space is ruined but the blemish of the first line.

If you share my point of view, you must make yourself a promise. Before you begin, promise to fill the page with your planned composition. Don’t stop until your’ve completed a sketch that includes the scope of your chosen subject as well as those elements of background that land you subject in space. No matter how erroeous your first line seem, no matter how disappointed you feel in your ability to find the correct place to start; promise you’ll finish your sketch.

If this exercise takes more than five or ten minutes, then you are probably beginning with a subject that has too much detail, or, you are being too tentative in committing your lines.

Once you have fulfilled your promise, and completed a simple observed sketch, I have a promise for you.

My promise is that if you complete your sketch and look at it dispassionately , it will give you substantial satisfaction, more than you expect. If you find yourself still hypercritical of your efforts. Turn the page on your sketch book, and return to your drawing tomorrow. In 24 hours, you’ll begin to see more of your successes and less of your errant lines.

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