About 8 years ago, my best friend gave me a package of Uniball Vision Fine-tip Waterproof/Fade-proof black ink pens. A few months later, I was headed overseas to England for the first time. So, I picked up a cloth-bound sketch journal and figured I’d put my new pen to use recording some of my adventures in the UK. By the end of the England trip, that blue book was nearly full and was followed over the next few years by 3 more of the same. I can’t say that my sketchbook use remains faithful or consistent, but I’ve found that I often prefer it to a camera. With a camera, you see something and think, “Oh! I like that!” Then you snap the shot and have the lovely memory to look back on. But sketching forces (and enables) you to truly study the scene that you love. For example, one of my first blue-book sketches was a portrait of the guard at Tower of London. I studied that young man for a solid 25 minutes…and, yes, he didn’t move a muscle for that whole span of time. When finished, I knew how many buttons were on his jacket; I saw how low the heavy hat sat upon his head; I knew the length of the bayonet that would be pressed in my face if I dared come too close. And, I understood the patience and sense of honor that must go behind someone that young being willing to stand expressionless for 25 minutes at a time while unflinchingly guarding his Majesty’s jewels. For the record: he did move just as I was standing to go…he turned, marched to the other end of his post, marched back, and was again motionless.
Obviously, not all “models” stand quite so still, which is one of the challenges I enjoy with sketching. I prefer sketching in ink because it forces me to consider each stroke before I put it to page. At the same time, I have to hold my drawings loosely, willing to scratch out, scribble, or abandon a sketch unfinished if it’s not working out. People may not stay in the exact same position for long, but they DO tend to fall into patterns of motion, mannerism, or stance. All I have to do is wait for them to return to a position that is similar to where/how they’d been standing when I started the sketch. The other intriguing challenge when drawing people is keeping them from being aware that you’re drawing them. As soon as they realize someone is studying them, they become self-conscious and stiffen up. So, you have to learn to scan a space…seeming only to glance past them…and memorize the fold of the jeans or the bend of an elbow for long enough to spit it back out onto paper.
I was recently assigned hall duty outside of the school cafeteria. It’s a duty in an area that is busy enough and inconvenient enough for me not to be able to get any real work or grading done. However, I’ve found I can catch a few moments here and there to sketch. So, out comes the old blue book. Right now, I’m sketching in generic ball-point pen. Ball-point pens have a little more drag/friction to the pull (as well as a slower ink flow) than the Uniball pens. This allows me to slow down my hand and build up values or shading if I like.