Sketching tips and other observations on the art of making sketches
August 29, 2013 at 10:36 PM
A personal highlight of sketching the Bales sentencing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord last week was meeting Peter Millett. To most news outlets covering the story, he was the go-to courtroom artist. But Millett is also an accomplished sculptor, painter and art teacher. Courtroom sketching is something he does on the side when the opportunity presents itself.
Viewers who see the courtroom sketches on TV or in the newspaper may not realize how difficult a job this is, if I may say so myself. Though not every courtroom is laid out the same way, you can pretty much count on the witness stand, the judge and the rest of the characters you are supposed to draw being farther away than you wish. It’s also likely that they’ll have their back to you, which makes sketching them even harder. The sketch below gives you an idea of the real context inside the military courtroom where Millett and I sketched.
To make the sketches work, you have to compress the scene, bringing the characters closer together than they are in real life. You also have to be able to draw face close-ups despite the distance that separates you from the people you are drawing. If only they let the sketch artist move around!
I learned a great deal from Millett, who’s done this type of sketching for years, and hope we’ll cross paths again, inside or outside the courtroom.
Millett would rush out of the courtroom during breaks and tape his sketches to the back of a TV truck so the crews could photograph them for broadcast via satellite. Times reporter Christine Clarridge took this photo after the sentencing ended Friday.
February 25, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Drawing the view through a window is a great way to learn about composition. The window becomes the frame of your drawing. Try standing at difference distances and angles from the window until the framed scene fits your taste.
Windows with panes offer an added advantage: a built-in grid that will help you get proportions right. Look closely at how much of the scene falls within the boundaries of each pane.
In the example above, your mind may trick you to think that, since you are drawing big skyscrapers, you should draw them large on the page. But in reality, the buildings appear very small in relation to the pane and even smaller if you measure them against the whole window.
The sketch shows the view from the 13th floor of Beacon Hill’s Pacific Tower. See more sketches from the historic building in my recent post: The beacon that graduated Amazon.
February 11, 2013 at 2:57 PM
I made this sketch at my daughter’s last basketball game of the season Saturday. I think I’m going to miss these games as much as she will. They are a great way to reset my sketching during the weekends. Forgetting about deadlines and expectations is the ideal state of mind to draw. My sketch, drawn with a Pilot G-Tec pen, appears on the screen more than twice its actual size. To give you an idea, look at the open spread of my mini pocket sketchbook. It’s just 5 inches wide.
December 31, 2012 at 2:10 PM
A cold January day drawing the Smith Tower. [Signs of life at Smith Tower. Jan. 17, 2012]
You have to be 50 and older to play hockey with these guys. Inspiring! [Over 50, but hardly over the hill. Jan. 9, 2012]
Sketching the Kalakala at Hylebos waterway in Tacoma. [Kalakala's charm not yet rusted out. Feb. 3, 2012]
I thought about the Fun Forest while sketching the construction of The Chihuly Glass and Garden exhibit from the Space Needle’s sky lobby. [Museum rises out of the forest. Jan. 27, 2012]
The red monorail gets a tune-up ahead of its 50th birthday festivities, held on March 24. [They keep the old Monorail rolling. March 9, 2012]
I had to wait for the streetcar to come back to the Westlake station several times to complete the sketch. [Seattle's streetcar drawing riders. March 23, 2012]
Holding my Lamy Safari fountain pen after inking a view of the Red Square at the University of Washington campus. [Quiet retreat on UW campus. April 20, 2012]
Sketching the impromptu memorial to the victims of the Cafe Racer shooting. [The sketch that will never be at Cafe Racer. June 1, 2012]
Sketching the Seattle Great Wheel as the first gondolas are installed. The attraction opened in late June. [Great Wheel has a great view on Seattle waterfront. June 8, 2012]
Fun public art piece at Shilshole Marina, Shilly the Sea Monster. [Our boy Leif standing tall at Shilshole Marina. Aug. 3, 2012]
Even goats like sketches! [Brier still riding high in the saddle. Aug. 24, 2012]
Take a book. Return a book. [Mini libraries have curb appeal. Nov. 23, 2012]
December 17, 2012 at 6:06 PM
My visit to Accoutrements (that’s the name of Archie McPhee’s wholesale business) for last Saturday’s post was quite intense. From the moment “Director of Awesome” David Wahl welcomed me into the building, I felt an urge to draw every novelty toy on sight. Crazy horse mask that appears in countless YouTube videos, check! Still-life of weird holiday gifts, check!
But who could keep up? The toys were everywhere! I missed drawing many cool gag gifts like the shushing action figure inspired by Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl or the patron saint of the Internet figurine filed away in a box labeled “Tiny Religious.”
Still, it was a productive time for me. In about four hours and a half, I made seven drawings, some of them with partial coloring, and talked to six interesting fellows whose creativity I admire. Shown in the photo, from left to right, are some of the artists you may recognize from my post: Jim Koch, Curt Hanks and Scott Heffernan. I’m the guy wearing the red shirt and holding an 11″ x 14″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook.
November 29, 2012 at 6:28 PM
You may wonder how I found the locations of those little free libraries I sketched for last Saturday’s column?
I didn’t just stumbled upon them. I looked them up on this Google map at littlefreelibrary.org. Easy, huh? (You, too, can find some near you and go sketch them!)
The map allowed me to select a few libraries and contact their owners. I chose libraries that caught my eye from the start.
I’ve been in the newspaper business since 1992, how could I not sketch Josh Larios’ recycled P-I news-rack? I remember drawing those right around the time the newspaper closed.
Margaret Opalka’s library had a touch of color and whimsy that made it really appealing to draw. It was built by Daniel Maguire, a carpenter from the Columbia City neighborhood.
And how about Vernon Winters’ little library? His was the works. It even has a built-in light, which comes in handy to browse books after dark.
Where am I going with all this? Doing research in advance pays off when you are looking for sketch-worthy story ideas.
That’s an 11″ x 14″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook on all of these photos.
November 12, 2012 at 3:52 PM
[Click to see larger version]
The young war veterans I wrote about in my last post were very gracious about being drawn and sharing their stories. While every sketching experience is memorable in its own way, this one is going to stick with me for a long time.
The process of interviewing them and drawing their portraits lasted a couple of hours, more or less, for each. I met the veterans at places that were convenient for them: a college cafeteria, the offices where they work or at their homes, as was the case with Bernard.
Sitting across from them, I just asked that they try to look towards me as I asked questions and slowly built up the portrait, from the initial light pencil marks to the final watercolor details.
As often happens, my interview notes ended up split between my reporter notebook and the actual watercolor sheet where I drew the portrait. Because it’s hard to draw and listen at the same time, I can’t help but write notes on the margins of my sketch when I hear something important.
For publication, I cleaned out all the notes and added one handwritten quote to each portrait in Photoshop, as you can see here and in the print version.
2B pencil, watercolor and watercolor pencils on 9″x12″ Fabriano Hot Press Studio Watercolor 90lb paper.
October 8, 2012 at 1:50 PM
It’s unusual that a sketching assignment yields more drawings than I would want to include in a blog post. The extra material I’m talking about is the equivalent of what photographers would call “outtakes,” those many shots that are discarded in the editing process, sometimes because they lack quality, other times because they duplicate what other photos already show.
In this case, I didn’t add these sketches to my last post (Colorful images from the campaign trail, Oct. 5, 2012) for a couple of reasons.
First, I wanted run about the same number of volunteers from each party. Adding four more sketches of Democratic volunteers would have tipped the balance.
Second, my sketches of these volunteers don’t include enough contextual information to clue you in about who they are. There are no campaign posters behind them, no party buttons on the shirts… all you can see is people making phone calls.
That’s something to keep in mind when sketching: context. In the rush of talking to so many volunteers at the phone bank, I missed drawing some of them in a way that would have said “election time” more clearly. If only they had all been wearing Jay Inslee t-shirts or hats!
I do occasional posts where I comment on my sketching process. Here are links to more:
Selective color at Tubs
The original Rainier Brewery
Pencil, perspective and a poem bench
September 24, 2012 at 9:56 AM
Sketched Sept. 16, 2012
Earlier this month I returned to one of the Port’s parks I discovered last year, Jack Block Park, for a meetup with the Seattle Urban Sketchers.
The park’s observation deck is ideal to draw a full panorama of downtown’s skyline. That’s a scene you can spend hours drawing, but if you are as impatient as I usually am, you can keep it simple and stick mostly to outlines. That was my approach and these are the steps I took to create my 25-minute sketch:
I started with the Space Needle, but I drew its top too big at first. Fortunately, I found a way to work through the mistake. I scribbled over those first marks, turning them into Queen Anne Hill and started over, drawing the Needle with proportions that would allow me to fit as much of the skyline as I wanted into the 11-inch-wide sketchbook spread. The Needle was key to developing the rest of the sketch, because I used it as a reference, measuring all the other buildings against it.
Next, I drew the cruise ship and the shoreline below the Needle and across the spread. The shoreline is also key in this drawing, because it anchors all the composition and serves as a measuring reference of the buildings heights. You can’t afford to get it crooked or too slanted. Then I continued drawing left to right from the base of the Needle, tracing the silhouette of the buildings up against the sky. I kept eyeballing distances in relation to the Space Needle and to the shoreline, taking a few liberties with spacing of buildings here and there so I could fit all the way to the Smith Tower.
Last, I labeled a handful of downtown landmarks, but not nearly as many as I would have liked to remember on the spot. Maybe you can help me identify some more! You can scroll across the sketch on the window below:
September 10, 2012 at 11:26 AM
When you draw on location, you have the ability to decide what to put in and what to leave out. (No need to draw every single window!)
That’s one of my favorite things about sketching. You can emphasize the part of sketch that tells the story in a number of ways. Sometimes you may do that with the composition of the drawing, putting the most important element in the foreground. Or you may use a different thickness of line to make certain things stand out.
Another option is to use selective color, as I did in this sketch for last Saturday’s column. I chose to leave trees, people and environment without color in order to draw attention to the graffiti.
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