Keeping A Sketch From Becoming A Painting

2:19 PM

Baby Blue Heron
Watercolor and lots and lots of ink
Stillman and Birn Zeta Sketchbook
5.5 x 8.5 inches
My brother went down to the Venice Rookery over the weekend and came home with some fabulous shots. This one of the baby Blue Heron just captured my heart. I decided on the spur of the moment—did you know moment's had spurs?—to create a sketch out of this cute, little bugger.

I had originally planned to sketch the bird much bigger with a lot less nest showing. How I managed to wind up with a small bird and lots of nest showing beats me, but I did it.

Beginning with the bird, I sketch him out in pencil and then added general outlines of the nest without a lot of detail (my first miscalculation). Since the background is all suggested shapes, I didn't draw anything back there.

Next, I painted the bird. Since he was my COI (center of interest), I knew if I messed him up the rest of the sketch wouldn't matter.

With the main sections of the bird painted (details to be added last), I moved on to the background. It was easy to do by just mingling colors.

Then it was time to do the nest.

If I had drawn in even a partial bit of the nest, I think I would have realized the chore I had set for myself. But I didn't.

I was using a waterbrush and those do NOT have a fine tips and so don't do fine details easily. Choosing to save my sanity, I grabbed a traditional brush to tackle those finer details.

In short order, I realized my sanity was still in question because if I continued to sketch the nest with a brush, I would have HOURS invested in this page.

Not ideal and not what I was going for. It's a sketch for goodness sake!

Rather than lavish hours on a sketch, I went to the studio and gathered up markers and pens in colors that would harmonize with the colors in the image. Then I went to work.
Some of the tools I used in the creation of the page
On the right page, you can see a few of the tools I used. Pens, markers, and two brushes.

All told I have about two hours in this and I'm itching to go back in and make a few more "adjustments."

If I had continued to work in just paint, I'm guessing I'd still be working on it and you might have seen it tomorrow.

Editing "Perfect Images"
As you can see, the photo is a pretty darn good one and who am I to fool around with a great image?

The artist with a creative license!

I edited the photo to make a more compact sketch. I moved the baby to the edge of the nest and moved the support underneath him so it didn't look lopsided. I also simplified the nest details greatly and it's still very busy.

When I set out to sketch, I generally have a goal in mind of being quick, of capturing the essence of a place, thing, etc. However, I do occasionally get into something that can't be "created" as quickly as I'd like. At least, not by me.

That's when I change up my method of working. I'm not a big pen and ink artist. I like it, but it's rare for me to work this way.

Realizing I was going to have to make a choice of abandoning my goal of quick or change my method of creating, I opted for the latter.

Is there anything wrong with spending several hours on a sketch/page? No.

Why was it a problem? It's not, but because I wanted this to be a quick sketch and not a painting I had to make a choice.

The longer I work on something, the more detail I tend to put into something and the greater chance I have of overworking the piece and regretting the hours I invested. 

There is a constant decision process going on when we create. The more aware we become of our choices, the more freedom we have when we're in the flow. Realizing we have more than one way to create goes a long way towards helping us to tackle subject matter that we would otherwise avoid.

Do you vary your approach and/or the tools when you're sketching? How so?

Many thanks to my brother, Mark, for access to the great photos!

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10 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Great post about an issue that confronts all of us. I have a friend who says, "My sketches take one hour" and having sketched with her a while, she's mostly right. I have another friend who can easily move from a 20s sketch to a 20h drawing and stop anywhere along the way. I still find that magical. For myself, I have to pre-plan my time as my approach changes with how much time I want to devote. It affects the time I spend on proportions, details, and even color. Different strokes I guess.

    Cheers --- Larry

    1. I love the different approaches we all take. It's what keeps in interesting. What I find is that when I have a plan, even a loose one, I tend to be happier with the results. As you say, different strokes.

  2. I would love to know HOW you did do that nest! Looks pretty fantastic to me. I take way too long to 'sketch'. Would love to move quicker.

    1. Melissa, first I laid in a wash of various grays with watercolor. After the wash dried, I used several different pens and markers with colors of gray, maroon, black, raw sienna, sepia to get the lines in. I then went back and added more watercolor to soften the ink work and to add stronger shadows. I just kept scribbling until I felt like I'd reached a nest look. Hope this helps!

  3. This happens to me alllll the time. I think I will do a quick sketch, then I see a detail I like and want to include then it looks lost without all that is around it and here I go...

    1. I hear you, Lisa! I've been known to do paintings in my sketchbook and WITHOUT FAIL it is ALWAYS because of some sneaky little detail I can't live without! And then the next one and the next one and the next one...

  4. I absolutely love your heron painting and your brother's photo- talented family. Getting lost in the flow happens for me when getting into the details. That is the part that I enjoy the most, so I don't mind spending extra time. If I don't have time on location, I just complete it later from a reference photo. I agree that it is a constant problem solving situation deciding what to include or not, but I am always happier if I spend a little extra time. It is hard not to overdo it, though.

    1. Thanks, Kay! If I'm in the mood for it, I can lavish time on a sketch and turn it into a painting. Whether it's in my sketchbook or not doesn't seem to matter. I do enjoy losing myself in that process, but more often than not, I don't seem to have the patience for it these days. I love the different approaches to this we all have to this.

  5. Laure! Beautiful as always!!! As for editing, I'm great with "other people's work", but my own? Fogeddaboudit! I totally get lost in sketching unless I have a time limit. Like the end of the day & I just have to get that sketch of a critter done, then I'll quickly jot it down. But it's not as fun as spending time with it...even tho' some people like the results better! Go figure!

  6. .....ahhhhh! That little fella is a cute as can be. You really captured his personality! :-)


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