Three Reasons Why Sketches Are More Useful Artistic References Than Photos When Painting From Life

2017-artwork-reasons-sketches-are-better-than-photos

The night before I originally wrote this article, I made a painting from life. Or, rather, I saw my reflection in part of a beer bottle and thought that it would make an interesting painting. Since I didn’t have a digital camera or my full art materials with me there and then, I made a quick sketch of it with the nearest pen, pencil and scrap of paper I could find, before turning it into a proper painting a while later.

Here’s a chart showing the sketch and the painting it turned into:

[CLICK IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION] The full-size painting will be posted here on the 8th December.

[CLICK IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION] The full-size painting will be posted here on the 8th December.

But, you might ask, why should any artist make sketches these days? After all, most people have digital cameras these days. Well, yes, photo references can be fairly useful for painting from life (not to mention that photos are very quick to take too). Likewise, even learning how to memorise images can be a good quick way to “save” something you see in order to paint it a while later.

But, why are good old-fashioned sketches even more useful than photos? Here are three reasons:

1) It forces you to think like an artist: When you take a photo of something, you point a camera (or phone) at it and press a button. When you take a sketch of something, you literally have to work out how to turn it into a drawing there and then.

What this means is that you have to focus on only sketching all of the really important details (this allows you to see the focal points of your painting, and to leave room for artistic licence in your final painting). It also means that you have to work out how to fit everything into your sketch (which helps you to plan things like perspective and composition for your final painting).

Likewise, it also makes you think about the palette that you will be using in your final painting. If you look again at the rough sketch at the beginning of this article, you’ll see that I’ve written down what colour various parts of the painting will be. Having to write down the colours you will use is good practice at recognising realistic colours and it also allows you to simplify your palette if you want to do this too (for example, I only used something like 5-7 watercolour pencils for the final painting).

But, most of all, it gives you some practice for your final painting. It gives you a quick “trial run” that helps you to see if the painting that you’ll make later is as easy to make as you think or whether it’s even worth making at all.

2) It allows you to record things that cameras can’t: The painting that I showed you at the beginning of the article is a perfect example of an image that couldn’t be taken easily with a camera. This is for two reasons – the reflection in the bottle was really small (in real life) and because I didn’t want a photo of myself holding a camera. In addition to this, a camera flash would have messed up the lighting slightly too.

Here’s a totally unscientific mock-up of what the painting would probably look like if I’d used a digital camera to record the image, compared to the painting that is based on a traditional sketch:

[CLICK IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION]

[CLICK IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION]

For things like very fine detail, lighting, poses in reflections etc… sketching from sight will often give you far better results than taking a quick photo often will. Likewise, using a pen and paper to record an image means that you aren’t pointing a camera around – which may not be appropriate in some situations (eg: if you’re in a cinema, a museum, a theatre etc..).

3) It’s a memory aid: A sketch isn’t supposed to be a 100% accurate recording of something that you’ve seen. Instead, it’s meant to be a tool that helps you to memorise something. Although I can’t remember where I read this, I remember reading somewhere that physically writing information down (with a pen or pencil) helps you to remember it a lot better than merely tapping it into a phone or memorising it does.

By physically making a sketch, you create a much clearer and more vivid memory of what you want to paint than you will if you just point a camera at it for two seconds. Whilst you’re making the sketch, you’ll also be focusing on recording the most important parts of what you see, which will also help you to memorise the image too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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NEVER SEEN BEFORE! Planning Sketches For “Damania Redux”

2016 Artwork Damania Redux comic plans replacement article sketch

Well, I’d originally written another article for today. It was going to be an extremely cynical opinion article about how the fear of causing controversy affects the webcomic-making process. It was going to be a bold article in support of free expression, which railed mercilessly against the chilling effect that modern social media can sometimes cause.

But, then I worried that it would be controversial and I pulled it before it even saw the light of day (the same fate might also befall an article, and possibly even a comic, that may or may not appear in the summer).

But, since I can’t exactly leave this page empty today, I thought that I’d share some of the “Never Seen Before” planning sketches for my “Damania Redux” webcomic mini series that was posted here earlier this month.

Although I think that there will probably be at least one more detailed article about webcomic planning that will probably appear here at some point in the future, I thought that I’d show off some of my plans from this mini series both as filler content and as a way to make up for pre-emptively self-censoring one of my articles.

You can click on each of these pictures to see a larger version:

This was my original plan for "Damania Redux- Splatterpunk". As you can see, the third panel was originally just supposed to be a boring picture of Derek reading a book.

This was my original plan for “Damania Redux- Splatterpunk”. As you can see, the third panel was originally just supposed to be a boring picture of Derek reading a book.

These were my original plans for "Damania Redux - Cyberpunk". There isn't a huge difference between the plan and the finished comic, other than the random character who says "Like, you can't say that!"

These were my original plans for “Damania Redux – Cyberpunk”. There isn’t a huge difference between the plan and the finished comic, other than the random character who says “Like, you can’t say that!”

I make these comics quite far in advance of when they're posted. As such, the first planned comic [which actually got made into a comic, but I left it out of the main series] was about the then-upcoming "Star Wars" film. But, since it would be posted online after the film came out, I decided to drop it. Plus, as the plans show "Damania Redux - Deduction" was originally going to include vampires. What? i was watching "Supernatural" at the time.

I make these comics quite far in advance of when they’re posted. As such, the first planned comic [which actually got made into a comic, but I left it out of the main series] was about the then-upcoming “Star Wars” film. But, since it would be posted online after the film came out, I decided to drop it. Plus, as the plans show “Damania Redux – Deduction” was originally going to include vampires. What? I was watching “Supernatural” at the time.

These are the original plans for "Damania Redux - Be Prepared" (which was originally going to be four panels long) and "Damania Redux - Devalued".

These are the original plans for “Damania Redux – Be Prepared” (which was originally going to be four panels long) and “Damania Redux – Devalued”.

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Sorry again for the self-censored article, but I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Sketching Is A Useful Skill – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Why Sketching is useful article sketch

Although this is a rambling article about how useful it is to learn how to sketch quickly, I’m going to have to start by talking about my dreams (of all things). As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

The night before I wrote this article, I had some rather visually-interesting dreams. One dream involved accidentally inventing some kind of bizarre cocktail (that probably defies the laws of physics) and a later dream involved looking out of a window and seeing an abandoned, fog-covered “Silent Hill“-style version of the school that I went to when I was a teenager.

Anyway, when I woke up, I did what I sometimes do when I have interesting dreams and I wrote down a brief description of them in my sketchbook but, more importantly, I also sketched parts from both dreams. Here are what my sketches looked like:

The perspective is slightly wrong in the lower image [and the window frame gets in the way], but this doesn't really matter too much because it's only a quick sketch.

The perspective is slightly wrong in the lower image [and the window frame gets in the way], but this doesn’t really matter too much because it’s only a quick sketch.

By making a sketch of these images from my dreams fairly soon after I woke up, I was able to remember them more clearly.

This also meant that when I made a digitally-edited painting of the second dream later, it was easier for me to make this painting because I’d already set out all of the visual information that I needed to use. If you’re interested, here is the painting:

"Through A Window In A Dream" By C. A. Brown

“Through A Window In A Dream” By C. A. Brown

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The thing is that I used to sketch things from my dreams long before I ever really thought of myself as an artist. Yes, my sketches back then were even cruder and far more technically terrible than my current sketches are. Since sketches are meant to quickly present visual information in a visual way or to help you remember something, you don’t actually need a huge amount of artistic skill to make sketches.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quick sketch of Aberystwyth pier that I made in 2009, when the only artistic experience I had was doodling on my lecture notes at university, making sketches of my dreams, making sketches when I wanted to plan out a short story and drawing silly little cartoons when I was bored:

 I was planning to use the pier as a setting for a short story, so I made a few sketches of it and wrote some descriptions of it.

I was planning to use the pier as a setting for a short story, so I made a few sketches of it and wrote some descriptions of it.

Of course, when you practice making art and learn some of the “rules” of making art, your quick sketches will improve as a result. But, even if you just make your sketches using stick figures and simple shapes, then they can still be a useful way to help you remember information (or to quickly communicate that information).

Seriously, pretty much everyone can make sketches. Since they’re not meant to be works of art, no artistic skill is really required (although it can certainly help).

So, why is sketching so important and useful?

can’t remember where I read this, but I remember reading somewhere that quite a few of the world’s greatest inventions started life as a small sketch. Historically, when people thought of something that they wanted to invent, one of the easiest ways to record this information was to literally draw a quick picture of it in their notes. Again, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Not only that, drawings – however simple- are pretty much a universal language. There’s a reason why instruction manuals for things often include small line drawings of what you’re supposed to do (and what you’re not supposed to do). It doesn’t matter if something is being sold in another part of the world, or even whether the person looking at the manual is literate or not, if you can see the drawings then you can almost certainly understand them.

In addition to this, if you happen to be the kind of person who thinks visually (personally, I seem to think visually, verbally and – for want of a better description – in a tactile/ physical way), then adding sketches to your notes can be a great way to record information.

For example, back when I thought of myself as a writer, I’d often draw (badly-drawn) pictures of my characters beside my notes since, although I sort of knew what the characters would look like, I didn’t always know that much else about them. As an example, here’s an early sketch of a character I came up with in 2010:

This was one of the earlier sketches of the main character of a series of narrative poems I wrote in spring 2010.

This was one of the earlier sketches of the main character of a series of narrative poems I wrote in spring 2010.

Another cool side effect of adding sketches to your notes is that your notes look a lot more visually interesting. Back in 2009 or 2010 I remember randomly showing my writing notes to someone and being surprised that they were surprised that the notes were filled with drawings. I don’t know, I guess that I just assumed that most writers did this kind of thing.

So, yes, even if you aren’t an artist – you can still make sketches and sketches can still be a useful way to record and present information.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Random Experiments With Pencil Drawing

2015 Artwork Random Pencil Drawings article sketch

Well, although I’d planned to write a proper article for today, I was beset by a fiendish combination of both uninspiration and unenthusiasm. And, since I hadn’t really been sketching that much recently, I couldn’t really just compile another sketchbook post for today.

Then I noticed a set of sketching pencils that I’d got recently, which were sitting on top of a pile of books near my computer. Surprisingly, I’d never really tried doing proper pencil drawing before. So, I thought that I’d give it a go and make some random sketches.

One of the interesting things that I noticed when I tried to make “traditional” pencil drawings was that I tended to smudge the graphite quite a lot (I don’t know, I’ve seen this in art videos before and I guess that I wanted to try it out).

Personally, I’m still not sure whether I really prefer the “look” of pencil drawings when compared to my ink drawings. About the best way I can describe it is that, to me at least, it kind of looks like the difference between traditional art and digital art.

Most strangely at all, it requires totally different techniques to the ones I use for B&W ink drawing (seriously, traditional pencil drawing feels more like painting than drawing..). But I may (or may not) experiment more with pencil drawing in the future.

Anyway, here are the four pencil sketches that I made:

I don't know why, but drawing a realistic-looking sphere seems to be almost obligatory when you start drawing with graphite pencils for the first time LOL!

I don’t know why, but drawing a realistic-looking sphere seems to be almost obligatory when you start drawing with graphite pencils for the first time LOL!

This was yet another experiment with smudging and I quite like how it turned out - although the shading on the palm tree wasn't as realistic as I had hoped.

This was yet another experiment with smudging and I quite like how it turned out – although the shading on the palm tree wasn’t as realistic as I had hoped.

I wanted to experiment with drawing realistic lighting using smudged pencils and - although I'm quite proud of the lighting in this drawing - the skull is absolutely terribly-drawn!

I wanted to experiment with drawing realistic lighting using smudged pencils and – although I’m quite proud of the lighting in this drawing – the skull is absolutely terribly-drawn!

I think that I was trying to draw a landscape here. Anyway, whatever it was, I failed miserably at it LOL!

I think that I was trying to draw a landscape here. Anyway, whatever it was, I failed miserably at it LOL!

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Sorry for this rambling excuse for an article, but I hope that it was interesting 🙂 …And that I’ll think of an idea for a proper article for tomorrow.

Today’s “Art” (25th March 2014)

2014 Artwork Sketchbook Crap Sketch

Well, at the time of writing this post, I’m busy working on a longer sci-fi/horror comic project (which I’m not sure when I’ll start posting online or even where I’ll post it online). If you don’t believe me, here’s a preview:

These are the first two panels of page four.

These are the first two panels of page four.

Anyway, since I’m slightly busy at the moment, here are three random (and hilariously terrible) sketches from my sketchbook. Sorry about this. Hopefully I’ll post some real art tomorrow….

As usual, these three drawings are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Hoard Of Vikings" By C. A. Brown

“Hoard Of Vikings” By C. A. Brown

I’m probably not the first person to think of this joke but, when I thought of it, it seemed amusing enough to turn into a cartoon and this is how “Hoard Of Vikings” came into being.

"Purple Abstraction" By C. A. Brown

“Purple Abstraction” By C. A. Brown

Purple Abstraction” is a post-cubist expression of existential angst and it is most definitely not just a random doodle from my sketchbook which I added a purple background to in an attempt to pass it off as actual art….

"Random Sarcophagus" By C. A. Brown

“Random Sarcophagus” By C. A. Brown

I actually drew “Random Sarcophagus” last October and I’m quite surprised that I haven’t posted it here before…

How To Draw A Dragon?

Well, I was trying to work out how to draw a dragon for today’s instalment of my “How To Draw” series and then I realised that, with a few slight alterations, my sketches looked like a work of modern art. So, I’ve decided to post these sketches instead …. I’m still waiting for a call from the Tate Modern though…

"How To Draw A Dragon? (Damned If I Know)" By C. A. Brown

“How To Draw A Dragon? (Damned If I Know)” By C. A. Brown