Hi, welcome to my sketching blog. I figured this is a good way to share my passion about sketching and to motivate myself to keep practicing and getting better. I hope you can get to enjoy sketching as much as I do.
When I started sketching on location I only sketched buildings and maybe a few trees. I was terrified of adding people. Places are alive because of people and sketches feel kind of empty when they show no human figures.
The vast majority of my recent sketches show only people doing things, athletes, musicians, etc. I haven’t sketched places in a while. So I felt I needed to practice drawing people as if I would be adding the figures when sketching a space. Here are few quick tips for when adding people to sketches:
The horizon line is pretty much at eye level of all the figures standing, either close to us or far away. I like to vary a few, like some shorter ladies and maybe some taller guys just to add some diversity. Sitting figures have a different eye level!
Small head, large bodies! I don’t really bother to establish the real proportions of the figures, like how many heads or whatever. Such rules are great for figure drawing, but my sketches usually take me just between 15-20 minutes, so I have to be loose and spontaneous. I don’t mind if the body ends up way larger than in reality. We’ve all seen people with much larger bodies than their heads. A large head and a small body however make figures look like extraterrestrials.
Figures closer to us show more detail than those far away. When adding color, figures far away are painted with cooler and duller colors. Warm and bright colors bring the subject forward.
Waking figures are more dynamic than standing symmetrical figures. Walking figures can be suggested by tapering one of the legs. The opposite is done with the arms.
I still prefer to just suggest details rather than them being very defined. I like my sketches to tell a story and, unless the person is the story, details might distract from the focus. This practice sketch maybe suggests a little more detail than I’d like, but I did this without reference or direct observation –there wasn’t a story to tell here. When I’m back out there sketching places on location I’ll figure out the balance of how much detail to add to my figures.
It would be my dream as an artist to live in a city full of architectural wonders and iconic spaces to visit. It is a challenge to find what to draw when living in unremarkable suburbs. But you got to do what you got to do… sometimes you got to pull a story out of thin air just to do what you love. And keep an eye open; maybe tomorrow I’ll witness something exceptional.
“Fortune favors the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur
I continued the challenge last week, although I’m a couple days behind. Need to do a few more per day if I want to complete the task. I have mostly been using a pretty large brush for the paper (a 26 round on 9″ x 6″ sheets), which I think helps me loosen up. Also, I found some sheets of great Arches 300 lbs. sheets I had misplaced, which make a huge difference. I used this fantastic paper for the last two self portraits; I don’t think O want to paint on anything else from now on. The experience of painting on good paper is pure joy.
I don’t have much time to either sketch or to blog, but I wanted to participate this year in the 30×30 Direct Watercolors Challenge. The challenge is to do 30 paintings in the month of June, directly with watercolors, no pencil drawing underneath. I thought this was good practice for what could be my future style, based on the lack of control I have with pens or pencils. There are no rules regarding the subject or if these are based on photographs or from live observation. I’ve been wanting to get my feet wet with portraiture, but with a loose and expressive style. So decided to do a self-portrait a day (if I don’t get tired of drawing myself over and over…).
I am sketching fairly small, 9″ x 6″. At the beginning I was using two small brushes, #8 and #5 round, but the last couple days I have mostly used a big #24 round brush. I am liking the bigger brush better.
Here are my sketches for the first six days. These are all under 30 minutes each.
Sketching has been a challenge lately. I don’t know how much my MS is affecting me, but because of my struggles with a pen, my sketching has not been as prolific as usual. I haven’t had the regular motivation to capture the world that surrounds me. My hands feel weird, like if I have gloves on all the time. But I was thinking of how happy sketching had always made me feel, so decided to make changes, like ASAP.
I certainly have lost control when handling drawing instruments. In a way I can live with that, as I prefer a looser, more spontaneous style. On the other hand, it is frustrating not being able to command your own linework. When you want to draw something straight and it comes up in an angle. When you want to draw lines a certain length and you get something different. I guess it takes time to get used to. But still, I don’t want to just give up.
Sketching with fountain pens has been a nightmare lately. Holding the pen tends to give me cramps and it drives me nuts when they start skipping because I can’t hold it properly. I basically need to re-learn how to draw. Obviously, I’m not starting from scratch, so that’s going to help. But I need to adapt to my new reality. I think it’s time to switch sketching media.
I need something that doesn’t strain my hands as much. At first I was thinking of using markers and fine liners, as they are pretty reliable with very little maintenance. I gave it a test run a few days ago but my hand was hurting pretty quickly.
Digital sketching is a little easier on my hand. It might not be the same as the real thing, but maybe that’s good. I have enjoyed sketching part-time with the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil, so I’m actually pretty comfortable sketching with it. So it might be an opportunity to develop my skills with digital media.
What other options do I have? I’ll try direct watercolors. Also I think that ink with brush in a larger format might fit my style. Any suggestions are welcome!
For the past three weeks I have unexpectedly been back in Puerto Rico, as my father has been hospitalized and I immediately flew here to be with him. His health status has been delicate, but fortunately he’s responding well to treatment. We hope and expect for his prompt recovery.
A few years ago I had the experience of Mom being very ill and I vividly remember the last moments I spent with her. I sketched her while she weakly talked with me. When she saw my sketch she told me that if my dad would see it he would fall in love again. It was a powerful but sweet moment I will never forget. Soon after I flew back to the mainland she passed. It was the last time I would see her. So I pulled out my iPad and decided to sketch Dad, as I wouldn’t want to miss a similar experience with him. I did not suspect that this time it would be absolutely different.
Dad has been pretty healthy, so this has been a totally unexpected and terrifying experience. Dad wasn’t communicating and I only could hear his body gasping for air. The beautiful moment I had with Mom had turned into a nightmare seeing Dad struggle. He had been pretty much unconscious, so can’t tell if he was hurting or how he was feeling. After some time sketching him I got depressed and questioned myself why would I even want to record this terrible moment. I put my iPad down and have not been able (or willing) to sketch since.
This morning I was having breakfast with two very good friends, Pedro and María. María asked me if I had been sketching and I told her about my experience sketching Dad. Her response was brilliant… Not all drawings have to be pretty, happy or with beautiful colors; it is what keeps them real. And she’s absolutely right. It is my life… the good, the bad, the sublime and the ordinary.
I showed her my sketch and she mentioned that she could see him how tired he looked. I had unconsciously been able to transmit my impression seeing Dad struggle. And recording my experiences is what my sketching journey is about. So I got a wonderful lesson today… Thanks María!
This was my sketch:
Ps. Dad is getting better and we’ve been able to have conversations with him. We hope everything goes back to normal soon. Get well Dad! ❤️
Yesterday I read that actress Selma Blair shared the news that she had been diagnosed with MS, how she had been having symptoms for years and thought it would be just a pinched nerve. It felt so familiar… I was inspired by her courage to share her news with the world, so wanted to say it as well: Selma, me too.
For me it started several years ago with tingling in the fingers, both hands. I remember when I inadvertently dropped my pencil while writing. My hands feel as if I have gloves all the time. I lost precision in any skills requiring my hands and my handwriting suffered greatly. I used to be a musician, playing the keyboards for a long time. I lost dexterity in my hands and pretty much can’t feel the keys anymore. Thus, I haven’t played in a long time. Like Selma I thought it would be a pinched nerve and that it would get better. My feet followed and then my right leg stopped responding as usual. About a year ago I finally went to the doctor and got the devastating news. Primary progressive MS, meaning it is present all the time, that there is no cure and that it should get worse with time.
One of the first things I thought was about my drawing. Yes, I had lost precision, but actually I have been for years pushing myself to sketch with a more spontaneous, looser style. And I actually prefer my sketches now than those done when I had full control. Am I scared that I won’t be able to draw anymore? Of course. The thing is, even if or when my symptoms get worse, I will do everything I can to figure it out. Maybe I’ll need to change mediums, change formats, change style. But I’ll keep making art.
For now I’m understanding what is happening with me, so I’m not mad if I would struggle with cross hatching or pointillism. I like fountain pens but some are very uncomfortable for me to draw with. Eventually, less precise instruments will suit better. Good that I like that idea.
Like Selma, I also fall, drop things and need help doing basic things. And I don’t know how much and how soon the condition will progress. But I still have a lot to contribute to this world. I’ll keep sharing my passion for sketching the world around me. And I love teaching, so will be devoting more energy to do more instructional content and sharing what I know. MS won’t define me, I just happen to have it. So I’m ok.
These are some sketches I did yesterday with USK DFW at Klyde Warren Park.
I love mixed grays. I know it’s easier to just use something like a Neutral Tint, but mixed grays are richer, since they show undertones of the pigments used to create them. Neutral Tint is exactly that… neutral. So if you want to liven up your sketches, spend a few more minutes and mix those grays!
Gray results when the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue, are combined. And, if you mix a primary, let’s say blue, with a secondary, orange, gray comes out as well. This happens because orange has both red and yellow, thus when combined with blue, it results as gray. The most common version of this mixed gray is created with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. You have probably seen this a thousand times.
Another favorite of mine is actually created by mixing green and red. I have had in my palette a color that I initially hated, Viridian Green. It feels even a little radioactive, stains everything and it seems to contaminate yellows by osmosis… However, I love it when mixed with a red, like a Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Beautiful.
I like the colors to show through, so I won’t mix it up completely in the palette. I want to avoid the gray to look flat. To me, part of the charm of watercolors is seeing the pigments come together on the paper.
You can achieve an infinity of grays by just mixing different pigments, some will be bluish, some reddish, some greenish, some purplish. Play around with variations of gray; which are your favorites?
I have been missing my homeland. I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico but moved to the states five years ago. I don’t regret the move at all, as I’ve met fantastic people and lots of doors have opened. But I miss my hometown –the warmth of the people, the smell of the ocean, the taste of the food, the sound of the coquís.
Today I dug out some previous sketches I had done in Old San Juan, where I used to work and sketched regularly. These sketches were done April 16, 2011, coincidentally the date for Sketchcrawl #31. I had finished teaching a class with my Industrial Design students and decided to sketch the courtyard of the building that houses the School of Fine Arts, Hospital de la Concepción. Some of my students joined me and we had a great time. For these I used a PaperMate flair and Copic markers on a multimedia sketchbook.
Today I really miss Puerto Rico… my family, my friends, my students, my homeland. I hope to visit soon and be able to sketch again the bright blue skies and the incomparable green foliage.
If you like these sketches and want to support my art, prints are available on my Etsy Store.