This is something I picked up in the life drawing classes I attend. Every session, we spend the first 10 – 20 minutes making very rapid sketches. They are on A2 layout paper, so they are totally disposable student sketches, but we apply different constraints. Sometimes we do continuous line drawings, sometimes we work with tone alone, sometimes with fine pencil, other times with great big graphite crayon things. Last week we had to fit our drawing into a 2 inch by 2 inch square. Each drawing takes just a few minutes, during which time the life model can usually just about maintain a very dramatic shape or pose.
“What’s the point of that?”, I hear you ask. I didn’t know either, until I did it for a while.
It turns out that this is a great exercise for warming up, getting your eye in and avoiding the pfaffage (see earlier post on the subject of pfaffage). It also helps you to see your subject in different ways and attack the problem of reproducing their form on the page from different starting points and using different techniques. All the while, we are capturing a very unusual, stunning and hard to hold pose. We learn to capture the moment. We learn what to visually examine in detail (often its relative positions, not shapes) and what to ignore. It’s a tremendous filtering process that focuses your attention on cutting to the chase and losing the distractions and obsessions.
When I write lyrics, I know try to make a sketch first, even before I have the rhyme or rhythm of the piece. I just write lines of prose to outline what I want to say. I do the same with music composition. It’s better to get an idea down in a few minutes than it is to labour over the tools and sounds, missing the moment. If I am writing a book, I like to mind map the chapters or develop the arcs of concern in a graphical way. I like to outline each paragraph’s subject matter with a single sentence that I will eventually replace. In software development, nothing beats the disposable rapid prototype, user stories, the wire-frame diagram or the work-alike and look-alike prototypes. In electronic design, it’s the breadboard and the hand drawn schematic. In every medium, there are opportunities to sketch.
In whatever medium you work, I would encourage you to sketch first. Sketches inform your greater works. Like a rehearsal, they help you get it right on the night. And falling from them in failure is like landing on a safety net. Nothing is lost, because it’s just a sketch. The next one will be better. It encourages you.
Sketch. Keep your sketches. Recycle your best sketch ideas.