Read an Excerpt
By Henry C. Pitz
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1965 Watson-Guptill Publications
All rights reserved.
The Outdoor Sketching World
The material for sketching outdoors is just outside the door. It can be a thousand miles away but need be only a few steps. The sketcher has the whole world for his studio, a breathtaking thought, but he is often unaware of that portion of material which is just at hand, under his eye. The day-by-day familiarity of his own street or road can develop a kind of blindness.
Learning to See
The rewards of sketching are many; among the most important are not only training the hand but educating the eye. And sharpening the eye can not only train it to deal swiftly and accurately with the forms immediately before it, but can make the eye discover interest and opportunity in forms it has taken for granted. The artist's eye is one that can roam, investigate, and be surprised. It is the organ of his sense of wonder, and wonder can be stirred not only by the strange and new, but by rediscovering the accustomed. In fact, the value of the artist's gift centers about the fact that he sees what other people see, but he sees in an enhanced way.
Finding the Time
So the artist, no matter where he may live, is surrounded with pictorial opportunities. He may choose to travel far in search of them, but the subjects are also on his doorstep. In fact, one of the artist's problems is the embarrassment of riches which assails him from all sides. He suffers not from lack of material but from lack of time.
The artist often considers time a tyrant and an enemy, but his enemy can be made to work for him if he is shrewd enough. A long day's expedition to a favorite sketching spot may be ideal, but a five or ten minute interval a few steps away can also be fruitful. It would be a rare person who could not find the usual day studded with five or ten minute intervals which could be put to work. If a few simple materials are at hand you can be drawing almost immediately. And the prodding of severely limited time can be beneficial. You can learn to be alert, economical, and efficient. You can learn to pack expression in a few meaningful lines. The best drawings are not always the most labored.
Naturally, every sketcher has his individual orbit, wide-ranging or limited. If you are a part-time sketcher with a bread and butter occupation to take most of your time and energy, it may be a problem to find scraps of time. And the scraps of time, when they do arrive, may be unpropitious.
There is lunch time. A restaurant or lunch counter can be a gold mine of sketching material but if it is crowded elbow to elbow at the noon-time rush, you may have neither sufficient room nor the courage to brave the stares of the curious. But if you could find a corner seat before or after the rush, a sketchbook in your lap or behind a newspaper might make it possible to capture a few notes.
There is also the bus or train. Again the pressure of crowds may nullify all efforts, but if you can find times when there are not many passengers, you may jot down a few telling lines behind a book or newspaper.
Using the Window
Windows are usually fine vantage points. Even a window facing an airshaft can offer a study of bricks and window frames and sometimes a leaning figure; but most windows open upon some segment of the active world. There are not only the windows of your room or home, but windows of friends and relatives; of offices, or of the elevator lobbies in office buildings; of bus and rail terminals; of airports, public buildings, and stores. Windows can yield remarkable material, and they permit you to sketch without concessions to the weather. Probably the most useful of all vantage points are automobile windows. You can hunt your subjects fairly freely, limited only by unpaved surfaces and No Parking signs.
The important thing is that sketching is not necessarily a question of elaborate preparation and large segments of time. Everyone enjoys the long half or whole day sketching expedition and should indulge in it as often as possible. Long expeditions are part of the artist's necessary training, but the quick, opportunistic sketch has its place, too, and together they make for a well-rounded sketching experience.CHAPTER 2
If you are going to make much of your sketching time, particularly if your time is limited, certain plans and preparations must be made and a flexible system worked out to fit your own particular needs. The first preparations must be made in the mind.
No one questions the value and enjoyment of a long day's sketching in the open, but the practicability of a few minutes' drawing at intervals may raise doubts. Can something be done in five or ten minutes that will make the effort worthwhile? Yes. First, you must adjust to a realistic standard of values. Do not expect the same fulsome drawing in a few minutes that you would expect after a morning or afternoon session. In fact, the whole plan of attack for the quick session differs from the long one.
Learning to Select
The quick sketch is a jotting, a note, a hint, a suggestion. It does not attempt the impossible but drives at the heart of its subject, trying to set down a notation of the prime essentials. It improvises. It takes short cuts. It concentrates on one of the artist's prime prerogatives: the art of selection. Here is one of its great benefits. The quick sketch forces you to concentrate on the important factors and so makes constant and instantaneous demands upon your power of selection. If this constant exercise does not strengthen and improve the faculty of selection, probably nothing will.
The quick sketch makes demands upon your hand too. Here too, constant exercise should develop manual control, should discourage the aimless scribble and the vacillating line. And as in all the arts, constant practice is the basis for achievement.
The quick sketch, then, is not a substitute for the longer study, but its complement: both are necessary to a well-rounded development. But, particularly for those whose lives do not permit of long and numerous study sessions or sketching expeditions, the quick sketch supplies the need for frequent drawing and observation. Time can be telescoped; it is possible to absorb more from ten minutes' concentration than from three hours of languid puttering.
Choosing Your Equipment
If we have a clear idea of the goal of the quick sketch and its limitations, we can prepare to extract the most from its opportunities. We must have materials that are simple and readily available. If possible, the equipment should be easy to carry without inconvenience most of the time. This narrows down the equipment to a pocket-sized sketchbook or pad and a simple drawing tool like a pencil, hard crayon, or perhaps a fountain pen, or felt tip pen. If you select a pencil or crayon, you might add an eraser.
Pencils and Crayons
There is a wide variety of pencils and crayons and personal choice should determine the kind you use. For quick work, the softer grades of lead or crayon are usually preferable. A hard pencil, for instance, is an excellent tool, but rather better suited to careful, precise, and painstaking work. The softer points in the 4, 5, and 6B grades glide over the paper more freely, and are more capable of rendering thick to thin lines. The inherent quality of the softer leads induces freer handling. Carbon pencils are also excellent. Lithographic and other wax-based crayons have their own special qualities but they seem more suited to larger scale drawings than the pocket-sized pad.
Fountain pens and felt tip pens are very convenient tools to carry with you. There are several fountain pens made especially to carry drawing (India) ink. They are claimed to be immune to clogging from the carbon contained in India ink, but experience has cast doubt upon this claim. An ordinary fountain pen filled with writing ink is much more likely to stay in condition. I recommend a black or brown writing ink, or a mixture of the two.
There are many types and makes of felt tip pens with a wide variety of nibs. These nibs come pointed, wedge, and T-shaped, and square and triangular in cross-section. You can easily remove these nibs and can trim them with a razor blade to the desired kind of drawing point or edge. Some of these felt pens are of the fountain variety with reservoirs to be filled with a dropper; other felt pens are of the dip variety (less suited for casual sketching); and still others are of the sealed-in-reservoir, or "throw-away," type. These pens use an oil based dye which penetrates greatly, sometimes striking through to an underlying sheet of paper. The permanence of the dyes is questionable. More recently some pens are being made with a water based ink. This seems to have less penetration and better claims to permanence. All of these pens must be capped firmly when not in use or the felt nibs will clog and harden. The nibs using oil based inks will become workable again if you soak them in a special solvent; the water based inks dissolve if you soak them in hot water. Although both types of ink dry almost immediately, they have different characteristics: The oil based dyes are indelible and will not smudge; the water based inks are susceptible to moisture smudging unless you spray the drawing with fixatif. Sometimes this smudging quality is an advantage as when you want to blend and model with a moistened finger tip.
Pads and Paper
Drawing pads and sketchbooks come in many sizes and types. Paper surfaces play an important part in the character of a drawing, and most artists enjoy experimenting with all kinds of paper.
For the small pocket-size, however, the fascinating rougher textures are less suitable and a good grade of bond paper is probably the best all-around surface.
Besides the sketchbook or pad, you could use sheets of paper fastened to a backing of stiff cardboard with rubber bands, but there are at least two arguments in favor of the book: pads are more likely to be preserved, and sketches are in sequence. Loose sheets easily become torn or lost, and the artist is likely to throw away those he considers failures. There is much to be said for preserving everything at this stage: you can see all the evidence, good and bad. It is better to face the whole record without raising the average artificially by discarding the worst. This is the stage when your weaknesses can be corrected by consciously practicing to strengthen them.
Although I have enumerated the bare essentials for rapid sketching, you may add to them as circumstances or personal preferences dictate. For instance, probably there will be many times when you can carry a larger sketchbook or pad without inconvenience. Varying the size would be helpful, because it is a mistake to become too addicted to drawing on the same scale. Continual drawing on the restricted size of the small pad may encourage a cramped and spiritless style. It is also wise to change the type of your point occasionally to avoid getting into a rut.
Practicing with Your Equipment
With your materials readily at hand, you may alert yourself to all the sketching opportunities that life may offer. When the opportunities do present themselves, the artist will try to translate the scene before him into simple graphic terms. Most subjects are seemingly complex and wear a cloak of confusion. The artist develops a way of seeing that pierces the confusion and selects those elements that are important to him. He states these elements simply and rapidly on his paper. Each sketch becomes an exercise in selection and the sense of selection grows sharper and wiser by practice.
It is this practice that develops the artist. There is no substitute for it. The practice may and should take many forms, from the rapid jotting of a few minutes, to week-long easel pictures. Graphic expression is the artist's function and its health lies in exercise.CHAPTER 3
The land has its anatomy. It has a rock core; a skeleton that lies deep or protrudes slyly, or boldly and dramatically. Its skin of earth is scant or deep and soft. Its clothing is the multitude of green vegetable life. All these elements fuse and interact in an endless profusion of forms and this profusion is the artist's hunting ground. The land is staggering in its variety and no artist can hope to master all of it. But there is ample room for a lifetime of discovery and each can make his own contribution.
Selecting Your Subject
The beginner is naturally confused when facing his first landscapes. He is starting an art which involves search, time, and practice. He must try to group and simplify the wealth of forms before him. Before putting pencil or brush to paper, it would be helpful for him to survey the area and to imagine himself walking in it, into its farthest reaches. Over what planes would he be trudging; uphill, downhill, on the level ground? On what surfaces would he be treading: grass, rock, soft loam, powdery dust? Would he be walking in sunlight or shadow? The answers to all these questions are important, for this is the stuff of his projected picture. If he doesn't know these answers, his pencil will not find them for him. If his sketch area is shallow, he may actually walk into and through it, an activity which would not be wasted time. He would probably learn things that could be used in all future sketches. It is simple psychology that acquiring the feel of things, entering into their being, prepares the way for more fluent and knowing drawing.
One mechanical way of cutting down confusion is to use a viewer, two L-shaped strips of cardboard held together by paper clips to form a square or rectangular opening. Held before the eye, the viewer can be adjusted to frame in the desired vista, and to block out the distracting elements that border it.
The Focal Point
Once the desired area has been framed, you can concentrate upon what actuated the choice: almost certainly some object, some grouping, some effect; a center of interest, a focal point. This point is the core of the picture and all other elements in the picture will be disciplined to enhance or be subsidiary to the center of interest.
Although there can be no law telling where a picture should be started, it is usual to begin at this core, where the fate of the picture hangs. Moreover, if time or opportunity is very limited, you should make at least some recording of the prime center of interest and ignore the tributary elements if necessary.
Arranging the Forms
With the first stroke of the pencil or brush, consciously or unconsciously, you are beginning an exercise in selection. Selection is design, composition, arrangement, call it what you will. Selection means that confronted with the infinite detail of nature, you must discard lavishly, choosing only those things which appeal to you. Select not only the things you wish, but place them where you wish. You should feel in command of your picture; free to eliminate, free to mute, free to emphasize. It is with this power of selection that the artist leaves his stamp on his material.
So having chosen a central motif for your picture, you must carry your skeleton further. You cannot hope to depict every aspect of your choice; you must decide what to emphasize, what to mute, what to suppress. You may decide that a mere outline of a hill will suffice for your purpose or, on the other hand, a full tonal development may be necessary. You will naturally give your greatest attention to the form or forms in your center of interest, handling the surrounding or subsidiary forms to keep them in their secondary role. This can be done in many ways: by drawing them in less detail; using less contrast; drawing with a less forceful line, making certain that their forms do not compete with those of the focal point, placing them out of the most important path of the eye.
Excerpted from Drawing Outdoors by Henry C. Pitz. Copyright © 1965 Watson-Guptill Publications. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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