Retro Sketch

This is from a sketchbook, which I started back in 2009. Not very long ago, compared to other sketchbooks featured in the Retro Sketch postings, but significant none the less; towards the end of this book, almost two years after it was purchased, I finally decided to return to drawing and illustration as a serious endeavor. Up until that point, I had all but abandoned the art forms, and the earlier sections of this book reflect as much. The page shown here started with some weak scrawling of a “broken/destroyed heart” icon, based on a hearing about a relationship that had come to an abrupt and disconcerting end. Not going anywhere with that, I tried a few sketches of people at the cafe, but without much interest. Finally, I relied on my old fallback; a freehand bicycle drawing (let’s see how many cyclists/bike fanatics pick up on the details…)

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Downpour Sketch

Summertime thunderstorms come in hard and fast in Washington DC, so you better get ready to run for cover when the daytime skies turn ominously dark. Such was the situation here, when I took cover in a café waiting out yet another afternoon cloudburst. Luckily, I had my sketchbook, a Sakura Pigma pen, and a grey marker to pass the time along with a cup of coffee as I sketched the scene outside of the rain-drenched windows.

Catch-up Sketches…

I haven’t posted in weeks as I’ve been involved on a large production project. Coupled with the Tour de France, summertime fun, family, and now the Olympics (cycling), I pretty much checked-out for a little while to take a much-needed break. Of course, my pen didn’t stop moving and I finished-up my latest 4×6 sketchbook. Here are some catchup sketches, and there’s more on the way.

Perfectionism and the Anatomy of the Bad Drawing

I am a perfectionist. Not an amateur perfectionist whom merely dots every “i” and crosses every “t”; I’m a pro whom makes sure that the dot above the “i” is perfectly round and the cross through the “t” extends out evenly on both sides. And to be sure, I zoom into the letters at 6400% in Illustrator just to check. It’s always served me well as a production artist, where exactitude and methodical perfectionism are mandatory for creative deliverables. It has, however, hampered me as an artist and illustrator.

I’ve always been a left-brained artist, not so much “creative” as technical. I don’t look to blow people away with out-of-the-box thinking; I just look to tantalize eyes with aesthetically-resonate artwork. Of course, artists are more animal than calculator, and in the past, I’ve had to fight against this perfectionism. In art school, I quickly became proficient in realistic oil painting, but the slow tediousness drove me crazy, and I took up watercolors just to have a degree of lost control. And as much as I love conceptual and quirkily-executed art, my pen always looks for the straight line and the 90-degree angle,  which is why the sketch featured here, a “bad” drawing, is for me a good drawing.

Much about this coffee cup, quickly scrawled in about ten minutes, is wrong, or in the lingo of perfectionism, “bad”. The proportions and perspectives are wrong, the circles on the lid are not concentric, and much of the detail is not perfectly recreated in relation to size, placement, and detail. But then again, how often do you think about the perspective of your coffee cup, the concentricity of the circles on the lid, or the placement of the most finite details? Instead, as you sip your overpriced coffee, you may just catch glimpse of the warnings around the cup lid, the corrugation of the cardboard sleeve, or the graphics here and there.

Perfectionism may be fine for InDesign layouts of a government proposal documents and branded marketing campaigns, but for sketchbook drawing, you have to decide where and when to halt perfectionism. For this drawing, all that really matters are the details that are unique to the subject, essentially telling its unique story. And I’ve always felt that when art like this goes wrong, it’s really just taking on a life of it’s own, and this is when it truly becomes alive. So if you’re a hopeless perfectionist like me, then buy a cheap sketchbook and draw badly, also known simply as “drawing”.

And drink more coffee!

Drawing in a Café

Having spent six months sketching almost daily on a train, I’d grown fluent in how to spot, compose, and detail a subject. Picking the right seat, selecting people who were bound to move as little as possible, and finding unique details (hair, pose, hands, clothing) to focus onto and render were all critical factors in creating a good character study.

Sketching in a café is a new area for me, and I’ve been learning a few things. The choice of seating is more dynamic and unpredictable. People move around much more, and are usually seated, so most times they’re partially obscured by tables, chairs, and laptops. In particular, beverages and laptops are defining details, unlike on a train, where iPhones, newspapers, and bags were the main accessories to a subject.

Here are two pages of drawings from a local café: