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Drawing directly in ink is a wonderful way to sketch. It’s expressive, fast and dynamic, and it allows the sketcher’s own artistic voice to shine through. But it can be daunting. What if I make a mistake? Sometimes it feels like a puzzle that’s just too hard.
Like many puzzles, there’s a trick to drawing confidently and well. Once you know the trick, you want to try it out again and again. It’s very satisfying, as is learning to solve a maths problem, a crossword, or a sudoku puzzle. This article teaches the “unit” method of measurement and cross-reference: what’s more, it’s not only possible done directly in ink with no under-drawing in pencil first – but it’s also a lot more fun. The sketcher will retain the freshness and expressivity so desired by artists everywhere.
So how does it work?
A is for ASK
B is for BEGIN to BUILD
C is for COMPARE & CONTINUE with CONFIDENCE
I’ll show a drawing technique that I’ve used for a while, but have recently described in a few simple steps. It’s gone down well in my workshops. Here are some of the things my students have said to me:
“This really works! None of my drawings before today are anywhere near as good as the one I’ve done following this exercise.”
“Even if I stop using the method and “wing it”, I know that I can get back on track at any time by returning to it.”
“This is so exciting, I don’t want to stop drawing.”
So how does it work?
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A = ASK: the students ask themselves questions about how they’re going to approach the scene before they start. A most important stage!
Here’s a photo of a scene I wanted to draw:
Before I start, I have a chat with myself about to what I want to draw. If I don’t, there is a strong chance I’ll end up drawing to the wrong scale, or with the subject of interest off the page altogether. It only takes a minute, and it will save heartache and frustration in the long run.
Here are the questions I ask myself:
1. What is the bit I want to draw? So – what is my composition?
2. What scale should I use in order to fit everything I want on the page? And what scale will I use so that the bit I want to draw will get enough detail?
3. What is the centre point of my composition?
4. Is there a small shape in or near the centre point, like a window or other rectangle?
(My “centre” was roughly the centre of the left-hand-page of my sketchbook.)
Once you’re happy enough with your composition, and your favourite bits are going to land not only on your page but big enough for you to enjoy them, you’re good to go.
B = BEGIN to BUILD:
1. Choose as a “unit” a small shape, such as a window, in the middle of the composition.
Draw it, using a thin nib. This is the unit against which everything else is measured.
2. The next window is about 1 unit’s width to the left.
Eyeball the shapes you have just made. If they look too big or too small, just draw the right shape directly on top. If you do this with a thin nib or the fine side of a fude pen, you can thicken up the lines later (if you think you need to) but either way, a few misfiring lines won’t be noticed.
3. Measure the next shapes off your unit. The roof, for example, above the unit. Is there any point that is directly above a corner?
And the roof itself – how many units deep is it (for example)?
C = COMPARE and CONTINUE with CONFIDENCE: The drawing is expanded outwards in a spiral sense from the central point, always comparing each new shape to the one just drawn. Each point on the drawing is measured proportionally according to points nearby – is the corner of that window directly underneath that one? A third the way along? Etc. The key is never to stray too far from the shape you have just drawn. If you do, it’s harder to guess distances accurately.
Continue to draw outwards, always referring to the original unit to check that everything is under control.
You should find that as your spiral gets bigger and bigger you’ll get more and more confident. It might take a few goes to get the hang of it but do stick with it – there’s nothing like the feeling when the penny drops and your pen starts flying along with confidence. The one kind of scene it doesn’t work with is one with little detail – try drawing a big ellipse or circle in the middle of your scene and you’ll see what I mean!
When your sketch is complete, you can colour it using whatever medium you like. For me that’s always watercolour.
Here’s another example. This one shows how I made a mistake in the very first minute – this happens a lot, incidentally – and it doesn’t matter a bit. You just won’t notice the misplaced line by the end of the sketch. The trick is to keep going!
Then you’re free to colour as you like – with a lot more confidence knowing your drawing is solid.
So, to summarise:
ABC = ASK
BEGIN to BUILD
COMPARE then CONTINUE with CONFIDENCE
I hope you have found this article helpful. If there is anything you are not clear about, please ask in the comments section. Enjoy practicing!