Friday, May 19, 2017

1000 Yards With Sketchbook

"1000 Yards" digital drawing, from an encountered photo

Sometimes an image on the internet is so striking it makes me want to draw--maybe to understand an expression, or the gesture in a figure, or perhaps work out how various values and shapes interconnect. Regardless, because it's so simple to start, Sketchbook is my handiest tool. It's easy and quick to load in my desktop computer, so if I want to sketch, all I have to do is open the program, set a few parameters--portrait vs. landscape orientation, image size, drawing tool and so on--and off we go.

Drawing with Sketchbook and a pressure-sensitive tablet lets you make an image that has variation in line weights and darkness with the unparalleled advantage of having an Undo button. Unlike real life, you don't have to erase and you can always Undo and remove the offending marks. And like video games, you can touch Save at a critical point in the drawing before going further, then if need be return to the place where your work departed from desired. So to me it's worth it to learn these programs, even if it's hard to teach an old dog.

Sketchbook provides all sorts of creative possibilities. The drawing above is a combat soldier in the Middle East who was photographed after coming under attack. As is the case with so many, he has acquired what veterans call the "thousand yard stare," a nearly vacant expression that says while he may be physically here, his mind is far far away, likely still under hostile fire. It's a compelling look, and not an easy one to capture, for me at any rate. Sketchbook allowed me to focus on the drawing and forget the medium. The face--eyes and mouth mostly--are what set the tone for me in doing the drawing. Using the pencil tool I was able to vary line weights and darkness but I added volume mostly by cross-hatching in a similar way to graphite or hard charcoal. I ignored most of the helmet and almost all detail besides the central face.

If it's only a study you're doing you can always draw just the portion of the object or feature of interest, then print the result or view it on a computer screen while you translate it to paint or ink or charcoal. This is a study of the central face of another combat veteran, drawn from an online still frame again using Sketchbook. The blue color is completely arbitrary and the tool used was a "watercolor brush" set to relative transparency. I varied the value and chroma of the blue color from light to dark and from higher to lower using the controls in the program. Again it seemed to me that the eyes and mouth were what made the expression work, and that was my focus. If this sketch were ever translated into oil paint the other details, the helmet and its straps, etc, can be added from other reference materials. Sketchbook has a lot of versatility.

It's a different situation with my iPad. In that case I've begun using various sketch apps in addition to Sketchbook. More on that another time.

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