Page 8. Where, when and what to sketch

Where to Sketch

Where you sketch depends upon what aspect of sketching you want to focus on, the process or the product. Do you want to enjoy the experience of sketching itself, relaxing outside in nature with a sketchbook on your lap and totally enjoy every moment? Or are you more interested in the product, creating a great work of art regardless of how uncomfortable you might be? Of course, these are two extremes, and you will find yourself somewhere between the two every time you sketch. There is also the gratification that comes from producing art, that exhilaration that eclipses your need for comfort or the need to produce something great.

Probably the most comfortable place to produce art is in your own home at your own desk or table. A lot of artists do their best work when they can come back to their creative space that has been associated with art. The problem is that the subject matter around your desk is severely limited unless you are content to work from photographs.

You can sacrifice a tiny bit of comfort and head to a nearby coffee shop or food court. Here, the subject matter is more interesting and constantly changing. If you can find a seat by a window, all the better. Still, you may find the same subjects a bit dull after a few visits. More on the issue of dull subjects is written below.

Sitting or standing

I have had to reluctantly accept that any sketching in crowded areas will require standing. It isn't as physically relaxing, but will allow you to sketch in more places where a stool would be impossible or at least very awkward. You don't want people towering over you, walking around you, bumping into you and blocking your view. You will also draw much more attention to yourself in public places if you are sitting on a stool. Since I live in the heart of crazy Tokyo, most of my sketches are done in small sketchbooks, and are done quickly while standing.

Sketching while standing means you have to hold all your sketch equipment in your hands, which can be a real challenge if you are using watercolors. A small sketchbook, waterbrush, and small watercolor kit with an easel lid like the one I mentioned in the section on tools will allow you to stand and sketch, and finish before you get tired.

However, for a lot of sketchers that pleasant and comfortable sketching experience may be the top consideration. If you insist on sitting while sketching, this will cause you to seek open areas (I speak as a city dweller in crowded Tokyo where open areas for sketching can be rare). River banks, fields, parks and anywhere away from the crowds are good places for relaxing with a big sketchbook and a place to sit. Keep in mind a lot of great quiet sketching spots have no places to sit except on the ground, and if it is wet or muddy, you may have to keep moving until you find a bench or low wall. If you bring a portable stool, you can expand your list of potential sketching spots.

The above sketch of the bell at Zojoji temple in Shiba Park in Tokyo was the ideal sketching situation for sitting on a stool; a nice, quiet, open area. The subject would take a bit of time to sketch properly, and there were hardly any people in the courtyard between me and the subject. It was a very pleasant afternoon. By the way, Ulysses S. Grant also beheld this lovely site in 1879 when he came to Japan and planted a fir tree a few yards from this spot. No doubt when he stood here, the place was far more crowded. This was done in an F2 size sketchbook.

The size of your sketchbook may be the determining factor in whether or not you need to sit. With a larger, heavier sketchbook (larger than 9 x 12 inches or F3 size) you may tire sooner if you are standing. I usually stick to F0 (5 5/8" X 7 1/4") F1 (6 3/8" X 8 7/8" ) or even F2 (7 9/16 X 9 5/8") sketchbooks if I'm standing. If I'm out in the country, I will most likely carry a larger F3 sketchbook and a stool. If I'm wandering around Tokyo on a sketch day, I will carry both large and small sketchbooks along with a stool since I never know if I'll end up sitting in a park or standing on a street corner. Chances are, I'll use both during the day. My personal sketching preferences go no larger than F3, which a lot of people consider relatively small.

The weather

This model stood perfectly still for me because he was a display in a historical museum in Tokyo.
Of course, it makes no difference if there are deep blue skies above or dark clouds. You can make the sky in your sketch whatever you want, regardless of how it actually appears at the moment.

But one big factor for defining comfort is whether or not you have to endure harsh weather. Some people can sketch in the middle of a snow storm or scorching desert, but many artists are more sensitive to their environment, and there is no getting around that.

When the weather isn't cooperating with your sketching plans, you can always look for indoor spots to sketch. A few have been mentioned above. Other possible indoor places to sketch include the local library or shopping mall, train stations, museums, pet shops and aquariums, provided the lighting is adequate. I have sat in the entrance to public parking garages when caught in a sudden downpour.

I personally prefer to sketch outside when possible. Maybe it's because I live in a typically small Japanese home, and don't even have adequate desk space. I typed the first draft of this chapter at a picnic table in a local park.

More figures from the same museum done on the same rainy afternoon. I had a great time!

Some good places to sketch outside include the local park, the zoo, or places unique to your neighborhood. You can take walks in your neighborhood, sketchbook in hand, and sketch what you happen to come across. You may not encounter the most exciting subject, but that doesn't mean you can't produce exciting sketches. Of course, if your neighborhood consists of endless rows of identical houses, you may decide to visit older parts of town for future walks. More on dull subjects below.

When I was working in an office in Tokyo I would go out during my lunch breaks to the local parks and draw the people sleeping on the benches, or the trees or statues.

A lot of people sketch mainly on weekends. This can be exciting especially if you are able to sketch for a long time and not get fatigued (run out of sketch energy). You will find you have more sketch energy if you sketch with a friend. This is one factor that makes "Sketchcrawls" so popular. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote "I say and insist that drawing in company is much better than alone."

Maybe you have waited all week for your sketching day, and when it finally arrives, you still have no idea where to go. Happens to me all the time. I am often putting on my shoes and going out the door with my sketch stuff in my bag, but with no idea as to where I'm going. One good idea is to simply choose a place around town that draws you for whatever reason. Maybe it just popped into your mind, or maybe it's one of your favorite areas. If you went there you'd have an enjoyable time and could probably find something fun to sketch.

If you find yourself feeling tired and not enjoying the sketch experience as much as you should, take a break, walk around and find something else to do until you are ready to sketch again. For some people, sketching for a few minutes every day on your lunch break may actually be more productive than a few hours on a weekend.

As you already know, sketching outside does have its challenges. One of our main enemies is the wind. Don't forget to take a few clips to keep your pages from whipping around. If it's hot, don't forget to bring something to drink, and also a hat if it's sunny. A chin strap on the hat will keep that old wind from knocking it off your head.

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