Continuing on with what I did last week, I thought I would review my big travel sketchbooks from 2018 and find some good examples of Abstracting Shapes. This is Lesson 3 of SketchingNow Foundations which we are going through this week in my 2019 Re-run.
I know that I use shapes a LOT in my sketching these days, but it was a little overwhelming to see all the tags I had added for the ‘really good examples.’ So I had to do some serious editing to get this collection down to a manageable number for this article.
Abstracting Shapes is such an incredibly important visual thinking skill to develop when you are sketching on location. When I teach workshops and/or talk to sketchers at sketchmeets, I have noticed that many urban sketchers have never fully grasped this concept, and/or don’t realise its importance. It’s hard to master colour and values if you can’t simplify scenes into big shapes, and getting lost in the details will also occur more often if you are not thinking in terms of shapes.
I also think that starting with shapes is the best way to speed up and/or loosen up your sketching. Whether you add line or just use paint it doesn’t matter – it’s the discipline of abstracting the scene into shapes rather than starting to draw first.
I’m guessing that a lot of you are thinking about Marc Taro Holmes‘ term ‘direct watercolour’ at the moment. And this is indeed what I am talking about – however I use two different terms – ‘starting with paint’ and ‘paint only’. When I start with paint (which represents 90% off my sketching), the first mark on the page is with a brush. I often then switch to line and draw over the first washes, extending the sketch with line before switching back to paint. ‘Paint only’ refers to the occasions where I don’t use any line at all.
But interesting enough, when looking through my books, I realised that some of my paint-only sketches are not good examples of abstracting shapes. This is because I was drawing edges with a paint brush, rather than starting with a shape. By “abstracting shapes” I am referring to a way of seeing (a way of visual thinking) not simply a technique of using paint first. Does that make sense?
Note: If you have enrolled in Foundations, I have shared a bonus video explaining further what I mean by starting with shape, plus a video talking about some shape examples and another one with a bonus demo/exercise. Yes! three bonus videos this week – is that a sign that I’m officially obsessed with shapes? I am really loving re-visiting Foundations and getting into the regular habit of creating videos, so I hope you are enjoying them too and finding the additional material helpful.
As for the sketches: I have grouped them into five different categories and have included some sketches with ink and some in paint only. The important thing is that all of the sketches started with a few painted shapes.
Okay, enough preamble… let’s get going with the sketches.
(Sadly due to the limitations of a blog post it is hard to adequately share the impact of the double page spreads in A4 landscape Moleskines – they look small here, but are big in real life.)
(For people during the Foundations Re-Run: There is more about this in the second bonus video.)
This sketch leads me onto the next theme…
or you are feeling a little under pressure as you can lift the paint, or correct with line. (See here for why I was under pressure on this occasion)
Complex urban scenes
As you can see, I get a bit carried away when discussing abstracting shapes. Do you start with shapes in your own sketching?