Sometimes when you go out sketching on location you make one or two decisions at the start which seriously affect your work and the chances of it ‘being successful’. However I firmly believe that a successful on-location sketch is one that you learn from – every sketch will not be a masterpiece but each one is an important part of a journey. There are many factors that play a part in ‘nailing it’ when urban sketching – a lot of the times these are out of your control, but sometimes you just attempt to do the wrong thing!
So with that big opening disclaimer I will now explain the crazy thing I did this week as part of my Foundations Friday series. We are up to Lesson 9: Composing the view where we look at using a viewer finder to help with composing and setting out the view. This particular lesson was hard for a lot of people because viewfinders are hard and tedious to use. But every now and then it is a good exercise for anyone to do.
Many viewfinders are small credit card size frames and often only dividing down the middle each way (if divided up at all). I like having a grid of thirds on mine and much bigger as I find that when urban sketching I am often closer to my subject matter. I couldn’t find my rectangular view finder so had to take out my square one (ah! I was starting out on a different foot with a format that I rarely use).
Anyway, if you are wondering what was the wrong decision I made was … it was in fact two silly ones:
- Trying to do a ‘quick’ sketch with a viewfinder as I was rushing to my car after an appointment. Viewfinders require a certain degree of calmness and coordination.
- Choosing a busy narrow intersection (narrow streets and footpaths) and attempting to do this sketch standing up.
I do not recommend you try either of these – particularly the second one as it is hard enough to hold the view finder in place when you are sitting! Here is a photo of the demonstration I did in the Foundations Lesson.
So try to picture what I was doing this week: holding my pen and my sketchbook in my left hand while I hold up the viewfinder in my right hand, and then lowering the viewfinder and transferring my sketchbook to my right hand while I was sketching with my pen in my left hand. It was this constant swapping between left and right hand holding the sketchbook that made the whole thing very hard.
What happened was that I really needed to focus on sketching from memory as there was no quick way of just re-checking the position of an edge against the grid. And as a result I made a lot of mistakes. The busyness of the intersection and my limited time frame didn’t help much either.
This is a photo of my messy setup lines, done in a thick blue pencil so I could share my mistakes with you. The big struggle was locating the vertical edges of the tower and coming to terms with how narrow the foreshortened side of the building was.
One more thing that is hard with a viewfinder (oh! this blog post is tragic today isn’t it?) is taking a photo through it that is the same as what you were drawing. The whole side of the building did in fact fit within the middle grid.
Ah ha! this is one of the reasons why using a view finder with a grid is so incredibly helpful – it makes you appreciate afresh how narrow foreshortened shapes are. I also made the classic mistake of drawing the ground line too steep, but once I put away the viewfinder and started drawing with ink, that was corrected straight away.
The end result is a sketch with fairly accurate lines, but I would like to have composed it differently – horizontal would have been better. Because I was rushing I just started straight away and didn’t do the composing step – instead I was completely focusing on how to navigate the viewfinder. I know that if I had just started sketching in my usual style, the sketch would have been more convincing.
You can see that I struggle at times with the assignments I set. They are normally designed to help you see better and highlight ways that you can improve this so are often not a natural way to draw. Ah, but I love stretching myself – always learn something and live to fight another day. At least next week I will be able to do some composing in a way that feels much more natural for me, and then the week after will be totally in my element.
I guess you all know this, but if for some reason you are new to my blog today, my SketchingNow Foundations (and Edges too) online course is available as a self directed course. Click here for more details.
So do you use a viewfinder at times – and do you find it hard? or do you have a secret trick?
Two brilliant ideas from my Foundations class have been :
1. to use a fork to hold it up and prevent the sore arms.
2. a recent blog comment was to draw the grid on the car windscreen! Ha! love that!