Sketching Your Observations


Musings on the Art of Sketching

Sketching is expressive, evocative and, on occasion, provocative. Sketching is an art form. As such, I believe the key to developing as a sketch artist is understanding your motivation. If you want your drawings to improve, you need to understand what motivates you to put pencil to paper and work towards reaching that goal. This is not as easy as it sounds. Looking within is one thing. Seeing clearly what lies within is another. Sometimes, we wear blinders to avoid seeing that which we fear. At other times, the view is obscured by filters. It was the filters that got me.

Being a science enthusiast, I approached sketching as a way to record the object as accurately as possible. I worked to improve the realism of my sketches. The effort paid off. My technique improved as did my observing skills. But my sketches were still not very realistic. They were essentially hand-drawn black & white negatives. So, I decided to try my hand at astrophotography with color films.

And I began sketching with a new motivation: to record the experience as richly as possible. By focussing on the aesthetic experience of visual observing, my approach to sketching began to change. I saw stars as framework for the subject of my observation. Rather than recording each and every star precisely where it stands, I would draw just those stars necessary to provide a context for the subject.

I've always been interested in observing and recording detail in objects. With my renewed interest in sketching, delicacy, softness and beauty gained priority. The finger smudge moved front and center among my sketching techniques. Also, I began using as little pencil lead as possible to draw nebulae.

The result of these changes has been a less cluttered look to my sketches with softer, more subtle appearing objects. I'm still growing as a sketch artist of astronomical subjects. One of the observers whose work I most admire is Stephen J. O'Meara. O'Meara's drawings often have a playful and whimsical quality to them. He's not affraid to draw what his mind sees, to capture some essential and ephemeral quality of an object in his sketches. I've read some critics who complain that O'Meara's drawings are too far removed from reality. What they don't understand, is that realism is not always the artist's primary motivation.

What is your motivation? Why are you drawn to putting pencil to paper?

Sketching The Deep Sky Shallow Sky


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Revised: June 14, 2003 [WDF]