Why I Never Sketch.

 

 

 

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Drawing is the artist’s most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality. Edgar Degas

“I love your sketches,” said my friend with warmth, the other day, having no idea that she had innocently wandered into a kind of graphic no man’s land, with treacherous shifting sands. She couldn’t possibly have known that I have a lifetime aversion to the sketch word. Being fond of this friend, I wished at the time, that I could have explained, but I was aware that launching into a diatribe about the differences between sketching and drawing might be inappropriate and possibly border on obsessive. But this niggle just wouldn’t go away, it got louder, a proper ear worm and I began to recognise it for what it was – a chip. And I am at an age when chips are fascinating enough for me to want to face them down and root out their etymology.

I love the quality of pencil. It helps me to get to the core of a thing.                     Andrew Wyeth

So, I began with the feeling that the word triggered, an annoying twinge, a bit like jealousy and that it had something to do with the difference between: the way people perceive what I do and what I think I’m doing. Over the years, people have sometimes come up behind me while I am working and said things like,

“Are you going to finish those sketches off when you get home, or make them into paintings and sell them?”

There seemed to be a collective idea that this type of drawing must be the prelude to something else, not a thing with its own identity. Then when I gently tried to tell them that I do it for pure enjoyment of the process, they would look baffled and rather disappointed.

 It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover, to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character. Camille Pissarro

It is no exaggeration to say that I have made hundreds if not thousands of drawings and paintings of people from life, but I have never knowingly made a sketch. But anyone that knows me would say, Of course you have! Aren’t I always the one skulking in the corners of pubs with a 2B pencil, rather than join in with the social melee?  So yes, I do draw in pubs it’s true, but I never sketch and here’s why.

It all comes down to wilful intent, which I shall explore first before getting to the real reason…

The dictionary definition of the word sketch, includes,

As a noun, “a rough or unfinished drawing or painting, often made to assist in making a more finished picture.”

As a verb, “make a rough drawing of.”                                                                                              Also, in this form, sketchy, (just no)Sketchy, “insubstantial, imperfect, flimsy.”

So, to round up, a sketch is a bit nothing, it is a lightweight, fluffy, rubbish word and there is nowhere to go with it except, etch a sketch, ‘nuff said.

 I sometimes think there is nothing so delightful as drawing. Vincent van Gogh

But now we come to the word draw, a different kettle of fish entirely, an expansive, gorgeous, acrobat of a word because, just look,

Draw, as a verb, the method by which marks are made on a drawing.

I can draw; a picture, a crowd, a gun, a bath or a breath. I can refuse to be drawn ordraw myself up to my full height. I can draw on experience, intuition or a pipe and now I am going to draw a conclusion…see what I mean? You can take it anywhere.

I draw like other people bite their nails. Pablo Picasso

It is confusing though as both words tend to crossover. A sketch always contains drawing, i.e. the marks that make it, whereas a drawing doesn’t have to be a sketch, it can take other forms. This is where it gets tricky for me, because in my head when I start drawing, I mean for it to be a thing that stands complete, independent of all else. Once started, it is never my intention to develop it further or for to use it to underpin anything else.

Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad. Salvador Dali

With the image above, called Bigfoot 2013, a drawing of my husband with an injury caused by extreme fishing, there were two complete drawings before this one. They were not good enough and ended in the bin. However even though I may well have learned from their process, neither of these two failures was intended to be any kind of sketch or working out. Each one in my head was going to be the best drawing I had ever done, they were not practise or even a dry run.

It is the same with all my drawings, it is my intention to pick up some indefinable trace from the subject. They are not portrait’s either, not intentionally anyway, just that chosen musician, them in their space and me in mine, both doing the thing we love best.

This is however, only part of the explanation. The fantastic thing about a blog is that you can work it out as you go. So now to the real nitty-gritty. The baggage we attach to words and their meanings is naturally subjective and it is often in the mis-communication of words, that art happens. I am trying to be as honest as I can here, I think the real reason I have an aversion to this word is because for me it has become synonymous with amateur art, with Sunday painters, Watercolour Challenge and hobbyists. It reminds me of the days when people told me how lucky I was to have such a relaxing hobby… It took many years and a couple of degrees to slough off that label. So, forgive my touchiness, what is really going on here is a desire, to be taken seriously and the word drawing just has more heft, more gravitas.

Am I being pedantic? Probably, but more likely it’s a kind of snobbery. I know now that it doesn’t really matter how anyone describes my work because for me a quick draw will always be infinitely preferable to a slow sketch.

 

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6 thoughts on “Why I Never Sketch.

  1. Oh I’m with you here, it is not snobbish, and you have earned the right to be pedantic. Drawing is of itself… it owes nothing to paint! Many conversations have occurred between my colleague and friend Sarah Goudie on the nature and characteristics of drawing. I have not sketched either… drawing… it is full of deliberate intent with a quality and language of its own!

  2. Thanks for such a lovely supportive comment and so well said. It’s just great to be understood! Oh the relief. That’s why I love the blog – part journal part confessional. Thanks again and keep doing what you are doing – it looks as though you are on a roll.

  3. Hello. I’m the friend who said sketch (I think) but to explain my thinking the sketch word was intended as a compliment as you quickly capture the total essence of your subject. However, I now totally get what you are saying as I hated anyone referring to my gang (in my photography agent days) as ‘snappers’. Is this the same thing? Apologies lovely friend. You are a total artist in so many ways!!

    1. Hello dear friend! I know we have already talked about this but wanted to log it here for future reflection. Please don’t appologise, you were the catalyst for this post in the best possible way. Airing this word association grievance seems to have neutratlised all negativity. So IOU.

  4. Lovely blog Ruth and fully understand! Quite ironic then that the advert that is plastered around the blog is headed “The power of 3D print” which must be the complete antithesis!

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