I Hate Sketching

Well, not exactly, but I do have a problem with it: I seldom sketch and feel guilt because of that. I used to draw every day when I was studying anatomy mostly copying out of drawing books or copying the work of masters. It was an essential practice and went on for eight or nine years. I still draw on vacations that are leisurely enough to allow me to sit for awhile. Sketching is different, the idea is appealing but I never got the hang of it.

In museums one always sees people with their pads and pencils taking “notes” in front of paintings. I saw a film on Richard Serra and there he was with his little notebook and pencil sketching everything in sight. I felt envy and a bit of self loathing. Why don’t I do that? I tried to do preliminary sketches to test ideas for painting projects because all the great artists to do it. But this proved to be a waste of time and not helpful because once I began to paint something different would happen. Painting is a process of discovery from first to last not the execution of a plan. I have better results turning things around in my mind for weeks and months and this does a pretty good job of distilling elements of a work.

Snap judgments are not for me in any part of my life and sketching requires just that. Once I start putting down a few lines I worry about what I have done wrong rather than taking in what I was looking at, so I would ruin my looking experience and feel bad about my skills.

Figure drawing sessions usually begin with a short-pose warm up and I always have fun doing those as a way to loosen up and get to know the model. I suppose I enjoy that exercise because it involves working against the clock, so there is no time for self-assessment.

Now, drawing is a different thing. I love to sit before a figure or landscape and study it slowly and thoroughly. It’s a process of absorbing and possessing what you perceive and it is a thing-in-itself not a means to an end.

Occasionally, sketchbooks of masters of a certain eras can be seen at exhibitions. I remember a Hudson River School show at the Metropolitan Museum and the sketches of of those artists were so precise and strong that I am tempted to put the word sketches in quotation marks. That kind of work, which I find so enjoyable, requires time that is not usually available. But what they did was drawing – slow careful observation. When photography was not generally available drawing was more widely taught in schools as a way of learning to see as well as an aid to memory. It still should be. At worst we’d have better “selfies” to look at.

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