Rediscovering Portrait Sketching and Adding Lots of Colour

In my previous post I wrote about urban sketching and how it had come my main art focus (urban sketching post) but without knowing it, this came at the expense of portrait sketching. However as my urban sketching group moved mostly online a splinter group formed focusing on portraits, sometimes live portrait models would sit on a zoom call with us and sometimes from photos, sometimes for 5 minutes a portrait sometimes up to 20minutes. In my own time I tend to use Pintrest for reference photos (portrait references on Pintrest) and love throwing vibrant colours down sometimes more successfully than others.

The group sketching reminded me how as a teen portrait sketching was my main go-to. It was easy to see if you’d “got it right” by whether the portrait was recognisable as the individual (often celebrity). Back then I tended to draw in pencil or charcoal almost never with a coloured medium. The style and technique were never important to me, only ever the likeness.

Here are a few of my favourite portraits from pre 2010

Looking back I’m surprised to find how much my portraits have changed, and in my opinion improved. Although the shapes and colours are vastly different in portraits and urban sketches, the skills used are very similar. The need for observation, perspective and contrast are equally important in both subjects consequently practicing these for any sketch will improve them for all. I think the most notable change is how much quicker and looser my sketches are. Being far more relaxed and confident in my sketching the final products often end up looking fresher and less over worked.

Here are a few more recent sketches using similar supplies.

I’ve also gained the confidence required to incorporate colour. My first memorable attempt was using a handful of cheap alcohol markers (chisel tip no brush tip) and I still enjoy using them.

More recently I’ve experimented with every type of coloured supply I could find:

Gouache

Watercolour

Children’s posterpaint

Felt tip pens

Digital

Markers with felt tip pens (My current favourite)

Other line drawings and 3 tone sketches

I’m glad I’ve rediscovered portrait sketching and with resources such as Pintrest to provide references the possibilities are endless. Here’s a link to a collection of portrait references I use on Pintrest.

Speed Sketching and Urban Sketching From Home

I’ve written about urban sketching previously (urban sketching post). It’s been one of the most successful New Year’s Resolutions I’ve ever made. Even in the present climate it provides a way to relate to your surroundings and and other people without requiring any compromise in personal safety. Traditionally urban sketching involves drawing the whole scene in front of you to capture the moment: people, structures, vehicles, weather etc, but in my own sketches I find I tend to focus on one thing or another. When out and about sketching I usually categorise my sketching into two groups: people sketches and architectural sketches, both require completely different approaches, skills consequently they are suited to completely different situations.

Speed People Sketching

These are sketches I often refer to as coffee shop sketches as that’s my main venue. With these my aim is always to capture a persons posture, movement or attitude as quickly as possible. Sometimes furtively so they don’t notice me staring at them and sometimes in seconds as they are walking past the window. The practice leaves no time for hesitation or perfectionism and the results are fun little moments. I always keep a small sketchbook with me with a couple of pens; pencil is no good as its tempting to try and “correct” things resulting in missing the moment or removing the essence of the sketch.

Stationary people are simpler to sketch, people on phones, reading or eating, whereas passers by provide the challenge of movement and a maximum of 20 seconds before they’re out of sight. Admittedly some of the results are unidentifiable as people but it can be endlessly entertaining. You never really know how much you can do in those short seconds until you try, and as with everything you improve the more you practice.

Architectural Urban Sketching

Architectural sketches in many ways are the easier of the two. Firstly buildings don’t move giving you all the time you need, secondly they usually involve a lot of straight lines and follow very clear rules about perspective giving you some leeway in observation and thirdly you don’t tend to offend anyone if its not a great likeness or unflattering. For a good few years this type of sketch has been my preference enjoying the lack of time constraint and clearly identifiable results sometimes with sketching groups and sometimes alone. I also enjoy the way it forms a travel journal of the places I’ve been and seen.

With the current restrictions a lot of our normal meet-ups and live urban sketching has gone online and we have utilised google street view all over the world seeing places and buildings we have never seen before and still maintaining that human connection through zoom and group pages. In additions my urban sketching group have began a weekly perspective challenge based on personal photos with the intention of developing or skill with understanding and representing perspective in the image we see.

It’s not the same as real life urban sketching, it suffers from the same problem as drawing from pictures. The screen image has already been converted to a 2D representation, bypassing the need for you brain to do the job of understanding the 3 dimensions and sense of depth and space, but it still provides useful and enjoyable practice.