By David Tenorio
1. Think Slow, Draw Fast
When I first started maintaining a sketchbook in high school, I remember creating these intricate doodles that began with just one element: an eye, a flower, a person’s hand. From there, I would slowly and meticulously begin drawing and shading some sort of elaborate doodle, never knowing what the finished idea would look like. It led to some very interesting images, but over time it also left me wanting more. What I began to realize was that I was thinking fast and drawing slow, when all along it should have been the other way around. I know it can be exciting to just jump onto a piece of paper and do anything (and it’s definitely allowed, no rules in art!), but I’ve found most of my rewarding sketches started with just a little bit of silent reflection. Even if it’s just one minute, I take time to think about what I’m sitting down to do before my pencil touches paper. After changing my thought process, I also changed the beginning of my sketches: I started to go loose and fast, making sure I had built up as much of my idea as possible before beginning the rendering (or “grinding” as I call it.) I use my current strategy of think slow and draw fast for all of my types of sketches – urban sketching, still life, fantasy art, abstract, etc.
2. Trust Yourself Through the “Ugly Stage”
There’s a stage in every piece of my art where I think “…what am I even looking at?”. Sometimes this happens in the blink of an eye, like a gesture sketch in figure drawing, and it’s an instant feeling I don’t even notice. Otherwise, on longer and more involved pieces, there comes a long period time where my art is just ugly: structure lines everywhere, no sense of real definition, color splashed all over the piece, etc. I do my best to keep this stage secret from everyone (although inevitably, that’s always the moment someone will walk up and say, “Wow! What are you working on?”….) Sometimes it can feel like my “idea” will never show up on paper the way I wanted it to look. You know where the biggest breakthroughs in my art have come from? When I’ve pushed through this stage. When I’ve trusted myself to get through the “ugly stage”, to understand that the reward doesn’t always come immediately. Most of all, I trust that every “mistake” that happens can be fixed, nothing is impossible in art. This even applies to spilling wine and coffee all over your work.
3. Focus on the Big Picture
Going back to the meticulous high school doodles, the idea of thinking too fast can also be translated into not focusing on the “big picture”. A lot of times in art instruction, the “big picture” encompasses technical art jargon: “Make sure you focus on the overall values in your piece”, “What is the general color temperature of this work?”, “What are the dimensions and how will your composition be affected?” I’m learning to tackle all of those questions, I try to always start fast and finish slow along with stepping away from my sketch and looking at it from a distance. However, there’s another set of questions I didn’t consider for a very long time: “How do I want this to make my viewer feel?” , “How does this make me feel?”, “Why am I doing this?” By keeping these questions close throughout my entire process (yes, even just the random doodles), I’ve learned to make more meaningful lines, use color more effectively, and most of all make more interesting images. Making a sketch appealing to yourself and others is all about focusing on the overall idea. I never get caught up in the details at the beginning stages, I need to bake the cake before I can put the icing on.
4. Try Lots and LOTS of Different Materials
The Aquabee Super Deluxe was the first sketchbook I ever owned that could take ANY material I threw at it: pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, acrylic, the list goes on. I feel the freedom to use any material I want which in turns makes my process very fluid and exciting. On any given sketch, I’m constantly pulling out different pencils, tubes of paints, brushes, a brayer, my finger, anything that’s within arm’s reach. In the past, I never would have considered myself a mixed-media artist, but nowadays most of my sketches have a minimum of 4 separate materials. I try to always stay fresh and experimental with the way I approach art.
5. Forget Everything I Just Said
That’s right, forget everything I just said. Ok, maybe not everything, I thought hard about what I was going to say! But seriously, when it all comes down to it, you will draw and sketch in a way that is completely unique to you. I’ve had those desperate moments of wondering “what is my STYLE?” and have tried to solve that by trying methods, reading books, studying artists, doing copies, etc. To be clear, I am very invested in my studies and spend lots of time “learning” art. Don’t forget about yourself, your self, the person putting pencil to paper. I only began to develop a look and feel to my own art when I began to respect the way I created art. I realized that I’m not always going to draw and paint the way other artists work. In fact, my sketches often have feverish moments of fast brush work, smudging with my finger, twisting and turning the page to affect washes, lots of chaos. That’s the way I like it, and I think it’s healthy to find the way you like to work and embrace it. Be honest with yourself and your ideas and amazing things will show up on your paper.