Saturday, June 25, 2011

Don't Throw Out the Kindergarten Efforts

Kindergarten steps.  That's how it feels when you're trying something new.  But every time we step out of our comfort zone while sketching and painting, we learn. 
I tried sketching this red day lily I found in the yard using watercolor, without drawing it first.  I had in mind creating something loose and impressionistic.  The problem was the breeze.  A light wind is wonderful to keep insects away and for cooling comfort on a hot day.  But, the down side, it dries the palette rapidly.  

Always, always, I forget something when I sketch outside.  And this time it was the spray bottle.  Dropping water from the brush was too slow.  It was drying faster than I could drop it.  Trickling water from the water cup ended in a flood that had to be poured off--a comedy of errors good for exercising the sense of humor.

Add to that, too much water on the page, not enough water in my brush, and on and on it went.  Then the breeze died down.  Helpful?  Not on your life!  Something mean started biting.  I never looked up to see what it was, so intent by that time, to get this day lily on the page!  
When I looked at the sketch I completed while out doors (image above), I felt an "ugh" sensation in my stomach.  Primitive, tight.  I'd lost the lily petal shapes.  But then I remembered some helpful guidance I received over years of working with watercolor instructor, Ann Lindsay. Whenever we showed our work in class, she would coach, "show us something you enjoyed, that you particularly like about your work, and if there's something you don't like and want to see happen differently next time, tell us about that, too."
So I scanned my sketch again.  My eyes went to the bud, its shape and color, and it's loose leaves.  Not bad, really, for no drawing in advance.  I already knew my chief dislike, the shape of the petals.  So I pulled out my pencil and outlined the petal shapes and edges.  This came easily with a pencil.  Once I had done that, the whole sketch began to feel different to me. 
When I came inside, I lifted off paint, re-shaping the petals.  And drew in the long, droopy day lily leaves on the left page's blob of color, defining them with negative painting.  As I used my pencil to guide these changes and additions, I once again remembered how much I love to draw.  Ah, I thought.  Next time I'll sketch with my pencil first, and enjoy drawing even more!

This is a wise exercise--asking yourself to be specific about what you like and don't like about your painting or sketch.  It helps keep you from throwing out the whole effort and walking away unnecessarily discouraged. New experiences are worth the effort, even when the results feel like kindergarten.  It's not the finished results that matter the most, but what new information you add to your painting library--information about who you are, what you like, and what makes sketching and painting fun for you.

A postscript note to self:  Reorganize outdoor sketch bag with its own spray bottle and insect repellent!

Links and references:

Ann K. Lindsay
Negative painting 
painting en plein air


  1. I have one of these kindergarden pictures in my sketchbook. You have given me courage to go back to it and try to make something of it.

  2. Good, Lisa! I surprised myself during this sketch. One minute I was totally hating it, and the next, after sketching in shapes with my pencil, it didn't seem so bad, after all. Just needed a few adjustments. All of it is good practice!


Welcome! I am glad to hear your comments, questions and feedback! Vickie

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