Learning from photographs

I’m trying to do this more often: take photographs of my work in progress. Most of the time, I forget but when I do remember it’s great to look and learn.

My most common mistake? To not stop when I should.

You can see that really clearly here. Perhaps I needed a little more work on this one after I took that first shot, but I really didn’t need to go as far as I did with it, especially with objects as easily recognizable as these.

Most of my on-location painting is done in one quick pass. And then I never touch the piece again. But a post by Barbara Tapp on facebook- check out her work here– reminded me that many of my sketches could do with a unifying wash. It’s one of the quickest solutions to a piece that seems to have too many random bits to it, too much detail or not much focus.

So I tried it on this very quick sketch I did on a rainy day. A dark wash over the hills holds them together slight better in the piece at the bottom. I guess I could’ve gone the other way with this one too, and darkened the sky, but left the hills alone.

For this next sketch of a sign for my other blog, vintagesignsanjose, I felt I wanted the Ritz Cleaners sign to stand out more and not have to compete with the sky and all the white space on the page. So I added a darker wash over the sky and a warm wash over the buildings.
Of course there’s always the danger of overcorrecting a piece and killing the original intent and spontaneity, but you never know until you try. And if you do go too far, but took photographs of your work as you went along, alteast they’re there to remind you of how much better the piece would have been, if only you knew when to stop 🙂

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Last week’s little sketches

Sketches from the little books I’ve been carrying around everywhere so that I draw whenever I have the time. This week was lots of little family sketches. My husband and kids are pretty good sports: I draw them over and over, and they don’t complain (much!).

Luckily for me, one of my kids just took up a new sport, baseball. So now I have something new to draw and try to understand. This week I just tried studying the batter. It’s interesting to see all the different ways the little kids grip the bat and how they shift their weight as they get ready to swing.

And here’s more eclectic pages from the week. Some notes and studies on proportion, a quick brushpen sketch of my daughter playing the violin. A study of a rose for an illustration project, a beautiful house in Gilroy, and a sketch by the Campbell water tower.

A few quick gesture sketches from figure drawing for the week.
I just love charcoal. Messy, warm, human, soft, bold and so much more. All at the same time. Happy Monday. Getting some drawing done this week?



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The New Guinea Gardens at Stanford

As my friend and fellow sketcher Marcia Milner-Brage said to me, it took an Iowan to show me this fantastic local garden I have never been to before: The New Guinea Gardens at Stanford. If you’re a local , or a frequent visitor at the Stanford campus and don’t know of it, then we were in the same boat until very recently: but you need to go fix that because the Gardens are beautiful, the sculpture is amazing and it is a joy to sit amongst it and sketch.

I started on this first piece before Marcia arrived, and I got a couple of ‘in process’ shots of the piece so you can see how this came together: very little pencil line, just enough to know I got everything I wanted on the page, and for me to place the sculpture on the page, so I could paint the foliage around it.Line came last, a combination of pencil and a little bit of pen.

Drawing art is a challenge: I rarely try to make a copy of what I see. I prefer to focus on what strikes me the most about it, or to use line and form to interpret the feel of the piece…because the actual piece can only be experienced by being there.

Once Marcia arrived, we sat around this ring of pieces and we just talked and sketched for a while. Marcia is one of the first urban sketchers I ever knew  of, and I have admired and followed her work for years, so even though we met in person for the very first time, it was like meeting an old friend.  You can see in the piece below (and the closeup of it) that I really enjoyed taking in all the detail on those sculptures and then translating it into abstract lines and shapes.

Here’s a photograph of the two of us- and of Marcia sketching amongst the sculptures: it gives you an idea of the scale and the sense of serenity of the place.

With every piece I worked on, I tried to switch up how I approached it atleast a little bit. iN this next one below I remembered something Fred Lynch talked about in a workshop I took with him last year: about silhouetting the whole sketch, not just coloring in to the edges of the page, about creating a dynamic shape and letting the white of the page interact with the sketch. The family in this sketch and the sketch above is the same: they really enjoyed hanging around the gardens while we were there.

And at that point, it was time to leave and head back to San Jose, just in time to beat the dreaded evening commute. But I’ll be back soon. And then next time someone suggests meeting up at Stanford to sketch, we’ll be meeting here so I can sketch this garden again. Thanks Marcia, for a lovely day and a new place for me to go revisit. Here’s to more sketching together, soon!

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One hundred people: a roundup

Here’s a roundup of most of my  #oneweek100people2017 sketches, and some random thought and comments.

Challenges all seem to work this way for me: they seem doable, then somewhere halfway through I am super-tired and don’t want to do them anymore. If I can get past that, it gets easier.

I tried to not mess with my normal schedule to do these. Except that I would extend a coffee break to get a few more sketches in. ( okay, one day my ‘break’ was almost an hour!), I got these done during my regular day, by browsing less and sketching in little bits of time between things. Ideally, I’d like to keep working more sketching into my schedule like this.

I thought this much ‘cafe sketching’ would mean I got bored, but interestingly, I didn’t: I think my new obsession is drawing hands: they really speak, especially in more static poses. Body posture and what you do with your hands says so much!


Sketching with simple tools (and rarely with a full watercolor setup) meant I could be quick, and I could take my work everywhere, especially if I used smaller sketchbooks. Some of my sketches are done standing in line at the post office, for a coffee…

While I did a few portraits of my family and some in coffeeshops, what I really love is capturing people in motion. Gesture drawing is still my favorite kind of people sketching. Can you tell?

My biggest takeout from this week of people sketching is that to keep drawing people, they have to be more than just figures and anatomy to you: you have to be interested in people. And you have to enjoy the inevitable interaction that the process involves. Otherwise, people will remain “stuff you add to a scene to give it scale”.


I ended up finishing all but one of these sketches in 4 days. Day 5 was a break day (with other sketching): I needed that break. But now I’m back, and I hope to keep sketching lots of people. I’ll be posting them on instagram as always with the hashtag #peoplesketch all year round. Join me?

If you did the challenge, what were your biggest takeouts? Was it important to you to get to 100? Did you set yourself a special challenge within the challenge? Did you learn anything from it? Share your comments here, I’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Animals, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Day 4, #oneweek100people2017

Day 4 of #oneweek100people2017 and I’m pretty certain I got past 100 sketches today. Sketching through my kids taekwondo class is fun and challenging. It’s where I did most of my sketches today.

With so much action, gesture and exaggeration really helps to convey what you want. One of my favorite books ever is actually this 2-part set called Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1 and Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1. I’ve tried to put together some shots from pages below that show you the sort of topics discussed in the book and the sketches to illustrate them.  But I can’t say enough about these books, really.

These are probably my favorite books ever on the subject of drawing from life: so much to see, so beautifully explained and illustrated. And so much to read and think about.

Since I’m done with my 100 sketches, there might be a Day 5 from me, but I’m not promising…

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Day 3, #oneweek100people2017

How is your #oneweek100people2017 challenge going? Are you falling behind? Don’t know how you can do those many sketches a day?? Haven’t started yet???

Have you tried gesture sketching yet? I got lucky this morning. This construction crew turned up briefly outside my house to dig up our concrete sidewalk. They are quick and were done in 20  minutes. But I grabbed my book and sketched. Just quick little gesture drawings. The very first one I made looked a bit of a disaster, like something my cats brought in, but luckily it got better after that one and I did a page full of gesture drawings.

The key with small figures where there aren’t many details is to really observe the shape of the figure and how the body carries the weight. And if you’re adding all the color later ( like I did I drew all these in pencil first and then added color), try not to just color inside your lines neatly like a coloring book: it makes the figures look really static.

My second sketch today was at In’n Out burgers. Here it is. How many sketches does this one count as? I’m going with 4, I think. (and if I get to the end of the week and don’t get all my sketches done, I might just count is as 13, 😉 … that’s how many people I’ve hinted at in this composition)

This book ‘The Urban Sketcher’ by Marc Taro Holmes isn’t just about drawing people. Marc draws just about everything, and this book is packed with techniques, tips and tricks. Marc talks the practicalities of drawing on location, and drawing people from life.

That’s day 3 for you. More sketches from today on instagram.

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Day 2, #oneweek100people2017

I totally get the idea of doing pages and pages of little observational sketches,  and when I teach a workshop, we spend the first half of our time doing just that) but every so often I start to get fatigued and the process seems a little robotic. That’s when I remind myself that this is just the warm up, the practice. Drawing people from observation is what prepares me to be able to tell the stories I see and want to tell in sketches.

Two of my favorite books on the subject of drawing people and telling stories through them are The Urban Sketching Handbook: People and Motion by Gabriel Campanario and The Urban Sketching Handbook: Reportage and Documentary Drawing by Veronica Lawlor. If the idea of telling stories seems big and difficult to you, these books will really redefine your idea of a story, and will make you think of what you want to say with every gesture you draw. people_day2_book

Back to today’s sketches…I had much, much less time to sketch today. So I stuck to simpler media and started with quick gesture drawing while waiting in line to get my coffee. Here are a couple of pages from today.

These are my quickest sketches, the prefect warmup to any day of sketching for me: they take only a few seconds each.

The sketch below took a little longer. I remembered to take a picture of it halfway so you can see how it was done.

These two people were having a really intense conversation over coffee. So I decided to sketch in the shape around them to make sure I captured their lean-in postures. I drew this with a water-soluble Sketch-and-Wash pencil, and then I ran a wet brush over the background and worked some of the greys into the figure to capture the shadows. After that I just added in a little bit of linework.

The rest of my sketches from today? They’re all on instagram @suhitasketch .

2 days down, 3 more to go. How are you doing with the challenge?

Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, people, Portrait, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments