Good questions: Studies versus Scenes

Another good question from someone in my Figure Sketching Made Simple class on Craftsy. (I do these Good Questions posts every once in a while.) This person visited a skating rink, and sketched a whole scene, skaters, ice rink and setting, and wasn’t really happy with it. And that made me think of a part of the process I almost always follow: of doing little studies before attempting to build a whole scene.

This is especially true if the action I plan to capture isn’t something I am familiar with. Like baseball. I’m new to the sport and didn’t even know the rules before now. (My son just started playing Little League) So I’m drawing pages and pages of studies at his games.


Why so many studies and why do so many of them look like the same action? 
Lots of studies, to help me see and understand the action. And to let me look for parts of that continuous flow of action I find most worth capturing: when you’re using a still medium to capture action, it’s important to choose your moment well. I look for parts of the action that are really dynamic and that best capture the spirit of the scene for me.

You can already see from these few studies that I am partial to some phases of the action, they interest me more than others: the sense of anticipation of the batter, the moment in the thrower’s action just before the ball leaves his hands… that’s just a personal bias, you might find that other things interest you more. Just draw. A lot.

So far, I’ve sketched a lot of little studies but have only once attempted a more complete scene.

Here are some tips (They’re not rules, pick and choose what works for you.) that might help with sketching complex action scenes.

Pick a focus for your sketch: Here, I chose the batter. He is the center of focus. I draw him first, if he works then the rest of the scene works. If he doesn’t I turn the page and start a new sketch.
• Not everyone in the scene is equally important: The batter and the catcher are in the foreground and drawn in more detail than the other figures. That makes them the most important unit of figures in the scene. Next comes the thrower, whose action counterbalances this foreground grouping. The rest of the players are indicated very roughly. They make the scene believable and define the space, but don’t compete for your attention.
Leave a lot to the imagination: If you know even a little bit about baseball, you understand this scene. I don’t need to draw out everything in great detail for you: the diamond is very loosely indicated , as is the setting with hills in the background. Drawing it all in detail would have detracted from the main action. Besides, we’re all really good at filling in the gaps with what we know to make the picture believable.

Whether you’re enrolled in the class or not, I hope those tips help. Feel free to ask more questions on the class platform. I answer them there whenever possible. But sometimes they’re worth a longer post here on my blog.


About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
This entry was posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, How to, san jose, Silicon Valley, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Good questions: Studies versus Scenes

  1. Thank you for a terrific lesson that explains how you sketch and how you turn it into a scene. You are so talented. I know you can sketch while you walk, something I can’t do at all. All your work has lots of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ruthbyrn says:

    Such a great post. I got a lot from it!


  3. Marlene Lee says:

    Great points! I tried to sketch soccer players (being a former soccer mom) and failed miserably. I looking forward to try your tips.


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  5. Doug says:

    Great post! (As usual). I am curious about the size of the figures you drew. Sketch book size?

    Thanks, DougN


    • the studies? 3-5 inches tall. Te more gestural I want to keep a study page, the smaller the figures can be, but I don;’ work too small because a lot of loose drawing needs you to not work too small: if I work too small, I tend to not draw free strokes.( too much drawing with the fingers and wrist and not with the whole arm)


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