Monday, November 5, 2012

Sketching when you have young kids


I remember sitting down at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee earlier this year, excitedly opening my new copy of The Art of Urban Sketching by Gabriel Campanario. Point One of the Urban Sketchers Manifesto read:

¨We draw on location indoors or outdoors, capturing what we see from direct observation¨.

¨Oh ... well... that rules me out then¨, I thought.

I had very young kids: they did´t sit still long enough for me to sketch on location. My toddler, who was quite the runner, would be in the next town, stumbling into someone else´s urban sketch no doubt, by the time I´d done a first outline. My kids were almost always with me, and childcare was tricky. What to do. What to do.

I eventually kept reading the rest of this wonderful book. But did notice that none of the artists had a toddler attached to their leg in any of the photos.

Although things are much easier for me now as my kids get older, and I do get chances to do ¨real¨ urban sketching, I thought I would write a few words on how to keep sketching when you have little kids in tow.

One: Have a small sketchbook in your purse.
You never know when that magic moment will arise when you can sketch something. Maybe your kids will fall asleep in the car or pram.


 Two: Make a homemade sketchbook, or use a ringbinder sketchbook.  
The thing that has stopped me sketching the most is that I am really so very tired a lot of the time. When I start sketching I am pretty uncertain how it will turn out, because I feel so tired. I really like my tiny artist's sketchbook, and am pretty proud of some of the things I've done in it. I don't want to have a large section of cr*p drawings in it. Using a homemade sketchbook (drawing on the back of school notices stapled together), or a ringbinder sketchbook where I can rip out anything too hideous, really freed me up to just sketch.

Three: Involve your kids.
I let my son colour in my sketches (after I have taken a photo of them for my blog). At first this felt like sacrilege, and broke my heart just a little. But he really liked doing it. He didn´t mind seeing me sketch, because he knew he would get to colour it in. Rather than making sketching a solitary experience, it kind of made us a team. Now that he can draw, he wants to sketch beside me.


Four: Go somewhere where your kids can play and you can sketch. The only place I have found where this is possible is a playground with a 10 ft impenetrable fence, or the beach. It depends on your kids. If your child is likely to sit still for 5-10 minutes then you have some time to sketch.


Five: Ignore your inner art critic. If you read art books, there are lots of recommendations when composing a sketch: for example, move around, check out the best angle. You might have to accept a less-than-ideal location for your viewpoint (as in the sketch below). Your kids have chosen to sit on the beach and they don't want to shift. Just sketch anyway. Sure it would have looked better ten metres to the left, but see it as a challenge. Or use artistic licence to leave out that ugly telegraph pole blocking your view.


Six: Focus on different topics. Ordinarily, I would like to sketch an entire scene. But if you have your kids with you, you may need to just focus on one small object. Maybe the ornate seat outside the building, rather than the building itself. Another great idea is drawing everyday objects around the house, inspired by DannyGregory´s sketchbook drawings. Sometimes I set up my children's toys and then draw the scene as if it is real or fantasy, sketching while lying on my stomach on the living room floor.


Seven: Concentrate on the things you can do. Very twee, I know. For example, being able to do a rapid sketch is something that takes practice. You are learning to spot the key points in a scene, and to ignore everything that is superfluous to your sketch. Now is the time to practice this. My elder son will generally sit still for about 60-90 seconds, if I promise to let him colour the sketch in. This is a great chance to practice getting as much down on the paper as I can, trying to generate something worth colouring in.

Also, this is probably one of the few times in our lives that we regularly slow down and really look at things. With young kids we get to stop and spend ages looking at the world around us, which is a great chance to also take time think ¨how would I draw that?¨

Eight: Having your kids along might even hone your skills. One of the techniques I am practising at the moment is sketching while keeping my eye on the subject, rather than the paper. Some drawing books even have exercises where you draw without looking at the page at all. This is great, because I cannot take my eyes off my toddler for a moment. So watching him, sketching something behind him, and doing this type of sketch go hand in hand. Another example is an exercise in the book A Drawing a Day, where you draw people moving and playing sport. Perfect to do with your kids.

Nine: Take this chance to study children´s book illustrations. The quality of the illustrations in children´s books these days is amazing. While you have such wonderful access to children´s books, notice the interesting way the illustrator drew or composed something, or combinations of colours that you would like to try.


Ten: Drawing from photos is OK. I´ve lost track of the amount of times I´ve read an art book which talks about the importance of drawing on site, and puts drawing from photos down. OK, it is true. It is more challenging to draw on site, and to learn to make something 3D into 2D. At some point you will want to do this. But for now, drawing from a photo, at night when your kids are in bed, is OK. You are focusing on different skills: spotting what is important in a scene, layout, tone, getting know your paper / pen / etc.



If you can manage to sketch on location for a while, just focus on doing as many of the main elements of a sketch as you can, take a photo and finish it from home. This probably won´t count as true urban sketching, but it is the best we can do at the moment. There is still some value to what you can learn from drawing from a photo and you are still moving forward in your artistic journey.



It is pretty hard having to shelve a skill that you enjoy, or that you define yourself by, for a long time, maybe even years. I think I would have felt less frustrated by this if I had known that the time to sketch and be creative does come back! So rest assured, it will.

1 comment:

Oregon Knitter said...

Your drawings are amazing. I just started water coloring myself with Chinese brushes.