What’s in a sketch?

This blog is about the types of sketches I create and their different functions.

Sketches as finished pieces

I have been sketching for years (as a holiday pursuit!) and urban sketching (i.e. regular sketching from life) for 7.  When I say sketch, I mean drawing and mark making, most often with the addition of colour and text. I create them in a bound sketchbook or I work on loose paper.  And I describe them as completed pieces.  This is because they are not just precursors for future work and I won’t add to them.  Definitions can be blurred although they could be described as illustrations or even paintings. I often apply colour first, followed by the line work.

Colour first pen and ink sketches of places Liz Ackerley Art

I also create quite a few black and white sketches, using textured tonal work to create depth.  It’s a great approach when there isn’t much time.

Pen and ink sketches of people and place Liz Ackerley Art

Sketchbooks include tiny Handbook notebooks, A4 size watercolour sketchbooks, A5 size Seawhite concertina sketchbooks.  Subject matter focuses on place and occasion. Buildings, landscapes, people and anything in-between are rich pickings!  These sketches are representational and aim to look like a specific scene, place or experience.  They are my own visual diaries. Alternatively, private and commercial clients commission these story-telling works. They are the record of my visual experiences.

reportage sketching

Sketches as start points

Over the last two years, I have started to develop mixed media paintings in my studio. Whilst they are usually based on a specific, Place-based subject, they are not completely representational either.  I use a mix of collage acrylic paints and other mark making materials.  I don’t use photos to create my mixed media studio works.  They are created from a series of sketches developed on location. However, these sketches are very different to the sketches I have just described above in a number of respects: 

  • Firstly, I create them, using a variety of different mark making materials.  These materials include: charcoal, pastel, acrylic inks, markers, graphite, crayons, conte sticks, papers, etc. I am trying to create some sort of memories of the subject matter. This includes textural details, shapes, impressions, etc. Therefore, I need a variety of media types to do this. I often record key colours that may then be used in the studio works.
  • Second, I use a selection of different techniques to create interesting, but not necessarily strongly representational, drawings.  Approaches include single line contour & blind contour. I also use long sticks to reduce the level of control in drawing. Another approach is feeling textures and making marks that represent those feelings.  I am trying to absorb the atmosphere and feelings of place to produce more intuitive marks.  
  • Thirdly, they are not supposed to be finished pieces. They do not present any sort of compositional direction.  They are research pieces, collections from my experiences. I post them around the studio to help me with the early stages of my mixed media development.  They are the aide memoire; the trigger for the first stages of my paintings.  
Sketching on location  Industrial Mills  liz Ackerley Art

Collage sketches as start points

In addition to these sketches, I have recently started to create collage sketchbooks as travel journals (see my Porto blog from last year here).  These will be start points to my studio work in the same way as the research sketches described above. I pre-prepare the pages using papers, labels and inks. This means that the messy aspects are tackled in the studio!  I then take them out into the field to record and capture aspects of the location. I work over the inked paper-clad pages using additional papers, pens, markers etc, much as other collage artists will do.  Whilst these are similar to the above in that they are not entirely representational, I’m keen for them to provide extra material and texture information.   The biggest challenge with these types of works is being able to reflect their energy and confidence in the studio pieces!

Collage sketchbooks preparation Liz Ackerley Art
Creating collage sketches on location Liz Ackerley  Art

Like the more representational sketches, these ‘other’ location sketches are essential for my art practice.  It is early days for these sketches but I feel that they add to, and complement, the more representational work.  I would like to think that one informs and improves the experience of the other.  I will continue to develop and evolve all these types of sketches.  Watch this space!

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