Wednesday, December 19, 2012


-By Jesper Ejsing

When I was young and listened to older artist talk about art, telling me what was important, I was always told, that sketching was the most important thing in the world. I did, what I imagine everyone else would in my position: I bought sketchbooks and dutifully tried to fill them. I tried sketching people in the city bus, but the images sucked , since the bus was moving and the lines were...well; sketchy.

During the last 10 years I have bought so many sketching books, with the heartfelt intention of filling them. But no matter how hard I try or how “right” I know it is or would be, I just cannot seem to fill them. They keep sitting there on a shelf with only the first 10 pages or less decorated. I always felt bad or “less artistic” for not having the burning urge to sketch all the time.

A year or so ago I traveled to Santiago with the fantastic artist Steve Prescott and I saw to my horror that he had brought a sketchbook and I had not. What was even worse was that the sketches in there was all finished pencil drawings. I flipped through and saw none of the aggressively faceless doodles that resembles my sketches. Up until then I hadn't realised the enormous difference in the way of sketching. Some artist do an almost finished drawing and some stops right the moment the figure is almost recognizable...needless to say I am in the last section.

Anyway; Steves “sketches” are some of the best I ever saw. I bought a sketchbook when I got home and started sketching to make a book like Steves. I think there is almost 3 drawings in it now.

What I think I just have to swallow, is the fact that I am not a sketching artist. My “magic”, if you´´ call it that, happens when I start to paint. My roughs are exactly that. They are totally unfit for beeing called drawings. But what they lack in finish, they have in energy. What I aim for in sketching is dynamic shape and gesture. As soon as I got that down the rest starts to feel boring to me. I think it started when I had to transfer a sketch to board. I was transferring by smearing the back side with pencil and drawing on top of the line, thus pressing the graphite onto the board. The transfer was really messy and not very precise, so Ihad to go over it and draw up all the line one more time. Then I would ink it to keep the line from disappearing during the first layer of paint. If you count the numbers of times I went over the same lines in a sketch it comes down to 4. No wonder it gets boring. I have moved on to sketching only in thumb size and keeping all the details as face hands clothes and details for the board drawing. This way I keep it fresh and alive and interesting.

I think this is why the digital painting has seemed so appealing to me. The jump from rough, aggressive sketching to the time you start thinking of light and lay on color is really short. Sometimes not even a jump. I have experimented in drawing directly in color no sketch or anything. It seems like total free falling without parachute, when you come from a background of pencil and ink line and greytones and then color. But I like the new approach a lot. I needed a kick out of my comfort zone.
In digital painting I imagine I can get the full benefit of my erratic sketching style.


  1. Great post, Jesper! Feel the same, almost never do sketching purely for the sake of sketching. A quick thumbnail, but always the final in clear sight. Before, I often never reached the final color because redoing the sketch again was ... disheartening. While I think sketching is good for those that want to get good at it, I also think it isn't paramount to all artists.

    Do you ever do 'sketches' with paint? Not talking about sorting out light or color balance for something sketched out - more about starting and finishing something directly with paint.

  2. Yeah, great post. I have never made a painting in my life. It's all sketchbooks for me. I bought my first tray of cheap watercolor last weekend. I am very impatient. I love the whole process of creating worlds. I guess it's much more about the drawing itself for me then the actual result. And since I'm not doing this for a living, it works for me.

    Here's pretty much what my sketchbooks look like:

  3. Word, man. I always divided between two kinds of artists - the drawer and the painter. Once you accept that you are just better at one way of creating, everything starts to make sense (and fun). When I paint traditionally, I only paint with watercolour; this way my pencil lines will still be alive and visible underneath. I could never paint over a drawing, I just can't. I love dynamic lines. It feels wrong to smudge them over with paint and basically delete it forever! ;) So, that's why I started to love digital art as well. So much more freedom and you can still keep your drawing.

  4. This post touched a nerve in so many ways... First of all, I hate the word 'sketch'. Everybody has their own connotation of that word. Also, I think the quickest way to destroy your passion as an artist is to try to be like somebody else and do what they do. We make our art to express what is inside of us, not to please others and conform to somebody else's rules about what a good artist must do. I applaud you for not using a sketchbook if you don't feel it's right for you. I disagree with the philosophy that there are only two kinds of artists, though, I think there are millions of different kinds of artists. And what you do with your art has to be different from all of theirs, because it has to reflect who YOU are... (K, getting off my soapbox now... sorry...) it was a good, thought-provoking post!

    1. But as an illustrator you job IS to in some part to 'please others and conform to somebody else's rules...'. They want a reasonable sketch to approve, and they want a kick ass final that is based on that approved sketch. What happens in between though, well I think everyone does their own thing, once they find what works best for them.

  5. I think sketching is an opportunity to develop one's sense of expression. I think it is completely valid when done minimally to setup a more in-depth drawing, painting, etc. But I think it's also valid when used as a tool for practicing observation. And I agree with Katherine above that it's all valid -- all kinds of sketching, all kinds of art. I'm so thankful we've all been given the freedom to express ourselves and find so many different avenues for our creative possibilities. Thanks for the post and for sharing your art, Jesper.

  6. Jesper, You struck a cord with many of us. We all at some level feel the same way you do. Any time I put anything down on a page, I am like hanging out my laundry for all to see. There are so many sketchbooks that I have that are horrible and 1/4 filled, only now I am willing to show them because now I have some really nice sketchbooks to look at. The sketchbook is raw, it is as honest as you get. First thing that most people want to do when they see a sketchbook is look at it. And if it does not measure up, it sucks to the artist and is a punch to his or her gut. When I first started using a sketchbook, I used the smallest one I could find, so as to not bring any attention to it. Now I have moved up to a larger size and confident enough to show it. Drawing is so hard, and the rewards of being a great draftsman only come with a lot of invested hours of practice. God be with anyone who walks this path, but at some point it is the most gratifying skill or hobby that you can keep doing right up to the very end. Hope I did not say too much.

  7. Jesper, I loved this post. My sketchbooks were filled with poorly defined extremely rough shadows for the longest time. Things are changing for me however, as I have recently discovered that I LOVE working on tan toned paper with graphite and a white colored pencils for highlights. All of a sudden my sketches are coming alive and working so much better for me as I push toward finals. I know it's not for everyone, but I think I found what works for me in toned sketchbooks. Strange how the base color of the paper made such a difference for me...

  8. Good Post. I totally sympathize with you! Except I just stick with one sketch book at a time. (Even if it takes me two years to fill it.)

    A sketch to me is just to get the composition down, and to capture the feeling of what I want the painting to be. I love looking at good drawings, but drawing is just the annoying step that comes before working with paint in my own work. I've learned when I need to work on the drawing a little bit longer, but there's always impatience behind every extra minute spent refining with the pencil.

    When painting, color goes down almost from the beginning. (I've read in many places that once you put color down you can't move it around much, but I've never had that problem. If it needs to move I just move it.)(oils BTW)

    I can appreciate a good line, but I've decided there are Line guys and Shape guys. I've never been a Line guy, but I have been mighty jealous of the ease they can craft a well formed line. I wonder if Line guys are ever jealous of Shape guys?

  9. The definition of a sketch based on what I was taught in school and the almighty dictionary: A hasty or undetailed drawing or painting often made as a preliminary study

    A sketch is supposed to be fast and loose. I'm not saying this to be some technical tyrant but I've always hated when people do these highly detailed fully realized drawings and call them sketches. I think people usually do that to sell books or build ego as if they just crap perfection. They are finished drawings plain and simple. There is a difference or then every drawing on the planet is a sketch and I don't think we would agree to that. The work you've shown here Jesper is exactly what sketching is, and they're beautiful roughs in my opinion. peace.

  10. Jesper, I think you really struck a chord with a number of people here... and definitely with me! Personally, I (usually) have two sketchbooks going at the same time: one small 5x8 to tuck in a purse or bag for doodle-y things, and one 9x12 to cart around for slightly more "polished" sketches.

    I'm not really a sketching artist, either... it takes me a LONG time to fill either sketchbook, and the work varies from a few swooping lines here and there to cement the idea for later to rather detailed pencil pieces that will eventually be transferred for completion. Actually, where I have the hardest time is in not losing the life and movement in my initial sketches when I get to work on the finished product!

    Personally, I've always really envied those artists who can block in their masses with a few scribbles in a handful or minutes, as I tend to agonize over every line I put down.

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  12. Propably offtopic question, but what do You use for highlights in your sketches? I was searching for nice opaque white and i tried few mediums from chalk to paint markers but i was unable to achieve nice covering of layers underneath. I am looking for something like in your examples (6th and 8th). I thought about white gouache, but that is propably not suited for something like quick sketching. Thanks for answer :)

    1. Have you tried white gel pens?

  13. I love sketching. I can't imagine not sketching everyday. I even get up early so that I can get a quick sketch in before work.

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