Getting Better

Why don’t I draw better? I have kept a sketchbook for nearly 50 years but have not progressed much in my ability to tell a story through image.

As I retire from a career in education, I plan to apply what I know about improving learning to improving my own work as a sketchbook artist. It has been widely observed that many of us improve to a point and then do not improve further. The thinking is that improvement requires clear goals, deliberate practice, and feedback- which means doing more than just what we already enjoy doing.

Through this blog I plan to apply what I know about improving learning to getting better as a sketchbook artist.

I am a believer in the importance of clear goals with specific criteria for success, practice directed at the criteria and feedback about the outcome of the practice. I have seen first hand what a difference these can make to learners in a classroom. A question I am investigating is, Can I use these principles to improve my sketches?

I plan to apply these principles to my goal of communicating ideas through images by improving my technical skills with compositional elements- line, gesture, value, color, light, arrangement, facial expression, exaggeration, realism, and abstraction.

My method will be to select an element to study each week. I will decide on a learning goal, establish success criteria for the goal and then practice it throughout the week. I will blog about my learning and seek feedback from myself and others. As a result, I will be expecting fluency and effectiveness as an expressive artist.

This week I am working on showing non-verbal communication through the body language and facial expressions of the people in my sketches. I selected this first week’s focus because this is the whole point for me of keeping a sketchbook journal. Keeping a sketchbook is a way of thinking about my life and just as a writer searches for the most effective way to say something, I search for the most effective way to show something. I want to convey my thinking well.  This is the big idea of a sketchbook.

Here is a pen and watercolor sketch in a small Moleskine watercolor sketchbook I did at a coffee shop yesterday.

coffee shop 4

I was trying to catch the interaction between the customer and the barista. There were spoken and unspoken questions. I thought to capture them through the body language of the barista and the facial expression of the customer. I should have had the barista lean back a little more, perhaps by causing her left arm to go behind her back. And more variation in the facial color of the customer might have worked better.

About Sarah Sullivan
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