As you know, I was honoured to be chosen as an instructor again this year. I called my workshop Sketches That Sing, because I wanted to help people to find techniques for freeing up their work. I thought some of you people out there might also find it useful, so I am sharing the principles here.
It's so easy to get caught up with trying to replicate the subject we are drawing and to forget that, once you have walked away, nobody will care about that aspect: they will judge your sketch on how interesting, exciting and dynamic it is. What's more, they won't have the original there to compare. Once you take that on board and allow yourself to let go a little, you can create sketches that sing their own song, independent of the thing you are actually drawing.
Since I don't know Barcelona, the symposium organisers allocated me a little square to work in, just 5 minutes walk from the CCCB centre where the conference was based (perfect, since I am inclined to get lost). Each morning at 10am I led my little group over there, to brief in the workshop.
I had a translator for the Spanish speakers, Helena Xicola, above. I've never worked with one before. Helena did a grand job keeping up with my motor-mouth. She was a great help in lots of ways: by the third session, she knew what I was doing as well as I did and was brilliant at helping to explain things to people (thank you Helena!).
Anyway, for those who want to try it at home, here's what we did. I broke the 3 hour session into 3 exercises, each designed to get people to think about a specific technique they might use to force themselves to let go of a little part of reality.
The first was framing. I often crop my subjects very close, like the sketch above. This can add considerable dynamism to the page. I asked my group to consider the 4 edges of their book as part of the sketch.
Each person selected a specific object to focus on and I challenged them to draw so that their object bled off at least 2 of their page edges, like this portrait by Beliza Mendes from Luxembourg and the bike below, done by Santi Salles from Barcelona itself.
We looked at the negative spaces created, at the beauty or ugliness of the shapes you can make and how tilting your perspective can help you avoid boring, horizontal cuts across your page.
The next exercise looked at colour, because it is easy to be a martyr to realistic colour, but quite unnecessary. I got the group to draw a longer view this time, but to choose a specific object within the scene as their focus, and we used colour to guide the viewer to that focal point. I asked everyone to disregard the colours they could see and look instead at tone: if you get the tonal values right, you can do what you like with colour.
People drew their scene in cool blues, mauves or greens, all except the focal object, which was to be a total contrast, in warm reds, pinks or yellows. Then I asked them to add just a hint of warm colour elsewhere - to tie things together.
I had quite large groups to get round, so didn't have time to draw myself. I did manage this quickie though:
One thing which was interesting when we looked at all the sketchbooks together, was how the images we'd created had a really strong narrative element to them. As the viewer, you couldn't help wondering why the object in each was significant and begin to weave a story around the drawing.
Lastly, we considered pattern: the marks you make can be the most exciting part of a sketch. I like to exaggerate the patterns I see or create patterns in the way I describe things.
I asked people to work with 3 different materials on the same sketch, so they would get a variety of marks to explore. But - and this was what they told me they found the most challenging of all - I restricted them to just one colour of each. The idea was to experiment with combinations of marks and patterns using the 3 colours in different ways, trying to convey the patterns and textures in the scene, but to be liberated from being too literal, by the limitations.
It was interesting to see how people interpreted the exercises - everyone bought something different to them. The lovely sketch above is by Patrizia Torres who lives in Malaga and the one below is by Judith Dollar from Texas:
At the end of each section, we laid out all the books on some handy steps, to talk about what we felt worked and what didn't:
Most people agreed that it had been hard, but they said it was hard in a good way, that they had learned a lot, which is great, as that was the idea. We did a lot of laughing too, which is generally a good sign!
One of the lovely things about giving morning workshops, was that I was able to invite people to join me for lunch afterwards. There were some handy, not too touristy cafes just behind our square - perfect for relaxing with a some tapas (and of course sketching each other doing it):