Clean lines vs messy lines in sketching


Whimbrel Test Sketches

Whimbrel Test Sketches

As I might have mentioned before, I’ve worked as a producer on several different animated shows and on a video game. Honestly, it wasn’t creating schedules that I enjoyed, it was watching the artists quickly sketch out amazing work with apparent ease that only comes with an insane amount of experience. When I was a PA at Nickelodeon, I got to see all the storyboard animators draw out the scenes of the show in little miniature sketches. The coolest part was watching them create these really raw, sketchy versions of the characters that would be later animated. They had to convey to animators overseas in India what was happening in each scene without using words because you never knew if they could read English or not.

As a result, the sketches were full of life and motion. I watched various other artists create sketches of props and beautiful paintings of scenes, but it was always the character sketches that got me. These artists breathed life into these characters, giving them emotion and personality.

This is the type of art that I’ve always preferred. I’m drawn to work that has life to it.

I think it takes a true artist to create this. You can be technically great at creating a still life or a landscape but if there is no emotion coming through then to me it’s just a painting… not a piece of art. I want to be an artist, not a technician.

I think this is why I’ve always struggled with my art. My brain is a designer: identifying problems and coming up with creative solutions. I love being a designer, it’s a challenge to analyze a situation and then activate your right brain to develop creative answers. I don’t have to work at being a designer, it’s something that I just am. I have to work to be an artist.

All of this is a lead up to the inner struggle I’m having with mu bird sketches. My favorite part of birding is watching the birds behavior. Seeing how each species is different and how each individual bird is different within it’s own species. Some birds hop. Some are graceful. Some are powerful. Each is unique and I think sketching is a medium that allows for the personality to shine through. Painting and illustration has a tendency to make the bird more stiff and scientific. The personality starts to slip away.

This is what I’m currently struggling with. I’ve been creating my sketches first in pencil, then inking it with Micron pens, erasing the pencil lines, then coloring in with watercolor pencil. Each time I erase the pencil lines, I’m always slightly disappointed in what’s left. It doesn’t seem as vibrant as before. The bird becomes more physically and emotionally flat.

I’m unsure of why this is happening. I think the sketch lines feel more free than the inking lines do because the movement disappears. So, I’ve done some test sketches of Whimbrels that I found online. The first half were in pencil then inked. The others were sketched completely in pen, eliminating the pencil step. Some of them I added shading to with the pen to see how that changes the overall feel once they are colored in.

I feel torn. I think the all pen sketches seem more lively, but the pencil sketches end up being more colorful because there is less space taken up with black ink. Close up and in person, I prefer the pen sketches, but the pencil sketches look better smaller and online.

Whimbrel Test Sketch

Sketched first in pencil and then inked with Micron pens. I then erased the pencil lines before coloring with watercolor pencils.

So, I’m still unsure of what I think. I’ll try flipping back and forth to see what I end up deciding. It will probably be the pen sketches but once I try my hand at more detailed ‘illustrations’ versus ‘sketches’ I might switch back to the pencil lines first.

I got to thinking about this after watching this video of the author/artist of David Allen Sibley (creator of the Sibley Bird Guides). I enjoy his illustrations in my bird guide, but I love this quick sketch he does in the video SO much more. He really captures the playfulness of a warbler. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did.


Have something to add? Say it below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s