Are sketchy sketches OK?

I’ve been talking about sketching on and off on this blog. And over the last few months I’ve looked enviously at other people’s sketch books often filled with perfect drawings...

Personally I’m not a great sketch-booker. I sometimes do sketches on white cartridge paper and throw them into a box – then refer back to them years later when I’m in need of an animal, a body or a pattern. I also create sketches in Photoshop that I save in a folder on my PC - which acts like a virtual box. If there is any likelihood other people are going to peer at these then I admit I feel rather self-conscious. But recently I had this experience which has changed my attitude.

I saw Stephen Chambers’ Trouble Meets Trouble  Exhibition at the Wills Lane Gallery, St Ives in October this year – and was blown away. Inspired by Chambers’ imagery and techniques I set about trying to find out more.

I’ve been lucky enough to find this YouTube video, Stephen Chambers – Artistabout his sketching technique.  It all starts with the sketches which Chambers always does on thick water colour paper and then he throws them into a plan chest.

If you have any fears about your sketches looking a bit basic, or if you worry about how to talk about them at interview or during critiques of your work in a class, I think this video will help. What the artist sees in a few sketchy lines is far more than another onlooker could ever see. The sketches are there to supply what he needs for his work. He says, ‘Drawing is a kind of nutrition for the work that I make.’

Many of Stephen Chambers’ works are prints. In another YouTube video – Monoprinting with Stephen Chambers RA - you can see how he builds up monoprints and how some of his sketches relate to and feed his imagery. They become the characters that inhabit his work. For example, the rough outline of a horse becomes a solid shape in the finished work. So the sketch represents the possibility that the artist sees and later acts like a prompt for the idea - all Stephen Chambers needs to summon up his art.

So now I just accept that a sketch is a blurry snapshot of some scenery on the way to somewhere more defined, where I will linger longer over detail. If it prompts my work, or if I can visualise beyond it to the final work, or if I need the sketch to feed my work – it’s valid and important to me. And that’s all that matters.

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