This week I decided to present some under-drawings. These are the type of drawings that I mentioned last week but I had no examples of to show. That’s because they’re almost always erased as I draw the finished drawing on top of them. The reason theses weren’t erased it that they are also a type of drawing called “Thumbnails”. That means that they’re small. These ones are the size of baseball cards so they’re a bit bigger than the nail on your thumb but they’re still small.

Thumbnails aren’t always under-drawings as well but sometimes they are for me. Most of the time thumbnail drawings are used to figure out basic composition and therefor are drawn using only the most basic shapes. The shapes I’m using here are fairly basic but often in thumbnails the shapes are so basic that only I can tell what’s going on. An artist’s thumbnail drawings are generally illegible to anyone else. Now that’s basic.

So why are these ones so legible? Because every artist has a scale. That’s what one of my teachers told me back in art school and it’s true. Most artists have a size they are comfortable working at and working at a much different size makes for bad art. My scale is mostly big. Big as a wall big. I’ve been working on marker drawings that are twenty by thirty inches and I wish I had bigger paper. A lot of my painting is done on three by four feet canvases and they’d be even bigger if I had the room.

It takes planning to make a piece that big. Often the planning is fairly big too but starts out smaller if not small. I have a hard time working things out when I draw small to medium size yet at a very small size I can get things going. It seems my scale is big or very small. When trying to work out a basic drawing at too big a size I get caught up in things that don’t matter yet. As you can see from these drawings none of the people have any faces. That’s because all I was trying to do was figure out what their bodies should look like. Yet if I was drawing these any bigger I’d get hung up on drawing their faces just right. I know I would. It’s happened many times before. I’m not the first person to start out doing one task only to be distracted by another. Cutting down on the distractions is key for me.

Drawing very small works for me because it limits my choices to the most basic ones. I can’t noodle around with faces. (I love drawing faces by the way. It’s one of my favorite things.) The point of a pencil, even a small mechanical one, is fairly big compared to the paper so I can’t get too detailed with the drawing and have to work on simple shapes and lines. These drawing are not from life so whatever is going on in them is coming from my memory and imagination. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation so working small at first helps make that room a little more manageable. It helps me focus.

As I look at these drawings I’m reminded of what my cousin asked me years ago. He was probably fifteen or so at the time so I was in my mid twenties. He was interested in how to draw and he wanted me to show him how to draw a picture. I obliged and made up some kind of figure drawing out of my head. As you can see from the drawings up top there are some heavy pencil lines and a of of light pencil lines. The drawing I did for my cousin was larger, around eight by ten inches, and had a lot more of the light pencil lines. That’s how an under drawing is done. You sketch around drawing a lot of light lines until the drawing comes into focus and you darken the lines you like to bring the drawing together. There are often lots of light sketchy lines all over the drawing.

After watching me go through this process my cousin asked me a question I had never heard anyone ask before. He asked, “How do you know which light line is the right one to follow?”. I was a bit taken aback. I didn’t know how to answer that question but I guess the answer was “Experience”. Knowing which light grey line to make into the dark grey line is what drawing is. It’s certainly what under-drawing is but how does one explain that process? Not easily.

The above under-drawings aren’t even my final under-drawings either. I still have to blow them up bigger and get them to work at that size. My next size up is for them is about eight inches tall. That’s another thing about art and scale. What works at three inches tall might not work at fifteen inches tall. Blowing something up that much bigger reveals some of its hidden flaws plus often things don’t work not because of flaws but because of literal space. The negative space between an arm and a torso might work perfectly at three inches tall but blow it up and that negative space might be too much. Size does matter.

So I fully expect things to change in the next round of under-drawings. Just look at the hands and fingers. They’re barely there. They’re mostly just gestures that when blown up will look as unfinished as they are. But that’s the point of my drawing so small. I don’t want to sweat the small details at this stage. Most of these drawing will never even go passed this stage. That’s also the nature of thumbnail drawings. You have to do a lot of them to get a couple of good ideas. Most of them are just, “Well, I wonder what this’ll look like?” sort of things that are meant to be briefly contemplated and then put in the good or bad pile. The bad pile is always the bigger of the two and gets tossed away never to be seen again.