The value of a sketch

While working on pieces, I’ve often found that starting with a smaller exploration of an idea or technique helps to solidify the tone or manipulation of the medium before embarking on a larger work. Take, for example, this smaller sketch of stones:

small stones 2

Playing with the idea of stones crafted in this way in a night-time setting allowed my mind to work out the kinks before attempting the piece below, entitled “Magi”:

Today, I found myself torn in several directions at once, despite a copious “to do” list and had to puzzle out my inability to focus. As it turns out, I was drifting from one thing to another because I’ve reached what I call the “point of decision” for a number of pieces. The point of decision comes when you must make a critical decision in a piece that forever alters it, for good or ill. It’s the fear of “ill” that usually stops me in my tracks and often the only way for me to get past this is to analyse the procedure to death and rationalise until I get so fed up with it that I “do it already”. Generally speaking, the decision I make is the one I had initially intended to go with and the whole process is about gumption, rather than design.

Kirk fabric layout started
The piece above is giving me some difficulty for two reasons. Firstly, whoever designed the Kirk (St. Andrew’s Church, St. John’s, Newfoundland – it was James Wills who designed it, btw) did an amazingly intricate and ornate job. The whole thing is made of brick, but has umpteen slit windows, relief designs and a slate roof done in two colours. The tricky part is deciding what to include and what to leave out without losing the effect of the building. I was also not sure about which rock fabrics to use for a winter scene, with Signal Hill in the background.

The sketch of the church is ongoing, but I’m finding that working smaller helps to solidify which details are critical to the whole piece. A quick sketch of the fabrics of Signal Hill on a similar piece of sky fabric reassured me that the effect was suitable (The borders aren’t my own creation, but are done with a photo programme.) :
Sketch of Signal Hill
A much larger piece (below) has been giving me even more trouble, as I have the background of the larger work (48″ x 30″) laid out rather nicely, but am hedging on the foreground an exactly how to construct and arrange the stones. I’m also a bit unsure of the colours of the columns in the larger piece.

By stopping my dithering and rerouting to a smaller (18″ x 13″), very quick sketch of the whole work as it will be with complete, I was able to visualise my way through the stones and reduce the foreground layers to their component bits. Usually a sketch is done before a piece, but doing a spontaneous sketch quickly utilising fabrics similar to those in the larger piece was quite liberating.

Sketch for

Generally I do a pen and ink sketch of a piece for layout purposes and often have it (and any photographs that might help with details) handy while I work. The hazard of working from photos is the abundance of detail and trying to reduce the detail carried over into the textile medium to a manageable level. The intermediate step of a fabric sketch seems to do that job very nicely. Not to mention that the smaller sketches have merit in their own right as works available to be sold!

A few tips:

  • select your sky and bottom (ocean, grass, etc) fabric first, or your background fabric, depending on what you’re sketching.
  • grab a range of fabrics you’ll think you need and back them with fusible.
  • variegated fabrics or irregular tone-on-tones work wonderfully as you can cut pieces with shading right out of them instead of cutting two fabrics to shade.
  • use your fabric pens or paints for little details.
  • do the whole thing in one sitting – it’s a SKETCH, remember?
  • by that same token, don’t use the last of your most precious fabrics for a first sketch. If possible, pick something that you have lots of or can get more of. Firstly, you don’t need the additional pressure and secondly, if it works, don’t you want to have more of that fabric for the larger piece?
  • cut out the stuff furthest away and try it out. If it works, iron it down and move forward through the picture.
  • if you mess something up, remember that IT’S A SKETCH. You’re supposed to make mistakes when you’re practicing. Did you keep every page of letters you ever wrote while learning to print? No, because you probably don’t have enough room in the basement. Learning involves making mistakes. Get used to it and get over it and stop worrying. You think I don’t have a floor of snippets that didn’t work?
  • work quickly and shove aside doubts.
  • have fun.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. arlee says:

    Magi is stunning!

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