Sketching on Location: The Quick Sketch

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu continues with his eighth "sketching on location" teaching installment. This month he discusses different approaches to quick sketching.

This is the eighth in a new series of bi-monthly articles about sketching on location. The articles are based on my Sketching on Location Manual. The manual was developed as a series of lessons that I use on my guided sketching tours of Europe and as material in my regular drawing classes. As such the lessons can be part of a regular course or used by individual students as a practical learning guide. In the last chapter we worked on "Drawing Groups of Figures." If you have not seen the previous lessons starting in the June 2000 issue of Animation World Magazine, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach. If you really want to start at the beginning open with the lessons based on the Vilppu Drawing Manual.

Everything we have done so far can probably be called "quick sketches." In this chapter I am using the term to describe the capturing of an individual or group of figures as quick notations. In the classroom we might call it gesture drawing. When drawing in the field, the quick sketch is more than just capturing the gesture of an individual. There is usually something about what we are drawing that grabs our attention. This "hook" can be any number of things: the tender way a mother is holding a child, a funny clown in the park, or the romantic couple at the table next to you. The late Isabel Bishop almost made a career out of drawing people walking. It is what catches your eye and interests you that counts.

All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

Another Approach

As usual, there are no rules. What I am presenting in this chapter is another general procedural approach to drawing. The first step is to identify to yourself what the subject of the drawing is. By subject, I'm referring to that particular element that has caught your eye. The subject can be a particular pose or action, an interesting shape, or an expression.

The next step is to capture the totality of that element as broadly and as quickly as you can. In doing this, you must make your point as clear as possible. I have found that if I try to exaggerate what I see, I usually end up getting closer to reality. Below are a few examples of this first stage of the drawing.

Above you will see a variety of approaches for indicating the subject. Notice how loose and open the drawing in the upper left corner is. Compare it with the same subject to the right. These two drawings were done when my wife and I were at the airport in Toronto, Canada, and she was doing a little last minute shopping. The one on the left is very general, but it still captures the basic attitude and shapes, plus a suggestion of the background. The second one goes a bit further by the development of the shapes of her raincoat, luggage and display case. Its evolution was determined by the length of time she was standing there. Both drawings captured the whole of what I wanted.

In the drawing in the lower left, the whole point of it was determined by the shape of the woman shopper. In the drawing of the standing man, the pose was what caught my eye. The interesting point of the group in the lower right corner was the grouping itself.

In all of these drawings you see very little detail. The general overall shapes of the forms tell the story. In the end, what makes the drawings interesting is the fact that they all have an individuality about them. What you see is a traveler shopping, a rather plump middle-aged woman; a man holding a cap over his heart, probably for the flag salute; and students sketching. You are less conscious of the method than the subject itself.

To take the drawing a little further, you can take two directions. First, you might want to bring out the subject more clearly and, second, clarify the form in space. Saying this more simply, first, capture the action. Next, develop the form.

By developing the form, you essentially make it feel roundish or three dimensional. Look at the drawing above and its reproduction to see where I have diagrammed how I used the simple idea of the cylinder to draw the lines going around the arms and waist. Notice the head where the lines of the glasses work in the same way as the lines on the side of a box, which create the illusion of three dimensions and the feeling of going back in space.

Now notice how I have selectively developed the detail in the drawing above. The legs and most of the body are very simply indicated, while the head and the large bag over her shoulder attract our attention. In the drawing below, of the clown twisting balloons, the hands are only barely indicated; it is the expressive shape and overall liveliness of the drawing that attracts us.

In the drawing below look at how the lines going around the cylinder of the neck give it volume. You should try to feel the lines wrapping around the form. Try to follow through and make the lines go over the edges of the contours, as if you can see around the corners.


A Different Take

Another helpful idea, which has often been called the "T" principle, is to create unambiguous lines that make obvious junctions so that we see them as belonging to separate forms and avoiding tangent lines.

In the drawing to the left, look at how this "T" principle was used. First, in the visor part of the cap, you see a clear overlapping of the two sides. As the ponytail comes out of the hat in back, I have used the same approach as I did in the above drawing of the neck. The lines go around the hair clearly defining it as a cylinder, and also create clear "T" connections as they go behind.

In drawing the shoulder area, the combination of seam, shoulder strap and folds going under the arm all work together to bring a feeling of roundness to the form.

Clear examples of the "T" and "wrapping" idea are indicated where the jacket goes around the leg and where the pack and leg come together forming angles.

Look at the drawings and diagrams throughout the following pages in the context of what we have discussed. Most of these drawings are shown at actual size.


Glenn Vilppu first wrote for Animation World Magazine in the June 1997 issue, "Never Underestimate the Power of Life Drawing." His drawing manuals and video tapes may be purchased in the Animation World Store.

Glenn Vilppu teaches figure drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and has been sent to teach artists at Disney TV studios in Japan, Canada and the Philippines. Vilppu has also worked in the animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students.