Prelude to color, the value of a quick sketch

[By Marcia Milner-Brage in Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA]  When something interesting meets my eye, I often draw it. This is the way of sketchers who draw from direct observation. This reflex to put marks on paper, to transfer tidbits of visual revelation is what all of us sketchers hope to exercise as long as we can hold a pencil and have eyes to see.

At home or away, I grab my always handy pocket-size Moleskin, my soft 5B pencil, and stick eraser. Often, I don’t know what made something interesting until I’ve draw it. On this day in January, it wasn’t until I’d finished my fast and furious scribbling, stopped being the doer, and became the observer of my result, that I started to understand what was compelling about what I’d recorded. Tire track ruts designated the street. All forms outside were transformed by the fresh snow. Puffy whiteness, blankets of new white were in contrast against the backdrop of distant trees; freeform snowdrifts were implied by gradations of value. Only afterwards did I know what I’d seen. Without having invested a lot of time, I was satisfied that I had captured the truth of the moment. I went off to wash dishes, pay bills, and transfer a load of laundry to the dryer.

But the monochrome sketch I’d just done needled away in my mind’s eye. Hmmm….maybe a painting of that scene is called for. There was color, albeit winter muted color. I grabbed my gouache set and a small piece of grey rag board. The late afternoon light was diminishing, I had to work fast. The experience from the quick sketch propelled me into the color. Here’s what followed:

From my kitchen table window, I’d been perusing the snowdrift on top of the porch roof across the street for days. I became very endeared to it. Lazily I thought: I should sketch that shape that looks like a mini-Matterhorn. But it wasn’t until the forecast predicted a January thaw, that I hopped to it. Waiting to draw snow is utterly foolish. In short order, I got down that captivating pointy drift. I was pleased, I’d recorded it before it had melted into oblivion.

Well it didn’t warm up. Temperatures stayed well below freezing the next day. Mini-Matterhorn did not melt. I was in luck. Educated by my quick sketch, I applied myself to a small gouache painting. I wasn’t copying from my sketch, I was observing anew. My initial sketch became lead-up to an expanded composition. The value study became a prelude to the color.

The two color works here were also shown in one of my earlier 2016 posts: The color and shape of snow.


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