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Direct-to-Ink Exercises: Part One: Single Line Sketching

April 17, 2015

I’m going to do a short series of posts about the exercises from the Richmond workshop. This is the one of three exercises: 01 Single Line | 02 Tone Shapes | 03 Post and Rail Panoramas

These projects are designed to be quick jolts of inspiration. Something you can do in under an hour.

Each one is a visual/perceptual game. Just have fun playing with them, and see what you can do. Don’t worry too much about the results – these are aimed at fun and relaxation.

Although, I hope at the same time, they will get into your subconscious and help you be more spontaneous, more ready to just throw down and make a sketch in a few moments.

You will not need any special supplies. Just a drawing pen and a brush pen. Any brand will do (but I do have supply notes here).

These types of sketches all work very well with watercolor (because, that’s my ultimate goal – drawing methods that translate well into painting). But for the first few times, don’t worry about tinting your sketches. Just concentrate on feeling what it’s like to draw quickly with confidence.

Direct to Ink Exercise: Single Line Sketching

  • In this exercise we’ll be sketching with a continuous line.
  • We’ll do five sketches in 20 minutes. Work small. 4×6″ or 5×7″ would be great.
  • When you start drawing, don’t allow yourself to pick up the pen point. Make the sketch in a single, uninterrupted line.
  • Keep the pen moving, letting the line flow between objects, cross forms, and break out of shapes.

15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (4)

  • Finish the line drawing with the brush pen, placing darks in trees, windows, and cast shadows.

15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (1)

  • It’s best to work on location (you can see so much more looking around), but if you want to draw at home, Google Street View or Image Search are good resources.
  • This probably won’t be easy at first – but that’s ok! You are learning with every sketch. The more you do, the faster you learn.
  • See how far you can get with one uninterrupted line.
  • Feel free to leave things out – edit reality.
  • You can pause your pen and study what’s going on before continuing.

15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (2)
15Apr02_SingleLineDemo (3)

  • If you accidentally lift – just keep going where you left off. Don’t be too strict.
  • Work left to right, leave negative shapes, break forms, join shapes, connect objects to the ground.
  • Use overlapping objects to move the line back and forth in space.
  • Have FUN with it!

Direct to Ink Exercise: Cinq-à-Sept Sketches (5-7 lines)

  • After a few rounds of Single Line Sketches, your drawing hand should feel more relaxed.
  • Now try a slightly larger drawing with more detail. 6×9″ or 8×10″.
  • Aim to get three drawings in 45 minutes.
  • Don’t lose the feeling of flowing lines and rapid observation.
  • This time: allow yourself 5 to 7 continuous lines. One line for each major object or passage in your drawing.

15Apr02_Cina-a-Sept (1)

  • The limit is meant to keep the drawing fresh. Don’t worry too much about the exact count.
  • Establish a central shape in a few lines, then do the background with another line or two. Save a couple of lines for people, cars, and small objects in the foreground.
  • Remember to weld shapes when possible, to reduce the number of objects. Feel free to leave out detail in areas away from the focus.
  • Reduce distant figures and street clutter to brush marks and floating squiggles.

15Apr02_Cina-a-Sept (2)

  • Save some time to go back and add darks with the brush pen.
  • These drawings will look great with color but don’t stop sketching yet. Paint them after you get three in 45 minutes.  Often I’ll paint in a café when I’m taking a break to eat.
  • If you are spending a day on location, see if you can get 8-10 sketches in an afternoon of sight-seeing.

15Apr02_Cina-a-Sept (3)

29 Comments leave one →
  1. kitschuetze permalink
    April 17, 2015 9:45 AM

    Reblogged this on KIt Schuetze – Art.

  2. April 17, 2015 10:23 AM

    Thank you for sharing your work. It inspires me to create in my own life, giving me the freedom to express!

  3. April 17, 2015 10:55 AM

    Definitely going to give this a whirl! Thanks.

  4. April 17, 2015 11:22 AM

    Thank you for sharing this. I get so caught up in capturing detail and often get artists’ block. This is an excellent exercise.

  5. April 17, 2015 12:24 PM

    Those are all fantastic tips. The continuous line approach is something I have done when life drawing and I found it really sharpened my observational skills as a prelude to embarking on a longer study. Landscapes / cityscapes are something I have never really done (not since I was made to at High School actually) but you have inspired me to maybe have a crack at it. Drawing from google streetview would work for me since my kids would never give me peace, quiet and focus enough to draw on the spot. I will squirrel this away as a future project. Thanks for the tutorial and the inspiration!

  6. Rene Wojcik permalink
    April 17, 2015 6:09 PM

    Thank you, Marc for all you are doing in this growing art form. Your work has been an inspiration to me and a number of Urban Sketchers that I know. Keep up the fantastic work.

  7. April 18, 2015 4:17 AM

    This is swell, thankyou.

  8. April 19, 2015 2:48 AM

    This is fine, thanks.

  9. April 19, 2015 10:28 PM

    So generous for you to share the exercises here. A great way to approach a complex subject.

  10. April 21, 2015 9:25 AM

    thank you for so generously sharing your time and knowledge!

  11. April 23, 2015 10:24 PM

    This was really helpful! Thank you!

  12. April 24, 2015 9:51 AM

    Hi Marc,

    i’m a bit confused about the 5-7 exercise – is the idea to create a skeleton of the whole sketch in 5-7 lines in the first pass and then start refining keeping the 5-7 approach? Say in the second pass i draw the column on the left and then on third one the entrance of the building? Or i’m totally off? Could you please clarify? The exercises seem very helpful so i would love to do them (hope you’re working on the second book – your first one and the craftsy class are are great!)

    Thanks much!

    • April 24, 2015 7:12 PM

      oh well, it was a dumb moment – i figured it out :)

    • April 24, 2015 8:17 PM

      I think you have it. First try to do the whole scene in one line. You won’t be able to :) but it’s fun to try :) and it helps you feel the loose, relaxed, wandering line that is forced to break shapes and cross objects. To be less literal.

      Then when you allow yourself 5-77 lines (one for each major object) – you can try to keep that sense of continuous line, while being a bit more detailed, at bit more descriptive.

  13. Rekha permalink
    April 24, 2015 10:59 AM

    Marc, if you have your drawing from your earliest attempts, it’d be nice to see them with your commentary on what you thought required altering/improving

    • April 24, 2015 8:13 PM

      I don’t really know how far back I have – you can use the archives dropdown on the rigth of the articles to see some older work. If you go all the way back to 2007 you’ll see my sketches were a lot simpler. Just ballpoint and brush pen. But I don’t have anything older than that :)

  14. February 12, 2018 10:22 AM

    Thank you for sharing your method! I found the single line approach to urban sketching to be surprisingly liberating = very useful!


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