Book Review — April 2022 Edition

Cover of Sketching from square one...

Sketching from Square One… to Trafalgar Square

By Richard E. Scott

In Sketching from Square one… to Trafalgar square, Richard E. Scott presents us with an option. Continue with the ordinary or… begin to experience.

From the introduction:

“When I sketch, I immerse myself in beauty, think creatively, and take a brief hiatus from the dramas and demands of my day. Yet, I am not off in some trance. I am fully present in that place and that moment.”

This book of three parts promises to teach the reader how to see as an artist in order to sketch anything from landscapes to urban street scenes to making studies from live models. Sketching is different from drawing in a few ways. First, the sketch is not a completed presentation of a subject.  It is a visual note taking system for artists to use when they return to the studio to pursue creating a work.

You may ask, why not take a picture of the scene or subject? There are a few critical things to consider before using a camera to record your scene. The first is the details of the subject that you, the artist, find interesting.  

A camera may not be able to capture the nuance that you see. Cameras flatten and distort the scene. When you sketch a scene, you commit to memory the things that interest you. This memory is critical to portraying the subject from your point of view. I am reminded of Deborah Paris’ advice from “Painting the Woods”, “Memory is selective and personal, and that makes it particularly powerful in creative work.”

Sketching also helps artists build confidence and learn how to express their ideas visually, learning to find the visual elements that express your emotional response. Sketching is also a great way to explore an idea without committing a lot of materials and time. 

The focused observation of your subject leads to recognition of shapes, patterns and negative space which are important elements in art be it realism or abstract. The ability to recognize shapes and patterns becomes an aid for suggesting new ideas and unique work.

The book, Sketching from square one to Trafalgar square,  walks us through the process, step by step.

Sketch for an oil painting

The first part of the book teaches how to break down the subject or scene into shapes, angles and proportions using text along with visual drawing exercises designed to reframe how to analyze the subject you intend to sketch. It is a method to simplify and organize complex  information so that it can be transcribed to your sketchbook. 

Street scene

Street Scene   Albert Richards

  • Think of drawing as a way of talking about the things that interest you.

    John Sloan

In part two of the book, we learn about the how of evaluating a subject through a process called SEE an acronym for simplify, emotional response and examine and compare. Using SEE, the author guides us in learning what exactly attracts us to a scene and gives us the tools to get that into our sketchbooks. 

The S in SEE, simplify, is a method for editing the elements of a scene in order to organize the material in a way that supports our ideas. Here we are given the tools to tackle any scene using the basic observational skills learned in part one and adding shape and pattern recognition. 

In emotional response we learn the critical questions we must ask ourselves as artists before we begin sketching, in order to refine our ideas and have a clear goal in mind. Instead of faithfully rendering every detail, we learn to zero in on the very heart of what makes our subject special. Asking these questions of ourselves before we begin sketching will determine the key reasons for our own interest and ensure a unique result. We aren’t sketching a scene, person or still life because other artists have sketched it. Our sketch should reflect our unique viewpoint of the subject.

Part three of the book is how to sketch. Now we get into the mechanics of putting it all together. How to construct a sketch, from the first line to perspective and accuracy, the author explains how to build the sketch to get the result you want.

This book is well thought out and does a great job of explaining every step involved in sketching. There is no mystery, armed with the tools and knowledge from this book, everyone, with practice, can sketch confidently and become the artist you want to be.