Learn to Draw > Sketching

We all know that frequently a sketch is more effective and impressive than a finished picture.

This results in part from the simplification of shape and the absence of distracting detail. The most beautiful and splendid picture may at times leave the beholder unmoved at a superficial glance; he turns away with the feeling that demands are being made on him to concentrate his attention, to give himself up. The sketch holds him more easily, it invites him to linger. This is because a sketch leaves so much open to him; it stimulates him to complete in imagination what is fleeting and unexpressed; it is full of mystery. And mystery, as everyone knows, is always attractive.

The fleeting, interrupted strokes that fade into the plane of the picture are continued in the mind, an activity of which one never tires.

sketch by rembrandt showing the power and emotion of unrestricted work

Another charm of the sketch is that one can see how it came into being and can follow the work of its creation. Everyone enjoys watching work being done, whether or not he himself could do it. It is often said that art should conceal art, and it is true enough that signs of the effort of creation can oppress or disturb the beholder's enjoyment. But in most sketches everything seems easy, since it arose without obligation, and everyone prefers a suggestion to a command.

Gradually a new conception was introduced into the visual arts, that of a work which has the nature of a sketch, which implies rather than formulates precisely, intended not as a sketch or study but as the finished work. This vagueness and evanescence brought yet another quality into the work of art: the idea of Movement.

Until the beginnings of Impressionism it had not been possible, other than in sketches, to represent anything but a fixed moment of movement, like a still from a motion picture. But a strong gesture interrupted and frozen was less and less felt to be satisfactory. It is tolerable only when it is represented just before or after its climax.

Lessing tried to develop from the laocoon group a theory of the right moment of representation which would give the noblest expression of the inner event, but it had no practical outcome. Lessing's deductions could only be regarded by detached painters as a restriction of theme. The Impressionists, however, found an inspired solution to the problem of movement in the suggestiveness of the sketch.

Next: Composition

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