Keep it Simple

One question I’m frequently asked is, “How do you know what to put into a drawing and how do you decide what to leave out?  Whether you’re standing before a busy scene, or even looking at a photograph, all the “things” in the subject may be saying, “Draw me draw me!”

The best drawings are those that communicate an idea.   Notice I wrote AN idea, not several ideas.  Whether you’re doing a sketch in a journal or working on a more detailed drawing,  simplicity is key.  If you are looking at a complicated subject, focus on one object.  To find that one object, ask yourself some questions as you look at the scene before you:

What is it about this scene that inspires you or, intrigues you?

How does it make you feel?

What is necessary to communicate that idea?

What is not necessary in the subject?

Here’s an example of a scene with a lot in it-


These are  net sheds along the waterfront in Gig Harbor, Washington.  They are used by the local fisherman and, as you might be able to see, there’s a lot of – for lack of a better word – junk in the picture.  Standing in front of this view, my eye was pulled in all directions at the weathered wood, the piles of things on the docks,  boats beyond the and houses and other structures on the distant hill.  Even the ripples and reflections on the water add to the detail.  As I look at it,  though, I’m drawn to the upside down boat on the dock.  That speaks to me of someone using this area for their trade.  The layers of the basic shapes of the net sheds are important to add context, but much of the  other stuff is not.  Now, you might prefer the pilings, or the reflections in the water.  The wonderful thing is that it will be different for each of us.  That’s what makes it art!

I’m going to do just a quick sketch to demonstrate.  Because even this will take too long for a video, check out the progress sketches below.  I start by laying in  a line drawing of the buildings and the dock with the boat on it, first lightly in pencil, then in ink.

netshed1I put in all the elements that I choose to use in this drawing.


There’s still a lot of things here, but it is simpler.  You’ll  notice that I changed some things.  The second shed is shorter and the tall pole now comes up behind the boat.  I did that to further accentuate that part of the drawing.  Next I add value with vertical lines to give the scene more depth.


Adding values moves your eye into the drawing; strong contrast by the boat creates a focus point.


And finally just a few more lines for interest.



Go to the gallery to see a recent ink and watercolor I did of this scene.

Remember, Keep it simple!




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