Why take a sketch book when you look at sculpture?

Barbara HepworthIf you haven’t gone yet, and you possibly can – take this last opportunity to see Barbara Hepworth’s exhibition at the Tate. And if you go to see this or any sculpture – take a sketch book and pencil.

Why?

I thought about this as I scribbled furiously, and here are my thoughts;

Looking at sculpture and not sketching is like listening to music and not dancing. Your mind will take in the details, but there it ends. (ok, I want to say ‘but not your soul!’, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea). What is certain is that trying to record a sculptural form with lines and scribbles and notes makes you look at the object 360 times more intently.

You might want to sketch, but be scared that ‘people will think you look poncey’. Feel the fear and do it anyway! You will be so absorbed with your task that a whole herd of cows could come into the gallery (and judge you) and you wouldn’t notice or care. You will feel great.

The sketches that I am urging you to make are private studies, not intended as artwork in itself, though they might be beautiful in their own right. The point is the process, not the outcome. Even if you never looked again at your scribbles, they will not have been a waste of time: its the act of looking, trying to understand the piece and capture it’s essence that is of value.

There are so many things to look at at once, and addressing each question on paper shows how the different elements relate to each other as a whole. Here are some things to consider when you scrutinise  a piece of art  (and remember much will change each time you shift your viewpoint –

  • What is the outline of the sculpture?
  • What shape the negative spaces? (ie, the gaps between the solid forms).
  • How does the shadow fall across the sculpture, and how does this emphasise the form?
  • Notice the texture. Are the tool marks left from the carving process, or were they added deliberately for effect?
  • Is the piece trying to be a realistic representation? What distortions has the artist made – were these deliberate to emphasis the mood of the piece, or just a failure in translation?

At this point it’s not just about the piece as a physical object but as an artwork made by someone, and how you relate to it on a personal level. If you don’t do this already, here are a few questions you could ask yourself whenever you look at and assess a piece of art-

  • Do I like it?? Whether yes or no – why?
  • What is it trying to represent? Has the artist succeeded?
  • If the sculpture represents a living being , can you tell if they were old or young, thin or curvaceous? In a calm repose, or poised for action?
  • Do you feel pulled to walk around the sculpture to see what is going on on the other sides? Does it work ‘better’ from one side or another? (Hopefully not, in my opinion)
    and most importantly –
  • Does it have a sense of life to it, or does it merely look like a study of something else? This is a really important question. A piece of art could be exquisitely made, but lifeless – or badly put together, but you don’t care – it makes you feel something, it makes you believe in it’s right to exist.

my sketch of BH

I like to take a rotring pencil with me (0.7, H or HB) as they stay nice and sharp. Don’t bother with a rubber as it’s all about the journey and redrawing, redefining your record, adds to the story. Enjoy :>)


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2 thoughts on “Why take a sketch book when you look at sculpture?

  1. Pingback: Reference Sketching | David Fisher, Carving Explorations

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