We took life drawing classes in college. Aside from the somewhat uncomfortable aspect of having a (mostly) naked person posing in front of you, it was a great way to move outside our comfort zones. Our instructor, Jan (that’s pronounced “Yawn”) had a particular critiquing style that was a cross between facetious and sarcastic. As he walked around the room, he would comment on our work. “Good heavens, the fingers look like little sausages!” or “Good heavens, the folds of the dress look like a radiator!” It was because of this particular wit that we all loved Jan.
For the class, we would draw on LARGE newsprint pads—we’re talking around 20×30”—using mostly graphite sticks and large clutch pencils. Even though we had this huge sheet of paper, many of us still drew small, and I remember Jan telling us “draw bigger!” I think many of us still felt timid about our skills, and the concept of that billboard-sized (to us) sheet of paper was intimidating. It took awhile to get used to the real estate of that sheet.
There are obvious differences between life drawing and hand lettering. Life drawing is more physical and free, with a lot more arm motion. Hand lettering is more technical and studious, with mainly hand motion. The exception to this would be murals and sign painting.
Small sketches, or thumbnails, are good for quickly running through a wide gamut of concepts. You have to go through a lot of mediocre stuff to get to the good stuff. I know my first thoughts are not usually my best.
There comes a point where a thumbnail won’t help you solve problems. It’s just too small to work things out. This is where I will biggie-size things.
For a larger sketch, I’ll stick to a letter size sheet, and break out a 2mm clutch pencil, or even my behemoth 5.6mm clutch pencil I picked up in Prague. The bigger lead forces me to draw larger. Things at this point are still rough and completed somewhat quickly. I’m still figuring out some of the details but not being too fussy. I tend not to erase too much at this point. I’ll do a sketch, make a note of something I want to change, then move on to another version.
There’s also something really enjoyable about working with the larger leads. I often fill in the larger areas, even though I don’t need to.
Below, you can see a sketch I did for my summer camp piece, next to one of my thumbnails. Both are in proportion to each other. You can see in the thumbnail I dropped the alien from the final art. I still thought it was funny, though.
When I’m satisfied with the sketch, I’ll move on to a comp, or comprehensive (below). This version can be imported to my drawing app for final rendering. That said, I almost always make further changes when I go to final.
Don’t be afraid to go through paper. Lots of it. It’s one of the most renewable resources in the world. I do most of my larger sketches on plain ‘ol laser paper. If I need more, I just take some from my printer tray.
When you need to solve design issues, make your sketches bigger.