Sketch: Dog Reclining

I did a little something to tide me over until I get my new colored pencils…but it didn’t turn out how I expected.

I went back to basics with this one—a pencil sketch—but with an unintentional twist (varying from my usual method). I used a photo reference. I drew directly from the image on the computer instead of printing it out because it can be very helpful to be able to zoom in on textural elements, but that turned out to be less relevant than I expected. I used my 9×12 recycled paper sketchbook.

First I sketched out the outlines with my 4H pencil. I really struggled to get the initial sketch for some reason, so I ended up roughly drawing the different shapes I saw to try and get the proportions right.


Then I went back in and smoothed out some of the lines to more closely reflect the image.


Next, I plotted out areas of light and dark using a #2 pencil because the 4H just isn’t dark enough, especially for a black dog. Typically I would start out with directional strokes and build up the texture of the fur that way, but I guess because I’ve been working with underpaintings and charcoal it was instinctive to cover broader areas of the page with the edge of my pencil. This greatly affected the outcome of the piece.


I added additional detail and did some cross-hatching, unsure of how I might improve the quality of the texture.


I ended up heading in the opposite direction and smoothed out the marks I had already put down with a paper blender, which resulted in an almost water-color-like look. This was definitely a go-with-the-flow drawing rather than a carefully planned one.


To be honest, this is not the sketch I was going for at all. I have had success with textured dog fur in the past, but in the end this turned into something else. I enjoyed drawing it though, and that matters a lot!


I decided not to finish the sketch because it already had all the elements I wanted.


How can you tell when a drawing is finished?

I’ve read that one big mistake artists make is calling a piece finished too soon. I agree that can be a problem. But to simplify things a little (especially for you perfectionists out there), here’s another way to tell if a drawing (or even a sketch) is “done”: it does what you want it to do. Think about whether your art is saying what you want it to say to the viewer. Does it look like what you wanted to draw (or something that surprised you but you are still happy with)? Does it give off the kind of energy that you want? Did you gain something in the process of drawing? (This could be new skills or ideas, or simply enjoyment of the process). Of course you want elements like highlights and shadows to be in place, too. I hope this is a helpful way to look at this issue.


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