Sketching Isn’t Painting

Sketching is information gathering and painting is translating the information. That’s where I’ve ended up after pondering one particular comment made in response to my Wimping Out of Plein Air Painting post: “even if you are doing a plein air painting in your watercolor sketchbook – it’s STILL a plein air painting.”

Outdoor painting is more of a sketching exercise for me--information gathering that I will translate when I'm in my studio.
Outdoor painting is more of a sketching exercise
for me–information gathering that I will translate
when I’m in my studio.

I kept thinking, “It’s true but…” and eventually I realized that the “but…” comes from the fact that I so often use words in my plein air painting sketchbook, that I don’t classify it as painting.

I’ll write in colors, labels to identify what cryptic scribbles are supposed to be, an arrow for the direction of light rather than sketching in shadows. All sorts of information and detail I’m too impatient to sit and sketch (or don’t have the time to do) but that I want to be reminded about when I’m standing at my easel.

If I didn’t believe so strongly that there’s no right or wrong way to sketch, and had never seen Monet’s studies that were mere lines, then the beautiful works of art you see in books on how to sketch might give me an inferiority complex.

My sketchbook is a memory aid, a reminder to load the visual images stored in my mind. A squiggle serves as a mnemonic for a type of grass or flower. A splash of watercolor for a raincloud. It’s information that will guide me as I pick and choose what goes into a painting.

Where do you draw (pun intended!) the dividing line between sketching and painting? Do you distinguish at all? Leave a comment and let me know.


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4 thoughts on “Sketching Isn’t Painting

  1. Drawings in my visual diary, with annotations, scribbles, arrows and parts scratched out, I do not even call sketches. I call them diagrams.
    I call something a sketch if it looks like a drawing but I have not really laboured to finish it.
    I call it a painting if it has been physically painful for me to produce. (Basically , it has to *deserve* to be called a painting.)
    Also, if any of the above turns out really bad by my standards, I will just call it rubbish and not deign to touch it again.

  2. Being an elementary teacher for 36 years before I retired I learned a lot about sketching,drawing and painting. Kids don’t sketch ,they just dive right in They aren’t analyzing there work they are drawing. Sometimes pencils could be a hinderence because of the erasers As adult artist we just scribble over what we don’t want. If I did a painting lesson with young children ,we went straight to paint. Trying to time each lesson for 40 minutes was hard so we took short cuts and were just expressive. We can do that in our sketchbooks because we always have another page to go to and plenty of time. The older kids liked drawing but became afraid to paint. Most didn’t do any painting at home and they became very tight. When I’m working I use the valuable lessons my students taught me. Be free and expressive, turn the page if it’s not working and paint with your heart.

  3. I agree that a sketch is a guiding tool. I use my sketches to loosen up and just let go, knowing for a fact that it is not going to be a masterpiece when it’s finished. Good sketches also include those things you mentioned like color, texture, a style of grass or flower. You want to be able to use your sketch later, like a tool, when you decide you want to sit down and do an actual painting. I believe that everyone’s style of sketching is unique to them. Everyone develops what works best for them over time. Sketching is one of my favorite things to do, by the way.