So you make these super fantastic sketches at a local coffee shop…or the zoo…or a park…or some secret amazing spot you discovered…so what do you do next? They are cool memory images of an experience but you want to do something bigger and better with them. You want to share them (or maybe you have an assignment where you HAVE to make them into a more fancy, formal art piece.). How do you go about it? Here are some stories to help from an artist who has tried and failed and yet sometimes succeeded in this regard.

My professor in grad school really liked this miniature study I made of a window and brick wall. He said, “That would be really great if it was giant size (well, he didn’t say giant size exactly; probably said “larger”).” I worked on this one painting over the entirety of a semester (as well as other projects. I wasn’t completely obsessed). The professor and I would meet periodically when he would give advice. I would try it. It would not work. He gave more advice. It wouldn’t work again. I tried my own ideas. Those didn’t work. Nothing seemed to capture the original. When we got to the end of the semester, my professor told me that sometimes artworks couldn’t be made into bigger pieces. Sometimes they are best small. So what was the point of spending all that time into one painting that never worked? That I ended up rolling up and throwing away? What could I have possibly learned?

I learned this. Each artwork is an individual entity, whether a sketch or a final piece. We can take what we do in one and inform the other but simply recreating/copying doesn’t often work. There is something to be said of the creative act; something that happens within its borders that is difficult, if not impossible to fully redo. It is good to respect it.

To illustrate this idea, here is another story. I spent an afternoon finding insects by the Milwaukee River, drawing and painting studies of them with pencils, watercolor and ink. My goal was to make a painting for a competition. I was enjoying my time outdoors but I was disappointed how few creatures I was finding. I decided to stick my hand in the water and lift some rocks, as this is often the hiding place of larvae and who knows what else. Nothing found. This too seemed a futile effort. It was autumn so animals of this type were starting to die off or digging deep to hibernate.

But I tried again, lifting a large flat rock. When I turned it over, I was surprised and definitely delighted to see a giant water bug attached. I knew he or she would not stay long, so I quickly took a few photos and made a pencil sketch. The bug started to move so I put it and the rock back in the water. My collection of studies that day included the bug. The artwork was juried into the show and was sold as a gift to a mom for her birthday. Was this the end of story for the piece? No. I wanted to make another artwork based on this experience. I thought about copying the original or making it very similar but then I remembered my grad school window painting moment and decided it against it.

KGjerdset_Milwaukee River Walk

(Water bug in upper right)

I did think about the most memorable about that day. It was the giant water bug. The finalized painting became not about what I collected with my eyes on the river trail but what surprised me. The bug took my day from being somewhat mediocre to an incredible discovery. I had never seen one before. That’s what I wanted my viewers to know about. The resulting artwork shows the giant water bug bursting on the scene. The size of the creature and its claw like legs are emphasized. He has created a disturbance, much like he did for me.

The sketches gave me new ideas. The final artwork grew out of the studies.

Without the sketches, the painting would have never happened.

Each image, though connected by an experience, is distinct. Each developed naturally. Nothing was forced and each conveys the essence, the spirit of what happened. Each shows a part of what I wanted to share.

5 Gjerdset_Milwaukee River Walk 2 copy

(I wrote this for my college art students, hopefully as inspiration. :))



3 thoughts on “From Sketches to Final Artwork

    1. Thank you and thanks for visiting to read it! Sketches/studies are so important but also a most enjoyable part of the process. 🙂 Also, the students did appreciate. I have a great bunch for my advanced drawing class this semester. Every week, for at least one of the sessions, we travel somewhere around town to draw.They have made a wonderful variety of images from the trips. I must say a plus with teaching art is that you HAVE to go out exploring for visual ideas! 🙂

      1. It’s interesting to see rough drafts of poems, sketches and studies for paintings, etc. Watching the creative process unfold is fascinating! Traveling to new places is a nice way to break way from routine and mundane ways of seeing things. I often feel more creative in those situations.

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