Imagineering Methods for Theme Creation— Tools

The Photographer’s Sketchpad

Sketch_1 “I decided to become a photographer because I can’t draw (paint, etc.)” is a refrain I often hear from fellow photographers and students. I would not consider myself a sketch artist or painter, but I do rough sketches when I’m working on a project; when I’m thinking about a project, or for ideation.

I can understand the hesitancy of a photographer to sketch. However, the artistic quality of your sketches is not the point. The purpose of sketching is functional, not artistic. It’s about generating ideas, solving problems, and communicating concepts more effectively with others. Sketching is visual thinking; much as a rough draft is for developing a written piece. It works regardless of your drawing quality. Stick figures and blocky symbols work just fine.

Your sketchpad, which can just be pages in your journal, is a powerful tool. Drawing frees you from the mechanics of photography and allows you to explore an idea with simple forms and positions. I use the sketchpad, often with stick figures, squiggly lines, and odd shapes to get a sense of where I see the horizon, how I may want to isolate a pictorial element, and to try different variants of aspect ratios as I consider how a composition may look as a final print. I also examine structural elements and sketch whether they should be in frame or excluded.

Sketch_2In my current Fine Art Class, I sketched with students on the white board and on simple notebooks as we explored some great ideas. This allowed us to pre-visualize before arriving at a location or creating a studio set up. This morning I sketched while on location and made notes in my journal about how I want to treat certain things in post-production. I sometimes make small prints and trace an image to understand the main structural elements.

Sketching ideas eliminates the immediate environment and allows a photographer to freely imagine.   The eraser is as valuable in your sketching as is the pencil. Backtracking with the eraser tends to clear thoughts or more accurately help the photographer evaluate concepts. Ripping out pages and throwing them away can eliminate or assuage frustration with an idea that just does not seem to happen, but I find that saving sketches that did not work often stimulates new ideas later. Sketches also help filter out “rabbit hole” ideas—concepts that are impossible to produce or impractical to deliver. Drawing out ideas works as an early detection system—revealing potential issues before you or I invest significant time and providing “what if?” concepts for your visual muse.

Sketching is the complimentary development tool of your written journal. I use both tools to arrive at integrated decisions. Sketching and journals not only stimulate creativity, they also provoke, poke, and provide paths for creative efficiency.

A final thought; write with a pen, sketch with a pencil, and remember, as artist Paul Klee said, “A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.”

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