Gymnastics Sketch

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I’ve been a long time admirer of Marina Grechanik’s sketches.  It has given me great joy to be able to ask her questions about her people sketching and her sketching process.  Here’s what she said.

Why do you sketch?
Sketching is one of my passions. Maybe it is the most accessible way to keep myself in shape for drawing– it doesn’t need a scheduled time, in fact, just opposite – it fills holes by keeping me busy while I have to wait for other things.

But most of all, I think, sketching is a kind of journey for me. When I sketch I really observe the surroundings, watch what’s happening, enter strangers’ lives, and discover their stories. It’s as if before I sketch – everything that I look at is flat. But after I sketch – things get their third dimension. I also think that my way to store things in my memory is to draw them. Taking pictures just isn’t the same.

When did you start sketching?
I have loved drawing as long as I can remember. I have drawings of my room that I did when I was around 7 years old.

I would always draw and sketch from time to time – during some periods more often than others. For the last five years, my sketchbook hasn’t left my bag and I upload my sketches to Flickr regularly. For more than 3 years now I have been one of the Urban Sketchers blog correspondents, so my addiction has turned into a kind of obligation. 😉

What is your favourite subject and why?
People! I have always loved drawing people. It is never boring and it always tells a story. I love to capture their expressions, postures, and movements. Every little change can tell so much!

Maritime Museum

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How did you learn to draw people?
As I said above, I love drawing people the most. Drawing is like a sport – the more you practice – the faster you can run.

I also graduated from an art academy in Russia. I studied plastic anatomy and drew lots of models. I think that having an academic base doesn’t hurt; though just knowing how to draw all the bones and muscles doesn’t turn you into an artist. You need to know how to make sure that your academic knowledge does not become the main focus. There is no need to show all the muscles – you can draw six fingers instead of five, and the body position can be physically impossible – but if it works, if it makes the impact – you have a great drawing.

When you are sketching out and about, do members of the general public speak to you?  How do you deal with sketching in public?
Usually, I don’t like when people noticing me sketching. Especially in Israel, people feel free to give you advice about everything. That’s why my favorite places to sketch are coffee shops, where I can easily hide behind my cup of coffee. Also, people in coffee shops are too deep into their conversations and meals so they usually don’t even notice me sketching them.


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Only when I am with another sketcher with me I get the courage to sketch “unhidden.”  Actually, it’s a great experience, and maybe one of the benefits of sketching on location. People’s reaction is mostly positive and there is always some interaction, which creates a new story. Here is the story of what happened when I dared to draw in the middle of the street for first time (I think). Here you can see an example of another urban story from Lisbon. After the amazing experience at the Lisbon Urban Sketchers Symposium where we sketched for three days in groups of around 15 people each and especially after the amazing final “Sketchcrawl” where hundreds more sketchers filled the main city square, I have been trying to sketch “unhidden” more and more.

How do you choose your subject matter?
As I said, most of my sketches are made as I fill up the “waiting time” in my everyday life. My sketchbook is always in my bag, so I can take it out while I’m waiting at coffee shop, in line, at one of my children’s extracurricular classes, at playground, etc… For me, there is no such thing as a boring subject! In every situation I looking for little stories to tell, and believe me – they are everywhere!

What's The Secret?

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Can you describe your process of creating a sketch? 
First of all (and most importantly), I observe the place I’m going to sketch and plan the composition, I choose my “heroes”, the format and the tools that fits it the best. For example, if I sketch in a coffee shop and my sketch will include a group of people sitting – I would start drawing by drawing them, as I never know how much time they will stay, and then I add the still environment afterwards. If I’m sketching in a park or on the street, where people are moving all the time and stop for only short moments,  I would start drawing the surroundings first and add people every time that I am able to capture something interesting.

I don’t like to pencil in guide marks first – for me, it ruins the spontaneity of the sketch. If my sketch is a relatively “long-term” one, I like to start with watercolor shapes, then add detail with watercolor pencils, then more watercolor, more pencils, and so on…

If I know that I do not have much time – I work with pen or pencil only and then might add some color at home, but not necessarily.

I love to use collage in my sketches: sometimes I add to my sketch papers that I find at the site, like napkins or pieces of advertisements. In addition to looking nice, it is kind of evidence that I really was there!

When you are sketching people, how do you deal with the fact that they are always moving?
People often move or suddenly disappear from our sight, which makes it hard to sketch them. Good observation always helps me to understand and memorize things in movement. I try to “know” my subject more closely – what s/he is doing, what kind of person s/he is, and what is s/he is thinking about? I making up little stories for them and it make my sketches more personal and help me to get their expressions and postures better.

Do you ever sketch from photos?
Yes, I usually use photos when I do illustrations.

Does sketching tie in with your other work?  If so how?
By profession, I am a graphic designer and illustrator. Regular sketching keeps my hand alive and expressive. I always try to include in my illustrations the spontaneity and “mistakes” of on-location sketching. In addition, my sketchbook provides me with a personal bank of images that I can draw on for my designs and illustrations.

Hilton Beach

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Do you have a favourite sketching medium?
I love traditional drawing tools: pens, pencils, and colored pencils. I have a lot of respect for graphite pencil; it can be very rich and colorful in well-trained hands. I love watercolor – it’s the hardest technique, because you can’t undo it; but that’s also why it is so beautiful. I also love to draw with ink because of its variable lines and spontaneity. Recently I’ve got a nice set of brush pens that gives me lovely results. I can’t resist mixing all those tools together. And as I said before, I love to use collage in my sketches – pasting on papers that I find on location. Usually I have several sketchbooks at the same time – in different sizes and with different kinds of paper. For example, I use my watercolor Moleskine only if I know I have enough time for sketching. Otherwise, I use another book with thinner and cheaper paper. I’m not a “one-technique” person – I love to experiment and this makes me change my tools and the kind of sketching paper from time to time.

Can people buy your art and if so, where?
I’m thinking of opening an Etsy shop, but for now I can be contacted personally via my Flickr account.

Marina Grechanik Self-Portrait

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What are your top 3 tips for readers who want to sketch people in public?

  1. Don’t be afraid to draw a “bad” sketch. The more you sketch – your hand will get faster and your eye sharper.
  2. If you don’t like people peeking over your shoulder and giving you free advice while you’re sketching, try to do your first “public” sketching accompanied by a friend. It helped me overcome my fear of drawing in public and I really enjoyed interacting with people!
  3. What people are doing is more important than how they look. Try to learn their behavior and it will help you to capture the overall movement.

Thank you so much Marina for sharing this with us! See Marina’s work at Flickr Marin71


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