Baby in a Hat

One of the challenges of illustration is trying to keep the spontaneity and energy and – for want of a more accurate technical term – the ‘feel’ of a sketch, across the various tweakings and reworkings that mark almost any picture’s progress from sketchbook to finished product. How do you keep something looking fresh and off-the-cuff when in reality it’s (often – not always) carefully constructed, planned, and practiced? More difficult still – how do you preserve that indefinable ‘something’ from the sketch when it comes to reproducing  the image for the final presentation? Sometimes I find myself frustratingly unable to do it. I suppose that’s what a light box is for, and mine is very useful but even so, tracing from an original sketch isn’t always a sure-fire way to preserve what you loved about that first sketch.

Just such an impasse occurred when I made the sketch below, which was to form the basis for a finished, colour piece. The sketch all fell together exactly as I wanted – the expression of the baby, the texture of the paper, the texture of the pencil lines – all came together perfectly as I wanted. But when I came to try and recreate it for a more polished final version, something was lost. I couldn’t get the facial features to line up right. The smile became a different smile, the expression – to my mind – distorted. Ok, so no one else would know it was distorted as they wouldn’t see this preliminary sketch to know the difference – but to me the new version was off-kilter and so the whole effect I had wanted was compromised. Further, the pencil lines were different, the positioning subtly skewed. Something indefinable but impossible to ignore had been lost – the ‘feel’ of the piece.

So rather than the finished piece this week I figured I’d just share the sketch itself, which is now also the final version. Sometimes, you just can’t beat your unpracticed first attempt at something. No amount of subsequent refining or honing can make up for the loss of that initial spark.

What do other people call that indefinable something that  lives in the heart of a first sketch or a piece of writing before it undergoes alteration – spirit, soul, ‘feel,’ spark?



2 thoughts on “Baby in a Hat”

  1. Funny you should mention this – I’ve just finished a book on just that subject. He didn’t have much of a clue what to call it either, but much like you he knew it when he saw it.

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