I usually carry a sketchbook with me all the time. If it's not on me it's in my truck. Nowadays smartphones are phenomenal to gather reference and snap pictures one can use for later reference. But to me, sketching on the spot ,whether a particular tree in the Grand Canyon or an elephant in a zoo, there is a huge difference. Sketching trains your eye to observe the important things in a subject. The gestures and shapes that you , as an artist on the spot, will pick out as important "landmarks". Rather than seeing how many whiskers are on a cat or how many buttons are on that jacket we are focusing on an overall feeling. Shapes, silhouette and landmarks that make lines important. Yes details are important but without a strong foundation, they are all useless and irrelevant.
We are going to cover some things that work for us in approaching a sketch. What do we look for? Where do we start? What is my goal?
Q - What do you look for?
Manu - in approaching a subject I will look for its general shape. Back to basic cubes, cylinders, spheres etc. nothing new there, "When you feel you are in trouble, go back to your basics" Rickson Gracie.
That statement is meant for martial arts, but it applies art perfectly. In drawing animals at zoos or parks, I break the animal in three parts. Forequarters, belly and hindquarters. I look for angles and landmarks in the silhouettes. My sketching approaches can vary from using lots of gesture lines to what I call noodling. I remember once hearing animator Glen Keane talk about this type of sketching. Your pencil make lots and lots of lines trying to find that perfect one that will do the job. One important rule is to stay loose. Do not focus on hair, eyelids or minor detail. Learn to observe. This is what sketching is.
David - My view on sketching is based on surfaces. I enjoy working with masses and contrasts. The line to me is a way to organize my thoughts, design and composition on the page, where I come to life is during the contrast part of sketching. Of course, the line will always be the foundation, but strong contrasts allow me to quickly validate or cancel volumes and shapes. As one of my friend, Joe Watmough mentioned before, it is as if you were an alien who just landed on earth, and you are seeing light and shapes for the first time. By detaching yourself from the subject you observe, you can attain a truer view of it.