When you’re sketching people or animals in the real world, it’s pretty rare to find a subject that holds still for a long time. When I was a teenager, I used to wait for my parents to fall asleep in front of the TV on their Barcaloungers. Then I’d grab my sketchbook and get started, because I knew they’d be snoring away for an hour or two.
A few other subjects are guaranteed rock-steady—Irish flutists, for example, especially if they are playing into a microphone. They tend not to budge an inch, so you can settle into a careful drawing.
But what do you do when you want to sketch a person or an animal that is moving constantly? First off, don’t bother trying to fill the page with just one pose. What I do is start in the upper left and draw a lot of quick little sketches. Each sketch shows one basic pose taken like a snapshot from the continuous action going on in front of you.
I did these pencil sketches of a hen, for example, at a friend’s farm. We dumped a big pile of compost in the yard and let the chickens run around pecking and strutting. All I was able to observe from each momentary phase of action was the basic shape and pose.
Here’s a tip for making your eyes work like a high-speed camera. As you watch your subject, snap your eyes closed from time to time. The last pose will hover for a few seconds on your eyelids. Once you get used to doing this, you can work from the short-term memory or the “flash-glance” as I call it, enough to do a quick sketch anyway. These sketches of a symphonic conductor were done that way. Give it a try, and let me know if it works for you.