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Todd Cumpston’s Journaling Journey: Sketching

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A few years ago a friend and I went to Manassas, Virginia for a weekend getaway. Part of this getaway was to meetup with some of her sketching friends at a neat little coffee shop downtown. This is when I met Todd Cumpston and several other really awesome people. I was in awe of the work these people where doing, and while I did some sketching of my own, I mostly enjoyed watching what they were doing. It was a really great time, but most importantly, I walked away from that gathering with a new appreciation for how other people journal.

Recently, I contacted Todd and asked him to share a little bit about his sketching. He even agreed to send some pictures to show his amazing work. I hope his words and work will inspire you as much as it has me. So let’s get right into the interview and see what Todd has to say about his sketching journey.

Todd, I asked you specifically to talk about your sketching because I wanted to let people know that there are different kinds of journaling, and that sketching definitely fits that category. So let’s talk a little about your sketching experience.

How long have you been sketching?

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Well, I’ve drawn my whole life, but I’ve been “officially” keeping sketchbooks since 2012.

What caused you to first start sketching?

As a visual thinker, it helps me process my life. I remember things much better if I sketch them- even better than if I have a photograph of the same scene. 

What kinds of sketching do you do, and do you have a favorite way to sketch?

The style of sketching I do is called URBAN SKETCHING. It is an online community of sketchers, and the goal stated in its “manifesto”  is to depict the ENERGY and SPACE of a location from life, to share the work online and to meet up and encourage each other sketchers in person. Wherever I am, wherever I go, there is a subject in front of me.

I start with pen and ink line work, and then add color selectively- to draw attention to the focus of the sketch. More recently, I have also started adding some text and framework/borders to some sketches, to add context as needed. I have even pasted things onto a sketch (receipts or tickets).

 I post all of my sketches on Instagram (@toddpop1) and Tumblr (toddpop1.tumblr.com).

Do you sketch every day? And for how long do you have a typical sketching session?

I do sketch every day. I will sketch instead of jumping on my phone while I’m waiting someplace. I can sketch for a couple of minutes, or I can sketch for an hour- it depends on how much time I have, and what the scene needs to capture it. 

A sketching practice can almost be like mindfulness meditation- it requires clear and accurate observation paired with accurate, simplified mark-making. It can be very satisfying. 

Do you have a favorite spot to sketch in? And do you think location matters when you sketch?

I love sketching people in their surroundings- how they interact with each other and with the scenery they inhabit.  I love urban areas with old buildings and I love old cars too. It doesn’t have to be classically “beautiful” to be visually interesting.  

I sketch quite a bit while I’m at lunch- restaurants are good places to capture people being themselves. I will even sketch my food!  I have sketched scenes from the front seat of my parked car.

I was in New York City for vacation this year- I sketched the backside of the Statue of Liberty and pasted my ticket onto the sketch- doing this is visually interesting and an easy way to record the date of my visit. My wife went shopping in a little boutique, and I sketched the storefront while she shopped. We stopped for gelato, and I sketched that too (I quickly did the line work first, and ate the gelato while I painted).

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Are you picky about the kind of materials you use to sketch? Do you think having certain materials makes a difference?

I use very simple tools- pencils, pens, watercolor paints. Over time, I have paid attention to HOW I use these tools and determined the best version of each to match the way I work.

I use a mechanical pencil so I don’t need to carry a pencil sharpener, and I like the regular line it makes. My pens of choice are mostly fountain pens- they require less pressure to create a line than other kinds of pens, and I can choose the exact ink I want. By hand-picking my watercolor paint, I have created a personal palette that gives me a wide range of colors and maximum intensity from a minimal number of pigments.

I usually carry a couple of sketchbooks with me at all times- a small one (3 ½” x 5”) for quick sketches on the go, and a larger one (6”x8”) with nicer watercolor paper for more intensive sketches. This book will open up to 6”x 16” when I want a panoramic or wide-angle view.

Have you taken sketching classes? And if you have, do you think they helped you become better at sketching?

Yes, I learn as much as I can from a variety of resources. YouTube can be an inexpensive resource, but it takes so long to find someone really worth watching, and it’s easy to waste time that I’d rather spend practicing sketching. There are great video sketching classes on Bluprint and Skillshare, and some of my favorite sketchers now offer video classes on their website.

I prefer learning in person- I like the immediate feedback from someone watching me work and giving suggestions on the spot. I also love to watch the teacher give a demo- I love seeing them make creative decisions “in the moment”.  I will do at least one 3-day class a year, and try to do as many 1-day classes as I can find and fit into my schedule. I can look back through my sketchbooks and see how I’ve grown as a sketcher.

I also love meeting up with other sketchers to sketch- to see how they work and how they sketch the same subjects. 

Do you think it’s necessary to be good at drawing to start sketching? 

No. You need to be good at looking- by that I mean you need to be able to see what is actually in front of you, not what you EXPECT the scene to be, and then start sketching from there.

You also have to keep trying. The best way to get better is to keep at it… again, and again. Learn from your previous sketches- what parts did you get right? 

What do you feel is the most important reason you sketch? What have you gotten out of this experience?

I sketch to make sense of the world I live in and to record and remember what I find interesting.

Once I found URBAN SKETCHING, I found a focus and a community. The Urban Sketchers “manifesto” gives me a framework that I can use to funnel my sketching impulses. I get and give encouragement and feedback via the online community and through the sketching meetups that we organize.

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If you were to give a beginner sketcher advice, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to get started, and don’t give up once you get started. Be open to what you personally create- don’t let your art be crushed by your expectations.

Is there anything else you would like to share about sketching?

Sketching can be a great addition to a journal- or it can be the journal itself. You can decide where you go with it and who you share it with.

Wow. That was some really great information. Thank you, Todd! If you would like to know more about Todd and his work, you can follow him on Instagram or Tumblr. You can also contact him directly by email.

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