The Sketch – Prelude or Work of Art? / by Gary Perrone

As an artist I have come to see the sketch not only as a prelude to the creation of larger, more important works of art, but also as a work of art unto itself. For me, the sketch is a vital part of my thought process and instrumental when trying to visualize a concept.

When you look at the work of a master, William Turner for example, the experience is much more rewarding when one takes into account the extensive sketching Turner did in advance of painting marvelous pictures. His sketchbooks – many in color, were his way of rapidly documenting his observations.

The Impressionists who came on the art scene after Turner sketched like mad. Renoir, Cézanne, Pisarro and Sisley, to name a few, placed a value on sketching. They were experiencing life – outdoors, in clubs and cafes. They were revolutionary in their quest to depict real life in their art and to do it in such a way that would shatter everything the world thought it knew about art.

Henry James said of the Impressionists:

Henry James on Impressionism.jpg

When I look at the magnificent paintings of the Impressionists I think how wonderful it must be to paint in so spontaneous a manner. When I paint I realize spontaneity removes control and therefore mastery. Looking at the sketches of Degas I see the prelude. He did not rely on his memory or leave to chance a line or gesture. What shows up in his paintings originates in his sketches. Cézanne also seemed to sketch in order to fix in his mind an interesting face or moment, in his own style, which he then carried through to the stunning climax of the finished painting.


Sketching provides mastery on many levels. It is most certainly a prelude to a greater work of art. Looking at this charcoal study of Dr. Gachet one sees how a sketch can also be a work of art. If you are Cézanne. Or Sisley.


The images and quotes above are taken from Impressionists and Impressionism by Maria and Godfrey Blunden, The World Publishing Company. Printed July 1970.

For me, sketching is many things. It is always a prelude to something creative. Like ideas for sculpture or concepts for paintings. Often, it is merely the act of visually conceptualizing a thought or an idea. It is not doodling and it is not drawing, but sometimes both.

Nicodemus. Pencil sketch by Gary Perrone.

Nicodemus. Pencil sketch by Gary Perrone.

I enjoy sketching from High Renaissance sculpture. Sketching from the work of Bernini and Michelangelo helped me visualize a concept for a series of paintings. It was important to work out the light and shadows before I began painting. Sketching is an exercise in mastery. Now and then I freeze the television playback and sketch the screen. I quickly try to capture the character's pathos.

Appaloosa  [ detail ]. Pencil sketch by Gary Perrone.

Appaloosa [detail]. Pencil sketch by Gary Perrone.

At other times sketching can be a manifestation of my own longing ...

Watercolor sketch by Gary Perrone.

Watercolor sketch by Gary Perrone.

... or trying to visualize something from memory. Many times I just sketch random thoughts ... 

The last bee.jpg

... fantasies.

Charcoal sketch by Gary Perrone.

Charcoal sketch by Gary Perrone.

I stress that sketching is not drawing. Most of the time, sketching is the warm-up. As someone who sketches and draws, I can tell you there is a difference. When I have to leave my studio for the better part of the day I carry a sketchbook. At my abode there are many sketchbooks with various purposes, readily accessible.

Inspiration can strike anywhere at any time. It must be strange to see me whip out my sketchbook and pencil in a waiting area or jury room. This kind of sketching preserves a moment in time and captures ethereal qualities. It does not necessarily lead to another piece of art. It helps pass the time.

View from the Jury Waiting Area – Dallas, TX. Ink sketch by Gary Perrone.

View from the Jury Waiting Area – Dallas, TX. Ink sketch by Gary Perrone.

The most satisfying sketching comes directly from my subconscious with a detour through my imagination. Here, the boundaries of drawing and sketching overlap and that is when one could argue the sketch itself has become the work of art. If I intend to sketch an idea, I must deliberately pull it from my subconscious mind into my awareness and manifest it as a picture.

Ink sketch by Gary Perrone.

Ink sketch by Gary Perrone.

As we speak, sketching and Sketchbooks are very much in vogue. The Sketchbook Project, which finds its home in the Brooklyn Art Library contains thousands of sketchbooks submitted by people the world over. The project pushes the boundaries of drawing and conceptualizing ideas and offers amazing gateways into the creative mind.

The most exciting part of participating in The Sketchbook Project is the moment of opening the welcome packet. In it: a blank sketchbook, a theme and a 30-day deadline.

Spread from  Danger Danger  – The Sketchbook Project 2010. Pen sketch by Gary Perrone.

Spread from Danger Danger – The Sketchbook Project 2010. Pen sketch by Gary Perrone.

I am happy to say my sketchbook is part of that collection. – GP

Please visit to see how sketching has influenced my paintings, drawings and graphic art.