Sketching up stories, concepts and designs with pencil
Pencil drawings and text by Frits Ahlefeldt
I often use pencils to sketch up concepts and ideas, and from time to time I work with pencils in the finished drawings. pencils give a more “unfinished”somehow, like the drawing is something that was made to catch an idea and inspire, more than to be a finished work.
Pencil sketching can be used in many ways in stories, from character sketching, to Storyboards, place designs, story-paths, clothes, tools etc. It is a way to visualize and develop both the story-line, the characters and the story map the narrative moves through. Sometimes I also use pencils in cartoons and stories, that are later drawn over with ink and then the pencil erased – but they started out as pencil drawings – especially when drawing up more complex scenes and situations.
When I develop ideas, concepts or research designs I sometimes do it in pencil, it is a simple and fast way to think up new understandings of how things might work. Even using an eraser from time to time it is a help to see a certain composition or design. – combining the pencil with watercolors gives a more finished look.
Drawing fast sketches in notebooks is one of the most classic ways designers, writers, researchers and scientists use pencils. It is fast, can be done everywhere, even on museums that will not accept anything else. And is maybe the quickest way to pin down ideas before they fly away. Both at day, and if you wake up in the middle of the night, or are stopping quick before a bridge on the road.
Examples of some of my pencil drawings
Robot idea sketch by Frits Ahlefeldt
Research sketch – Turkish Kepenek Shepherd garment.
Idea sketches, two robots. By Frits Ahlefeldt
Different ways to keep the rain out when walking – idea sketches by Frits ahlefeldt
Walking tent design – research sketch
Research sketches, different designs to keep the rain out
Logbook sketch from a hike
Asian Rain jacket in hemp. Traditional design research sketch
Solar house design, biodiversity idea by Frits Ahlefeldt. Pencil
Solar powered house sketch with added text. Design and idea by Frits Ahlefeldt
Research sketch of existing survival jacket that can be turned into sleeping bag.
Inspired Origami design study. for hikers raincoat
Snail inspired Off shore wind turbine – biodiversity idea. Idea and design by Frits Ahlefeldt
Green Island like Off shore wind turbine – biodiversity idea. Idea and design by Frits Ahlefeldt
Wheelchair research of existing designs. Drawings by Frits Ahlefeldt
Sail like off shore wind turbine – biodiversity idea. Idea and design by Frits Ahlefeldt
Vulture story character sketch
japanese traditional rain gear, only pencil research sketch by Frits Ahlefeldt
Asian traditional rain cover garment. Research sketch by Frits Ahlefeldt
Rain cover and sleeping bag – Research sketch existing design
Ancient rain cover sketch
Prehistoric Rain cover design Research
Design idea for a green biodiversity wind turbine in water. Concept, idea and design by Frits Ahlefeldt
Existing design research, small terrain going vehicle
My collection of pencil drawings are one of my collections of different illustration and drawing styles: see the others here:
Black ink has a definitive and exact feel to it,. Like it really wants to define things. Very often used in both storytelling and in technical drawings It can be used in various ways, both depending on the tools used ( pens, brushes etc. ) and in how and if colors are added to the final drawing. I most often use ink for cartoons, for drawing up philosophy and for stories to be published in Newspapers and magazines. But I also use it for reportage sketching, live brainstorms and quick logbook notes
Ink in cartoons and stories
Ink illustrations are the most used expression in graphic novels, storytelling and cartoons, it is easy to read, even in dim light and it is fast and more easy to show face expressions, body movements, speed lines and other things that help tell the story clearly. If used alone the feel get even more graphical and the black and white expression can be used to limit the amount of information to a very strong black and white world, where shadows, lines, patterns and other non-color related expressions tell the whole story. Some cartoons are made in both colored and black/white version and it shows that the color can often be left out without any lack of meaning. Actually some stories works best in black and white. Others best in color, depending on what the idea, message and feel of the story is
Pens or brushwork
Cartoons are often made with pens, this gives an exact with of the illustration lines ( often different pens are combined for different width of line) and it makes a few things much easier, like the master cartoonist sketching up in pencil and assistants ink-drawing the story and coloring it, while the master cartoonist, moves on to the next new drawings. But a few legendary cartoonists, like Bill Watterson, ( Calvin and Hobbes) works alone, and do all the work only with brushes. These are much more dynamic with the width and line ever-changing in with, structure, edges and looks.
Way back in the days I worked as an architect I used to do a lot of technical design and architectural drawings with ink pens. Drawing designs, sections, floor plans and other technical visualizations. It is another of the ways ink can be used to create exact lines, that can be used to define everything from gigantic cruise ships to design of the delicate mechanics of Swiss watches
Manuals, diagrams, flowcharts, statistics and scenarios
Another way ink drawings are often used is to show how things can be put together, evolve or flow. There are graphic designers specialized in these fields. Only doing visualizations of how things work. This field is often called information design and used to be done mostly in hand, using ink and watercolor. Today the majority of information visualizations are done with digital drawing tools that can give an even more smooth, easy to read look.
Drawing together with people – live drawing and graphic facilitation
A special way to use ink drawings are live, together with people, or at conference, doing a visual resume or drawing on a gigantic wall of paper. It is a way of using ink drawings that has been growing in popularity for around the last twenty years.
There are a few different ways to do this, but the idea is that the participants after the day will get a drawn resume of all that happened, was developed and agreed about during the day. Like a landscape of understanding, often showing the path of progress as a road, both through the day and – especially at strategy workshops the direction the group should pursue in the future, where they come from and what challenges ( gaps, monsters, competitors ) they will meet along the adventure.
Ink is also great when doing live drawings from events, theater plays, courtrooms, street life and other real life situations. the robust, waterproof tools lines of ink can capture action, despair, dreams, relationships and the feel of a place or scene, in unique ways that neither photos or other techniques can’t. More when journalists and others draw up stories instead of filming or photographing them they do not disturb or interrupt the event. in the same way. In a strange way, drawing up a situation is less intrusive than photographing it. It is one of the reasons people can be admitted to draw in a courtroom, but not to take photographs in it.
Even more, when drawing at a place people will often come over, and start to tell stories, relate and also give information or experiences, that would not otherwise be an option. ( like inviting you in to see the building you are drawing and telling you the story about it – can be really fun. )
Logbook and diary notes
Ink is great to do notes and sketches in for a diary, logbook or travel journal. It is a very quick and personal way to remember places and situations and you can twist them for a more personal feel. It is authentic in a special way and has a value that will last for many years. I still have notes from hikes I did more than twenty years ago, and the drawings are as fresh and clear as if I did them yesterday. Great to remember things, not only things that could as well be captured by a camera, but also the things that is harder, like the drawing of how you felt like a fish out of water, or how the atmosphere is on a bridge, a warm summer night
Ink and color illustrations – all in all
Drawing in ink is one of the oldest and most robust way of graphic storytelling, it has been with us an eternity and is still today a simple, global language all can relate too. When combined with watercolors the expression change a bit, but still it can tell stories as nothing else, even and maybe even more so in a digital context. Compared to photos ink drawings are more personal, if you drank too much coffee, or was very tired, all will show in the lines, as will any mistake and correction you had to make. With ink there are no room for regrets – every correction can be seen ( at least in the originals ) and the papers are easy to keep and the artworks can last for thousand of years, if well protected.
Ink and Watercolor techniques are one of the visual tools and techniques I describe: See some of my descriptions of the other visual techniques I use here:
For many years I walked around in Copenhagen painting watercolors of places and houses, learning much about both the city, its people and dynamics of places. Often I sad and talked with people in breaks, listening to stories both from locals and from travelers
I did the paintings in all times of the year, in all kinds of weather and almost always in front of the places I was painting, using only brushes, no ink or pencil, just watercolors, paper and water.
Here are some examples from my years of painting watercolors in Copenhagen:
Boats and houses, Nyhavn
Boat and yellow house, Nyhavn, Copenhagen
Nikolai Church – Copenhagen
White Boat Copenhagen, Newhaven
Christiansborg, Parliament. denmark. Copenhagen
Royal theater, Copenhagen
Fishing boat, Newhaven, Copenhagen
Nikolai church tower, Copenhagen
Detail from Church ( Nikolai) in Copenhagen
Christianshavn, Copenhagen with Frelser Church
Cafe’ by Nikolai Church, Copenhagen
Black boats, Nyhavn, Copenhagen
Cafe’ life in Copenhagen
Rosenborg Castle – Copenhagen
Grey day, Newhaven, Copenhagen
Marble church – Copenhagen, watercolor
Small square Copenhagen ( Graabrodre torv)
Christiansborg and Channel – Copenhagen Streetscape
Stroget and Fountain, street life Copenhagen
My watercolor paintings of Copenhagen one by one:
All watercolors by Frits Ahlefeldt
Copenhagen Watercolors is one of my watercolor collections – see them all here
Watercolor painting – Techniques, use and expressions
Text and watercolors by Frits Ahlefeldt
Pure watercolors are considered one of the most poetic and hard to do of all the visual art forms. In its most basic form, using only transparent watercolors, brushes, water and paper, there is still a lot of things that can accomplished.
Watercolors can be made both very fast, for expressive sketches, or slow and precise for exact documentation – especially through history watercolors have been used to show technical and precise drawings of anything from botanical studies to the most complicated gigantic technical drawings of houses and steam engines.
Combining watercolors with either ink or pencil ( graphic tools) covers much of the foundation of the illustration, concept-sketching and visual storytelling styles used both throughout the world and history, from the earliest cave paintings to the digital revolution of today.
For more than 30 years watercolors has been a very close friend of mine. Still learning new things about watercolors all the time and it is by far the most difficult drawing technique I have worked with so far. Watercolors are the tool I use on most workdays and in most of my stories, projects and also in most of my jobs ( often in connection with ink or pencil )
Here are some examples from my work with watercolors of used in different situations and for different results:
Skater, watercolor sketch by Frits Ahlefeldt
Rhino head – Watercolor by Frits Ahlefeldt
Tribal octopus spirit side view. Watercolor by Frits Ahlefeldt
Young Eel study. Watercolor by Frits Ahlefeldt
White Bream – Flire Freshwaterfish
First watercolor draft, sketching up idea for a “Vitruvian woman
Charging elephant front view
Watercolor study of a four leaf clover
Lion in Suit, watercolor by Frits Ahlefeldt
Canoe watercolor sketch
Young Lynx Watercolor
Sailor looking tough guy with long beard
Elephant group Watercolor
Nature hiker with white stripe
Five ways watercolors are used:
As illustrations in printed stories
Watercolors is one of the grand illustration techniques and using only watercolors without ink or pencil can give a very special feel to a book, from the most dreamy to an photo-like exactness
As a concept and design tool for architects and designers
I received much of my education in watercolor painting the many years I studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of fine arts. Watercolors was used in a lot of different connections from showing how the feel would be, to how light would fall through a window, or on location, doing detailed studies of houses or places. Architects used to paint watercolors in a lot of different context and situations. And many of the greatest buildings around us was presented, originally, as watercolor paintings to explain and show the concept and vision – ( That was before digital visualization, screens and 3D techniques took over this world)
In digital media
A whole new role for watercolors are in digital screen based media, watercolors are one of the most beautiful visual tools you can use. The transparency of the watercolors, where light is reflected by the different layers of colors and from the white of the paper is a very good match for the way screens work, by making light come out and back to the viewer. It might be possible that watercolors can find a new role in digital media
As logbook notes
Watercolors are easy to carry, small and light and not explosive, so they can be used in many different places, in the landscapes, on the trails, in planes, on ships. They are great for diary and logbook notes, for research studies and for sitting down and relaxing. And watercolor painting can even be used for getting in contact with the locals, as watercolor painting a scene is much less intrusive than taking photos. All you need is a small box of watercolors, a piece of paper or notebook, a small jar of water and some brushes.
And your watercolored impressions, logs and notes will be much more personal and give events, stories and memories their own life.
As fine art
The popularity of watercolors as a fine art form come and goes, it had its peak in the end of the romantic period, just before photos came to the stage. Most artist have a high respect for the difficulty of mastering this expression, but few have done it to an almost impossible lightness. Today watercolors are priced much lower than oils and acrylics. And are considered one of the not so fine ( expensive) investments. often selling at half or lover price as a same sized oil or acrylic painting.
I have a collection of my watercolors for sale as fine art originals; see them here:
When combined with pencil, charcoal, ink or other drawing tools and techniques the expression of the watercolors can change a lot. Two examples are the classic concept sketch and the cartoon:
Classic Concept sketch – pencil and watercolor
Doing concept sketches can not only help one see the idea better, but can also be used to both understand existing designs or present new designs. This style is unique in it’s not so finished look, that helps people understand that it is really a sketch, and not a finalized design or product. Something that can be very important to help people get creative.
When watercolors are combined with ink sketches you get a very different expression, one that is very easy to read, close to storytelling and most often used in both cartoons, in communication projects, reports and even in clip art. Combining watercolors and ink is a much faster and much easier thing to do. It is a technique where the ink does most of the work and the watercolors are mostly left to fill in the blanks
My collection of watercolor projects:
The other day I just realized that I have whole collections of watercolors all in the same style and made at a special time, in a project or connection with stories I wanted to tell for different purposes: you can see some of them here on my collection of watercolor projects on my site right here: