Recent sketches have brought me face to face with a big challenge in my drawing: how to portray very complex, detailed objects without showing every detail and while still conveying their general appearance. Drawing always entails decisions about what to put in and what to omit, but with some subjects it’s particularly difficult.

Last week I tackled the overhead branches of a leafy tree (known locally as a huizache; I think it’s a kind of acacia). I was rescued from this one early because Joy and Indigo wanted to go into the nearby museum, so I don’t know whether the approach I was using would have worked.

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Then there’s this, from yesterday. As with the overhead branches, the complexity of these vines climbing the wall (of the San Pablo cultural center, in Oaxaca’s Centro) is exactly what drew my eye, and what I want to get onto the paper. Yet I don’t want to draw every single line and shadow. I drew fast and tried not to get too many niggly details down, but I didn’t know how to do what I would do with a more unitary subject, such as a human nude: draw in big simple shapes and then add detail. A subject like this seems to be nothing but detail, so I’m flummoxed.

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Sorry for the glare on the paper. These are quick and dirty cellphone shots of my sketchbook.

For context, here’s another visitor’s photo of the same wall. Yummy detail, right? But how do I capture that?

I’ll keep working on it. I’m looking at nature drawings by masters like van Gogh and Monet to try to figure out how they conveyed complexity.