When I’m not immediately “picturing” what to sketch, I’ll very quickly divide my sketchpad into sections. I’ll divide and subdivide the page into squared areas. From there it’s easy to imagine these blocks as sections that will become different parts of an animal.
Remembering how Northwest Coast Formline has been described as “curvilinear” we can start the process of turning these blocky shapes into formline shapes, just by rounding off the angular corners a bit.
In the image below, I started by drawing “steps” and then I began subdividing, leaving the steps as part of my main lines.
Once I established those first basic lines, it was easy for me to picture a killer whale easily fitting into the upper area, so I drew my vertical line down the middle, and it became very obvious how I should subdivide those upper spaces for the killer whale tail, head, and pectoral fin. Again, starting a design (for me) is about establishing the basic lines and then filling in.
It could have been really simple for me to continue the very blocky motif I started in the upper part of my page, but I like irregularity, so I tilted the lines in the bottom half. To some, this may look off, like it’s not consistent. I like surprises.
Here’s how the rest of it developed after I decided what would fit well below the killer whale:
My sketchbook has pages of fairly quick sketches. They’re far from finished work, and it’s easy to see how they can be improved. There are things I like, and things I don’t like about each sketch. But even in my finished paintings and carvings, I invariably see something I wished I could do over. It’s always the next one…
See my other articles “Combining Formline Elements” and “Tlingit Formline: Developing Primary and Secondary Elements” to get an idea of how these things just start coming together.