Rough Sketch VS Illustration


A sketch of the Woodinville Whiskey Co. Distillery:

I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics, but this is a point worth elucidating, as it frequently causes much confusion while discussing art. People use the word “sketch” rather loosely – and I’d say incorrectly. Let’s see what has to say about what a sketch is:

1. a simply or hastily executed drawing or painting, especially a preliminary one, giving the essential features without the details.
2. a rough design, plan, or draft, as of a book.

Perfect. I couldn’t say it any more succinctly myself. But let me add something to that: “Sketch” isn’t a style. I know it’s tempting to think of art that’s been drawn with pens or pencils as “sketches” – but the word also has significant implications as to the status and function of a piece of art.

I frequently hear this word used to describe any kind of drawing or illustration, whether it’s a rough draft or a carefully refined piece of finished artwork. I don’t have my panties in a bunch about this because some “fine art” isn’t getting the respect it deserves. The problem is that a true sketch is a place holder. It’s a rough draft. A rough sketch takes relatively little time for a commercial artist to create and it’s an essential step in the approval process where their client has the opportunity to review the content and the general layout and make edits. More to the point – it isn’t final yet. It’s a work-in-progress. This is important.

Despite my best attempts to prevent it, I’ve had more than a few conversations with people worried that “the art is kind of sloppy” – because they were looking at a sketch, not finished art. What’s even more alarming is how many times I’ve actually had rough sketches approved for production as if they were final art!

So what’s my point? When discussing artwork let’s call a finished piece of work a painting, drawing, illustration or final art. Insert the word “final” if you like, to make it clear. And when we’re talking about “sketches” we’ll all understand that – implied in the very meaning of that word – we’re talking about a temporary, preliminary placeholder which is to be replaced at some point in the future with a piece of finished art.

Finished illustration of the Woodinville Whiskey Co. Distillery. This is not a sketch:

Another Example: Irish Dairy Scene

Here is another sketch. It is a PLAN. This is the final sketch which was approved as a blueprint is approved before you begin building. Up until this point we had been moving cows around, we erased an old fashioned cart and added a building to arrive here:

So that (above) was approved and we proceeded to turn the artist loose on doing the final version, below. Note the attention to detail and overall “tightness” of the scene, when you compare the FINAL ART (below) to the FINAL SKETCH (above). A skilled artist may be able to do a sketch like the one above in as little as a few minutes, but will spend many hours on something like what you see below. We can do as many sketches as we need to get the scene arranged properly, but we should only do the final art once or we are wasting a lot of time or money – more likely both.