Is it a Sketch or a Study? How do You Know?

On the Nile sketchbook of R.Swain Gifford
On the Nile sketchbook of R.Swain Gifford

After looking at enough art over the years the difference between a sketch and a study might seem pretty obvious, but the definition (at least for me) was really a guess based on accumulated experience. The problem with this method is that calling an artwork a sketch or a study seems completely arbitrary, relying on the understanding of each individual artist as to what they think the difference is. The result is an extremely fuzzy classification system, where a sketch or a study just means any artwork that is not a finished work.

But, I was happy to find out that there is a difference and what the purpose for each one is.

A sketch is the main idea. Whether it is a painting, a drawing, or even a sculpture, a sketch is where the artist explores the composition for the final work. Accurate draftsmanship, color, and detail are not important in a sketch. The most important thing is to get down the main idea, the impact, and the spark that ignited your passion to make the artwork. A sketch is about the big things in an artwork.

Mother, Child, and Camels, Tangiers sketchbook of R. Swain Gifford
Mother, Child, and Camels, Tangier sketchbook of R. Swain Gifford

On the other hand, a study is the complete opposite of a sketch.

Studies are fussy. However it is made, a study is all about gathering information. When making a study of a scene or an object be as accurate as possible. Put in all of the details that might be important. Composition and emotion don’t count in a study, accuracy of color and draftsmanship do. A study is an objective notation of observed facts.

Together, sketches and studies are the pillars of support to help make the final artwork.