IntoTheVoid: Thanks for your advice. I'd love to make every line count, but I noticed that if I slow down and think too much, things start to stiffen up. I figured a stiff gesture was worse than a busy one. Hopefully, more purposeful lines will come with practice, and the gestures will improve over time.
Since I've been putting all my eggs in the Nicolaides' basket, I clearly haven't focused on finish much. I'm sort of trusting in his book and my interpretation of his methods. Interestingly, I've been reading Vernon Blake's "The Art and Craft of Drawing," and finish was the topic last night. His take:
Presentable drawings will only be made at the start by meretricious means. Difficulties will have to be avoided, dissimulated behind tidy shading or careful line; that such trim shading should truly model real variations in form, or variations which are the outcome of an imperious artist's spirit, is impossible in early days. The trick of hiding inefficiency will all too soon be acquired.
What do you think? What kind of studies did you start out with? Anything you wish you had done differently?