Archives For Sketchbooks

Layers

September 1, 2018 — Leave a comment

The past couple of months have been way too busy; I have lost my way with my normal routines and have ended up feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t felt like creating much at all, and my sketchbook entries have felt forced and not at all organic or joyous. My creative practice even took a detour into knitting for a change of scenery, which did not please me. It felt like I was copping out. Who ever said that doing an alternate creative activity was a failure of any kind? I was putting artificial constraints on my artistic expression. Not clever.

Everything was just too much. I felt as though I was getting more information flowing into my head than I could deal with. I realised that quite aside from the overload from work with a complex project in full swing, I had been numbing the stress so that I didn’t have to think about it. I decided to try to art it out, and let it take me where it willed.

The page below developed over a long weekend where I shut things down completely, isolated myself, and started throwing random blobs of paint down on a blank page with a vague idea that I would draw something over the top. As it evolved I felt I needed to keep adding layers. The first one was quite a cheerful watercolour wash that I really wasn’t feeling, so I added a patchy layer of white acrylic, still intending to draw over it with flowers or something similarly happy. That also felt too bright. I was feeling dark and moody, so the next layer was a covering of purples and blues followed by a crankier application of black acrylic. Then came a layer of song lyrics that were speaking to me, followed by a layer of brain dump with all manner of pain, anxiety and frustration verbalised. All of it illegible. It felt almost resolved at that point but not quite. I decided to sift through my collection of random words and phrases cut from magazine pages to see what resonated. I ended up with a positive reminder to breathe and reset rather than continue to be cranky with myself. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but the soul speaks when I take the time to listen. Reboot and breathe.

20180820 - overwhelmed

The experience was very much like an archeological dig in reverse. Working up through the layers of the overwhelm I was feeling. As I kept asking myself why I felt things, and getting the feelings out onto the page, I started to feel lighter. I was exploring and processing the layers as I came to them.

Then I had another prompt to dig through more layers as I listened to Austin Kleon’s latest keynote talk a couple of weeks after the first expedition into my psyche. One word jumped out at me as I listened. Subtraction. He spoke about the need to cut some things out in order to focus — to place limitations on oneself in order to stoke creativity.

20180828 - subtraction

 

I started this page while I was sitting in the car waiting to go into an off-site meeting for work. I poured out my thoughts on the things I was allowing to distract and numb me and eat away my time — news outlets, social media, other people’s art, other people’s carefully curated public lives, the echo chambers reinforcing heinous attitudes. Writing always clarifies and crystallises the maelstrom of disjointed thoughts and ideas wizzing around in my head, and shows me the way forward.

I added the circles as the morning’s meeting progressed, pulling focus so that I could no longer see the distractions, just the word subtraction. I used the layers of circles to bring myself back on point. Ironically, I always listen better in meetings if I can doodle or sketchnote. Focus. I tune out all else, and my mind doesn’t wonder to what I should cook for dinner, or the people running past the window behind the speaker, or the person in my peripheral vision who is tapping pen on book like a madman. Subtraction.

I’ve got some work to do to reestablish my routines and creative practice, and to decide what is important and what is not. To set boundaries, so that someone else’s urgent and important does not become my own. To shed that which is superfluous. What I choose to take in, and on, must add to my experience of this life.

People matter. Meaning matters. A good life is not a place at which you arrive, it’s a lens through which you see and create your world – Jonathan Fields

It is remarkable how easily the unimportant creeps in and takes over if I am not paying attention. It is an ongoing task to be kind to oneself and to ensure that I am looking through the correct lens to properly appreciate my good life. Negative will swallow positive in a heartbeat if I am not vigilant. It is part of my melancholy nature I suppose.

Up until these two pages I had not used my sketchbook for this type of personal exploration at all. To have two in rapid succession tells me that I will likely use it again to correct or clean the lens I am looking through to see my life.

I finally got around to filming a flip through of my most recently finished sketchbook! I really enjoy seeing the things I’ve played with over the course of a couple of months. I hope you do to!

I also filmed a timelapse video of the latest church drawing for my upcoming Churches of Canberra calendar (available early November). This is the first process video I’ve made, and I am really pleased with how it came out. I love watching other peoples’ work in progress videos because they inspire me and give me tips and tricks for my own work. I plan to show more of this type of video in my Instagram stories.

 

Here’s how my calendar paintings are looking so far. I am so excited to see the project coming together! If you want to keep up with release dates for the calendar and special deals on originals and prints please sign up HERE.

The Auto Italia car (and motorbike) show was on in town this weekend and despite the crazy cold and drizzly weather, an intrepid few Canberra Urban Sketchers braved the weather and the crowds to see both the quirky and the flash cars on show. I love drawing cars! Had the weather been more pleasant I would probably have stayed on for a lot longer.

I fell in love with this little Fiat 600 Multipla from the moment I saw it. It almost looked like it was built backwards … funny shape it was! Definitely would not want to have a crash in one, there is absolutely nothing between driver and whatever one might hit. I had one gentleman tell me the story of his mother having one and driving from Belgium to Italy in it. It was apparently the perfect car for her and her twin babies since it was the only one that could fit a twin pram in the back at the time. There were lots of people interested in what I was doing and had several photos taken in action. I was also highly amused at the number of people that suggested that I should just take a photo, it would be far quicker. Ah yes, it would, but then I would not get to enjoy the details of the bug-eye headlights or the bumper that looks like warthog tusks as I drew them! One lady liked the sketch enough to want to buy it from me, so it won’t be staying in my sketchbook for long – it will be heading off to it’s new owner this week!

20180415 - fiat 600 mulitpla - autoitalia

I had 20 minutes left after I finished the Fiat and started on a modern Alpha Romeo Gtv, but didn’t quite get it finished before the rain sent me running for cover. I’ll splash some colour on it during the week when I get a moment.

I finished off another sketchbook yesterday – it’s the little back one in this picture. Flip through video coming soon! I have been getting a little frustrated with the size of it of late, and annoyed with painting spreads and fighting with the gutter, so I am going to try the next size up and see how I get on. Despite being larger it is lighter than the black one because it has a soft cover. (They are both made by Stillman and Birn.) I am interested to see if the extra size is a help or a hindrance for everyday sketching.

I have followed Austin Kleon’s lead and added a picture of one of my heroines in the front to watch over me and keep me on track.

Next step is to draw my palette on the page that faces and get over the “new sketchbook” boogie man.

 

I was doing a bit of a mid-Summer-Spring clean the other weekend and got rid of a whole bunch of crap that had collected on my bookshelf. Bits and pieces from my dog that passed in May last year, motorcycle cleaning products, sunglasses that I cannot wear because I need prescription lenses. You know…the usual stuff that has no business being on the kitchen shelves, but collects there nevertheless. Then I got to the shelf where my completed sketchbooks live. It was messy and the books that I had shoved in unceremoniously over the past couple of years were balanced precariously and threatened to fall out. So I pulled them all out, sorted and re-stacked them, and as often happens, I could not resist having a flip through some of the older ones to see if I had made any improvement — because you know — procrastination. I told myself it was a mid-task reward.

Nice clean shelves after I had procrastinated for a considerable time

I found an old drawing of a cargo pant pocket from 2012 and it seemed to me, without looking any further afield, to be far more polished and advanced than some of the pieces I have been producing in the last six months or so. It surprised me and made me wonder why.

201821108 - cargo pocket

I really like this drawing. I did it not long after I decided to try to make sketchbooking a regular thing in my life

What was the difference between the pocket drawing and one of this year’s drawings for example? This one below I did from a holiday photo, for example. Or the Bomber Command memorial sketch which seems almost childlike in comparison. After some thought I came up with a few things that I think might be the case for me and my drawing.

20170913 - westminster

I did this one lunchtime from a holiday snap on my phone. It really just did not work at all.

20171228 - bomber command

This was one of those sketches where I knew what I wanted to do in my head, but it did not translate to paper.

Spending less time on each drawing on average

When I was making those drawings back in 2012 I had more time on my hands. I was working full time but in a different set of life circumstances and I had larger blocks of time to give to drawing. My drawing was a haven into which I could escape, and I was hiding in my process. It was natural to spend a lot of time getting my sketches just right.

I had a different approach

Back when I drew the cargo pants pocket, I used to think I had to make sketchbooks full of pretty, polished pictures. I wanted to be able to flip through a sketchbook and see pages and pages of stunning drawings. I didn’t want to waste my precious sketchbook pages with scribbles. I wanted my sketchbooks to look like those of artists that had been drawing for years and were naturally more polished, when I had only been painting with watercolour for a year or so. (here is an example of what I wanted my sketchbooks to look like) So I paid more attention and worked slowly and deliberately. I was intent on making “worthy” pieces. I didn’t succeed, but that’s what I thought a sketchbook should be, and so I tried to achieve that.

There are a lot of factors that I can see that have an impact on my sketches in 2018, six years down the track.

Life in general

These days my life looks a lot different and I am exploring myself as a person as well as sketching techniques a lot more. I am trying to find my voice, so I try different things, different styles. I don’t care that my sketchbook doesn’t look like a published picture book, nor that it’s inconsistent. Now I have pages of paint swatches and colour mixes and scribbles from testing out pens. I am figuring out what I like to look at and what I like to do and how to pour my heart out onto the page. And that’s far from a neat thing to do. Life is messy, and so are my sketchbooks.

20180113 - skin tone mixes

There are several pages like this in each sketchbook where I am playing with paint to see what sort of results I can get.

Practice and learning

I use the time in my sketchbooks to practice — I am spending time perfecting little things — the shape of a leaf, or diving straight in with ink without a pencil under-drawing, or getting the watercolours to blend smoothly, or making sure I have sufficient contrast in my sketch, or learning how to sketch quickly on location. Sometimes I fail spectacularly. And that’s ok. Sketchbook pages are fair game. It helps too that I have found a good value for money option — it means that I am not so worried about “wasting” pages.

20180209 - ColeusI always have problems drawing plants and dealing with foreshortening in leaves. So this was not only therapy but practice as well.

Available time

It seems often these days that the output in my sketchbooks is what I would call sub-standard because I don’t always have a lot of time to sit and draw. I have competing priorities that I juggle. I have other stuff that I need to get done, so I spend ten or fifteen minutes filling a page with something because I need to play with paint before I sit down to write or pay bills. It could also be that my standards for myself have shifted upwards over the years. I am striving to be better and more consistent.

20180214 - connect

This literally took five minutes. It was a writing night but I wanted to at least splash a little paint around!

Therapy

Sometimes I am sketching as therapy. Like everyone on the planet, things happen in my life that I don’t like, don’t know how to classify, or don’t know how to deal with. When this happens I use my sketchbook pages as a place to dump out the things that are whirling around in my head. It’s far cheaper than a therapist! Sometimes I can see the emotions in the paint strokes, sometimes it is the act of becoming absorbed in the drawing and painting rather than the product itself that is the therapy. My moods and feelings have a huge impact on what comes out on the paper. These pages are never going to look polished, because I’m not polished.

20170607 - meno medusa

Therapeutic … this one speaks for itself!

Artificial pressures

An odd thing that I found affects the quality of my sketches was having to do a sketch every day when I take up a particular challenge, like the Drawing a Day challenge with my Sketchbook Skool klassmates. I wrote last year about the Every Day in May challenge being a great thing, and it was, but I am having a very different experience this year. Feeling like I must produce something every day is taking the fun out of it, and sometimes I am so worn out and depleted that I really do not have the energy to pick up a paintbrush. Life is just like that sometimes. It’s a bit of a two-edged sword, because being pushed to create something each day also pushes me to think creatively and to improve my sketching skills by virtue of the fact that I am forced to be prolific. This in turn has an effect on what my sketchbook pages look like. If I am not feeling the prompt for the day, the drawing will be flat and lifeless. However, if I stumble on an idea that tickles my fancy, then the drawing will be far more lively or poignant and most likely more polished. At the moment I aim to draw every day, but accept that sometimes life just doesn’t allow for it, and try not to get wound up about a non-existent deadline.

20180128 - undone

This is an example of a “drawing a day” prompt quick sketch that worked well. I like the roughness of it, it adds to the feeling of being vulnerable.

So all things considered…when I look back and compare pages from different eras, I need to remember that the pages are not necessarily better or worse…they are just different. They each have their own context, and I would rather have something on the page than nothing. Done is better than perfect, as the old truism says — with each stroke of the paintbrush or pen, I am either learning something, soothing something, or celebrating something.

I should probably round this out by saying that I am not displeased with my current sketchbook contents. I am clearly making progress, and trust that I will continue to do so. I simply need to remember context when comparing sketches. Here endeth the existential crisis (for now anyway).

Click HERE if you’d like to see a couple of flip throughs of recent sketchbooks to see the variety of pages and sketches.

What sorts of things affect how your sketchbook pages look? Do you manage to be consistent in style and polish?

 

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Sketchbook flip-through

January 3, 2018 — 1 Comment

So satisfying finishing a sketchbook! This is the second one I filled last year.