Sunday, May 18, 2014

Keeping a sketchbook: start with why

I haven't updated this blog in almost two months but that doesn't mean I haven't been drawing. Au contraire. I've been drawing plenty.

I've been participating in Sketchbook Skool - an illuminating experience. The structure of having a new teacher every week allows a voyeuristic peek into many different sketchbooks and exposure to a variety of styles and techniques. I (mostly) did all my homework! And I learned a great deal from each artist.

Sketchbook Skool is about more than technique, although technique is part of it. What I liked is that it's about exploring the process of keeping a sketchbook.

Line drawing of my kitchen (Sketchbook Skool homework for Tommy Kane's class)

For me, I had many lightbulb moments about the why of keeping a sketchbook while also picking up a few new things for my repertoire for the how. Sketchbook Skool was so rewarding that I'm going back for Semester 2!

My kitchen with colour added (Sketchbook Skool homework for Tommy Kane's class)

Some of the things I've been thinking about in my blog hiatus have been these:

  • When life gets busy (as it has recently for me) keep drawing. Prioritise the things that bring joy to your life and make sure you can slot them in, if not every day, then every second day, or whatever you can manage. Don't drop them entirely.
  • Keep chipping away at the things you want to get better at. Reality is, I don't have endless hours to pursue my creative goals (who does?). So by keeping up my sketchbook practice - whether it's a five minute sketch while the kids are playing, or a half hour drawing in the evening - it all adds up, and improvement is inevitable (surely, right?).
  • I'm completely over the tyranny of the perfect page. In the past I have avoided my sketchbook because I knew I didn't have enough time that day to sit down and make a 'perfect page'. I don't care anymore. I'm now using my sketchbook to experiment wildly, do quick sketches, or more elaborate drawings. I have even started making notes in my sketchbook. Crazy, huh?
  • Notice what you notice (I'm sure I'm paraphrasing someone here). But making drawings is only fun when you are drawing something that interests you. I'm learning to notice what I enjoy drawing and to go for that.

For example, yesterday I met with the Melbourne Urban Sketchers. At first I couldn't see much at the meeting point to excite me - I didn't feel like sketching a cityscape. But I took a walk with some other sketchers to the nearby Polly Woodside - an 1885 Tall Ship docked permanently at South Wharf and protected by the National Trust (and which I hadn't seen since I was a kid!).

We walked around the ship several times to find the best perspective. I still wasn't very excited until I realised that I didn't particularly care much for sketching just the ship - but that I was more interested in sketching it in context. That is, telling the story of the location.

Here is this ship, originally launched from Belfast, Ireland in 1885, set amidst contemporary city buildings - an ultra-modern geometric structure in the background, cafe umbrellas in the foreground - how fascinating it's ended up right here.

Once I knew what I wanted to show, I had my 'frame' - I knew what to include and what to leave out - and could maintain my own interest throughout the entire sketch, which took about two hours.

So that's probably the biggest thing I've learned about my sketchbook practice in the last couple of months. In order to draw, and keep drawing, to remain resilient against failed experiments and disappointing pages, I need to know why I'm doing it. And slowly, those answers are coming to me.