Friday, 5 April 2013

In Defense of Lemons and Other Subjects

I am delighted to hear that you have finally caught onto an appreciation for sketching!  I suppose the experience your post describes illustrates an example of just not being ready until one is ready.  You had to see, via the Illustrated Traveler book, a reason to do it -- or, rather, a context in which doing it seemed worthwhile to you.  So I'm glad you have had your big light-bulb moment, so that you can experience the fascinating process of getting lost in the shapes and lines you see in what is around you and trying to put them onto paper.  The sketches you showed looked like they could have come out of the Illustated Traveler book! I'm impressed at how you've jumped in and made a lot of very nice sketches.  I hope you are finding it fun.  Me, I think that's the most important part.

Your description of Mr Barr and the way he squelched your art-making enthusiasm sounds all too familiar, I'm afraid.  I think a lot of people have stories of some teacher throwing out a thoughtless but confidence-squashing comment.  I suspect they'd be surprised at the way their words echo in people's minds for so long.  I hope that by now art teachers are taught NOT to stay such damaging comments!  Clearly, that experience still rankles even though you can see how stupid a comment it was, and how ridiculously UNcreative the situation was.  Well, go forward and keep proving that guy wrong. 

I didn't have any experience like that, but I have to say that I didn't even try art classes in school because I was convinced before I left home that I couldn't draw.  My sister, who is 4 years older than me, started drawing and kept right on drawing all through her childhood.  So by the time I could pick up a crayon, I could see that her drawings were far better than mine, and I was immediately discouraged.  I didn't have the logic skills to realize that of course she was better -- she was older and more coordinated and she'd had a whole lot more practice. I just thought that she was an artist, and I wasn't. Period.  It took me until well into my adult life to realize that drawing is a skill one can LEARN, and get better at.  It was a massive revelation.  

But, on the topic of unintentionally dampening comments, I have to talk about the paintings of lemons and butternut squashes and such that I've shown you. I get (and certainly don't quarrel) with your lack of desire to draw that sort of thing.  That's totally fine with me!  But while you see a sketch of a random, ordinary fruit or vegetable, what I see is an exercise in practicing seeing shapes, and drawing perspective, and composing a page, and getting the watercolor paints to do what I want them to do.  I've done a lot of those sorts of things in classes, for the exercise of working on various techniques.  So that lemon page?  I was trying to see if I could get the pebbled texture of lemon skin, and the shading of greeny yellow around the stem, and the translucent paleness of the lemon pulp.  It's not about drawing the lemon for the sake of drawing a lemon.  It's about the process of sketching and painting something, and trying to learn and practice techniques to capture what I see.  That peapod page up there?  It was not only hugely educational (and fun) to paint the peapod and try to capture the rounded depth of the pod, but I was playing with stylizing designs from those shapes. I've never looked at a peapod so closely before.

So while it's not A-R-T or even an effort to capture a specific moment, it's part of my enjoying the process of learning to draw and paint.  And, I find, looking at my drawing of a lemon or squash or peapod brings me back to the time when I was painting it in a surprisingly clear way.  

At this point in my life, my "travel sketching" is all about my daily travels. I've been trying to get better about carrying sketching materials with me.  So although I've not been anywhere terribly foreign or interesting lately, I've had fun drawing some of the ordinary places I go.  The other day, I sketched and painted the scene as I watched my daughter's horsback riding lesson: 

 I've sat in the car between appointments to sketch a garden that struck my fancy.  (I find that drawing houses and buildings is forcing me to figure out perspective a bit better):

 I've captured a moment at my local library:
and the view from a parking lot when I stopped for a cup of coffee on a busy errand-filled afternoon:

I sketched a bit while visiting my sister and sitting with her in her backyard:

 Hmm, maybe one of the more "travelly" pages I did was at the Bishop's Ranch last time I was on a quilting retreat there:

 When I went to PIQF last year, I sat for a while (again, with a restorative cup of coffee) I was inspired by the snatches of conversation I was hearing from quilters around me and sketched a bit of the lobby area in which I was sitting:

When I went to the quilt show in Houston, I spent an evening in the hotel room sketching and painting some of the items I'd brought with me

 I really admire your tackling people ... I've tended to shy away from faces.  But looking through my journal, I find I've tried a few.  Here's a page that I drew while Caroline was getting her teeth cleaned:

 Oh, another from another library trip, one of the few head-on faces I've tried:

I have to part ways with you on the using a filofax for sketching.  I've tried, I really have.  I'm glad to hear that it's working for you and that the rings don't bother you. They sure bothered me.  But I'm happy using my assortment of bound sketchbooks -- sometimes I have have a moleskine with heavy drawing paper, sometimes I use a Stillman & Birn "Beta" journal with a heavyish drawing paper that holds watercolor paints suitably...  I have a bunch of different sketchbooks going and I'm not letting it bother me that different drawings end up in different places.  I work by size, really -- I'll grab a small book to carry with me somewhere, or use a bigger journal if I'm painting at home.

When you come to California next fall (squeal!) we shall have to plan our own sketch crawls! But I might drag you to a vineyard and make you paint grapes... 


Helen L Conway said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen L Conway said...

Was I unintentionally dampening? If so, oh dear. Another example of British humour failing to come across well. Was not saying it was stupid to draw a lemon. I was saying I am too stupid to see the point of drawing a lemon. But you made it clearer.

I looked at the Stilman and Byrne sketchbooks which get the highest recommendations online, but they have to be imported at high postage costs here..

Kristin L said...

I attend life drawing sessions for the same reasons you, Diane, are enthralled with the produce. Shapes, volumes, lighting, texture it's all there. Your stylized versions of the peas are very similar to exercises I did in design school to get us thinking about logos. Travel, still lives, stylizations -- it's all good.