Sunday, 5 October 2014

They're all just creative tools

When I woke up on Saturday morning, the dream from which I was emerging involved being with you at some sort of garden center where we had been walking around looking at plants and flowers, and we were heading into a cafe for tea and cake.  (I woke up before we even got to the cake counter, gosh darn it!)  But as I was putting on my robe and heading downstairs, I was wondering whether your Saturday morning had been spent at a cafe/garden center, and your Saturday was psychically drifting into my sleeping subconscious.  I would not be surprised, the way we can overlap each other's thoughts so eerily sometimes.

So later, when I'd made coffee and was cruising through my Feedly blog pages, I was bemused to see your Saturday cafe post.  So perhaps there was a psychic overlap.  At any rate, your Saturday blogging spot looked very charming to me from the photos -- although those chairs do look awfully  stern and hard compared to the saggy softness of the Cedar Farm sofas!

I am delighted that using a different brush has changed your painting experience!  I went and looked at the Rafael Soft Aqua brushes -- I do not have any but now I must try one or two!.  Your colors do look much brighter and I"m glad you're getting the look you want, not to mention the satisfying feel of the brush you like!  I often really like how something looks (color and value wise) when it's just painted and still damp ... and then, of course, it pales as it dries and I don't like it as well.  I know that learning to anticipate how it will look dry as you paint wet is part of the watercolor learning curve.  And learning how to go back in and add more depth with more darks is, too.  Seems like the last stages of anything I sketch are always about MORE DARK.  MORE DARK.  STILL MORE DARK.  And then I tip over into ACK, MUDDY MESS.  It's a fine line, that last stopping point.

When I was in Washington two weeks ago, I did a bit of sketching and definitely struggled a bit with painting a lot of beigey-brown shells, and getting the darks right.

Anyway.  I'm going to try some of those brushes. (By the way, you will laugh at this.  I just paused to go look again at the brushes, I put a few in the online shopping cart and got  a message:  "Congratulations!  You are just $86.14 away from free shipping on your order!"  I stopped myself for shopping for $87 worth of additional art supplies which I no doubt could have found quite easily.)  I know a lot of people love the waterbrushes, and I carry a few for the total convenience of the water-with-you-at-all-times aspect... But I don't like the color results I get with them, they feel far less predictable to me.

And I love your bulb recipe page!  Very clever and charming!  And bright!

Congratulations on the new camera!  I have (now, because of you) read about the new mirrorless cameras and they sound great -- capable of great photos AND light and compact.  You asked about how I decide to sketch or photograph.  For me, it's about my mood, and how much time I have.  I view them as very different activities, actually. 

Taking pictures, for me, is more about capturing something in the moment.  It's a sort of fast thing.  It's not that I don't take time, or think about what I'm doing.  And really, it's the seeing before taking the photo that is the part that takes time.  I'm consciously choosing what I want to photograph, and thinking about different angles or light or what settings would give me the result I want.  I do snap a LOT of pictures -- I am not inclined to stand and ponder and fiddle with settings and then take 2 pictures.  (I went on a photo walk with someone like that once.  I think I took 50 photos to each of his.)  Anyway. And while traveling, I use my camera as a way of capturing images as I go.  For me, it still makes me look at things differently, notice color and pattern and light and value in a more specific way.  But I can snap a bunch of photos and keep going.

Sketching is a whole different thing to me, although there are overlaps in the seeing and thinking.  I'm still noticing color and shape and pattern and such.  But when I set out to sketch, I know that I will want to sit somewhere for a bit of time and just relax and draw and paint.  I'm looking to find ONE thing or scene that grabs me and makes me want to sit and explore it through drawing and painting.  It feels much more leisurely, and so far anyway, I don't like having to sketch faster than I usually do, or hurry to sketch that scene over there, and then that building down there, and then that clump of people over that way....  I know there are people who love recording things that way, and their fast sketching is a shorthand communication for them.  Maybe it's because I've not learned that approach and haven't tried it much, but for me the enjoyment of sketching has a lot to do with the sense of peace and meditation as I sit and really study what I'm drawing, being in one place and absorbing the ambient sounds and smells as I draw.

So, choosing to sketch or photograph?  It depends on my mood and what I feel like doing, plus it depends on how much time I have.  When I traveled with my sister, some days we set out knowing we planned to pick somewhere and then sit and sketch. And other days, we knew ahead of time that we were going to go and walk around and take pictures, and then come home and sketch, mostly because it was so dang hot and we wanted to be back inside in the worst heat of the day.

You asked if I ever do both sketching and photographing in relation to the same subject.  And at first I thought that no, I don't usually -- unless I sit down to sketch somewhere out in the world, and take a few photos of the sketch subject in case I run out of time or someone parks smack in front of my subject which seems to happen ALL THE TIME.  But then I remembered that when my sister and I were in Yosemite earlier this summer, I did do both.  There is so much gorgeousness to see there, and we only had a day there.   So we both took tons of photos.  Here's one, for example:

(You can see more here.)  But we wanted to just sit and BE there, too, so we planned some time for sitting and sketching, too.

 And now that I think of it, we did the same thing in the little gold rush town of Columbia on that same trip.  We walked and took a lot of photos.

 (More of Columbia here, btw).  But then we also made a point (well, I insisted!) to just sit and sketch, too.

Oh look, I took a photo of this very scene before I started painting.

So it turns out that I did both.  And they felt like totally different activities to me. 

What do you think?  How do you anticipate using your camera versus sketching?

By the way, I've heard some longtime sketchers say things that struck me as rather disparaging of the process of photography, and I've always disagreed.  Things like photography being like mindlessly xeroxing while sketching is thoughtful, individual interpretation, that sort of distinction.  And I think it's absolutely wrong and reflective of ignorance about the artistic process that can be involved in photography.  So I know that in the sketching world, some people express disdain for people who use cameras or choose to photograph a travel experience rather than sketch it.  I think that's just silly.  Both are ways of seeing and capturing and interacting with the world in front of you in a creative way.

 I put that photo up top, by the way, because you can see the reflection of me taking the picture in the glass.  A subtle selfie!  Seemed appropriate for this post.

By the way, you know that by the time this posts I will be on my way to a quilt retreat.  In the past I've tried to do a sketch each day, which has usually involved wandering outside and spending an hour or so drawing and painting. I'll bring my camera and sketching supplies as usual, but this time I suspect I'll take a lot more photos and maybe not do too much sketching, as I have a lot of sewing I want to get done.  I'll let you know!

Also, I'm glad that you posted. I've missed our TT4T postings!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Cracked it!

Dear Diane,
Hey! How are you?! I couldn't get a table at our usual BocBoc cafe so I am re-trying a farm shop about fifteen minutes away. I came once and it was not that good but I am giving it a second go. As you can see its more countrified than our usual place and the chairs less comfortable but it was a nice sunny drive through country to get here, and its a quite place to blog and journal for a while so that's fine.

But look, I just have to show you this, I am so excited. You know how much I have struggled with  sketchbooking ( is that a word?) and how I like the immersion in the process but tend to be really disappointed with my output at the end. Well, I declare myself 95% happy with this spread. And the 5% unhappiness only relates to the ink smudges. They happened because my Platinum Carbon pen had been on a flight and like all fountain pens tended to leak a bit on first use after landing. Must be the cabin pressure or something. I didn't notice it was on my fingers. But, then again it reminds me of being on holiday so, maybe I am only 3% unhappy.

And in a roundabout way it was the holiday that made this page so happy-making. When I was in Florence I visited an art shop looking for useful souvenirs. Anything art related I didn't already have. And I ended up buying some Softaqua watercolour brushes by Raphael because they said they held twice the amount of colour of other brushes. And boy, do they! Much of my previous dissatisfaction - even after swapping to Daniel Smith paints - was my inability to get bright solid colour and to control fine lines. Turns out it was my brushes.  I don't know if, once post don line, this iPhone snap really shows it but there is a big difference in my work with these high paint  load brushes. I love them! You can get these brushes in the USA here and the UK here.

Now I need to find a good travel holder for them:)

I had had the soiled stained notes I scribbled(about what bulbs I had planted where)  set aside to write up into my garden journal for a week. Meanwhile I was debating whether or not to sign up to the storytelling class at Sketchbook Skool, simply because I am saving up for new camera lenses and I thought maybe I should put the cash in that direction. Then, hours before the class started I signed up on a whim and watched the first class early this morning in my PJ's. I have discovered that using Apple TV to watch on the full sized screen is a very good thing to do. And of course that class, on documenting a recipe ( or effectively) a creative process inspired me to go immediately and do this page.  I was amazed when I surfaced and realised I had spent nearly two hours on it. Where did that time go?!

[interlude: My soup came and it had an onion bhaji in it which was weird but absolutely fantastically delicious! If had dot photograph because of the strong side light from a window. I  am glad I tried here again!] 

Of course, whilst falling down the creative well like that is always a good thing, at the same time its not always possible for me to find such  a long time in one go.  And that brings me back to photography.

I know you love both your camera and your sketchbook and I am eagerly awaiting the delivery of my new Olympus mirrorless camera. So, I was wondering: when you are out travelling, or indeed, if you are pottering at home, what factors influence your decision to sketch or to photograph? Do you ever do both in relation to the same subject? How does the process differ for you?

I paused watching the Sketchbook Skool videos to make some toast and thought : I should draw this toast making process. Then I thought: but then the toast will go cold! Maybe I should take clever food photographs of my toast. But then, because I am still at the point and shoot stage and eagerly awaiting proper lenses and time to read my pile of photography books, I thought: but maybe a styled photo of toast isn't actually that quick. I don't know. Guess I will find out as I learn!

It will be interesting to see how the two different ways of making an image make me feel, how I experience the different media. Because I think for me a lot of making art is about that - how it makes me feel. My Softaqua brush trial gave me a "Yes!! At Last!" feeling.  Which I think ought to be celebrated with apple and berry crumble Don't you?  I'll nip down and get them. Do you want cream or ice cream with yours?


PS Something else deeply satisfying I learned whist typing this post. If you are in iOS 8 on ipad or iPhone, if you go to settings - general - keyboard - edit you can delete that IRRITATING emoticon key on the new keyboard that I kept hitting by accident. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Seeing fast and slow


This morning I did this sketch for my lesson in Sketchbook Skool.  The semester's theme is "seeing," and the lesson was to sketch something "fast and slow": fast being a first, fast, loose painting of color to get a shape, and slow being (after the paint dried) a slowly-drawn, detailed line drawing over the top of the colored shapes.  It's a clever assignment, I think, because it does make one think about the different ways of seeing -- a quick glance, a fast impression of color and shape  versus a careful study of details.  And it was fun, too.  It reminds me that wonky is not just good, but darn fun.  I want to do more of this.  Have you tried it yet?

As I was doing this, I was thinking how the fast glance vs careful study of details applies to life, too.  Emerging from a 20 year marriage, I am often struck now at how things seem so different to me.  When I was living it day to day, caught up in the whirlwind of work and child-rearing and keeping clean laundry in the cupboards and making 3 meals a day for everyone, I think my sense of what I was doing was like that fast glancing. Sure, I was in the middle of it, and I tried to stay in the moment, especially with my daughter, and I tried to notice and appreciate the details of every day.  (I think that's why I got so immersed in photography years ago.  It slowed me down and made me stop and look at things.)  I saw a lot, I know.  But I suppose it's like what you see from driving somewhere in a car -- you  are moving along at a good steady clip, you're appreciating the scenery, but you can't absorb things really closely.  You're just moving too fast. 

But now, as you know, I've found myself looking at certain things in a different way.  How my husband and I related to each other, how we communicated, how we handled important or wonderful or hard things, how we challenged each other, or ignored things that were hard... How figuring out our daughter's special needs and how best to help her with things acted, in some ways, as blinders, too -- I know I became so focused on her and parenting and schooling that I just didn't have the capacity to look beyond that.  I have come to understand that I was consciously looking past an awful lot.  And I know, now, that that is a very common reaction to living with an alcoholic, and that embracing denial is not just a coping mechanism but in some situations a survival strategy.

When I was drawing this clock -- which I've had for about 25 years and which sat in my office at work for the whole time I was there so I glanced at it a zillion times a day -- I noticed for the first time that the roman numeral 4 on the clock face is represented as "IIII" instead of "IV."  For all the time I've had this clock and looked at it, I'd never noticed that before.

So it's kind of perfect for me to be thinking about "seeing" right now, as that is what I am doing in a new way on a whole lot of levels.  It amazes me how art processes can parallel life lessons.

And that's what I'm wondering -- have you had the experience of some art process or lesson paralleling something non-art related in your life?  Does reflecting on art or making art cause you to think in new or related ways on other aspects of your life?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Questions Answered

     I love seeing how your sketching is developing.  I know you are sorting through your angst and I'm confident that you will figure how, or whether, sketching fits into where you want your creative life to go.  I've been plugging away at the Every Day in May sketching challenge, although I do it loosely.  For me, my goal is to sketch SOMEthing every day, whether or not it's on the official EDIM list, and I don't worry about whether I am doing that day's challenge on that same day.  Here is the page spread for #15 (cookie) and #16 (stapler).  Do you get Girl Scout cookies in the UK, and have you ever had a Samoa?  They have a shortbread base, then a layer of caramel and coconut, then it's all coated in chocolate on the bottom.  Delicious!

 I made a small journal (using Cathy Johnson's maze book structure which she shows here) and it has just enough pages for all of May as long as I remember to put two things on one page at some point!  Each page is about 5x7 inches.

I never did answer the questions you asked in your last post, so I thought I would do that, finally! 

Has sketching made a difference to anything you do?

    Yes, actually.  In part it’s seeing things differently.  Noticing details, appreciating the beauty in simple things.  Nowadays, as the result of having discovered how much I like sketching buildings, I notice architectural detail more than I ever did.  I found that photography has had this effect on me, as well, but with sketching my sense of detail and really looking closely at things has changed even more.  I think I’ve come to appreciate funky or run down things more, too.  Something that can look junky and dreadful in person can actually be very fun to sketch, I have found. 

        And it has made its way into my quilting a bit. You might remember that I used sketches for one of the last 12x12 quilts on the theme Maverick:

 A while ago I had one of my sketches printed onto fabric via Spoonflower and I intend to turn that into a quilt.  Soon.  I have to finish a few other things in the work first! 

    Mostly, I think it has changed my level of confidence in myself as an artist.  I’ve told you how I always viewed my sister as “the one who could draw” which, be definition, meant that I was the one who couldn’t.  It has been such a pleasurable experience for me to discover that I can learn it and improve at it. 

I think you said to me once how when you see another person's messy, quick, gestural sketches you love them but when you do that yourself you hate them. Do you still feel like that? I certainly do.

    Yep.  And what’s more, I think that’s quite common. What seems charming and full of personality in someone else’s work seems distorted and wrong in our own.  But I think I’ve told you before that I try to remember to “embrace the wonky” and it has become a little mantra to myself.  I frequently find that I can do a sketch and feel dissatisfied, and then I’ll see it after a few days later and like it better.  And I ask myself how I’d feel if I saw that in someone else’s sketchbook, and almost always I realize I’d like it a lot.

     Here was my breakthrough on that.  In one of Jane LaFazio's classes (mixed media I think it was) she had us prepare page background by painting and stencilling a bunch of pages at one time.  I found it kind of pointless, preparing a page when I didn't know what I was going to do on it. One evening, I was in the mood to sketch, but just wanted to hang out in front of the tv.  So I opened my sketchbook to one of the pages I'd prepared, figuring I didn't like it already so I couldn't ruin it, and I figured a fast contour drawing would be fun. I did this, and when I was done, I loved it, wonkiness and all.

     In my Urban Sketching outings, I’ve made a friend named Pip who has (to my eye) a gorgeous style with very delicate and amazing watercolor skills.  I always see what she does and my heart sinks a bit and I wish I could have done something JUST LIKE HERS.  But she tells me she feels exactly the same way when she looks at my sketches.  So we make a good sketching pair, I guess .  But it’s a funny example of how so many artists judge themselves far more harshly than they judge others.

How I got into sketching–

    Some years ago (hmm, before we adopted Miss C so maybe around 1994ish) when I lived in New Hampshire, I was talked into taking a watercolor painting class with a friend of mind named Judy.  I mainly wanted to see her more often, and she persuaded me that the class was for beginners and I’d like it.  And I did, although many people in the class were serious painters who used it as workshop time to paint work they would then sell.  But it was the first sense I had that I could learn to draw.  I remember in the very first class, we were to draw and then paint using one color a chinese food takeout carton.  I was struggling with perspective, and the teacher came over and with one pencil stroke, changed ONE line and the whole thing sort of popped into place.  It amazed me and made me realized I’d not been that far off.  So I did a few sessions of that class, and started learning a bit about watercolor and paper and paints.

    But then Caroline arrived and life changed and I didn’t do it any longer.  But a few years back, I knew someone who had taken a class from Jane LaFazio.  And I so liked the sketchbook style of painting – not aiming for a formal, perfectly glazed watercolor effect, but just doing wonky drawings and using paint to add color, and I figured I’d give it a try.  And away I went.  Since then, I’ve taken a bunch of online classes that have been helpful – from Jane LaFazio, Val Webb, Sandy Holtzman, Laure Ferlita, Cathy Johnson... but really, I think mostly those have been most useful because they make me keep sketching and painting. 

How important is being part of a sketching group to me in whether I keep going?

    It’s not that important actually.  But I think that might be because my sister is always sketching in some fashion or another, and she inspires me... and now I have other friends who are pretty regular sketchers too.  I think I get inspired seeing other sketchers’ work, on Facebook and Flickr, and the various Urban Sketcher blogs.  And I enjoy posting my work on Flickr and Facebook at times because positive reactions are encouraging.  I really do like having others to sketch with, and to talk about it with, and to go someplace with and then see what they choose to sketch in the same location, that sort of thing.  But really, the biggest satisfaction I get from sketching has to do with the zen-like, meditative feeling I get when I’m sketching.  It brings me to the present moment and makes me look closely at something and every day life stuff just evaporates for a little bit.  It’s THAT feeling that keeps me sketching, and so I think I’d keep sketching even if I weren’t connected up with other sketchers. 

Did I do art stuff when I worked in an office full time?

    Yes, I did, mostly.  Maybe more crafty than actual art, but I always needed to do creative stuff to balance out the lawyerly side of life.   When I first started working as a lawyer, I was sewing clothes a lot.  I actually made a lot of my suits because as a new lawyer I couldn’t afford the tailored clothes I needed, and I have long arms and so it was hard to find blouses and jackets with the sleeves long enough!  So I made my own.  (I will always remember one of the first hearings I went to on my own, which ended up in front of one of the few (at that time) female judges.  And she was wildly complimentary about my suit, a gorgeous winter white wool suit if I do say so myself, and I didn’t want to say that I’d made it because I thought that would sound too girly and unlawyer-like! )

    And I grew up in a household where crafty stuff was encouraged, so I did needlework all through law school, and I did a whole lot of knitting when I was first working as a lawyer – that was how I first learned of Kaffe Fassett and even undertook one of his really complicated patterned sweaters. But as work got busier, I spent less time at it.  I’ve told you about the period of time when I was feeling burnt out about trying medical malpractice cases, and I started having some chronic fatigue health issues, and ended up taking a sabbatical from practice to address my health and sort out my career goals.  During that time, I remember the first thing (and only thing in a long while) that got me excited was discovering using fimo clay to make jewelry.  I became obsessed with just mixing clay colors!  And I remember thinking that I was definitely recovering if something creative was getting me excited again.  I felt that part of my sliding down into chronic fatigue had to do with the lack of balance in my life – work had far overtaken creative activities – and I concluded that doing creative things is necessary to my health on a lot of levels. 

    But even with all of that, I do understand how very hard it is to have time to work full time and manage a house and spend time with family members and then explore all of the wonderful creative things there are out there, too.  So I can appreciate your frustration with trying to find yet another 20-minutes-a-day for sketching when your days are jam-packed as it is.

   At present, I don't work full-time outside of the house, but at times I have long days of work at my desk, and on others I have a lot of ferrying of Miss C to appointments and events.  So my goal is to try to do something creative everyday.  Maybe sketching, maybe sewing -- and some days I figure that watching videos or looking at inspiration online via videos and flickr is all I have time or energy for.  But that's okay.  I feel happier when I relax about it.

  But now it is dinnertime, and the dog is staring at my intently to tell me it is past time for hers, so I will post this.  I look forward to see where you are going with all of this.   

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sketching: My thoughts on your thoughts

Hi Diane,

I am glad you wrote over here rather than in an email because I have been sadly neglecting blogging and your thoughts have really inspired me to get back to it. And I was delighted that my post over on my website  Helen Conway Design made you stop and think as that was exactly what I wanted that post to make people do.

And I cannot resist pointing out that my opinion, that Sketchbook Skool ( oh, how I am unable to get rid of my hatred for that incorrect k!) is vindicated by what Danny Gregory said in his last video. Do you remember how as a parting gift they decided that members could now keep access to the class material online for ever, but in future semesters that will not be the case and we will have to download the transcripts but will lose the videos. His logic was that he wanted everyone to do the classes together at the same time. To create a sense of urgency and to have everyone doing the homework together in one mass movement. That's the aspect of conformity I was really identifying.

So you had a number of questions for me to answer, the first was: which kind of cake? Chocolate all the way, baby!

And yes, I know what photo should be a sketch of cake and yes, I know that its not even home made cake. That's all about the issue of time, a matter to which I will return in a moment. But first, let me go through the questions you asked in your post.

1. At the time, it seemed to me that you didn't appreciate or enjoy sketching for its own sake.  Has the Sketchbook Skool (SBS)  experience changed that for you? 

I have always had, and to a lessening extent, still have a problem doing anything for its own sake. Its just a problem I have and, cliched though it is, I think a lot of it comes from my mother whose constant question is either; 'What are you doing to do with it?' ' or 'What is it for?' I know that the answer is 'It was for doing.' Yet, that is not really embedded in my psyche. I always search for the 'Why?'.

So, I always totally understood why you wanted to sketch a lemon, but when I came to do it the Voice  In My Head was loud and distracting: Why are you doing this? What's it FOR?'. My struggle has been catching the 'Why' that really resonates for me and not other people's 'Why'.

Plus, I have a really strong perfectionist streak so doing something badly that I didn't have a 'Why' for was extremely hard. I know, of course, I do that you stop doing it so badly if you keep doing it but then the voice on my shoulder just says, 'But why are you practising so hard to learn to do something with no purpose?' Sigh.

So, one subtle thing about SBS for me is that I can tell the Voice In My Head that I paid £60 for this that I am not going to waste, that its homework and that its only six weeks not a whole life I am wasting. The Voice did seem to accept that point.

So SBS has allowed me to make time for sketching and has actually assured me that some of my stuff is not totally bad anymore. I am starting to find my own style.

Has it made a difference to anything you do?

2. If the Sketchbook Skool framework were not there (say, in between this session and the next), will you keep sketching? Or is your interest in it dependent on how active the Sketchbook Skool facebook page continues to be?  Or has the group presence motivated you, but that you are now developing sketching for its own sake?

I would say that SBS has pushed me slightly further towards sketching for its own sake. I am not totally doing it just for the group. If I didn't want to push through my own psychological barriers and do this anyway for its own sake then I would not even have enrolled in SBS. 

Yesterday it was beautifully sunny so I sat in my garden and did some sketching. I drew a pot in four different ways experimenting with media and how much time I gave myself to do it. I then drew the shed as you see above. I told myself in advance that that was time well spent as I am determined to come home from our special Italy trip in September with some decent sketches. So I have just a short time to practise, to work out what media and what style suits me. so that was my 'Why' for the morning. And when I was doing it it was conscious that I was falling deep down the well and was loving the relaxing feeling of being absorbed in it. I wasn't conscious that I put sun cream everywhere but my feet and that they were badly burning until much later!

However, later, when I was looking at the sketches they seemed to amateur and so silly and pointless and I did still feel, well it might have been nice at the time, but ( all join in the refrain) What are they FOR?.

So I am not yet quite sketching for its own sake but I am getting there I think. I am sketching despite what I think and feel rather than because of what I think and feel about it, maybe. I am helped in that by the academic knowledge that I should get better if I put effort  and time into it.  I see other people's sketches and know that if I could do it as well as them I would be less 'Why" challenged.  I guess thats where SBS has helped a bit actually because I can see that although I am none were near actually producing with my hands what is in my head, I am not feeling like the class dunce.

I think you said to me once how when you see another person's messy, quick, gestural sketches you love them but when you do that yourself you hate them. Do you still feel like that? I certainly do.

3. Do you feel that the Sketchbook Skool environment -- knowing you are part of a group of people who are also starting to sketch, being able to show others your work and get their compliments -- makes your participation permissible?  Or "correct" somehow?   Do you think that if it had turned out that only 5 people signed up for Sketchbook Skool, and no one was posting their sketches or comments, you would be less inclined to do the sketching and try the methods the teachers' videos demonstrate?

Actually, the Facebook compliments and Likes are not that motivating. I tend to dismiss them. Everyone is saying nice things about everyone. They are just being polite and encouraging etc. It only really matters if it is someone I know and whose opinions I care about says something about the drawings.

On Friday I was stuck in a meeting and somewhat bored. So, I took the agenda which was on cheap copy paper and all crumpled from being in my bag,  found a biro in my bag from a hotel conference centre and I drew this as I listened.

My friend and colleague next to me saw it, took it, looked up and down between it and the people in front of us and said, 'You are a good drawer, aren't you?' Now that meant something because it was a validation that what I was doing was acceptable to the people I was already connected to.

Sheesh, I bet you are thinking, how can she make such psychological deal out of drawing something? But I think it all comes down to a real deep seated need to feel that I am like others. Remember how when you visited with my family you asked about how come I was so different to them and I joked that in fact I was a Saudi Princess swapped at birth?! I was struck how quickly you spotted that situation. But after forty three years feeling I am ploughing a solitary furrow takes its toll and I do need to feel that  I am not the odd one out. So, yes in a way being part of a group does make things permissible.

You of course got into sketching before me. (Dennis asked last night how we got into it and I can't remember now. Can you?) And you have local sketchers and your online group but I have never had that, beyond the general impersonal fact you can stick stuff online. But SBS is too large really to make close connections. So being part of a mass movement does help but it will not be sustaining alone. I have to find my 'Why' and shut up the Voice In My Head.  and maybe find people close by to make real sketchy friends with, or at least a smaller online group.

You said of your group:
We are sharing our lives through our sketches, so posting sketches to them isn't about "look what I did," so much as it's about "here's what was going on in my life at that moment."

I am quite jealous of that :)
Other than you no-one I know well, who would care what was going on in my life, also does art or sketching.

There is a branch of Urban Sketchers in Manchester which is 28 miles away and I am stalking them on their blog ( Can you stalk someone on a public blog? You know what I mean!) to see what they get up to. But I feel, first, that I need to actually do some urban sketching before I join in. At the moment I have found a certain comfort with drawing Things but Streets are a whole other ball game. That said, today I am going into Manchester to go to the theatre ( to see Paul Hollywood of Great British Bake Off  fame)  so I am going to go in early, go to Fred Aldous for some treat supplies I don't need but which will make me happy and motivated, and then draw something outside.

The second issue with the Manchester Sketch group is time. It takes about 45 mins to get there and parking is expensive. ( Public transport is worse before someone eco-minded asks).  I did ask on SBS if anyone lived near me but most people are a considerable drive away. So, its not just a quick thing to do for me to meet up with people, its a real commitment and time out of the textile art studio work. Which brings be back to where I started with the issue of time.

Working full time means time is limited. and I understand the logic of ' do a quick sketch every day' and you will improve fast. But that juts one more everyday thing and even if it takes ten or fifteen minutes at some point there are so many things you are trying to to just ten or fifteen minutes of a day that time simply runs out. Plus, I like my work better when I take time over it. so, without a really solid 'Why' in my head, its hard for me to prioritise sketching over all the other creative stuff I want to do. or even to prioritise it equal to them.

And yet, I want to break through, so I will keep going at it. I am trying allocating Sundays as Sketchbook Sundays. I did go for a nice walk down to the docks in Liverpool which is now a UNESCO Heritage site and is well within lunch time range for me if I get my full lunch hour. there is all sorts down there that would make good urban sketching material and I thought about buying a book and extra art kit, leaving it at work and doing a themed book, trying to do one sketch a week. Of course, it has rained every lunch time since!

Did you have any of this angst? How important do you think your groups are to you in keeping going? when you were working full time in an office did you do art stuff then?

So, time to get going to the metropolis. I wonder if I will produce anything I feel is worth sharing in my next letter to you?


Friday, 16 May 2014

More Thoughts on Sketching

We seem to have drifted back to our ongoing habit of mixing our creative talk with our daily life emails, and because I've missed our Tea and Talk get-togethers, I thought I'd sit down at the virtual cafe (I'm picturing Boc Boc) and order us both some tea and cake, and start a conversation.  Would you like the Victoria Sponge, or the chocolate cake?  Or shall we split them and each have some of both?

Actually, that's wrong.  You started the conversation on your blog with your post "How Sketchbook Skool Peddles Conformity".  I've been thinking about your post and wanting to reply so I thought I'd do so here.

What really hit me when I read your thoughts about Sketchbook Skool is how totally different they are from mine.  Which is not to say I disagree, necessarily -- I just would never in a million years have looked at it that way, and your feelings about it are so different than my own.  Once again, you have really made me stop and think because your view of it is so different from mine.

You said that  "I believe the real product Danny and Koosje are selling ... is the enabling of the social habit of conformity....Suddenly its ‘normal ‘ to sketch. Everyone’s doing it. We don’t want to be left out and we are welcomed when we share."

See? Right there.  It is fascinating to me that you see the Sketchbook Skool experience in terms of conformity.  We've discussed before how you've been uncertain about the value of sketching to you.  You didn't see the point of my sketching that lemon, for example, and couldn't see why you'd want to do that sort of thing, but that you were starting to understand the appeal of travel sketching.   At the time, it seemed to me that you didn't appreciate or enjoy sketching for its own sake.  Has the Sketchbook Skool experience changed that for you?

On your blog, you've talked about " 'informational conformity,' where we change our behaviour to  be ‘correct’. I think this is what is sucking me in so much to the Skool Facebook group. Of course, having subscribed, I could simply watch the videos, be inspired and  then do nothing... But when your News Feed is full of people showing their homework and telling their stories of sketching trips, it feels like you ‘ought’ to join in if you don’t want to be the class slacker wasting her money and, better, it feels fun to join in. Welcoming and social. Then, because you see demos from a number of teachers, you have a range of ‘correct’ behaviours and can choose which one suits your style and use it as a template for exploration."

Again this is fascinating, because this is not what the Sketchbook Skool experience has been about to me at all.  Do you feel that the Sketchbook Skool environment -- knowing you are part of a group of people who are also starting to sketch, being able to show others your work and get their compliments -- makes your participation permissible?  Or "correct" somehow?   Do you think that if it had turned out that only 5 people signed up for Sketchbook Skool, and no one was posting their sketches or comments, you would be less inclined to do the sketching and try the methods the teachers' videos demonstrate?  I read your blog post as describing how the group dynamic is what motivates you, especially in giving you permission to do something that you fear is ultimately impractical to you, and in giving you a vehicle for accountability.  If the Sketchbook Skool framework were not there (say, in between this session and the next), will you keep sketching? Or is your interest in it dependent on how active the Sketchbook Skool facebook page continues to be?  Or has the group presence motivated you, but that you are now developing sketching for its own sake?

I'm asking these questions with real interest.  I have seen your sketching change so much over recent months so that it's clear to me you are getting better at it --  but I have not heard you talk about your enjoying the process of it.

Which brings us back to that same distinction I keep thinking about, that "process" versus "result" thing.  Maybe it's not that simplistic, but your blog post makes me think of it in a new light because the concept of "conformity" just doesn't apply to the role Sketchbook Skool has played for me.  If anything, I tend to want to head in the opposite direction when people start jumping on a bandwagon.  I guess I'm a lot more comfortable with non-conformity!  You know that I've been sketching now for a number of years, and that I've really enjoyed finding friends to sketch with and going on sketching outings with them.  But for me, that is about the sharing of the process, being with others who share my enthusiasm and who inspire me, and having a back-and-forth exchange of ideas and work.  It's not that I need to have others to sketch with because otherwise I'd feel uncomfortable on my own. It's not about the presence of others giving me permission to do something I know I enjoy.  Partly it's that having someone along to chat with makes the experience more fun, and can give me new insights, and connect me with new people.  It's sharing versus conformity, to me.

Mainly, I just like the sketching.  So I'm happy to do it home alone, or out in the world on my own, and I don't share a lot of what I sketch, just because...well, because it's the doing it that's important to me.  I have a small group of sketcher friends online and I share most stuff with them, because we all started learning together and have become friends and seem to take the same view of the process. In that group, I think our sketches have become short-hand ways of talking about our experiences. We are sharing our lives through our sketches, so posting sketches to them isn't about "look what I did," so much as it's about "here's what was going on in my life at that moment."

For me, Sketchbook Skool is a vehicle for me to get exposed to other artists and other ways of doing things, so that I can explore my own individual expression.  It's the inspiration and education that excite me.  I love seeing other artists show their sketchbook pages and hearing them talk about them.  I love hearing each artist talk about the role that sketching has in his or her life.  So, for me, it makes no difference whether I am the only one watching, or others are too -- save that it's fun to share reactions and see others' responses to the art assignments.  (I have loved, loved, loved seeing everyone's drawings of their kitchens, both for the drawing and for the glimpses into people's ordinary spaces.  It's like art and a reality tv show.  :-)  )

At any rate, I have really been struck by your viewing the experience as one about artists "embracing conformity," while for me it is pretty much the opposite -- I see it as being about how delightfully  individual the sketching experience is.  

This feels a bit like you are feeling the elephant's trunk and I am feeling the elephant's ear so we are touching the same animal and having totally different experiences. 

Which is why I love our conversations.  Your end of the elephant always surprises me.


Monday, 10 March 2014

The No-Travel Journal

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You asked how I am doing with making pages for the journal inspired by Mary Ann Moss's "Ticket to Venice" class.   The short answer is GREAT.  I am having a  grand time assembling pages, and I have loved watching her videos.  Now that I am on my own, I was quite inspired to see Mary Ann's travel plan -- taking a trip alone, walking and exploring and photographing by day, journaling by night.  It looks quite feasible and very, very fun.  

But as I do not have any big travel on the agenda soon, I decided to take a more general approach to the journal.  I could not resist also watching the videos for Mary Ann's "Remains of the Day" class which involves a similar journal but using more daily ephemera and piecing the bits together without an overall theme.  

So, as I've said (and as you can see in the little slide show of pages above) I've really been having fun mixing paper scraps and random items.  But I would find it hard to make a travel journal for a specific destination.  I think I would be inclined, while traveling, to gather up lots of papers, take lots of pictures, keep notes or journaling bits on separate cards or in the Midori Travel Journal, and then assemble it all when I get back home. 

But then again, what you are doing looks quite perfect for your Italy trips -- just means leaving a lot more blank pages for insertion of photos and souvenir bits and journaling.  But then making the book doesn't seem like it'd be as much fun.  I will be going up to Washington State in a few weeks and my plan will to be take lots of pictures and collect papers and make a book about it all when I get home.  We'll see how that goes.  

By the way, Mary Ann says in her videos that she prints photos on Staples Matte photo paper.  I bought some and I LOVE how it looks and feels. The photos take on a different look and the weight and texture of the paper makes great book pages.  I can second her recommendation.

I now find myself looking at papers everywhere, seeing it as a potential book page part. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Making my travel journal

Hi Diane,

How are you getting on making your journal for the Ticket to Venice class? I am so glad we signed up for this together. I thought I'd spend an hour today starting to make my signatures and was rather surprised to find when I came up for air it was over three hours later. This is very fun indeed. If messy. My studio was so beautifully tidy when I started....

I have now also signed up for Sketchbook Skool ( despite the irritating name) and as you know that will start just before I go to Bath for a fortnight. So what I wanted was a book that would reflect the kind of holiday I will have and which will have plenty of space to tuck sketches into pockets and to glue them in. I think working on loose scraps and/ or in the perforated sketchbook in my Midori Travellers book will free me from the terror of 'spoiling' a sketchbook. I will have fun combining my urban/ everyday sketching into a scrapbook style visual journal. That gets everything in in one go!
I still need more neutral pages (I think an visit to an art shop for sheets of watercolour paper might be in order one day soon) but here is some eye candy of all the fun I have had so far collating pages and adding pockets and flaps galore. All I need now is for that order of washi to arrive....!

I have some paper bags from previous trips to Bath to use ( above you see the Charndos Deli where we get bread) and I also have memorabilia from when I did a Reading Year at Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights ( below you see a bookmark sent with a note by Mr B himself about the book choice he sent). As I shall be treating myself to a reading spa next time I go, it seems appropriate to use the wrappers and seals in which my books were posted for the journal covers.

I have stuck to my usual brown and green colours, but that suits the colour of Bath stone too. I will be doing a lot of reading so I have added scrapbook papers with letters and have ordered some similar washi tape.

Next to think about covers. I have to wait for my order of linen thread and booktape to arrive before I can bind it anyway.
So, I want to see your pages please!!


Saturday, 22 February 2014


Goodness, who knew that deciding to work on a loose challenge with the theme "doorways" would have pushed you in that direction?  I love what you've done -- the way you've created the graffiti'd doors is really striking and effective.  We have already emailed back and forth about this, but I will add it here in case anyone is reading.  I suggested that you go in with colored pencil or watercolor crayon to add a lot of shadow and detail on the figures, to give them dimension and a level of detail and reality that the graffiti walls have.  I will be very interested to see if you do that, and if so, what results.

As you know, I've not been inspired in the art quilt arena lately, but I hope that working in other media for a while will feed me creatively and I figure it'll all come back around one of these days. That's how it seem to work for me.

But "doorway."  When I suggested it I don't think I had any particular thing in mind except that it did have a literal meaning and various figurative ones that would give us a lot to work with.

I realized that I tend to take a lot of photos of doorways ... here are some, for example.

By the way, do you recognize that center one at the top, in black and white?  I took that when we were at the warming hut in SF together -- I snapped it from where we were sitting.  

And I apparently paint more doorways than I'd realized, too.   I guess that goes with painting houses and other buildings.  Here's a sampling of those: 

But looking at how many doorways made me think it'd be fun to try something I've been thinking about.  I selected a few doorway images, manipulated them in different ways in Photoshop, and then sent them off to to have them printed on a large piece of fabric to work with.  It should be interesting to see how those come out.

By the way, in case you are gnashing your teeth that Spoonflower would not be affordable for you from the UK, I thought I'd mention that Laura Kemshall has started Fingerprint  for "bespoke" printing of one's own images on fabric.

So, I have a bit of a plan for a doorway art quilt, but I will have to see what develops when the fabric arrives.  And meanwhile, just doing that seems to have shaken something loose and I have started in working on a very old UFO to see if I can finish it.  Detail on my blog!  Apparently I have gone through some sort of creative doorway... hee hee hee.

Balti Palace doorway

Hi Diane,
Here is the second doorway quilt I mentioned. This is the one I am most pleased with. Not much to say about it really except that its the most painterly thing I have ever done. If i had been told at school that i could paint with a credit card and my fingers maybe I would have been doing it all my life!

Here is the quilt:

And here is my inspiration picture.

I have already used the woman as a thermofax in my Brick Lane series. (Oh, there's an article about that in this months British Patchwork and Quilting which is fun,)

I am a little suprised to find myself making such literal interpretations of my photos, I have to say, but I really enjoyed doing them.
Maybe there's another one in me yet...!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Doorway : No. 33

Dear Diane,

I am so excited we are starting our new creativity project together! After all our private emails discussing what we are and are not going to be doing let me just check I have this straight (and so readers will know too!):
1. We will take it in turns to pick a theme. The first one is your choice which is 'Doorway'.
2. We will work to that theme for a 2- 3 month period which we will set as we go along to take account of life demands.
3. Any media goes! The only rule is that we have fun exploring what we can do with that theme with the aim of interpreting it in whatever medium is calling us to play at the time.
4. There will be no grand reveal day and no specific size requirements as there were with Twelve by Twelve because this is more about is spurring each other on to learn and grow and experiment to see what we can do. However as work is done or progress is made (or not made!) we will post here about our progression for others to see.

I am actually excited that all our discussions have taken away some of the limits we first discussed. I think that we will spark off each other and that the freedom to be 'muti-potentialite artists' will bring out the best in us. I am particularly glad we will no longer be keeping secrets until the end of the theme period - our discussions about the ups and downs of creativity are really valuable to me.

As you know, as we discussed how this was going to pan out I had some studio time so I was able to get ahead and start on our theme. here is my first work that I have been dying to show you. It is called simply NO 33. The first comment I should make is that the photo illustrates the difficulty of photographing  quilt without getting distortion even when you think the camera is straight. My Dad gifted me a tripod this weekend so I am going to be retaking a lot of photos sometime soon!

This was in the early days when we talked about just doing art quilts and you suggested using a 26 x 36 format. I have to say I like that shape a lot to work with although it proved what I said all along about the one deficiency of my wet studio - the print surface is not big enough!! Its the biggest I could fit in the space of the single garage so I am not complaining but I had to paint my quilt sidewise which was interesting. I am contemplating doing what Annabel Rainbow does and buying a big easel and back board and clipping fabric to it so I can paint vertically.  Maybe you can get table easels large enough so that I can do it in the workbench rather than in the laundry space. I don't know. I shall have to trawl some art supply websites. What a hardship :)

The quilt came from a photo I took on Brick Lane when I did my original research for the big Brick Lane quilt I made last year.

here is the photo:

Dennis wants to share the copyright of this photo because he held the umbrella over my head when I took it! The reason I was in Brick Lane is that I was exploring its potential as a source of material for a theme  of Transition picked by the newly formed Etcetera group of which I am a part. You know I am fascinated with immigration and ethic groups and this picture sums up the departure of the Jewish community who were the life and soul of this area. The Brick Lane locality is now home to a big Asian community mostly from the Sylhet  region of Bangladesh as depicted ( some say inaccurately) in Monica Ali's eponymous book Brick Lane. I love that book by the way - have you read it? its so much better than the film!

Anyway, for some time I have been wanting to explore further the use of scraped paint which I use as the background for my map quilts. Like this one for example, The Roodee:
I love that technique for backgrounds but I always do it the same way and with inks not paint. I wanted to see if I could make it look like wood or the steel doors. The whole thing is painted with normal acrylic paints and a textile medium. Mostly with a credit card and my fingers with the odd touching up detail with a brush. The No33 letters are stencilled with Luminere paint. The shop, you will see is actually No 33A ,but I didn't have a small A stencil and was feeling lazy so....!!  The quilt is not perfect but it gave me enormous confidence to know that this was a technique worth pushing further. and I have another Doorway to show you but  I am going to tease you and hold that back until my next post!

To get the look of the spray painted graffiti I used oil pastels. Not oil sticks. Oil pastels. Then I wondered why I had not read about anyone using those on quilts. After three days I realised it was probably because they do not dry well. The solution? The same non-yellowing fixative you use for pastels on paper worked a treat. Stinks to high heaven so I opened all the doors and windows turned on the extractor fan, put on a mask, didn't breathe and left the room to air for ages when I used it on the quilt rather than a test fabric! I have no idea what it does to the archival quality of quilts but thats not a concern to me right now with these pieces. Getting while oil pastel all over my hands while I quilted was a big concern!

The worn posters are Bengali newspapers. The woman in the shop was most reluctant to see something so 'useless' to me when I confessed I do not speak a word of Bengali. I did try to explain the art purpose but she was still very perplexed when I left the shop! I have to say though that I didn't know when I bought the newspapers that I would use them this way. Just proves that a stock of appealing 'one day' things is an important thing to have!

The women were extracted from an entirely different photo I took on Cheetham Hill Road in Manchester where the great Asian supermarkets are. Hmm, even writing that makes me want goo and pick ups some flat breads and lassis! The front one is turning her head to talk to the other one which is why you don't see a face. When doing the scarves ( which are chiffon) I folded the fabric so it has some dimensionality but on reflection the way I allowed the tine to go from top left diagonally across the head makes her look more like she is looking at her feet. You will see in due course I tried to improve on that. I don't think it shows well in photos but the fact the women are appliqu├ęd on but not quilted does make them stand out from the background.

I have already been inspired to make another literal doorway ( soon I will show you - soon - this post will be too long with two stories in it!)  and I will probably use painted whole cloths a lot more now I have done this. But also, I see abstract possibilities. here are three shots I took of details of the door. Like with my obsessions with shacks I see a beauty in these photos of dilapidation and decay combed with the marks of the people who live close by. Plus the compositions are interesting.

 I love this last one particularly. Who put those feathers there I wonder? And what did they intend?

So, I am excited to see what you do with this theme and where we go together. It will I am sure be a doorway into new things - did you intend that double meaning when you picked the theme?