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.