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?


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