Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sketching From Life

"It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise that you have rendered something in its true character."
                                                                                     ~ Camille Pissarro

5 minute sketches done with Pigma Micron brush pen

In the last six months or so, it seems like I've been suffering more from writer's block than artist's block. Occasionally inspiration will strike, but more often that not I sit down to blog and just stare at the screen wondering what to say. So this post is going to be made up of random thoughts about some sketching I've done recently.

Our local art center has a weekly live model session that I've been taking advantage of. I much prefer the quick sketches rather than the long poses. Having only a few minutes to draw helps to prioritize what to draw; I don't have time to become obsessive over picky little details.

5 minute and 20 minute sketches done with Pigma Micron brush pen

Watercolor sketches from the Tracy Aviary

I also love sketching at zoos, aquariums, and the like. It can be downright maddening when a place is crowded; people stepping in front of you or bumping into you, and the noise level can become distracting, but if you can find an area where you are mostly alone, it's great. I've also had some wonderful conversations with people who were brave enough to risk interrupting my work to talk to me. I especially enjoy talking to kids, hoping that my example will encourage them to do art. 

Watercolor sketches done at a coffee shop

There are plenty of opportunities for me to sketch in everyday situations, not just classes or special trips. Although I felt a little self-conscious at first, I've learned to really enjoy sketching at coffee shops. Easy access to sweet hot beverages + doing art = bliss. Bonus points if the coffee shop has interesting mugs or tea pots to draw, as the one above did. 

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of my sketchbooks while my writing muse is off doing something else for a while. Hopefully she'll return soon.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Getting Out of Your Own Way

"The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real."
                                                                                                                              ~ Lucian Freud

My Apple Phase
(although a lot of them could get stand-in parts as red peppers.)

As many of you know, I switched from painting with acrylics to oils this summer and that I am over the moon in love with my new medium, but in these first giddy months of our relationship we're still learning a lot about each other. That's why I ordered Carol Marine's new book Daily Painting. (I should note that much of this book could apply to any medium, but I was partially motivated to get the book due to the author's medium being oil.) It arrived on Tuesday, and I spent the rest of the afternoon totally engrossed in it. Wednesday I had some other obligations so further reading had to wait, but on Thursday I woke up early in anticipation of being able to devote the day to Daily Painting.

I decided to do an exercise in the book called Ten Minute Apples, in which you paint an apple 8 times*, but you only have 10 minutes to do each painting. The idea is to concentrate on values and form, and not fuss over every little detail. I had a shiny apple (and I mean really shiny. How much wax did they coat it with???) ready to go. I set up my palette and my lighting, had some energetic tunes playing** and I dove into the exercise. Then some interesting things started to happen.

What many of you may not know is that my undergraduate degree is in Psychology. I wanted to get a BFA, but that was not considered "practical" so I went with my other interest - why our brains do what they do. (Don't get me started on how unpractical a BA in Psychology is, but it was more acceptable than a BFA, so I did it and just took as many fine art electives as I could and spent the next 20 years feeling like an artist wannabe. Thank goodness for getting older and not caring so much about what other people think anymore. But I digress.) So I noted my mental state and what was happening on my canvas during the exercise with interest.

After about the third apple painting, part of my brain started screaming with boredom. "It's an apple. I get it already. Do we have to paint 6 more?" Then a funny thing happened. As I continued with the exercise that part of my brain checked out. And when it checked out, suddenly I was painting much more intuitively, my apples started to look more apple-like in a painterly way, I was making interesting color choices and figured out problems that had been baffling me on the previous 3 paintings and I wasn't rushing to finish in 10 minutes. Then on the 9th painting that part of my brain checked back in. I guess it had been secretly keeping track and knew this was the last painting. Sure enough, that painting was one of my weaker ones and I didn't finish before the timer went off. Fascinating...

Apple #5 - or the apple that said "apple"

Apple #7 - or the apple in which I finally figured out that
the waxy sheen on the bottom half of the apple was light blue

Those of you who are familiar with Betty Edwards' book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain might find this scenario reminiscent of her descriptions about the shift from left brain to right brain. It sure reminded me of that. Whether or not that's truly what was happening in my brain I don't know, but I found the Ten Minute Apples exercise very useful. I feel more confident in my mixing and handling of oil paints. And although the stated purpose of this particular exercise itself did not include tapping into a more creative way of painting, the take-home message I got from the exercise (and from the whole book) is that a lot of the roadblocks I run into with painting can be solved by me just getting out of my own way and allowing myself to experiment, explore, and play without worrying about the results. I can definitely see myself doing this exercise over and over, although that one part of my brain may get pretty sick of apples. 

*My canvas divided up evenly for 9 paintings, so I did an extra one.

**I am rather partial to Rodrigo y Gabriela in the studio. Upbeat classical guitar with no lyrics to distract me.