I'm not sure if I ever intended this site to become some kind of public facing art blog, but I certainly find personal value in having the space and freedom to think about and write about and explore my art journey.
That said, I had something of an inspired flash while laying in bed listening to a book the other night and a phrase from the novel in my ears struck me in my near-sleep state as a great name for an art blog.
Sometimes you should sleep on an idea and see how it feels in the morning. Other times, you should open up your phone browser and register the domain name for a whole year right then and there.
This time I chose the latter option, and so that's how I wound up owning notesforasketch.ca and installing another instance of this website software on my server.
Having a single art website to keep fed and watered is a big enough chore, so a second is not a decision I should have made lightly. But that said, I had a keen idea to use it for something that, while sure I could have fit onto this site too, seemed just too clever to miss an opportunity to start fresh.
Notes for a Sketch is going to be (almost exclusively) a sketching challenge site. I'm going to start with a couple monthly challenges, then see what happens next. Maybe I'll just end up abandoning the whole thing. Or mashing my two sites together in a frankensteinian monster of art blogs. Or who knows. But late night ideas deserve a little time to breath before one sends them to bed, else how could I call myself a truly creative guy?
I've been struggling with finding my mojo the last couple weeks.
There is, of course, the raw reality of putting in time, doing mediocre work before one does competent work, effort makes practice makes perfect, all that jazz.
I've been putting watercolours on paper and coming out with muddled messes.
I've been sketching scenes and objects and finding cluttered scribbles at the end.
I've been trying to capture delightful subjects on paper and resulting in convoluted creations instead.
I think it's coming from a few places.
One, I'm pushing myself to try new things, and the simple, tried and true, basics are shifting into more advanced and less forgiving works.
Two, I probably am improving but my standards are growing faster than my skills.
And three, I am likely getting casual too soon, and I can feel the idea in my head and fingers that these things should just be easier while rationally I know I haven't earned easy yet.
I'm not sure I know how to solve the problem.
On the one hand, I could revert to basics and jump back into my art school (paused but not forgotten) path of practice and focus.
On the other hand, I could keep pushing through difficult ad hoc assignments and hoping it resolves into work that I'm happy with.
There is no right answer, just mental plateaus to explore.
It kinda felt like I should be doing real sketching, nearly a year into this art journey of mine and mid-summer with vacations and the like. I say real sketching, but I mean plein air stuff, out and about, catching moments like my pen was a camera, not this exercise-from-a-plan stuff.
But I think I still need a bit of a plan.
So, I'm restarting my art school momentum today with assignment week 5, small medium big, wherein I will find a photo of a human subject and draw it three times at three different scales.
A couple days ago I found myself wandering through downtown on my lunchbreak. In one hand I had my pen & ink themed sketchbook, the one I use for simple ink drawings of places and scenes. In my pocket I had stuffed a collection of pens, pencils, and an eraser.
Downtown isn't busy, but many of the best drawing spots are crowded and occupied by others. Plein air sketching shyness aside, simply finding a place to sit that is (a) comfortable for drawing and (b) line of sight to something interesting enough worth drawing ... that can be a challenge.
Ultimately I claimed a little bench in a pedestrian street, plunked myself down and roughed out a messy urban sketch of the view from where I sat.
But the whole thing, as rewarding as stealthily sketching from an out of the way bench can be, got my mind churning on the subject of workstations.
Until yesterday, I did not own an easel.
I was a "find a table" or "prop up one leg as a desk" kind of a guy.
That's all well and good, but as my sketching skills have improved over the last year I've been plotting out adventures to parks, natural area, or other scenic spots as kind of day trip "sketching expeditions." While my art supply cache is really starting to mature, there is (or was) something lacking in my gear box that made me feel like I'd be winging it and using half my sketching time looking for just that aforementioned worthy spot: somewhere that is (a) comfortable for drawing and (b) line of sight to something interesting enough worth drawing.
So I started researching easels (and all the related family of drawing stands, including boxes, boards, stands, and props.)
The conclusion I came to was that never having used one, I didn't really know what I wanted.
I wanted a flat, stable surface.
I wanted portability.
I wanted enough space to fold open a sketchbook or tape down a blank watercolour sheet.
I was also fascinated (as an amature photographer with access to some good quality tripod equipment) with the idea of mounting something with a standard tripod mount and making use of that equipment.
My research found me trolling through online retailers, advice blogs, and hardware catalogs until eventually I did what every good sketcher should know how to do: sketch some plans.
A few hours and a trip to the hardware store later, I had bought the supplies to build my Version 1.0 Sketching Desk: a simple 12x18 inch oak board, stained in cherry brown, reinforced with cross boards, and supplied with a 1/4inchx20 mounting screw hole in the back and middle for a tripod. A couple big alligator clips bite down on whatever media I choose, and the tripod with a ball-swivel makes for infinite variability in angle and height. The whole thing (not including tripod) weighs in at about 800 grams.
My iterative design approach to things in general means that not really knowing what I wanted at first I'm starting simple and the next version -- and there will almost certainly be a next version -- can adapt and update whatever irks me (or seems lacking) in this version.
But, of course, the best part is going to be testing it. Stay tuned.
Recently I made a road trip south of where I live into an area close to a provincial border, a stretch of land sprawling with mountains and twisting running trails. My companions were there to run an ultramarathon. I had tagged along to support and crew their race (given that I'm currently nursing an injury that has left me sidelined from the sport.) They ran, often for hours at a stretch between legs of the race. I waited. And while I waited, I propped up a lawn chair, set my art supplies on a box full of running supplies, and I sketched.
Three interesting outcomes were noted.
I've been mucking around with washes in my ink urban sketching.
By washes, specifically, I mean that I've taken a few milliliters of the India ink that I bought thinking I was going to use it for quill pen sketching, and instead of directly drawing with it I diluted it into a small jar of about twenty parts water to one part ink.... roughly. I didn't measure... though I did seal the lid nice and tight and the mix should last me months. This murky black water is my wash.
So the process has been to start with a pen sketch, using a 0.5mm black pen. Second, I cross-hatch with a 0.05mm black pen. And finally, that sketch ends with as many as six or more varying layers of applications of the black ink wash applied with a paint brush. The effect is a pen drawing with a very monochromatic shading effect that I quite like.
But I was in the mountains and I wanted to do more than black and white urban sketches.
So I skipped the cross-hatching and instead did my (1) pen outline, my (2) black ink wash, and finally, dipped into a few carefully chosen layers of (3) watercolour paints.
I very much liked the results.
The thing about travel is that (unless your whole purpose is to do art abroad) you usually want to travel light. On this recent mountain trip, I was lugging around multiple crates of ultramarathon running gear, literally making multiple trips with a hand-truck, so while an extra crate of art supplies would have been little more than yet-another-crate, I tossed my kit in at the last moment and tried to keep it slim.
About six months ago I picked up Derwent Graphitint paint set. Twelve pans of colour that span the spectrum from gritty greyish green to gritty greyish blue. It's a narrow palette. Or, as Derwent markets it: "subtle muted tones with a graphite sheen." As I was packing this little set seemed like a great option for mountain scenes.
And I was right. Especially as I limited my selection of colour to less than half the pan. The narrow selection and focus on a single collection of hues brought a life to my art in a consistent way that I've been struggling to find for the last few months.
My three step sketching approach (outline, wash, paint) complemented these colours almost perfectly and the subject matter: trees, mountains, and people.
And speaking of people...
people versus mountains.
I've been a shy sketcher, especially when I sketch open air. It's tough being a student of art trying to be out in public and very exposed to the inevitable folks wanting to peer over your shoulder at what you're drawing.
I couldn't avoid people where I was sitting.
My job was to sit in the transition area of an ultramarathon, a fenced off zone with tents and crowds and volunteers, and friends of runners gathered en masse to catch a glimpse of the athletes and do various jobs associated with supporting someone who is running for dozens of hours through the mountains.
The culmination of this point is (a) I rarely sketch in crowded places and thus (b) rarely have lots of people in my art.
I had expected to draw mountains. Instead, I found I was drawing the crowds and the scene at the base of the mountain, and the mountain was just a backdrop to the far more interesting human subject matter.
It has sparked my interest in deepening my experience drawing crowds, and that's not a bad thing.
If you've dug into this website at all you already know that the purpose of these words is for me to put some shape and structure around my own learning. As the previous New Years rolled by I resolved myself to think more methodically around the drawing and sketching I was doing, and in so much as one can do that I started architecting a kind of knowledge and self-instruction framework. It's simple right now, but I figured that as time went by it would eventually, like a fresh sketchbook slowly filling up with doodles, become so much more than it's blank virtual pages.
Now, I'm pretty sure that virtually no one is reading this content in real time. I've built many websites over the years and there's almost no such thing as "build it and they will come" in the blogging world anymore. Someday, given the right amount of patience and random global googling, someone may stumble across this and poke through the site and find it interesting and maybe even useful. But on the off chance that I've picked up a fan or two and you are patiently waiting for the next step in this learning journey, here's the rub...
I'm pausing this for a couple weeks because I'm seeing some amazing progress in that course.
And then, when I finish the course (and all the drawing assignments that go along with that) I'll come back here and continue my self-taught adventure. Maybe, likely, probably... and though I'll be careful not to plagiarize anything from those lessons, I'll have some new essential skills to work into my own ongoing exercises here.