Since the first week that Memphis' "Safer at Home" started, I've been catching up with sketcher friends in San Jose, CA, where they were already in more of a lockdown. We chat about our week, about sketching, and inevitably about the pandemic as we sketch our desks, the view outside of our windows, and each other.
The sketch above is of my studio table - always full of art supplies and usually a La Croix can. I did this in a bigger Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (8 x 10) because it was one of those times I wanted to draw EVERYTHING.
This sketch is of my work desk and all of my little treasures, and is in the small Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5 x 3.5). I can fit a lot on a small page!
On this Sunday I was feeling uninspired, so I just sketched my watercolor kit (from art-toolkit.com). I love that I always have my sketch gear around to sketch it.
On this Sunday I set up outside and sketched EVERYTHING again in my big Stillman & Birn sketchbook. Before I could finish, the sky opened up and I ran for cover in the carport. I never went back to finish because I like the unfinished look of it.
So I sketched the car. Back to the small sketchbook for this one. I'm enjoying going back and forth between the big sketchbook and the small one. The adjustment for scale is a good exercise.
The last time we got together (we skipped Memorial Day Weekend) , I just felt like painting so I worked in gouache in the big sketchbook, painting the fatsia outside of my studio window. The text is notes from that day's USk Talks, which you can see on Instagram Live on Sundays. I write up the summaries for the Urban Sketchers website.
Check out all of these fine folks on Instagram:
Urban Sketchers @urbansketchers
Art Toolkit @arttoolkit
Suma CM @suma_cm
Suhita Shirodkar @suhitasketch
Uma Kelkar @umapaints
Stillman & Birn @stillmanandbirn
My house came surrounded by these bushes called fatsia japonica and I love them! These bushes are outside my studio, and sometimes I draw them from the studio. This is from several weeks ago, so they are even taller now!
This sketch is a combination of gouache and watercolor - a really good combo for fatsia!
I sketched this from my studio, too. There is construction going on across the street and on this very muddy day a forklift carrying a palette of building materials got stuck in the mud, and the flatbed truck tried to pull it out. Very exciting stuff.
And here's the back yard! Another fatsia to the left, an azalea still blooming to the right. I started this one with watercolor and when back over it in pen - such a good way to tackle both organic and non-organic shapes! I think There is some gouache on this one, too.
Oh look, more fatsia! Inside, in some water.
Backyard fatsia. I was going to start this one with watercolor and then move to pen, but I had too much fun just with the watercolor and left it like that.
A week into self-isolating, I took a small sketchbook (Stillman & Birn Alpha, 3.5x5.5) and a couple of HI-TEC-C Coleto multi-pens on a walk one afternoon and tried to quickly sketch a house as I was walking (top left), and then quickly sketched another as I stood on the sidewalk. Prior to that I had been self-conscious about sketching on my walks, but now I am just that weird neighbor and I'm okay with it.
On that first outing I made three sketches, so the self-consciousness melted away pretty quickly.
I sketched in the rain that day!
The red trees were an accident but I went with it.
I was trying to show the scale of these trees - they are huge!
Included something I overheard a neighbor say. She was on the phone so I only heard half of the conversation. And we'll never know what happened to the person in question!
Sketched more than houses on this long walk.
I liked the accidental red trees so much I made some pink trees on purpose.
Finally sketched my own house! Look at the lower right - that brown squiggle - that's me being honest about having a dead yew in my front yard.
Over the past few weeks I've been sketching less on walks but taking more pictures and videos that I post in my Instagram stories (@elizabethalley). But I still take my sketchbook and pens with me just in case!
Both of these are frequent visitors to my home office. The sketching kit that I would normally carry around in my purse is now set up next to my desk most of the time, so I painted these with watercolors.
Another painted coffee cup!
And now for some hot tea! This time with fountain pens. And another Paper & Clay item - the tea pot (and also the first two coffee cups).
Bonus! Workshop presenter and meeting host.
That yellow cup shows up a lot!
The place where I pick up my groceries just so happens to be near the Clark Tower. What am I going to do - not sketch it?!
This first time during ***all of this*** that I picked up groceries, I also went to the pharmacy drive-through and sketched the woman below.
The above sketch is probably the worst sketch I've made of the Clark Tower. Not because of the errant line, but because I was not paying attention to measuring the scale that the building needed to be in order to fit it in with the trees, etc. I'm not bothered by it - just pointing out that this happens and I just keep sketching!
These are all in Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover sketchbooks, the 3.5x5" (I think) version. The top two sketches were done with the Pigma Graphic 1 (my fat pen), and the rest were done with the Pigma Micron 01. After that first trip, I stopped carrying my full sketch bag and just have the one pen in my purse since I'm really only sketching outside of my house on these grocery runs.
I've been meeting up with fellow sketchers on Sunday afternoons - we talk about the week in quarantine, sketch our surroundings, and we usually end up sketching each other as well.
We had bookclub on Zoom and it worked really well - everyone was very conscientious about waiting for others to finish talking before they started talking. That never happens in person!
More Sunday Sketching.
A work meeting! We use a different format for work meetings, and it isn't as tidy as the Zoom interface, so my co-workers ended up all over my page.
A month ago it was International Women's Day and I was at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens sketching, chatting with people about sketching, and admiring the work of Mbabazi House of Style's owner Grace Byeitima.
The next week at work I put hand sanitizer and Kleenex at the end of my desk, between myself and any visitors.
Quick and safe trip to New Orleans in early March!
My every day sketch gear - a small watercolor palette from art-toolkit.com, a handful of pens, and a folded up and clipped paper towel. But I sketched all of this with a Bic Crystal pen!
I wasn't happy with this sketch so I filled the page with reasons why! I was much happier with the one below.
Liz Steel started using the hashtag #mymorningcoffeesketch on Instagram to show her first sketches of the day - of her coffee cup - get her "creative juices focused and flowing as I start work." She says it's a daily ritual that grounds her work day. Check out Liz's Instagram, @lizsteelart, and her website https://www.lizsteel.com/ for everything you ever wanted to know about sketching!
Last week at the end of Studio Night I posted on Instagram (@elizabethalley) that I'm very grateful for my art practice during the coronavirus quarantine. Even though I was distracted that night, I made some art in my studio and felt better.
I have Studio Night every Tuesday night. I make art other times, but Tuesday nights are for being in my studio and making new things, experimenting, and working stuff out. When we started this quarantine thing I thought I might grab some more time here and there for art-making, and I have, but the routine of Tuesday nights has been really good for my soul.
This is all in addition to my regular sketching practice. Lately I've been sketching a lot of coffee cups - okay, I always sketch coffee cups! - as well as houses in my neighborhood and people on Zoom gatherings and work video meetings. I'll show you those soon, but I wanted to shift focus here on having a purposeful practice of making things.
Getting Set Up
This is my setup, or rather, these are my setups. I'm very fortunate to have a studio in my home. Ever since my husband and I moved into our second apartment in 1992 (one that had more than one actual room!), I've had at least a studio area, but often a half or whole room. It's a priority for me.
I know it's not everybody's priority and it doesn't have to be. You can have a small amount of supplies next to your favorite spot in your den, on the kitchen or dining room table, or nearby when you're working from home. You may see a lot of supplies in these photos, and they do all get used eventually, but what I mainly work with in the studio are a small traveling watercolor kit, some colored pencils, a bottle of ink, and sketchbooks.
Something to Start
You might think that routines and repetition are antithetical to creativity but that is just part of the myth of creativity that we have in our culture - that it comes in bursts, or that it comes to you without you asking it to.
The truth is, creativity is work, but it is the best and most fun work. If you start moving your hands with a brush and some paint, or with cutting out shapes and gluing them down, ideas will start coming to you and you'll see things in your work you wouldn't have seen otherwise.
So if you go to your space for making art on a regular basis and you see what you have and you add things and take things away, you will generate ideas and you will generate work.
Here's my progress over the last four weeks:
Follow on Instagram for inspiration, prompts, and real talk about maintaining an art practice:
Flicker Street Studio @flickerstreetstudio
Lisa Solomon @lisasolomon
Emma Carlisle @emmacarlisle_
Martha Kelly @marthakellyart
Melissa Bridgman @bridgmanpottery
Lisa Congdon @lisacongdon
Malaka Gharib @malakagharib
Austin Kleon @austinkleon (he also has a good newsletter that you can subscribe to)
Missy Dunaway @missydunaway
I love Instagram for the inspiration in can provide if you follow people who inspire you, rather than people who make you feel like you aren't doing enough. There are SO MANY MORE people I could name, and I have - search on Instagram for #FSSsketchingworkshop to find a post I made where I listed about 40 inspiring people to follow.
A Field Guide to Color by Lisa Solomon
Syllabus by Lynda Barry (and anything else by Lynda Barry)
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon (and anything else by him, too)
Sketching starter kit:
This link is for a list of items at dickblick.com. Normally I would send you to the Art Center but, sadly, they are closed for the time being. This is basically what we use in my sketching classes, but it can easily be your making-art-at-home kit, too.
I listed a Canson sketchbook because it has fairly decent paper for a cheap sketchbook, but my personal preference is Stillman & Birn - I like the softcover Alpha sketchbook. In my studio I have sketchbooks of all types that I work in at the same time - if you wanted to try working this way, buying more than one Canson isn't going to cost too much. But this could also be the time that you use all of those sketchbooks and notebooks you've been accumulating. Just open them and start putting some paint down!
Please let me know if you have any questions, and please share your progress!
This weekend I was catching up on scanning sketches from the last few weeks and I quickly noticed a story I was telling through sketching at least every few days.
March 6, 2020 - A little over three weeks ago I made the sketch above at a leadership seminar at work - look at us all sitting in the same room, shoulder to shoulder!
March 10, 2020 - The next week was the annual #oneweek100people challenge. I only had one day to participate, and went to Whole Foods one day for lunch to knock out 20 people sketches - that's as much as I was able to complete. I remember being extra careful with using hand sanitizer that day, and washing my hands often at work. (And noticing that others didn't!)
March 14, 2020 - That weekend we went to New Orleans for a quick trip, while be super cautious about keeping to ourselves and washing our hands. We went to Audubon Park to see the Tree of Life, where several weddings took place in a row.
March 17-22, 2020 - Then the next week my sketches tell a very different story as I sketched my work-from-home desk, my kitchen, and my studio.
I didn't set out to tell this story, but by sketching to record the context of my day and by taking advantage of opportunities to sketch, I have a record of what my world looks like over time. When you sketch your everyday world, you're going to see your story come through.
If your table is starting to look like this from projects, you might as well sketch it!
There's so much around us that we can sketch during this weird time. Look on social media for #uskathome to see sketchers around the world capture views inside and outside of their homes.
But not all of us have to stay inside. Here in Memphis we have wide-open spaces we can go to - Dixon Gardens, Shelby Farms, Elmwood Cemetery. We also have parking lots that we can sit in our car in, because it's still a tad chilly. Below are a couple of sketches I've made from my car recently.
Sketching is always a good idea, but now is an especially good time to take a few minutes for yourself and record your day in your sketchbook.
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