I was very excited about getting to see Devils Tower. Seeing it from a distance while driving was amazing - it's so tall! We camped right beside it, just to the east of it, so we had an amazing view. It was hard to look away from it but when I did I felt like I could sense its presence, sort of like how I can feel where the Mississippi River is at all times when I'm anywhere in Memphis.
We got there in the late afternoon and camped one night, and all I could think about while we were there was sketching it. I even woke up in the tent in the middle of the night thinking about sketching it the next day.
I drew the one on the left in the dark, and drew the other one the next morning in the light of day.
If you follow me on Instagram (@elizabethalley), you might know that at home in Memphis I often sketch and paint a building called the Clark Tower, and because I sketch and paint it so much, a friend declared it "my Devils Tower," as in the thing I'm obsessed with like the character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who sculpted Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes. Anyway, all of that was an extra bit of excitement for being able to see it in person, but also caused me a moment of hesitation due to the expectations of sketching The Actual Devils Tower. But, I was happy to find that I didn't sketch it nine times out of a sense of obligation, but because I wanted to explore it. I could have sketched how the shadows changed on it all. day. long.
After we left, I kept thinking about how if I'd had more time I would have done a more involved sketch. But I later figured out that by doing nine quick-ish sketches I probably learned more and enjoyed myself more than I would have with fewer sketches that took more time. I'll tell you more about that lesson later.
My husband and I have been keeping to quarantine since mid-March and were going a little stir crazy, so we planned a trip in October that would result in maximum change of scenery with minimum interaction with others. We camped, stayed in cabins, and carried around our own food. We also went to grocery stores and stopped at gas stations and stayed in a few chain hotels. But we did everything we could to minimize interaction with others and ensure that we weren't spreading the virus around the country. We've been back for several weeks with no signs or symptoms of illness and we had a break that we were both extremely grateful for.
Here are sketches from the first leg our the trip:
First stop: camping in Knob Noster State Park in Missouri. The park was surprisingly close to a major road. At night we could hear the wind in the trees, the rustling of animals, and the swoosh of big trucks nearby. But it was a lovely spot full of pin oaks and other giant trees starting to turn colors. We went on a hike and saw deer, we listened to the wind through the trees, and we saw the milky way at night.
I have so many new sketches to share, but I'm sharing this again with the following words to make sure that any of you reading my blog or my social media know who it is you are following. You may ask what politics has to do with sketching, and as a response I will share this quote by Frederick Franck, "Art is neither a profession or a hobby. Art is a way of being." I make art because it is my way of being, and I cannot separate it from any other part of myself.
Now, none of my people won/didn't win my state, but I stand by these choices because I made them for the kind of world that I want to see and that I want for others. I believe strongly in and will defend and align myself with supporters of: Black lives (Black Lives Matter), trans lives and rights, gay marriage and all LGBTQIA rights, women's rights, reproductive rights, the rights of undocumented Americans (no human is illegal), science, climate justice and environmental protections... and there's more that I am forgetting – so much healthcare debt or limited/no access to decent healthcare, student loan debt, generational poverty, family separation, extrajudicial killing and police violence, sentencing based on racism and patriarchy, voter suppression, rolling back of climate change initiatives, oh yeah and uncontrolled spread of a deadly virus that has killed almost 240,000 Americans.
We show the world who we are through our words, actions, and choices. I have and will continue to say and do thoughtless things and make not-smart choices because I'm human. But I think a lot about the words I use and the actions and choices that I make, and I strive for empathy and compassion (neither of these comes easily to me), and I incorporate lessons I've learned from the people in my life.
Anyway, that's who I am and who I will continue to be. Thanks for reading.
I'm still making these sketches when I go to the grocery store and making sure I'm sketching at other places, too. I'm trying to document life as it's happening, including the small part of my life that happens outside of my house/neighborhood.
I made this sketch in two minutes before a doctors appointment. I started with color first - the pink colored pencil - to get the general shapes and then added black ink.
I've been throwing an extra color in my bag before I leave the house, just to shake things up a little bit.
But sometimes I just want to use black ink!
Sometimes I find ways to sketch with other people, such as joining The Good Ship Illustration's Art Club on Instagram Live. They've been hosting almost every Friday at 8:00 PM UK time (that's 2:00 PM CDT). They offer prompts and general silliness and it's a lot of fun. I joined a few weeks ago for continuous line drawing and it was so much fun!
Today (September 25) they are hosting their last ever Art Club! You should join if you have a chance or at least follow them on Instagram.
That same day I was able to join Suhita and Paul for Sketch/Play Lab, which they host several times a week as a casual guided exploration of sketching and materials - check out their Instagrams for more information. It was fun to play with textures and patterns and to see people from all over the world sketching along.
And sometimes I sketch with a few friends via Zoom. Using mapcrunch.com is a great way to do this - it takes you to a different place in the world via Google street view. We "went" to Wales and Croatia and focused on mark-making.
I made this illustration of my voting plan as a way to help me think through why I want to vote for each of these candidates. I am especially pleased to be voting for three women from Memphis, especially Marquita Bradshaw and Erika Stotts Pearson because they are Black women from Memphis. We all need to listen to Black women, and I know from experience that Black women from Memphis work so hard and give so much. And I'm also excited about Gabby Salinas because she is a scientist, though it's sad that one of my reasons for voting for anyone would be "believes in science." But Gabby also supports Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, and sees the direct correlation between the lack of expansion and rural hospital closures. It's easy in this blue dot in the corner of Tennessee to think of the rest of Tennessee as separate, but we need to work hard for rural communities AND the citizens of South Memphis and Hickory Hill (etc.) AND the other big and medium cities. We're all in this together, folks.
So typical! Lots of produce around here, and I love it. I love eating it and I love sketching it. This spread in particular was a joy to work on. I sketched the peppers quickly because I was cooking them, then sketched the tomatoes quickly because I was still cooking the peppers. The joy came from just making this two-page spread. Drawing often makes me feel better.
I bought myself a pilea plant recently and it has been a fun object to sketch - the round leaves and wonky stems just begged to be drawn in different materials. In this sketch I drew in ink first, then added watercolor.
Another plant! Do I sketch them because I have them, or do I have them so I can sketch them?
We read this book for bookclub this month - I love Adichie's clear writing and smart arguments.
There's that pilea again, but this time I sketched with color first, then added the lines. I did that with the yarn, too. It's a method I often use when sketching architecture, because it gives me a nice base to start from, but it works great for organic shapes, too.
The fatsia outside my window begs to be sketched, and on this day I was looking for a different way to work on them. I often get caught up drawing every leaf, so I was going for a more general shape here, and the colored pencil helped that because I could still indicate the shape and direction of the leaves without drawing every outline.
And then I got another produce delivery and sketched some of it.
Yarn is a very typical sight around here lately, too. I have been crocheting A LOT. I started crocheting again late last year hoping to get back into making afghans, but all I've made are little animals and I can't stop. I have a lot of small balls of yarn that I can't do much with until I get the urge to make granny squares, so instead I've been sketching them.
I started both of these with watercolor - first the one on the left, then added the lines with fountain pen. The lines in the one on the right are with Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Aquarelle. I liked making the lines out of the color of the yarn - it gives it such a different feeling than black lines on color.
I just realized I sketched about half of these while on Zoom with friends, including this one. Being on Zoom with friends has become typical as of late, so I'm happy to combine that with sketching because my friends and sketching both bring me so much joy.
In always-looking-on-the-bright-side news, one good thing about being in a pandemic is the availability of great online workshops. Or, the time to spend on them might be more accurate. I took two recently that I really enjoyed.
The first was with Maria Coryell-Martin of Art Toolkit, focusing on the Essential Colors Palette. It really helped me think about mixing colors more because that palette is only six colors, so I tried to ignore all but my primary colors during the class.
We did some exercises about mixing paint and using your brush to create specific shapes. It was fun!
Since taking this class I've ordered yet another Art Toolkit palette. This time it's the Ultimate Sketching Palette with colors selected by Jane Blundell. Ever since I saw her on USk Talks earlier this year, I've been meaning to evaluate my watercolor colors, but she did it for me with this palette.
The other workshop I took was with my friend Suma CM, called Sketching the Places You've Been. We talked about shapes and using color to convey mood and to show distance. These are my notes and some thumbnails. I'm glad she had us do thumbnails because they are SO HELPFUL. And sometimes I forget that!
This was my final sketch from the workshop - I was quite pleased with it! The workshop helped me to remember how much I enjoy drawing from photos, taking information that is already there and simplifying it into a good composition. I think I'm going to make a larger version of this in acrylic ink, using this sketch as my guide.
I recently moved my studio around a bit to accommodate setting up an overhead camera for teaching sketching workshops, but it has been beneficial in so many other ways! I can keep my teaching stuff out while spreading out oil palettes on one side and acrylic ink on the other. And when I'm not doing either of those it is nearly covered sketchbooks and loose paper. It has also given me a different view of the room to sketch for Sunday Sketching.
And here is a different view from the outside of my house. This is the back of my driveway, where we have a large drop-off, then a fence and the neighbor's bamboo forest. I was trying to capture the darks back there, which can be difficult with watercolor. It was a hot evening, but I stayed out sketching until I couldn't see what I was doing anymore.
Two days later it was 70 degrees at 10 o'clock in the morning so I had to go outside and sketch, even though it was drizzling. I sat under an overhang out of the drizzle, trying to keep it quick by putting the paint down in a way that gave the impression of foliage but without painting every fatsia leaf. I often do this by putting color down first, but this time I started with pen to get the angles and lines of the house down. (Though that technique works well with architecture, too!)
We continue to receive produce from Rose Creek Farms every week, and I equally love sketching it and eating it. Lately we've gotten a lot of very sketchable peppers, and lots and lots of lettuce, which I guess is more difficult to sketch. Can't wait to see what we get this week!
A thing I've been able to do since I'm at home all the time is to spend more time on my sketches. When this all started I assumed I would be making more sketches, but what has happened is that I'm spending more time on probably the same amount of sketches. I've really been able to slow down and take my time and draw the objects that are right in front of me.
That gives me the time to notice all of the little details and features I can include in my sketches to make them more interesting and to make the process more meditative.
This is one of those sketches I did over a couple of hours while talking to sketcher friends for Sunday Sketching. It's such a nice mix of sketching and talking, but the length of time gives me an opportunity to get to the little details of my objects - the tomato vines, the vase shapes, the fatsia ribs.
I didn't take quite as much time with these two sketches, but I did do the second one while talking to friends on Zoom, so it probably took longer. I did these two specifically to concentrate on all of those little details, like the little freckles on tangerines and the little divots in the avocado.
I sketched this with my favorite fat pen, the Sakura Pigma Graphic 1, and brought in my favorite colored pencil to help. The Mitsubishi vermillion/prussian blue is always in my sketch gear - I love both of the colors and it's so handy to have two colors in one pencil.
This is also the start of a new sketchbook - I'm sticking with the Stillman & Birn Alpha 8x10.
Sketching the details doesn't have to take a long time, though. I made these quick sketches while preparing for the workshop I taught last month. In these quick sketches, I was still able to capture the little lines in the paint cap and some details in the plant.
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