Last weekend I led the Saturday Sketching at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. It wasn't *too* hot so we went to the garden and I gave them a brief demo for planning out their sketches so as not to be overwhelmed by all of the choice we had of what to draw.
This is the demo I did (above) while talking to them about setting boundaries for what you are going to draw. In this case, the sketch was only going to be as wide as the bush at the bottom, and as tall as the far group of trees. Then I talked about judging measurements and distance based on the thing you've already drawn. So, we knew how wide the bush was, and we used that to see where to put the planter.
Then everybody went and sketched while no one used the ideas I had given them - ha!
I sketched with just colored pencils, which is kind of unusual for me. I enjoyed working on it but wasn't that crazy with the result (top sketch). I didn't really know why I wasn't crazy about it, so I went home and redrew it - based on the original sketch - using watercolor this time (below).
Of course this one is much neater because I was sitting in my air-conditioned house, and maybe for that reason the color selections were a little more thoughtful. I guess I like this one better, but I think maybe the composition just wasn't that great to begin with. I was trying to get both the sculpture in the foreground (center) and the structures in the background, which made the whole thing a little too horizontal. It could've used a big tree along the side or something. Of course to get that I would have had to move out of the shade!
Because I teach sketching I think about these things a lot - what's the best angle? What's the best place to "enter" or start a sketch? What are the best materials for right here, right now? But I don't think about these for every sketch - mostly I just want to draw something.
I have a show opening at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens this Sunday! The work is a year in the making - 14 oil on paper and oil on canvas paintings of Iceland (go figure!), Newfoundland, and Portugal. I'm so excited to share these paintings with everyone. It's a weird sensation to take work out of the comfort and safety of the studio and put them out in the world, but the folks at the Dixon have made it a fun and comfortable experience.
You can see a few of the paintings on my home page (click Home, above), and I'll post installation shots soon. I hope you'll go see the show!
These two sketches are from the Memphis Urban Sketchers' last outing at the Dixon. I love sketching there! I'll be leading a Saturday Sketch there this Saturday - come sketch with me!
The workshop I mentioned in my last post, Sketching Your Everyday World, at Flicker Street Studio earlier this month, was about discovering sketching opportunities in our daily lives, keeping our hands and eyes in the practice of sketching, keeping a record of our world, and preparing for "big" sketching opportunities like travel.
I had the students work with two-page layouts because I like the way the full spread can tell a story.
These are the sketches I did in the class.
We all had two Pigma Microns of different sizes, a Faber-Castell Pitt Pen in a light gray, and one colored pencil, to keep it simple. Here's a demo that I did (above), plus some scribbles showing them the differences in the pens.
I asked everyone to keep three things in mind:
1. Drawing to understand/to observe - Taking it slow, getting to know your subject, following contours and looking at shapes, paying attention to relationships.
2. Drawing to record - Drawing to record your world plus drawing to understand create a connection to the thing or person or scene or place you are sketching.
3. Finding/taking advantage of opportunities to sketch - Thinking about times when you can stop what you're doing and pick up your sketchbook - with your morning coffee? while running errands? - and taking advantage of those opportunities.
It was such a fun class! The students were eager and attentive and talked to each other a lot, comparing notes and asking questions. We got a lot out of our two evenings together.
Looking through sketches that I've scanned over the last few months, I couldn't help but notice that the ones I hadn't posted yet are all of these four subjects: plants, people, everyday things, and cars.
I just taught a workshop at Flicker Street Studio called Sketching Your Everyday World, and this is what my everyday world looked like this spring.
The sketch above and the sketch below are from when the cherry trees were blooming along the aptly named Cherry Road. First I wanted to do a warm-up sketch in my regular sketchbook (Stillman & Birn Alpha 8.5x5.5) but I got carried away! It was just too beautiful. But I still had time to do a bigger sketch in my 8x10 Stillman & Birn Alpha (I was on my lunchbreak), so I made a few thumbnails under my "warm-up sketch." I didn't have a whole lot of time for the bigger sketch (below), which I think helped me to keep it simple.
In addition to giving a talk at a conference in Denver, I also did a LOT of sketching! I always sketch a lot when I travel, but when I travel by myself I sketch even more. Starting in the Memphis airport, of course, followed by some in-plane sketches with my HI-TEC-C Coleto multi pens that I've mentioned before.
Denver is called the Mile High City for good reason. It smells like pot everywhere! But it is also at an altitude from 5,130 to 5,690 feet, and I am a delicate flower, so I tried to take it VERY EASY the first couple of days. After I got there I relaxed in the hotel and painted the view of mountains in the (far) distance. It was so pretty! I loved watching how the light moved over them and changed in the late afternoon. I thought this would be the first of many, but I didn't see much of the mountains after that as it was overcast most of the time I was there and the mountains all but disappeared.
On Saturday night I wandered around downtown and eventually made it over to Euclid Hall. I wanted to try everything on the menu! I got the Krakenpopper, a spiced-rum-marinated octopus tentacles wrapped in a thin sliver of jalapeño and deep fried. It was actually much less decadent than it sounds, but it was delicious! I was glad it was on the smallish side, because I didn't want to miss the duck poutine. It was deLICIOUS.
Sunday morning I took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast, then sketched the big blue bear (I See What You Mean by Lawrence Argent, fiberglass and steel), which was at the conference center across the street from my hotel. As I've been doing lately, I painted watercolor first and added colored pencil on top. I am really enjoying working that way when I have the time. After practicing my talk, I went to the Kirkland Museum and rested some more before the conference began at 5.
The next day I gave my talk (yay!) and did more sketchnoting than sketching, but still had my hand in it so that's okay.
On Tuesday I found the bar on the 27th floor so I could sketch the view. It was overcast so no mountains, but there was plenty more to see. It was such a huge view that I had to focus in on one small section of the cityscape, so my sketch turned out pretty small, too.
Then I walked around downtown some more, taking the free mall ride to the Tattered Cover bookstore. While I was there I overheard some people talking about walking down to the river, so I asked them where the river was. They replied that they were going to walk in that direction until they found it and I said "Oh, I'm not doing that." As soon as it came out of my mouth I thought, "That doesn't sound like me," so I decided to go looking for it, too. And it was only a few blocks away! But it was more of a "river," a tiny little thing compared to the River where I come from (that's the Mississippi River - I can't miss an opportunity to point out that it is bigger than all the other rivers). Anyway, I sketched it! Watercolor and colored pencil again. It was getting very dark as I sketched for about 30 minutes, but I managed to adjust enough to finish my sketch. Then I went to Euclid Hall again.
The last few sketches might show my waning energy. I was more acclimated to the altitude by then, but exhausted from the conference (in a good way!) and ready to be home.
All sketches are in two Stillman & Birn Alphas - I had to start a new book for the last two sketches!
Sketched with the Memphis Urban Sketchers at Crosstown in March and I can't believe that was the last sketch group I went to! In April I was doing my taxes, and in May I was out of town. It's especially weird since for those three months I was so immersed in organizing the Memphis Urban Sketchers show, First Saturdays, at the Dixon. It's up now through July 7 but don't wait! Go see it! A great day to see it is June 1st, because we'll be there sketching. All ages and skill levels are welcome.
These two sketches are in my trusty Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5 x 5.5). The first page is a mix of several days, telling a little bit of a story about my week. The second sketch was all done with watercolor and a Kuretake waterbrush while I chatted with other sketchers.
Last week I attended my sixth STC Summit, the annual conference for the Society of Technical Communicators. Technical communication is my day job, and this year I merged different parts of my life - tech comm and sketching - to present a session at the Summit.
I titled my talk How Sketching Is Like Technical Communication - that's the title slide above. As an artist and a technical writer it's a topic I think about a lot. I've noticed connections between the two - primarily that they both rely on understanding your subject to clearly convey information, and they are both tools to help you with understanding. I believe most people can benefit from sketching, so I proposed that we take the idea of art out of sketching to use it as a tool to understand a subject better, to improve memory and observation skills, and to help us in everyday life.
In my presentation I showed practical applications for sketching, such as the above sketch that shows planning I did for an exhibit. Because I drew this out in my sketchbook, I had a physical space to look at and think about it before I installed it. There are so many of these practical applications that I use without giving much thought to it, but now I'm thinking about them all the time. From the questions people asked after my presentation I see that people do want this information. So expect to see more of these sketches, if not here then definitely on Instagram (@elizabethalley) and Twitter (@alleyelizabeth). And you can also follow me on LinkedIn, where I'll be sharing tips about practical sketching.
If you're interested, here are the resources I used for my presentation...
I found the sweet spot between colored pencils and watercolors today at the Dixon. Everything about this outing was sweet! The weather was perfect. I saw several friends while I was there. I sat in the sun and sketched.
I'm so glad I put colored pencils back in my every day bag. They feel really good right now. But now I'm wondering - should I try regular colored pencils as opposed to watercolor pencils? I need to try more brands to see if there's anything I like better than the ones I currently use, Derwent. If you have a favorite, let me know!
I've been following a hashtag on Instagram, #walktosee, started by British illustrator Helen Stephens to showcase drawings of daily walks. It has inspired me to walk with my sketchbook more, though mostly it's just been around the Dixon Gardens (not that there's anything wrong with that). But it's also just very inspiring - for a social media hashtag, the posts are consistently good and I have learned so much from everyone's sketches.
There are a number of other British illustrators who use this hashtag and there is this consistent feeling I get from these sketches that inspires me to slow down and to really enjoy the moment. Also they inspire me to use colored pencils!
That's what I did today when I went out looking for an open restaurant to order lunch. I saw that Casablanca was open so I pulled into a good parking spot (yes, I was driving, not walking) with a view of the Clark Tower, called in my order, and spent 15 minutes sketching this. After I got home I added a little white gouache, but you can't really see it in this scan.
You should follow along, and even post your own! Helen features #walktosee drawings each week or so in her Instagram stories - she's on Instagram as @helenstephenslion.
Sketchwork is sketches and work about sketching - teaching, making art, art supplies, books, sketchers, artists, Urban Sketchers, Memphis Urban Sketchers, and traveling.