Last week I took advantage of a random day off and not surface-of-the-sun temperatures and took a long walk and sketch at the Wolf River Greenway. For the past several months I've either sketched the outside world from my car, or very quickly in my own neighborhood. The difference? BUGS.
So in the interest of time and bugs, I needed to think about simplifying shapes and marks. I created shapes with the tree silhouettes and then worked specific marks and colors for specific foliage, the river, the ground, etc. It is a methodical way to work, but I like it. I did describe myself as a grid earlier this week.
There are a lot of bridges and I wanted to sketch every one of them, but just settled for this one. And bonus - it provided shade while I sketched!
I ended up walking nearly three miles even though I just wanted to plant myself down and sketch the whole time. But the bugs get to you more when you sit still, and I needed the exercise.
I'm also keeping up with my regular errand sketching, too. Gotta get those groceries, so I might as well sketch while I'm there. I was there earlier than usual and the shadow and reflection on the west side were a bit different.
I haven't sketched the Target parking lot in a while, but I talk about it a lot when I teach because it is one of those places that end up in my sketchbook often because I use parking there as an opportunity to sketch whatever is in front of me. On this day I was lucky because it was raining and I sat in my car and sketched until it lightened up a little.
All of these sketches are in a 5.5" x 3.5" Stillman & Birn Alpha. The first sketch was done with Faber Castell Polychromos colored pencils and the rest with a Sakura Pigma Graphic 1 pen.
In the workshop I mentioned in my last post, I talked about sketches over two-page spreads by taking advantage of opportunities to sketch whatever is in front of me. Over time, the two-page spreads create a thread and show a pattern.
Staying home and mostly sketching here and using a bigger sketchbook (Stillman & Birn Alpha 8x10) have changed what the two-page spread looks like, but not by much.
In the sketch above I was playing with inks and working on understanding the elusive coffee cup shape. Then I had produce delivered from Rosecreek Farms, so I sketched it of course!
Last weekend was very social, but virtual, and I sketched on Zoom videos and while talking on the phone.
Still just sketching whatever is in front of me, I was able to get some variety on the page by using different materials. I do like to think about the layout of a page, but not too much. I do have a habit of crowding a lot of sketches onto a two-page spread, so using this larger sketchbook helps me to spread it out more.
My birthday gave me even more opportunities to sketch while talking on the phone. I sketched the plants on my kitchen table, which made me think of this quote from D.B. Dowd's book Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice, "Habits of casual assumption cannot survive an afternoon of drawing objects or plants on a table."
This week I taught my first virtual workshop, via Zoom, for the DePaul Art Museum. We had about 20 participants from around the country, and we talked about Sketching Your Day.
I introduced Sketching Your Day by talking about the three main points below. I feel like this is a magical combination for keeping up your practice.
These sketches of onions and lemons are from the run-throughs I did, first by myself and then with friends. First we talk about drawing to understand to get to know our subject. Drawing to record includes adding context to your sketch. In the sketch above, the color comes in when we talk about adding one or two colors for emphasis.
I sketched all of these with either a Pigma Graphic 1 or a Uni-ball Micro. I also sketched all of them at a more extreme angle than I normally would because of my camera setup - I used an overhead camera so that everyone could watch as a drew and could see the object. But I love the wonky angles I ended up with in the sketches.
These sketches are from the class - more onions and lemons, and, as always, a coffee cup. In the top coffee cup sketch, I was talking about laying out what you'll sketch with large, general shapes. I've been doing that recently and find that just a couple of seconds of thinking about placement and proportions keeps me from getting frustrated by running out of room or having too much room - especially since I'm using a larger sketchbook lately.
It was all such a fun experience, although I was surprisingly nervous just before the class. Luckily sketching also helps to calm my nerves - it's like sketching is the antidote for every bad thing!
Once I got on Zoom I was fine and enjoyed every minute of the class. It was fun to see friends and family as well as unfamiliar faces all studiously sketching onions and lemons with me!
I will definitely be doing more of these in some way, so stay tuned for more information about that once I figure it out. You can also check out the virtual "handout" for the class on Instagram - go to my account (@elizabethalley) and click on the story highlights titled Materials, Books, and Follow.
Visiting looks pretty different these days. Last Friday I visited with a sketcher friend in her backyard. I brought my own lunch and we ate about 10 feet apart while we caught up. It was so great to have another view to sketch, even if it was just a different East Memphis back yard! It was also nice to visit, but for me in-person visits are so fraught with worrying if we're doing the right thing.
That same week we had two surprise visits from out-of-town friends. We all sat outside, distanced, with masks on. It was nice to see them in person, but oh how I also wanted some hugs!
Another way I've been visiting is by phone. Last week my friend Andrea, who I've been friends with since our freshman year of high school, and I talked on the phone for two hours just like when we were teenagers. Only now instead of doing homework, I sketched as we talked. This is my updated studio setup.
A couple of days later I talked to my sister on the phone for nearly two hours. I had similar conversations with each of them, both of whom work in public schools and are rightly worried about returning to school in a few weeks.
This week I joined my husband as he took a cocktail class via Zoom, another alternative to visiting these days. I knew one person in the class, so it was also an alternative to meeting new people. And it was also mostly Memphis-based, so I recognized someone from work.
I'm also on the occasional Zoom call with friends, or we watch a movie together with Netflix party, but I'm very much missing the real thing. Even so, I'm taking a couple of weeks off from socially distanced visiting just to give myself a break from the anxiety of in-person visits.
I hope wherever you are, you are able to find a way to visit with people you love!
Since I'm sketching 90-95% at home, there is a lot of food and drink involved. Even outside of sketching, there's a lot of food and drink involved.
We've been getting a farm box from Rosecreek Farm and they have the most lovely produce, like these shishito peppers. I had to sketch them really quickly because my husband was about to cook them. They were delicious!
It seems like I'm drawing fewer coffee cups, which is weird because that's my go-to every day item for sketching. But here's a simple sketch of one, along with some other food and dishes. Another thing my husband made recently was a delicious Mai Tai in a Tiki mug that just begged to be sketched.
After months of sketching the same scene when I pick up my groceries, yesterday I turned my head and drew a different view. This janky tree and that weird carwash behind it just called out to be sketched. I did this very quickly, and was happy to have my fat pen back in my purse as it is the most fun pen for quick sketches.
Later in the afternoon I ran another important errand, and actually planned for sitting and sketching for about ten minutes.
Of course I'm going to keep sketching this building, too!
I took last week off of work for a much-needed break. Normally if I'm taking a week off of work - or any amount of time, really - I am traveling somewhere. But not during a pandemic. (Sigh.) Instead, I had a week's worth of Saturdays, and it wasn't a trip to Scotland, but it was still pretty nice.
For the previous week or two I hadn't been sketching much because my head was too much in work, so I was hoping that having a week to myself would help me to sketch more. I think it worked.
One of the things I had time to do was take a watercolor workshop from Róisín Curé. It was so fun, and helped me to reconnect with watercolor in a way I have been unable to do on my own lately. I highly recommend signing up for one of her workshops!
Having this week to do some leisurely sketching helped me to get to know the format of this 8x10 Stillman & Birn sketchbook. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm not used to using it as an everyday sketchbook. But I am much more comfortable with it now!
Thinking about past vacations and travel sketching made me a little sad, though, so I revisited some travel sketchbooks and copied a few of my sketches. The two on the left, above, are from 2013 when we went to Barcelona to attend the Urban Sketchers Symposium.
Here's another sketch from my 2013 Barcelona sketchbook, of La Sagrada Familia. That was such a fun day, it was fun to relive it in sketch form.
In my notes here I'm chiding myself for these slightly lazy sketches - it's that they lack a bit of purposefulness, as I was sketching really quickly for no reason (Sagrada Familia isn't going anywhere). But I remembered that I had only been sketching directly with ink on a regular basis for a year. When I attended the previous USk Symposium in Santo Domingo in 2012, I was still primarily using pencils and by the end of that trip had started to use pen more, as well as marker and colored pencils.
It's amazing how much Urban Sketchers has helped me grow as a sketcher, and therefore as an artist and as a teacher, and now as a writer! I'm sad we couldn't all be together for a Symposium this year, but sketching makes me feel better no matter where I am.
Later this month I'm teaching a sketching workshop for DePaul Art Museum. The class is online via Zoom - here are the details:
Sketching Your Day
Wednesday, July 29, 2:00 PM CDT
The workshop is free and open to all skill levels; registration is required and attendance is limited. Click here to register with DePaul Art Museum.
In this workshop we will learn to tell the stories of our days by sketching with pens, markers, and highlighters that you already have around your house, and any kind of paper. But sketchbooks and notebooks that you've been "saving" are preferred!
We'll find easy ways to draw through our daily tasks and keep up with the practice of sketching.
The idea of using materials you can find around your house was inspired by the late Peter Bowman. He would come to the Memphis Urban Sketchers gatherings with a plastic bag full of random tools. Then I realized that I have a plastic bag full of random tools! I figured many people have pens and pencils and highlighters around the house, plus crayons and kids' markers.
And for sketchbooks, any paper or notebook will do, really. We don't need fancy materials to tell the stories of our day.
This is a typical spread of sketches from a couple of days. The more of these you create, the more of a story you will tell!
I prefer medium-sized sketchbooks, but sometimes I switch to small ones just to mix things up a bit. This sketch is in a small Stillman & Birn (5.5 x 3.5). I've been enjoying this size since I've been mostly staying home - sometimes taking it around the neighborhood with me, and always taking it with me when I pick up groceries. But I've also been working in an 8 x 10 Stillman & Birn Alpha, because why not mix it up and challenge myself during an already super-challenging time, right? (This is when I roll my eyes at myself.)
Working with layouts in the larger sketchbook has been challenging, just like it is when I switch from a medium sketchbook to a small one. In the sketch above, I was putting more thought into the design of the two-page spread after looking at other people's sketchbooks on Instagram.
Back to the small book - sketched the table and chair I set up on the other side of my carport so that I can visit with one friend at a time, at a distance, outside.
Then the big book again for a Sunday Sketching sketch of the fatsia outside my studio window. The text on the side is the notes I took during that day's episode USk Talks.
And back to the small sketchbook for a couple of weeks. Mostly of sketches around the house, like the one above, or to take outside, like the one below.
The sketch above is a return to the big sketchbook and a return to the studio fatsia for Sunday Sketching.
In the sketches below, I decided I was all in with the big sketchbook for now. The small sketchbook now stays in my purse for running errands.
Urban Sketchers has been hosting a show on Instagram Live for the past few months, and it is a delightful treat! Rob Sketcherman hosts, interviewing a couple of sketchers each week on inspiring topics such as urban sketchers from other eras, sketching to learn, and sketching for a cause. Each week the sketchers each give viewers a challenge. My sketch above is in response to Gabi Campanario's challenge, Tell Me More. Gabi asked us to share sketches with informative captions written in our own voice. This is the first of the challenges that I've done; I'm terrible with prompts for some reason.
I started this sketch on a break from working in the yard. I began to label the trees and shrubs as a reaction to my frustration with my neighbor's bamboo and privet. As I was drawing the utility wires, I thought about how some places don't have utility wires above ground, so they don't have trees trimmed into odd shapes by their utility company. I switched my focus, and added a second sketch of the view behind the houses on my street looking east, where there is a valley created between the trees to accommodate the above-ground wires. And I wrote about it.
The other thing I love about USk Talks is getting to help out with some of the post-show work. I've been writing summaries of the shows for the Urban Sketchers website since the April 19th show. You can see the summaries here. It's a pretty simple task compared to the huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to produce each show. The team putting this together is a fantastic, creative, hard-working group, and I just swoop in when it's done and write a summary.
I'm very proud of the writing I've done for this project. I've noticed my writing getting stronger since I started. Even though my job is writing, it is technical writing - I'm taking existing written information and reworking it in a clear and concise way to help users do their jobs. But for USk Talks, I'm taking notes during the show and putting together highlights based on the show's theme, both interviews, and the challenges. It's a stretch for me, but a good one.
This week's show, Episode 13: Watercolorful, airs on Urban Sketcher's Instagram Live on Sunday, June 28, 4:00 AM GMT (that's 11:00 PM Saturday here in the US Central time zone, CDT). If you follow Urban Sketchers (@urbansketchers), just go to Instagram at the show time and you will see they are live in Instagram stories. The show is also available on Instagram for 24 hours after it airs, and then you can find it on YouTube.
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