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.
Lately I've been making little drawings about things that I see or do during my day. It is an extension of keeping notes on my day inspired by Lynda Barry. In her book Syllabus she writes about having her students record information about their days by drawing a grid and labeling each box with "did, saw, heard, drew," which I have been doing for maybe a year. My intention was to use that information to make comics, but guess what... 99 times out of 100 I did not do that. But I've kept up the practice and I enjoy it.
One day recently I just drew four boxes and drew a thing that happened. And then I drew another thing and another. Sometimes I end up with an empty box. Sometimes I write in it, sometimes I doodle in it.
This practice has the same effect that Lynda Barry's class diary does, which is that I pay attention to the things around me, and by drawing them I stay a little more connected with myself and the world around me.
I made most of the sketches over the last few weeks at home, since I was stuck at home with bronchitis. The one on the right was made after a doctor's appointment, though.
I've had so much hot tea over the last few weeks! I'm a total convert to herbal tea and especially lemon and ginger tea. In the sketch above I made myself two cups, one with a lid to keep it hot.
The Nickel Boys is a good book - very clearly and concisely written and still very affecting.
More things around the house, more hot tea. I drew small boxes in anticipation of small/quick sketches. That blue cup is the one with the lid from the sketch above. An artist gave it to me as a gift, probably 20 years ago, after I helped her with a show of her work.
The sketch on the right was the view out of my window one day when the sun came out after days of rain and made everything look like it was glowing yellow. But the sky behind it was purple, indicating more rain to come.
I surprised myself by doing this two-page spread of my tea setup. The small dish is for the tea bag - I find that if I leave the tea in the kitchen to steep it just stays there. And I happened to have this small tray that is the perfect size for this.
Usually I sketch when I'm out, but I enjoyed capturing these little moments. Do you sketch more in your house or outside of it?
I've been sick with bronchitis for two solid weeks! I'm starting to feel better (FINGERS CROSSED), but I have some scanning to catch up on. This is the last thing I scanned before I got sick.
Here are a couple of different angles on this pair of buildings that I like to draw so much - officially the Clark Tower and the White Station Tower, unofficially My Devil's Tower and The One with the Hat.
In the sketch on the right I was meeting with the other Memphis Urban Sketchers administrators, passing along all of the information I could to them as they take over for me. I'm now officially retired from Memphis Urban Sketchers! But I will continue to attend the sketch groups and so should you!
I love a winter landscape! But I'm confounded by the tops of trees. They are so twiggy - how do we sketch that? For the tree I sketched in this post I used a colored pencil. It worked well for that sketch, but I might not want to do that for an all-ink sketch, like the one above.
One way to solve the twiggy tree-top issue is to draw evergreens! Like these, above, at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. That's a Jun Kaneko sculpture in front of the evergreen trees and bushes.
By the way, this book was incredibly good and I highly recommend it. But it will make you cry.
This food truck is near my house and we like to get burritos from there sometimes. When I started this sketch my goal was to sketch and paint the truck - it is a dramatic black and green and hot pink - but I got so distracted by the winter trees!
Another reason I'm looking at trees more closely is that I started following artist Jo Blaker on Instagram (@jo_blaker) and she has started posting with the hashtag #ayearoftrees. I love the idea and have started participating because Memphis is such a tree-rich place, which I love showing off. Also, whenever I think I don't have anything to sketch, there will always be a tree there.
Whenever I work on my sketching classes and workshops I end up sketching. It's a very handy thing my brain does. Doing it helps me think about it, which helps me figure out how to talk about it. Here is a coffee cup and the view out of the Starbucks with just a few simple materials - a black fine-liner, gray brush pen, and two colored pencils.
In the workshop I did a demo using three materials - a black fine-liner, a gray brush pen, and a colored pencil. It was easy to make a whole scene and the differentiate the background with one color.
During the second half of the workshop we worked with watercolor and with drawing a more elaborate scene. This is a silly exercise I have them do where they draw around something they have already drawn. It's inspired by a workshop I took with Mike Daikubara, but we had the whole Chicago skyline as inspiration! My students find this exercise frustrating, but I think that means it's working! But next time I might adjust it so that we start with one item in a corner or along the bottom, and work a more complex scene around it - like I did with the top sketch.
I learn so much from teaching!
Between December 15 and January 5, I went out of town three times - here is the third one.
I went to Maine for a quick weekend to see my friend of 30+ years, Andrea, and her family. Her mother, who I've always been a big fan of, recently passed away and we had a Celebration of Life party where we all told funny stories about her, at her request/insistence.
On my previous trip - to the beach with family - I sketched with my nieces and nephews and we talked about how to sketch faces. My nephew Calvin sketches made-up faces a lot and I asked his advice on doing that because it is a habit that helps with sketching people in person. It definitely helped me to sketch these 14 faces in the Philadelphia airport.
I didn't do much more sketching - it was a busy weekend! We had a lovely visit, though, and I am already looking forward to my next visit.
After Christmas most of my immediate family got together at a house in Inlet Beach, FL, to spend some quality time mostly eating and playing games. This sketch is of a LOUD game of Scattergories. Can you hear it?
Inside and outside views of the house.
Some of us went for a hike at Camp Helen State Park. Here I am trying to get a sense of the language of marks to use for the trees and the sea ferns.
Ah yes - colored pencils! They are my favorite way to sketch the landscape lately.
The trail we were on led to the beach.
While everyone wandered around the beach I had time to sketch this view of the water coming from an inlet lake to the Gulf of Mexico. There were ruins of an old pier that made striking shadows.
I started the sketch on the left at Camp Helen State Park, then finished it back at the beach house.
On the right is a sketch of the kitchen. My niece Somerset was sketching it so I figured I should, too!
I got out my "real" watercolor brush - a Rosemary R13 - to capture the sea ferns behind our house one morning while visiting with my sister-in-law. I hate to admit how much of a difference a real brush makes since I'm such a huge fan of the Kuretake water brushes, but lets just say they can be used in different ways.
I also used my Expeditionary Art Palette here, and had to mix all of the greens!
The walk to the beach from our house was less than 10 minutes, so we went several times. This time, everyone tried to convince me it was nice to walk on the beach in bare feet. Um, no - not when the sand is cold! So I went back to the steps and made this sketch. The shadows of the beach umbrellas begged to be sketched.
While we were there 2019 slid into 2020, without much noticeable difference. We spent the week playing games, doing puzzles, telling stories, cooking and eating, walking and hiking, and generally enjoying each other. I'm very grateful for it.
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