It doesn't snow much here in Memphis, TN, and when it does the whole place shuts down. It doesn't matter how much snow or ice we get, everything stops! But this year, over the course of 10 days we got ice, then snow, then more snow! We got up to 10 inches of snow and the temperature was below freezing for days and days.
I mostly stayed inside but I did venture out to sketch once - I had to sketch while wearing gloves, my sketchbook got snowed on and I dropped it in the snow, and I should have chosen a water-soluble material instead of the pen that was then ruined. But my sketchbook was very sturdy and I have plenty more pens! This is not my best sketch ever, but it is the best sketch I've done in below freezing weather while getting snowed on.
This is my writing process. I presented a talk about it at Spectrum 2021 - STC Rochester yesterday called Practical Sketching for Technical Communicators. The idea is that the action of sketching and annotating as part of your process helps you capture and understand information, think through problems, get unstuck, and spark new ideas. I was using this process to figure out what I wanted to write about in the blog post, and I thought I'd just share the process sketch instead of writing it. This is a blog about sketching, after all.
And here's a sketch I made while waiting for my presentation to start, to help calm my nerves!
When you take someone to the doctor now you get a little vacation in your car all by yourself while you wait for them. Of course I used my time to sketch! There was an area of random strip-mall-adjacent trees and shrubs with an electrical tower that perfectly captures some of the commercial landscape in the Memphis suburbs.
I did a super quick sketch of the car wash while I was getting gas, and later captured a dramatic coffee cup on my desk.
Today I went to pick up my groceries and had to wait for a spot in the pick-up area, which gave me a straight-on view of the fire station - what luck! I got the structure down and after I parked I added the details - trees, chainlink fence, more trees. Sketching can be such a joyful way to pass the time while waiting, and sometimes all you need is a one pen!
I did this watercolor sketch on a balmy December day. I just noticed I had not posted it yet, and it made me realize I haven't done any watercolor sketches in the month of February. It's weird how your focus can change from material to material, from subject to subject. It's been too cold here to sketch outside, but now it's warm again, but it's about to be rainy. Hopefully more outdoor sketching will resume in March.
I'm catching up on posting sketches I haven't posted yet and luckily a lot of them fall in the same category so I can post them all together!
Here's a progression of a couple of cups of peppermint tea, sketched in ink with a little spot color.
Waiting for water to boil is always a good time to sketch.
Mugs and cans are both fun to sketch - and so are beets! I don't like to eat beets, but I love to draw them.
More hot tea! These are a mix of a brush pen, a Mitsubishi two-sided pencil, and this last one is probably a Pigma Graphic 1 (my "fat pen"). I was probably waiting for water to boil when I sketched these vegetables I chopped.
Looks like I started this year with lots and lots of coffee! I did.
Coffee cups, mugs, drink cans, things on my desk, and food I'm preparing are always fun and easy subjects because they're always close at hand.
Who is up for a lot of Clark Tower sketches? Here are a bunch from the last few months.
I started doing these when the pandemic first started and I began picking up my groceries right across the street, always giving myself a few minutes for a sketch.
If you're wondering what the deal is with me and this building, check out this post on my old blog.
I've been carrying minimal sketch gear when I run out for groceries or to pick up a to-go order, and just carrying one or two pens and a double-color Mitsubishi pencil works well.
I refer to the Clark Tower as "my Devils Tower" because of that scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where Richard Dreyfuss sculpts the Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes. A friend suggested this when I made a four-foot tall painting of this building on wallpaper a few years ago. In the fall I got to see the real Devil's Tower for the first time and noticed some similarities, like the stripes made by the window arrangements are similar to the striations in the rock formation.
But I don't just sketch it! I'm making acrylic ink paintings of the Clark Tower in a sketchbook during my studio night. I've done 22 since I started almost a year ago - here are a few! It helps me to have an image I can come back to over and over again and work with in different ways.
On Saturday I went out solely for the purpose of sketching! Christina - administrator for Memphis Urban Sketchers - had a great idea for Covid-safe sketching. We met downtown on a stretch of N. Front St. behind a closed-off area of the street under construction, and parked next to each other and rolled our windows down so we could talk (6+ feet apart) while we sketched from our cars. It was a beautiful day - the sky was doing fun things!
This was my "warm-up" that evolved into a fully painted scene, which usually happens when I try to do a warm-up on-site. I'm just too excited not to sketch everything!
It's difficult to convey size in these posts, but this sketch is much bigger than the first. I did the first sketch (the "warm-up") in my small Laloran every day sketchbook - it's about 4.5" x 6.5". I did this in my 8" x 10" Stillman & Birn Alpha, so this spread is actually 8" x 16".
I enjoyed spending a lot of time on this one, building it up from light gray lines to black lines to watercolor and more ink. I got to play around with everything - perspective, shadows, sky, winter trees, even barbed wire and chain-link fence!
In the past couple of weeks I've ventured out farther than my neighborhood for a change of scenery. Last week we went to Greenbelt Park just to look at the river. That's the Mississippi River, the riverest of US rivers. It was cold and windy and overcast and absolutely perfect to refocus my attention away from the news of the day.
I was also excited to sketch a different view - even a barge! And I had just rearranged my watercolor palette and replaced a couple of colors from the Ultimate Sketching Palette (from art-toolkit.com) so I wanted to try it out. I quickly learned that I need those colors back - it is not called "Ultimate" for nothing. I couldn't get the right kind of winter yellow without Geothite.
This week I went to the other end of the city, to Shelby Farms, and took a walk around the lake with a few breaks to sketch. My palette was right again, and I was very happy to capture the subtle colors of winter.
And look! There's the Clark Tower (in the very middle top). I love that you can see it from Shelby Farms.
When we returned from our road trip, I dutifully sketched coffee cups and other everyday things. Even though I often say that tying sketching to the acquisition of knowledge or to understanding makes any subject potentially interesting to sketch, I got tired of drawing the vegetables in my produce delivery, and my beloved fatsia, and even coffee cups.
But I know that regularly working in a sketchbook connects your hand and brain and eyes and trains them to work together, keeps your hand in making art on a regular basis, and keeps you ready for any sketching opportunities. And I know that slumps don't last, but I wanted out of this one quickly so I thought of some things to help.
Sketching from Photos
I talk a lot about the importance of sketching from life, but sketching from photos is also a useful tool, and can be fun and relaxing.
Try timing yourself in order to get more spontaneous marks, like this grid of one-minute sketches.
Drawing from a Book
This was inspired by the artist Emma Carlisle (look for her on Instagram), who has a book of birds she works from when she's stuck. I did these from a guide book of trees - it's a fun way to play with materials.
Copying from art books, from comics, from other people's sketches is a good way to keep your hand in it, and to learn from others. Lynda Barry is big on copying and uses it when she teaches. She says, "Copying is good for you because it takes time and requires a certain sort of sustained concentration that invites a different sort of thinking."
Trying a Different Approach
Try changing something up from the way you usually sketch. I spent a week doing almost nothing but continuous line drawings (where you don't pick up your pen/pencil), and it really helped me to want to sketch more. You can also try different materials, different paper or cardboard or the backs of envelopes, or go back to a material you haven't used in a while.
Start a New Sketchbook / New Intentions
Starting a new sketchbook can bring a refreshing change. I have a couple of Laloran sketchbooks - super nice sketchbooks made by my friend Ketta Linhares in Portugal. It feels "too fancy" to use right now while I'm not going anywhere or doing anything, but I decided that's why I need it. My days might all be very similar right now, but each is still special.
So now I am celebrating the everyday things, rather than dutifully recording them. If you can't literally get a change of scene, you can change other things to freshen up your outlook.
Our idea for this trip was to drive around and look at things, so here are some things we saw while driving around.
We stopped at Carhenge in Nebraska. Toby said we were going there and I kept thinking, "No that is in Texas," until we got there and I said out loud, "Oh, CarHENGE." (I was thinking of Cadillac Ranch in Texas.) Then I sketched it quickly with ink and a little bit of watercolor and colored pencil.
Later that same day we were... I don't know where, when we had to stop because there were cows in the road. So. Many. Cows! We just stayed put while hundreds of cows walked past us. I sketched them and Toby took about a thousand pictures. It was such a delightful surprise during our long drive!
We drove on WAY more gravel roads than I would have expected, so we had to stop and clean the car at some point. Well, Toby cleaned it while I sketched.
We spent our last couple of days winding down at a lake house in Hardy, AR. It was a bit of a return to domesticity and a forced rest before driving the few hours back home to our real life.
I knew I had one more big sketch in me, so I went out to sketch and spent a lot of time looking, then found a good spot to sit, then looked some more. And I took a different approach based on my discoveries earlier in the trip about timed sketches. I made timed thumbnail sketches! One smaller and one larger, both of the same spot. In the minute I gave myself to sketch the scene, I couldn't overthink it. In the second thumbnail, I used what I learned in the first one and both sort of told me what I found most important to the composition. Then I timed my initial sketch in colored pencil, to make sure it had that same energy.
Then I painted it. It was a fun experiment and helped keep it feeling fresh for a long (time-wise) sketch.
Then I made a couple more quick sketches and that was it! I was done sketching for the day and we were nearly done with the trip. We drove home the next day and I was so happy to be there.
We were very lucky to be able to take this trip. I used as much of it as I could to sketch and to learn from it.
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