Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Heat & Smoke

I'm a 70's kind of gal, as in I like my temperature highs in the 70's. I can manage some days in the 80's, although even in the shade they can make it uncomfortable to be active outside. But top over into the 90's and I'm not coming out of my house for more than a few minutes at a time, at least not until the sun goes down. And I was doing that at the end of July, heading out just as the sun was dipping behind the mountain, and taking along my sketchbook on one such day. I wanted to capture the daylilies at the park I walk through, buttery yellow blooms amidst the green blade-like leaves. Even a sketch like this can take me half an hour to forty-five minutes, so my plan was to return within the next few days with either colored pencils or watercolors.

But my plans were thwarted by the smoke that has drifted into our valley from forest fires that are as much as hundreds of miles away. British Columbia is burning up again, at one point with over 45,000 people evacuated from their homes for over two weeks. Winds have been blowing all that smoke down into Washington and over into Idaho, along with smoke from Washington's own fires. This happened two years ago so we know the drill. If it looks like this from my front door, chances are the air quality rating is in the moderate or yellow range, and I am part of the population who needs to curtail outside activities - no long walks for me. A few days it has popped over "unhealthy for sensitive groups" or orange (where it is this afternoon) straight into the next level, plain old "unhealthy" or red. There's one more level in which they deem no one should be outside for any reason, but it hasn't gotten that bad yet. I miss my daily walks, and opportunities to go farther on nearby trails but there's no point in risking it. The daylillies sketch will either have to remain a line sketch or I'll have to use my memory to fill in the colors. I think I'll leave it as is.

Favorite Place sketching homework

Being "trapped" inside, I've found plenty to keep me busy. I just completed another section of my Sketchbook Skool class, led by Brian Butler, and boy was it different! It's a little difficult to describe his type of art, so I invite you to peruse his website to get a feel for it. He does a lot of what I think of as grafitti-style murals as well as branding for musicians and merchandise. I think most of the class was wondering what in the world could we get out of something so bizarre and how many of us need to know how to design and paint a mural on the side of a building (which he shared videos of doing). Even he was a little unsure if he fit with this group but we all dived in together and found him fun, knowledgeable and full of encouragement regarding how to use a sketchbook. For him, it's an inspiration generator, where he records the events of the day, capturing visually ideas he may use later in a finished piece. He stressed he seldom shows his sketchbooks to anyone so felt a little uncomfortable showing them to us. He sees them as idea generators that are only for the one doing the drawing, and so they are forgiving; it doesn't matter if you make a mistake in them, and mistakes can lead to a new idea. As he's wandering around sketching, he likes to fill the page to leave as little white or negative space as possible, and encouraged us to try filling some pages in our sketchbooks in that same style. As a homework assignment, he suggested we think of a favorite place, pulling inspiration from images to collage elements unique to that place. I, of course, picked the area I live in and found I enjoyed this style of drawing much more than I anticipated. I usually so carefully center what I am featuring, or if there's more than one thing on a page, each will have its separate place. I really found this liberating!

Trying out the Bimoji Brush Pen on random pairings homework - love it!

So here's a thing I discovered while completing that homework and the other homework of randomly pairing an adjective and a noun from pre-generated lists and drawing it. With few exceptions, I can't remember enough about how a thing looks like to draw it from memory. I've been almost exclusively sketching from life or photos for quite awhile now and found myself having to reference a sketch I'd already made in order to include a particular building, and google images to figure out how to include the train engine and the moose. I've drawn sailboats before but found I couldn't even do a decent rendering of something as common as an airplane. What does a pen look like, or a dog? Why can't I remember what a flame looks like, or a bird? I observe and observe and observe, but I guess because these are things that I don't draw very often, with or without a model, my brain only holds the barest information about them, just enough that I can recognize them when I see them. As for this second homework assignment, I decided I picked bad words to put on my list and it was difficult to figure out how to draw these things. Well, maybe that was the point; it did stretch my imagination a bit.

So here's another thing. It occurred to me that, while I am often asked how long it takes me to make a quilt, few if anyone asks how long it takes me to sketch something. There are quick quilters and quick sketchers for sure, but I'm not one of them. And I think in reality, those fast people are in the minority. I've noticed that I often spend one to two hours on an urban sketch, and even my cup sketches from the Inktober challenge would usually tie me up for 45 minutes to an hour. Does the general public take for granted that paintings and drawings are fast to do but intrinsically know work in fiber and fabric are time consuming? And do they think the images just come out of our imagination or do they understand that anything realistic has been rendered by looking at an actual scene or object? What do you think?

Dye runs "cooking" in the sun
While the sketching class was pushing me outside my comfort zone, I could always fall back into familiar territory by continuing the machine quilting on that lap quilt. I have 3 more rows to reach the border, which I'm quilting separately after the central part of the quilt is done, and then can go back to the center and quilt the other side. This quilt is going to get finished! And I've done another dye run, this time in colors that are replenishing my stash so should be no surprises here. The first bin has mustard yellow dye, my all time favorite yellow. The second is using ProChem's lavender dye, an old dye gifted to me and one I hope will give me a bluish rather than reddish purple, although in the rinsing and soaking today it strikes me as being too much like the purples I already have. The big bucket is holding 4 yards in a black dye recipe Judi and I developed. No idea if those old dyes will give me a good black like I am going for but I will soon find out! Once this run is processed, I have 4 additional yellow gradations to dye up, and then my dyeing should be done for awhile. If nothing else, I think I'll be out of fabric by then and maybe the heat and smoke will be gone so I can be outside again.


The Inside Stori said...

Yikes….the unhealthy air quality must be terrible for you! However, you seem to be using the summer heat to your advantage with the dyeing you’ve undertaken….anxious to see your results.

Olga Norris said...

Sheila you ask intriguing questions about sketching, looking, visual memory, etc. It all provokes lots of thinking.
I'm someone who does lots of looking, but almost no sketching. I have to think things through in my mind's eye before I start on a design. I suppose that my camera is a kind of sketchbook, gathering elements from the world to become pieces of my amalgam. I have always felt vaguely inadequate when I read or hear that artists should have sketchbooks from which to develop ideas for work. Inadequate because perhaps I don't have the discipline/interest to keep up a sketchbook; but certainly I seem never to be short of ideas.
But maybe those ideas would develop better if I did sketch. Certainly at present I do feel a wee bit in the doldrums, that I'm not moving forward - just producing more of the same. You have set me thinking.

As for your question about why folks don't ask about time and sketching, I think it's because either they know what sketching involves, or they don't and just make a judgment that a detailed drawing must take a long time, and a loose one must be quick.

I hope you'll be able to breathe outdoors again soon, but delighted that out of your confinement you have set our brain cells buzzing.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Olga, I so enjoy your in-depth comments, and you have put me to thinking (more) too. My use of a sketchbook has always been sporadic, and it has only been recently that I've moved to this kind of sketching of the real world as it were. Before that, I took many more photos, like you, thinking of them as references, and that photo taking certainly did improve my "seeing" and especially my composition skills. But I've found that picking up pen or pencil to work out ideas or reproduce something in front of me taps into a different place in my brain and a different set of skills appear to be emerging. Whether or not it is improving my ideas for textile work I cannot say yet, but I suspect it is.

I know there are many sketchers who have started drawing on their ipads ala David Hockney. They find it convenient when they are out and about, or they are people already doing design work on the computer so it is a familiar medium. I've given it a small go and am a fish out of water, too steep of a learning curve for me, and I only find myself frustrated and longing to make it work like others have. But it doesn't give me the same feeling as sketching on paper, although maybe with time it would. I certainly can lose myself for hours using software filters to manipulate photos that emerge as complex designs I'd never discover with sketching. A lot of recent studies though are concluding that there are many things we do better, or are stored in our brain better when we put pen or pencil to paper rather than use keyboard (and perhaps graphic pad too?) to put text and images on a screen.

Since I have no skills as you have with designing with software, I can't say whether it would be different for you if you played on paper with pencil instead. You could give it a try if you truly feel like you are perhaps spinning your wheels. It might shake something loose. But I wouldn't beat myself up over the fact that you have not established a sketchbook habit. It's probably like daily journaling, some people are drawn to it and for others it's hit or miss or even a chore. As I said, I've been sporadic with my use of sketchbooks, but I have to admit, when I page through some of the early ones where I was working out design ideas, I am often surprised at what I find there, and wonder why I never followed through on some of them which now appear to have so much promise.

Last night a cold front moved through, dropping our temps by a good 20 degrees, and it rained...RAINED today for the first time since the end of June. The air has cleared and I'm off for a walk. :-)

Olga Norris said...

Sheila I do agree about the different feel of drawing on paper, that lovely diverse stuff. All the delights of different pencils, pens, sticks on different kinds of surface. I do enjoy it when I do it - just as I still very much enjoy writing old fashioned letters and cards to friends - pen on paper.

I also agree so much about the surprises and delights that looking at previous work can give. I'm a great believer in factoring in the setting aside of ideas and developments for time to work its way into our perception and appreciation - or otherwise - of what's there. As part of my great sort-out and clear-out of stuff I have been going through ancient drawings, designs, trial pieces, etc., and I have been pleased to find quite a few bits and pieces which deserve further development now. And quite a great deal that has gone straight into the waste recycling!

Lucia Sasaki said...

Inspiration generator... I liked this concept!
I hope the quality of the air is better now. Sorry I have read your post only today.

The Idaho Beauty said...

No apologies needed, Lucia. I'm a bit behind on my blog reading myself! Yes, the air is much better now and I've been able to take my usual daily walks all week. Very nice. :-) And yes, inspiration generator is indeed a great concept!