Friday, February 09, 2018

Me and the Muse - Part II

I haven't much to show for what else I've been doing these past weeks. You may recall my driving urge to get back to and finish the 5-part Sketchbook Skool class I signed up for last year. There was video to watch - a LOT of video it turned out - and the muse just nodded, flicked her fingers at me in that "get on with it" gesture, and went back to her magazine on the days I headed to the computer to listen to the "lectures" on urban sketching by teacher and illustrator Lynne Chapman.

I don't think the other parts of this course had this much commentary from and insight into the teacher's artistic life. It appeared to be one long fascinating interview done right in Lynne's studio and broken into specific topics, amply illustrated by Lynne's sketchbooks. A big portion of it dealt with Lynne's residency experience and how she captured it and the people she was "studying" in a form of urban sketching carried out in concertina sketchbooks. I took notes, lots of notes, four pages of notes in the sketchbook I've been using for this course, because she was presenting to me a different way of approaching urban sketching. (See more about her urban sketching side at

An earlier part of this course also focused on urban sketching, but mostly on capturing familiar places along your regular route - buildings, parks, that sort of thing - and using watercolor as well as pen to capture it. Get outside and sketch! I mostly focus on buildings and the architectural features that catch my eye or fascinate me. Occasionally I'll sketch the scenery or things like park benches but I rarely add people to my sketches. Since joining this urban sketching movement, I've discovered there's some disagreement about what is true urban sketching, and some of the originators say that if all you are doing is drawing buildings, then that is not urban sketching. Urban sketching should capture the activities on the street level in front of the buildings, i.e. people and cars and food trucks. They seem to look down a bit on people like me who mostly focus on the buildings themselves. They also seem not too crazy about those who sit in cafes and restaurants and sketch their food. Be that as it may, The Urban Sketchers Facebook page has posted this helpful sketch (above) to guide people in determining if they are urban sketching or not.

Although Lynne did do one demonstration of sketching a street scene on site, most of her emphasis was on how to use your sketching to tell a story, inside or out. I found this quite compelling, a bit like photo-journalism, even a bit like how I put together my blog posts with photos and text. I especially liked her instruction on alternative portraits and how it's more than facial features (and even getting them perfect) that can comprise a portrait of a person. I'd already read her book, Sketching People: an Urban Sketcher’s Guide to Drawing Figures and Faces, so had a grasp of how she approached that subject. The new part here was how the things we surround ourselves with, simple ordinary objects, also tell a story that creates a non-figural portrait. Since I'm not keen on drawing people, I really liked this idea.

The concertina sketchbook format she settled on for her residency project turned out to be perfect for her needs. Whether it was capturing snapshots of her route into the building and up to the offices where she spent her days or capturing a sequence of events within a day to give the sense of "the passage of time" or capturing the feel of an entire office, the concertina could hold it all and could be viewed as a conventional sketchbook, page by page, scene by scene, or stretched out flat to view the whole and how the parts integrate (as you can see running along the bottom of the video screen capture above). It also allowed her to work "out of sequence", perhaps starting at the end of the concertina to capture a less challenging part of the scene, and on another day, moving to a different section that she now felt she could face (that bookcase, she said, was a mess and very daunting).

So all very interesting, all very entertaining, all very helpful, all videos watched. Except now to see what the homework assignment is. And now I balked! Lynne wants us to make our own concertina sketchbook (not really that formidable of a task, if only one had her work tables cleared), and use her "sit and pivot" method of doing an alternative portrait, right in your own work space, or any place in your home that you hang out in. Just put a chair in the middle of the room, sketch what's in front of you, pivot and sketch the next view, etc., until you have the whole room sketched. I looked around my small office space and blanched - like my studio, it is a piled up mess, which I guess says a lot about me. I know I don't have to sketch every little detail, but still, do I want to record this room that, without cleaning it up, I wouldn't let anyone into? Ditto for the studio. Maybe the living room since I spend a lot of time there too and there's much less clutter. Oh dear, I am feeling as daunted as Lynne did by that bookcase!

I am not unfamiliar with concertina sketchbooks, and in fact have one that was free with the purchase of something else I was getting. But I was puzzled by the best way to use it. I inquired of the urban sketching community and was told how great it was for capturing landscapes or city scenes that too often can't be confined within even a full page spread. Ok, I get it now, and mused about what wider-than-usual scene might I want to try this out on. I hit upon the idea of sketching the view from City Beach, because the park itself juts out into the lake in a perfect semi-circle with changing views as you stroll the sidewalk. Perhaps I could sketch a panoramic view from start to end. I actually started this last fall, beginning with the motel and condos next to City Beach and moving along to the jetty and its public marina, a pencil sketch which I intend to finish in ink and perhaps some watercolor or watercolor pencils. (I can't figure out what the paper is in this sketchbook but it is smooth and very stiff, almost like card stock.) Already I have taken up over half of the sketchbook in this first sitting and will need to finish out my panorama on the back.

But until the weather warms again, the lake level comes back up and the boats return, I'll not be working on this "sit and pivot" urban sketch. I need to swallow my fears, make my own concertina sketchbook and get to sketching my own story. Because if nothing else, I won't allow myself to view the final part of this course until I do this homework!



Living to work - working to live said...

Wow Sheila - you do work hard at your art. The only person I 'know' who sketches outside is Mrs Bertimus ( do you ever read her blog? I love her style - assemblage, paint, old papers etc. And she uses images of girls and hares a lot). Occasionally she will post where she has been having a cup of tea and piece of cake and sketches what is going on around her.

I like the idea of the concertina sketchbook. II can see how that would work.

I look forward to seeing some of your efforts.

Hilary xxx

The Idaho Beauty said...

Hmmm, I hadn't thought of it as "working hard at your art" because for the most part, the sketching feels more like play than work. But I see what you mean. I guess it's just the way I approach life in general, love learning, love absorbing information like a sponge, the perpetual student. What comes out on the other end - well, maybe not as impressive as what goes in !

I don't follow Mrs Bertimus (short of the times you've linked to her) but I can admire her moxie. I have yet to be bold enough to pull out a sketchbook when eating out and figure anything hot would be ice cold by the time I finished a sketch of it, I'm so slow! You might remember my "comforts" sketchbook where I have been adding sketches of food, but that's all done here at home or from photos. These classes, though, are nudging me to extend my daily walk the extra to the Starbucks, settle in the corner with a mocha latte and see what I can sketch in that setting. It might even be a mini "sit and pivot" exercise. It's certainly too cold right now to be sitting outside sketching buildings!