Monday, March 18, 2013

A Year of Blogging

12/5/12 Velvet Black ink, Hand Book journal
For several years before I began sketching, I occasionally considered whether blogging would be a productive pastime. As someone who took pleasure in writing as well as made my primary income from writing, I figured that coming up with post ideas would be relatively easy for me. But would it be fun, engaging and creative? Or would I eventually become bored and find blogging to be a tedious obligation?
11/16/12 Zig markers, Stillman & Birn sketchbook

As a professional writer, the first question I always ask when I’m about to begin an assignment is: Who is the audience? If I blogged, who, indeed, would be my audience? I had seen many blogs that read like personal diaries – incessant naval-gazing, whining or hand-wringing that had me running quickly from the page. I assumed that the primary (perhaps sole) audience of such blogs is the writer himself/herself. I have kept a private journal most of my life that I had no need to share, and the last thing I wanted was a blog like that.
10/23/12 Copic Multiliner SP pen, watercolor

There was also the question of purpose. Again, if I were writing for, say, a magazine, I would ask: Is my article trying to inform, persuade, engage? Would I have enough informative, persuasive or engaging blog content to maintain on a regular basis? (Hmmm, that was beginning to sound like a lot of unpaid work.)

With these questions of audience, purpose and motivation running through my head, I never found a compelling reason to answer them, so I stayed out. No need to clog the blogosphere with yet another pointless blog.
8/11/12 Pitt Artists Pen, Hand Book

But throughout that time, I was also looking at many inspiring blogs – mainly those of urban sketchers who were sharing their unique views of the world. Seeing those sketches on blogs, in books and in Gabriel Campanario's weekly Seattle Sketcher column was like a sharp poke in the psyche: Why can’t I do that, too? Why can’t I just open a sketchbook and draw?

When I finally decided to poke back by developing a drawing habit, I kept my sketches to myself for several months. But I kept thinking about how inspiring it was to peek into other people’s sketchbooks and what a lonely sketching world it would be without the Internet. I took to heart the seventh part of the Urban Sketchers’ manifesto, “We share our drawings online,” and began posting a few sketches here and there in art and sketching forums, which seemed safe enough.
7/16/12 Kuretake Brush Writer

Eventually, those questions related to blogging popped up again. Who would be my audience? I decided that an audience of one – myself – was sufficient, because the primary purpose I identified was documentation. I didn’t feel a need to inform, persuade or engage so much as to track my own progress and process as a sketcher. And if even one reader gained inspiration or encouragement to begin sketching, then that would be a bonus. 

A blog would keep me honest, mainly with myself. That meant that I would post any sketch that I had something to say about, whether or not I deemed it to be “good enough” for public consumption. Posting a sketch I really hated or that showed no progress (in fact, regression!) in my skills would take some courage. But if my blog is intended as documentation of a process, it would be pointless to exhibit only “good” sketches.
6/21/12 Pitt Artists Pen

A year ago today, Fueled by Clouds & Coffee went live. What have I learned from a year of blogging?

     1.   It’s immensely rewarding to see progress over time. At the age of 54, I’m not proud to say that I can hardly think of examples of skills I’ve learned where progress was the result of regular practice (I can think of examples of the reverse). Certainly, I’ve become more proficient at some skills over time, but I don’t have documentation that tracked my progress or the process on how I got from one place to another. Now I do.

11/29/12 Platinum Sepia ink, Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
       2.  Blogging is an opportunity to learn and tell the story. The second part of the Urban Sketchers’ manifesto is, “Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.” Whether the subject is a water tower, an orangutan or a poet, every sketch has a story, no matter how brief, and my job is to find and tell it. If I’m sketching an historic structure, a memorial or a work of public art, I’m forced to do research so that I’ll have something to write about, even if that research consists of nothing more than a Google search or reading a placard. When I think of how many times I’d driven past the Maple Leaf Water Tower or Ballard Centennial Bell Tower without knowing anything about them, that tiny bit of research and the time it takes to make the sketches open up my world a little more. I used to worry that I wouldn’t have enough to say about a sketch, but I’ve decided that the stories don’t have to be long or profound. They just have to be honest.

11/27/12 Diamine Grey ink, Stillman & Birn Epsilon
   3.   I enjoy writing blog posts almost as much as I enjoy sharing sketches. One motivates the other. Writing personal reflections (as opposed to for a paycheck) has always been a pleasure (accounting for the motivation behind my lifelong journal-keeping), so the joy I derive from blog writing doesn’t surprise me. What I hadn’t expected is that writing has almost become an integral part of sketching. While I’m sketching, I’m not thinking about anything except the sketch. But immediately thereafter – driving home from an Urban Sketchers sketchcrawl, or walking through Woodland Park Zoo back to my car – I’m already composing the blog post in my head. I’m already thinking about what I learned from the sketch or the experience that I can write about. The sketch motivates the writing. By the time I sit down at my laptop, the post practically writes itself. And related to that…

2/7/13 Diamine Chocolate Brown, Stillman & Birn Gamma
    4.  Apart from its support of my sketching, blogging reminds me of why I write. Decades ago, I wrote fiction and poetry, earned degrees in creative writing and, like probably everyone else in my creative writing program, had a fantasy about supporting myself with such writing. I continued to write creatively for several years after leaving school and entering the “real” (that is, “work”) world. But the truth is, creative writing is too hard to also be fun if you have to do it while earning a living some other way. I eventually stopped. I was fortunate that I was able to find a career using my writing skills, but then writing became my bread-and-butter, not a vehicle for self-expression.

3/12/13 Diamine Eclipse ink, Hand Book journal
Then I started blogging. Without realizing I had even missed that form of self-expression, blogging tapped into and satisfied whatever need drove me to become a writer in the first place.

Thank you for reading my blog so far! There’s a lot more ahead in my sketching adventure, and I hope you’ll continue to join me for it.


  1. Happy Blogiversary!! I thought you were blogging for longer than that. I really enjoy reading about your blogging adventures as well as seeing how you handle a sketch and learning about your materials and process. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Thank you, Joan! I appreciate your readership and enthusiasm!

  2. As a regular (but silent) reader this is a post I can't let go without comment! Thank you for sharing and documenting your sketching journal. I am a good year behind you in developing my own sketching skills but your blog has inspired, educated and motivated me! After regularly haunting well known sketcher blogs always thinking "I wish I could do that" - I found your early sketch posts and thought "hey maybe I can do that too" - and now I so enjoy seeing the commitment to and progress (WOW) you have made in your drawing abilities; its very motivating. And your writing style makes it a very entertaining blog to read. So please continue to share! Thanks from Sue in London, UK

    1. Sue, your comments mean a lot to me -- thank you so much! Keep on sketching!

  3. Happy Blog-versary! I particularly agree with #3. I've enjoyed reading since I met you and discovered this.


    1. Thank you, Kate! And likewise about your blog. It's always fun and illuminating to read the story behind the sketch.


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