Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sketching with a Machete

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Occasionally I’ve talked about my goal to practice drawing daily. Actually, goal is not the right term, as that implies a result. I have no specific, measurable outcome (other than eventually improving my skills in the long-term sense). Drawing daily is more about a regular practice that forms a habit, or perhaps a lifestyle philosophy, like yoga.

Every now and then I come across an essay about regular drawing practice that strongly resonates with me. Last September I read an excellent post by Chicago urban sketcher Alex Zonis that I noted on my blog, and I think it’s worth mentioning again today. And just yesterday I stumbled on an essay by Suzanne Brooker, a Seattle artist and instructor at Gage Academy. I haven’t met Suzanne yet, but reading her essay makes me want to take a class from her (and I probably eventually will).

I hope you’ll read her entire post, “The Practice of Drawing,” but this is the part that
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stays with me:

Here is what I call my “machete in the jungle” parable. If you think you can save up some time, like “I’ll draw for 2 hours on Saturday”, then you can almost guarantee it won’t happen because there is always something else more compelling that needs your attention. But if you spend 20 minutes a day drawing, then you are keeping the path clear by returning every day, otherwise the jungle grows back and you’ll spend your time just trying to get to the same place but not advancing. 

I haven’t necessarily drawn every single day in the past four years since I started sketching (although I think I have for at least the last two years), but I’m sure I haven’t gone more than two or three days at a stretch without drawing something (and believe me, my standards for “something” are pretty low!). For myself, I’ve found that an analogy with physical exercise is the most accurate: Even during those short stretches of not drawing, I noticed a backslide; just like skipping Jazzercise or yoga for a while, it takes me that much longer to feel limber when I start up again (and the pain is not worth it!). The longer I go without, the harder it is to get back to it.

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Now I like Suzanne’s machete-in-the-jungle metaphor, too. Hacking away daily, even for only a few minutes, is so much more satisfying and – at least in terms of eventual improvement – more effective than reserving a large chunk of time for concentrated effort (which may or may not come).

Time to get out today’s machete.

Technical note and travel musing: Pocket notebooks are often where my “daily machete” sketches go, especially on days when I don’t have time or the right weather to go out for the type of sketching I’d rather be doing (on location under a fair sky and mild temperatures). The subject matter for machete sketches tends to be people on buses, waiting in the same places I am, or attending a presentation or meeting. Occasionally it’s a not-too-inspired still life (and I use the term “still life” loosely; sometimes it’s nothing more than a pen on my desk).

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The sketches in this post were done in a Field Notes Workshop Companion edition notebook, which has lately been serving my daily-machete needs well (the Calepino notebook is running a close second). I like it so much that I’m even wondering if it might be able to replace my heretofore favorite travel journal, the Rhodia pocket notebook. During my two weeks in France, I filled about 150 pages of the 192-page journal. Field Notes notebooks contain 48 pages, which means I’d want to bring at least three on my next two-week journey. I would prefer having the whole trip’s journal in one volume; on the other hand, my only complaint with the Rhodia is that it is a bit bulky, so splitting the journal up into the much-thinner Field Notes would resolve that issue. Hmmm . . . definitely something to ponder before the next trip.

1 comment:

  1. Good links to Alex's and Susan's words. I've heard Malcolm Gladwell speak about the 10,000 hours that need to be put into something. I wonder how many hours I've spent. I agree that short sketches of 20 minutes (or sometimes even less) help us maintain our skills. Once you stop for any length of time it is difficult to get back to where you were. I like your machete sketches you posted today. Keep that jungle clear!


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