Monday, December 31, 2018

Foundations and Moments Made Special

On the last day of the year, I usually reflect on my sketching habit (today marks my fifth consecutive year of drawing daily), drawing as a mindful act, or some other self-indulgent musing. Last year I simply offered two practical tips.

This year I’m going to refer you to the blogs of two artists I admire deeply for different reasons. First up is Roz Stendahl, whose long-running blog is nearly legendary for its wisdom about developing an artistic practice. She recently wrote a post that especially resonated with me because she clearly articulated some thoughts I’ve been having about learning to draw and developing a style. I started to touch on those thoughts last year when I talked about how I believe we don’t choose a style; our style chooses us. But Roz has been thinking about these issues for much longer than I have, and when I read her words, I realized that this is what I have been trying to get at:

One of the chief things I noticed with students at SketchKon was the desire of so many of them to have a style of drawing rather than to learn to draw. And when people focus on style before they have an ability to draw this slows the learning process down.
Throughout my time at SketchKon I had scheduled meetings and informal meetings with students who asked for a review of their work. All of them expressed a variation of the “what’s my style?” question. Yet all of them also had other drawing skills to learn. Each of them, with their comments, expressed the thought that the way through their current situation was to find a style, not work on foundational stuff.

In the limited time I had with them it wasn’t possible to stress that the first order of business is to learn to see accurately and get things down on paper, and that style comes after that is achieved. It’s not just my opinion. Hundreds of years of art and art education have shown this to be the case. 

The more I take classes at Gage Academy, which was founded on the principle of art education with a foundational basis, the more committed I become to learning and practicing those foundational skills. Go read Roz’s post – she offers practical ideas on how we can apply that principle on a daily basis.

And while you’re on Roz’s blog, you might also appreciate a post she wrote in response to a comment I had made on another post about people who no longer find joy in drawing. As always, her well-articulated post is full of wisdom and good advice.

The second blog that I recommend visiting regularly is that of Suhita Shirodkar, a beloved member of the Urban Sketchers community. To keep herself sketching daily even when she is busy raising teens, working her day job and otherwise doing life, she has been keeping what she calls her “messy journal” – small sketches and bits of writing that describe her day-to-day life. Quoting Cathy Johnson (another artist with a near-legendary blog and related book), Suhita says, “Seeing and capturing things on the pages of a journal rescues them from the mundane.” In a recent post, she said she wants her journal to be:

Imperfect and freeing.
• A record of little bits of my day.
• A way to draw even on the busiest of days: I may not fill a page, but I can chip away at it over the day.
• A place to experiment with techniques and media and to find new and fresh ways to look at the same thing over and over.
• And always, a place to use observation and study to improve my drawing skills.

Although I haven’t enjoyed my own brief attempts at keeping a sketch-and-writing journal like Suhita’s, I appreciate the principles behind such a journal. Whenever I sketch a car I happen to be parked behind, the shoes or face of a fellow commuter, or a common neighborhood street, it feels very mundane or even boring – yet it’s a part of my ordinary day. My format may be different, but I’m still capturing things on the page, rescuing them from the mundane and, perhaps most important, simultaneously sharpening my observation and drawing skills.

The amazing part is that as soon as I start sketching that boring scene, it suddenly becomes interesting, even fascinating, because I’m observing it closely and fully. My sketches are not necessarily about “special” moments; they are moments made special because I sketched them.

Happy New Year, and the best to you in 2019!



  1. It is interesting that so many sketchers are more interested in developing a style than in improving their sketching. I don't think I even think about style as I work or even after I sketch something. I like Suhita's idea of keeping a messy journal for those little sketches that are items that will never be exciting. For years I have been doing the WetCanvas scavenger hunts. It is great practice in practicing sketching anything and everything that someone else comes up with from the lovely to a mundane toilet bowl. lol All sketching teaches us to observe and record more closely and is important too.

    1. Hmmm, I've never sketched a toilet. . . why not? ;-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...