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Monday, January 16, 2012

This Is What It's About

Click on the image to read it more easily.

I think a lot about this issue of integrity. We're rather trained to think of it in terms of how it affects our relationships with others. But it starts with our relationship with ourselves, right?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Six Minutes is Great

Two classes of 8th-grade art students at St. Ann School in Cleveland Heights listened to me blather yesterday on the sketchbook ecstasy. Note to concerned parents: "Ecstasy" was not a word I literally used. (Secondary note: the names of the boys here are hidden by the wonders of Photoshop to protect their privacy.)

At the invitation of illustrator and educator Nancy Lick, I brought a big bagful of books and my best arguments for why striding boldly into the practice of keeping a sketchbook — especially a sketchbook journal — was worth their while. To their credit, they did not seem bored, and believe me when I tell you I've lectured to 8th graders before and had a different experience.

If there was a single point I hoped to make, it was that approaching any given page in one's sketchbook need not be a Big Stinking Deal, either in terms of time or in terms of complicated drawing. To bolster my argument, I offered two kinds of proof. The first was my own sketchbooks, which are hit-and-miss affairs, and whose pages I enjoy revisiting for any number of reasons, regardless of any inherent lack of fabulousness.

My second offering of proof was a demo: The six-minute illustrated interview, three of which you see here. The first, the girl on the left, was my home practice, to see whether 6 minutes proved to be a decent amount of time. (It did.) The boys were the ones I did in class, with big audiences each time.

The gimmick: Do a 3-minute sketch of the subject, paying attention and really looking but not getting too invested in capturing likeness, then follow it with 3 minutes of interviewing. Both boys wanted to talk sports, which was a bit of a challenge for me.

I loved that I had eager volunteers for demos in both the classes. I also appreciated the gameness with which the boys participated, patiently posing and cooperating with the interview.

The point of the demo: Six minutes is enough time, even for someone who's pretty slow, like me, to have a memorable experience and create a memorable little page or part of a page in one's sketchbook. Six minutes is enough time to start to get to know someone in the way you know him or her by drawing, and by asking questions that lead to deeper questions.

Six minutes is great. Imagine what you can do with ten ...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Defining the "Visual Journal"

Way back in the early 2000s, when my sketchbook interests began, I pictured filling those first ring-bound watercolor books with page after perfect page of drawings done on site. What I produced, at first, was much more halting: a bad little watercolor sketch here, a decent little line drawing there. It turned out to be harder than I thought to create page after perfect age -- and not only because my technical skills were shaky.

The challenge, it turns out, is figuring out what we want our sketchbooks to be. For instance, it might make more sense for me to have page after beautiful page of scenery if I were someone who spent a lot of time traveling. (I don't.) But a book can also be a place where we're simply trying things out, getting down ideas for more elaborate and finished work, or practicing our pictures of dogs or fire hydrants or people.

Figuring all this out has taken more time than I would've thought, but I've narrowed it down:
1) I don't want my nice books to be a place where I'm doodling thumbnails for bigger projects. Though some of my books have that kind of content in them, that's in the past. Now I save that kind of work for loose paper, pads of tracing paper and other ephemeral locations. Blech. Usually I don't want to look at that stuff after I've refined the work into something half-decent.

2)I want the spreads to tend to look rather more designed than not. For example, in the image above, I wasn't sure I had time for me than the little sketch from my "Law & Order" TV break (I take about one a day), but as I added to that page, it wasn't in a completely haphazard way. And the next day, when I was adding my color to the alpaca page, I picked up the violet from the left side to add a sense of unity. So while there's a randomness to what I drew, based on the fact that I was simply looking for things to draw and didn't have a lot of interesting scenery around me, I still made a meager attempt at creating a pleasing page. Part of my mission is having an attractive book, overall.

3)I want the regularity of a diary. In the past, I've let my journal practice slide during busy times. So far this year, every day has an entry, and I want to continue that. School starts up again in a week, and that'll be the test of my commitment.Part of my mission is having a visual record of each day.

4)Some of the drawings will be quick and gestural and redolent of a moment.

5)Some of the drawings will be more complex and more scenic and reflect a sense of space and geography.

6)Some of the drawings will be done simply to have done a drawing on that day.

7)Some of the drawing will be from the imagination, and bolster my inventive work.

8)Some of the drawings will be people done from life, where accuracy and likeness matter to me.

9)Some of the drawings will reflect an interest in my city -- its landscapes and cafescapes and elsewise. No, I'm not a big traveler, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be a reporter and an explorer. Curiosity makes for better pages and books.

10)And what of the writing? I want it to be meaningful, but that tends to be a slippery thing. Haven't gotten it down yet, but I'm working on it.

So this is what I've figured out for my books, for now. The cobbled philosophy reflects a certain restlessness and the fact that I become interested in one thing, then another. This can be a real detriment, so I'm trying to be clear about separating the meaningful work from the distractions.

Find 100 sketchbook artists, though, and you'll find almost that many approaches or philosophies. My friend (Karen Blados takes a very constant and well-designed approach to her visual journals, which rightly reflect the domestic life that occupies her waking hours. Over at Roz Stendahl's blog, you'll see Roz uses her visual journals for capturing lots of birds, dogs and people -- some of which she later turns into finished paintings. (Roz also is a great teacher of such things, so if you don't know her blog, please tune in.)

What's your view? What's your method? What have you figured out about your own visual journal?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

As always, you can read the text more easily if you click on the image.

Months back I bought a copy of "E.B. White and the Story of Charlotte's Web," and have been slowly working my way through its pages. It's a sweet, kind of standard biographical treatment of the guy who gave us the first book I remember crying over.

Talent disparities aside, I feel a kinship toward people like White and Beatrix Potter, who brought to life animal characters with the sensitivity and humor of those who carefully observe nature. The issue of anthropomorphism, which arises in the White biography, really just doesn't bother me. I think it's a profoundly human and often helpful thing to think in this way as long as you don't get carried away. I also believe that people can hold two positions at once: "animals are just like people" and "except in the ways that they're not."

OK, so but sketchwise: On the left is my little caricature of sweet Pearlie, which I accomplished mostly with ballpoint pen. I like how the pen behaved on this paper.

On the right, I went back to a Micron because my ballpoint was getting sleepy.

And: I am so in love with my handmade sketchbook that I have been actually doing at least a page or spread per day. This makes me wonder: What are your fetish objects? (Only the clean ones, please.)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

I finally decided to bind my own sketchbook, which allowed me to choose the paper I wanted and put it in a book featuring the page size and orientation that I want. It also opens up flat, thanks to the kind of binding I sewed, so I can toggle between single-page entries and two-page spreads.

Creating a title page for your sketchbook is a good way to get past the intimidation factor of that first virgin page. There's something about the givens of a title page — it needs text, for instance — that make it approachable.

This is today's real journal entry.

This is from the spur-of-the-moment sketchcrawl at the mall. Little tired of drawing at the mall, but the company was good.

Happy New Year!
You've seen me use this day as a place to publish my intentions for the year — though I don't do anything as hard and fast as resolutions.
This year I'm skipping that. I know my intentions well enough, deeply enough, that I need not write them down. I intend to graduate art school. I intend to get a diploma and finish my thesis project, forging it into final book form. I intend to figure out a way to earn some money.

But I also intend to perhaps bring the other part of myself — the part that has spent a lifetime working out the Food & Body Thing — onto these pages. This is why I drew a running shoe today. I didn't just start running. I started running a long time ago. Then I stopped. Then started. Then stopped. I tried to be a runner and felt I was too slow. I tried to be a non-runner and found I needed to move, and that exercise had to be cheap, simple and something I could do anywhere, which meant I was back to running.

Earlier in fall, I picked it up again, and Katy and I spent Thanksgiving morning participating in the very fun Cleveland Turkey Trot 5-miler. There is little chance you will see me writing about training for a marathon here, because after all we have established that I'm not a runner.

Still, as someone who is also not a non-runner, you may see me write about running. And about food. And about body image. And, therefore, about lower-case feminism. And about my book, "Thick Through the Middle," which you'll read more on later.

That's it. I have a new sketchbook, which pleases me because it's finally something that really fits my needs. I have a newishly regenerated running habit, which also fits. I'm wearing a pair of jeans that fit me, and, perhaps like you, I'm trying to make it all fit — all of it. I'm going for less anxiety, less wishing-to-be-a-changed-person and more aiming-to-be-comfortable-in-my-own-skin.

Oh, and also ... If you have intentions, or thoughts about moving in a certain direction, I'd love to read about them.

So I guess I wrote my intentions after all. Well, it is January 1, and I cannot help myself. I cannot even try.