2 July, 2015. The best part of being a teacher is that June and July are travel months. The world is a great big place and I enjoy the opportunity to get out and see it, meet and chat with different people, to embrace new perspectives – and to ponder these new vistas in my sketchbook. This June we explored the regions of Alsace and Bourgogne in France, by foot and on two wheels. I filled many, many pages and will be sharing them in three segments: “People,” “Place,” and “The Direct Experience.” I begin today with “People.”
Digging into the “gallery work” of my past one will find that I focused on figural subject matter rather than a more specific genre of, say, landscape or still life or portraiture. I find myself less attracted to likenesses than I am in body language or physical expression. There’s an inherent honesty that appeals to me in finding a way to express character rather than in what often comes off as caricature. Not to put myself on the same plane as Kathe Kollwitz or Richard Diebenkorn or Marc Chagall but those are attributes that resonate for me in their work.
“Gallery” work is less and less important to me, and over time I’ve found myself retreating further into the rows of sketchbooks that line a couple of bookshelves. While it is true that sometimes I find a “type” comes through, I’m more interested in communicating the energy or entropy, the lassitude or élan of a person when I begin to draw them. Capturing a believable gesture communicates dynamism.
Every now and then I’ll work up sketches using a graphite stick and holder, as in the example below. It’s an easy tool tool to carry and doesn’t carry the threat of leakage, nor does one wear black smudges upon one’s hands all the livelong day as tends to happen when carrying and sketching with a pen. But sketchbook pages rub together as I bustle about a place and there is a loss of line as the drawings smudge under such duress. I also find myself worrying over details I never would bother about with a pen.
I treat my sketchbook like a sort of visual journal, often scribbling down notes or impressions that are only remotely relevant to the drawing I make on that spread.
It’s often by necessity that I wind up catching someone in a moment of stasis. Movement means your subject is fleeting and unless one is practiced in very short gesture sketches, one is entirely at the mercy of one’s rather faulty memory to make a believable drawing happen!
This is why many of my people sketches are of folks in what I refer to as the “significant pause.” It’s the moment just before or after the energy, in contemplation or on the brink of motion.
Outdoor cafes are wonderful places to sit and sketch, and enjoy a glass of wine, a cool breeze, and the surreptitious glances of fellow diners and wait staff who are universally curious to see what one is drawing!
I find that a good way to practice is to forgive oneself the necessity of rendering detail and to work with very small gestural sketches. The people in the sketch below are, perhaps, an inch or less in size. No more than fifteen seconds was devoted to any single figure. What’s very nice about this is that it tends to develop one’s ability to lay down confident looking lines. The drawings are insignificant and quick, so if one makes a mistake – no problem. Start another page or start another corner. Just keep the pen moving.