Leveling the Playing Field

19 June, 2016. OK, so I took more than a few liberties sketching at a brew pub. First off, I kept the sketch whimsical and cartoonish because…well, just because. Secondly, this is more of a collage of the people and place than actual reportage – and I’m fine with that. I don’t draw to “report.” In many ways this is kind of a throw back to the earlier days of my career as a designer and illustrator. I’m almost constantly aware of, or seeking out pattern. I usually seek out patterns of light and dark as a compositional tool, whereas in my younger days I would often infuse a sketch, as I’ve done here, with made up patterns and texture just for the sake of liveliness, complexity, and fun.

But that all sounds a bit too much like self analysis, which translates to “boringly useless information.” The locale (which really looks nothing like my drawing) is a favorite of mine. In general, the place comes closer to the spirit of a British pub atmosphere than most other “pubs” in the United States. Here, Stateside, we treat the opportunity to come together for drinks as a means to an end: “Let’s get drunk” or “Let’s hook up.” Not so, this brew pub. Locals gather, bring their family and friends, hoist a glass or two (but never, seemingly, six or eight), enjoy excellent pub fare at meal time. The staff is friendly and the owners actively involved in the day-to-day. Often, cross table or across-the-bar conversation is organically struck up between strangers. This is especially true in my situation. I almost always have my pen and sketchbook out, and that is, apparently, an unusual sight to behold.

The act of sketching is friendly and I notice that it tends to encourage curiosity and inquiry. People rubberneck, look over my shoulder, and politely ask if they may look at the drawing. They politely ask if they are bothering me. (“Not, not at all.”) In fact, these conversation starters are always – and I do mean always – polite.

I really like this aspect. I meet people folks I might otherwise never have. There’s often a general tone of wonder and genuine interest. I almost never get the questions while sketching that I do when painting en plein air: “Do you sell your work? How much? How much? Yikes!” Sketching seems to level the playing field for some reason. Painting, on the other hand, must seem a lot more serious.

If the sketch is tight or representationally accurate, casual viewers often react with unabashed amazement. They know artists exist, but to their knowledge may never have met one of us. And seeing an artist at work (or in my case, at leisure) offers them a glimpse into what they often view as a different world.

I find it amusing that this reaction has never happened when I work in a cartoon-like style. Instead, a viewer might confide that he or she took art classes in high school and “I really need to start drawing again.”

And actually, I rather hope they do.

(Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen in Canson 180 sketchbook; approximately 10 x 7 inches.)


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