The Dog Days of Summer


5 August, 2017. We’re at Table Rock Lake again, which makes two weekends in a row. The arrival of August means I’ll be working with a fresh new batch of art students very soon. Meanwhile, we’re busy setting up a second household in Arkansas, not far from the dockside chair where I am currently sitting. In search of a few items with which to outfit the new digs, we’ve been engaged in a favorite pastime: prowling country auctions.

Generally speaking, a country auction means that lots of people mass into a scrum-like crowd, circling the auctioneer. Because you have to jockey for position just to see what is being sold at the moment, I discovered that the best strategies for sketching while waiting for something interesting to come up was two-fold. First, throw out any preconceptions of drawing what you see right this minute and capturing a snapshot moment. Things move way too fast, crowds are in constant motion, and the organization of people and things are in a constant state of change. Instead, I like to think of each sketch as a sort of collage: draw part of one person’s body, then when they move away, wait for an appropriate new person to move into view and use my new model to continue the drawing. By doing this repeatedly, a sketch eventually emerges. I like that this approach also means I can make compositional decisions about who to include and where to place them.

Secondly, don’t try to draw the entire crowd. It’s too much to take in. Sometimes an auction is so big the auctioneers will run two rings. When that happens, the crowd divides and generally one ring has fewer bidders. That was the case in the sketch above – the second ring was going to focus on tools but had only gotten to garden rakes and ladders and such. Few bidders were interested in these items, so the crowd was much more sparse than when the auctioneers go to the more desirable items.

One thing that I found to be an interesting challenge is that everything tends to be a clutter: people are grouped together around piles or rows of what appears to be total crap. Boxes look like trash until someone decides to dig through and “discover” the treasure hidden within. (To be fair, more times than not, there’s no treasure at all. It’s exactly what it looks like: trash.) But, it’s an interesting visual art opportunity to explore space and organization. I had fun working in pencil during my afternoon of bidding, emphasizing the representation of spatial characteristics of people and things.

And although no one said a word to me, I sensed that this was likely the first time anyone in this rural community had ever seen an artist at work. There were certainly more than a few interested folks looking over my shoulder as I scribbled into my sketchbook.

Closer to home, I’ve started looking for locations for my upcoming Kansas City Art Institute graduate workshop, “Crossroads Plein Air.”

I played around a bit with a dip pen and and orange-ish-brown ink on Fabriano paper. I’m totally in love with the loose look of the lines and the sloppy play of watercolor washes!

And just for something different, I stopped on a recent bike ride to make this watercolor sketch, focusing entirely on color and shape.

 

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