Sleep on it.

(Number eight in a series of ten ideas I have about sketching.)

26 January, 2019. Last night I finally visited a jazz bar that opened about a year ago. It is, quite literally, down the hill from my house and I offer no excuses for having waited so long – especially considering that the atmosphere is convivial and the jazz trio, A La Mode, was excellent.

As usual, I had a sketchbook and pen with me. The only seats were two large, comfortable leather armchairs right in front…it’s like they had save the two best seats in hopes of a sketcher showing up, and we gladly claimed them as our own. The show was good, and so was the subject matter. The stars seemed to be in alignment – so why was I feeling so uncertain about my sketches?

Sitting comfortably, pen in hand, and with what I perceived to be dozens of fellow patrons immediately behind me, looking over my shoulder to check out the art dude, my scribbles just felt crude and uninspired. Proportions were wonky. Nothing jumped off the page. No magic was there.

I do this to myself sometimes. Often enough, a sketch comes together effortlessly. When that doesn’t happen, I question myself, my choice of tools, my subject matter – everything. Maybe I’ll wind up overworking things or maybe I’ll be filled with self doubt. Flop sweat.

Regardless, I kept at it – scribbling and enjoying the music. And after an hour or so, I closed my book, paid the tab, and drove home. Once there, I opened up my sketchbook to see what I had captured: Mostly gestural sketches. Frankly, I was disappointed with the sketches and with myself. Even more frankly, I went to bed feeling like they were nothing more than warmups, and that my warmups were a train wreck.

This morning I find I’m actually pleased with some of them. I like the bass player so much that I am debating doing a much larger second version on a full sheet of watercolor paper using a big sloppy brush and India ink… but how is this possible? Last night everything seemed to have no potential whatsoever. This morning, those same sketches somehow evolved.

I think we get too close to what we’re doing sometimes. We become judgmental about our work, our style, our choices. And when that happens we don’t always give ourselves – or our ideas – a chance to gestate. We don’t give ourselves a chance to see what it is that we actually drew.

So the idea I’m sharing today is quite simple to state, but incredibly difficult to actually do: Don’t judge.

At least not now.

Sleep on it before you reach any conclusions about your work. Put a little time and distance between yourself and your drawing. Too often and too easily, we allow self doubt to morph into self reflection, and nothing productive can come from that. Examine your sketches and your practices critically, but always with a fresh pair of eyes.

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Gesture

9 December, 2018. Gesture sketching is fun, fast, and immediate. They work or they suck. Period. When they work, things feel great. Lines just seem to lay down on the page in exactly the right way, exactly the right place. 

And when they don’t work… well, those pages never see the light of day ever again.

I think gesture sketches are a way of learning, of studying the world around you. They’re a kind of shorthand.


Music, pretty much everywhere

7 December, 2018. The trumpet player is one in a quartet of jazz musicians. He’s heavyset and lounging in his chair; I worry that it’s going to break because it seems to bend under his weight and audibly creaks when he rocks back and forth. He leads the group with a version of Saint Louis Blues and while no one would mistake his horn playing for Louis Armstrong there’s something else. When he sings, his voice sounds a lot like Pops. 

Our server asks if she can show him my sketch and I nod. When the band breaks, he grabs a plate of food and comes over to chat. “Ah, an artist,” he says. I pat him on the arm and correct him: “No, there are two artists here,” nodding at him. He grins and waddles off, horn in hand to play another set.

If you’re not in New Orleans to listen to jazz, you’re missing out. It’s everywhere. At breakfast in a French Quarter place called Buffa’s, a group of elderly musicians are jamming. The trumpet and trombone players are both women, and their horns are smoking as they hammer out standard after standard, filling every bridge with improvisational solos.

It’s not unusual to encounter street musicians or small marching bands or just some guy sitting in an empty area playing his horn, presumably to warm up his chops. In Louis Armstrong Park, a lone trombonist is pacing behind a cluster of buildings, wailing away as he tried out different variations.

Banjos are so much a part of the Bluegrass music scene that it’s easy to forget they are also solidly at home in traditional jazz.

Musicians lean back or lean over and get completely lost in their sounds. They are the very essence of cool.

And on the street, waiting for a customer, the shoe shine man is singing Scat.

Tour de Jazz KC

21 August, 2016. I realize it’s been a while since I last updated this site. This is largely because I literally haven’t made a single sketch in a couple of weeks. School is starting back up and I’m getting things prepared for my students so that they can be hitting the ground drawing.

I remedied that situation yesterday though. I participated in a charity bike ride with a live music theme, the inaugural Tour de Jazz KC. Each of the rest stops along the way had live music provided by local jazz musicians and session artists. And man, they could jam!

Because I was a rider in the event, my stops were brief and my sketches were just as brief. I scribbled a few pencil marks on paper and made a couple of iPhone photos for reference. Then headed down the road to the next SAG stop, usually another ten miles or so along the route.

This afternoon, I threw the windows open in my studio to enjoy a wonderfully pleasant day. I pulled out my pencil sketches and my pens and began to rework things on Strathmore Aquarius II paper.

Not everyone I saw was a musician. This guy just seemed to embody the entire jazz “thing” with his attitude and jaunty angle of his derby.

(Lamy Safari medium nib fountain pen with watercolor washes; American Jazz Museum and forty-some-odd miles of roads issuing forth from that location in and around Kansas City, Missouri.)