Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Get Drawing - Five Tips to Break Sketcher’s Block

Action expresses priorities - Mahatma Gandhi

In my youth I used to draw and especially as a landscape architecture student I filled many sketchbooks.   As the responsibilities mounted over the years in both my private and working life I steadily drew less, both for myself and on the job.  Last year I had an urge to get back to drawing, however it took a few months between buying a sketchbook and using it.  It’s hard to describe the sense ‘fear’ or frustration associated with marking a piece of  paper, even when in control of who else may see the results.  

Often this hesitancy to get going is a sense of dissatisfaction with the results and frustration with technical abilities.  One of the best ways to improve is to take a class or join a life drawing group and draw for several hours a week.  Like most other skills it’s all about practice and of course, there are many technical aspects that can be learned faster through lessons than on your own.  I didn’t do that, but have managed to exceed my personal goal of doing three sketches a week over the last 9 months.  Here are five actions that helped me overcome my self-imposed obstacles and have provided a great deal of satisfaction, self expression and fun.
              1.Take a sketchbook on your next trip
This doesn’t even have to be a long or exotic trip.  I think being out of your regular routine is the key and doing several sketches a day even for 3 days is enough to sense progress.  That sense of improvement, even if you are not yet satisfied with the results is energizing.  I think we have all experienced the satisfaction that results from improving a skill.  Not only is a travel sketchbook one of the best souvenirs possible, it is a good way to break the inertia.  Set a goal upon returning home to sketch a certain number of times per week to keep some momentum once you are back into your normal routine.  These don’t have to be elaborate full drawings.  A sketch may be very simple gesture and need not fill the page.  The subway, coffee shop or view out your office window at break all offer subjects. Just like learning an instrument, frequent practice is more productive than fewer, long sessions.

  2.    Postcards
Postcards fit nicely with a trip, but they are also good because they are small.  At first I found this frustrating as I couldn’t cram in much detail.  Then it dawned on me that the small format was forcing me to edit and convey only the most important aspects of the subject.  Not only that, they are quick to do.  On a trip last summer I often did one or two while waiting for food at an outdoor cafĂ©.  Don't worry about feeling self-conciuous drawing in a public place - no one notices.  

You can buy stiff watercolor postcards in your art supply house, or to achieve the same objectives and portability, try a 5” x 7” pocket sketchbook.

3.        Add colour, notes or scraps
When I refer to drawing I mean line work, which may or may not include colour, as opposed to a painting which relies on volumes of colour without delineation.  There is no need to colour everything or even use more than one colour.  Remember there are no”rules”, you decide what suits, or what you have time and patience to include. The addition of even one colour pulls a very vague line drawing together visually.  In kindergarten they teach you colour inside the lines - at University I learned to go over the lines.   An interesting technique to create an informal and dynamic composition is to lay on some colour before drawing. Some people add notes or glue in tickets and the like which can get a bit scrap-booky, but does contribute to the sense spontaneity and unique character.

4.       Study Other People’s Work
There are many terrific books, but what really caught my imagination last year was the Urban Sketchers blog.  The motto is “see the world, one drawing at a time” and that’s accurate.  There is a wide range of styles and skill levels.  What I started to appreciate is that many of my favourite contributors had developed styles that were not necessarily accurate, but certainly evocative while conveying a representation of the subject.  Aside from learning by observing, new drawings are posted every day.  This has sustained my interest and I have become a member of this ‘virtual’ group.  Urban Sketcher’s drawings are normally accompanied by a brief narrative, which adds another dimension and over time you get a sense of the author's life and interests.  The other on-line resource is Flickr which was envisioned for photographs but a large community of artists who contribute has also emerged.

5.       Blog
Starting a blog was a big commitment, but has been instrumental in my meeting my goal of sketching a minimum of three times per week.  I feel a responsibility to make regular postings and have been surprised by how interesting I have found the technical side and reports of visits.  I’ve had hits from over 30 countries.  This international audience aspect has lead me to profile some of the unique aspects of our northern lifestyle which is almost  journalistic.

The ancillary benefit was learning how to scan and set up a blog, as I'm not very technically oriented.  It wasn’t that difficult.  Now I’m working on a web site and recycling the sketches to  print a custom book. (Check out iphoto books or Blurb, this technology is very affordable and fun – but that’s grist for another article.)

In the early months I was dissatisfied with my work.  Recently I had a look back over my postings  and found that  I’m kinder in my judgment of the work all these months later.  I might have destroyed some of the work in  a fit of frustration, but time lends perspective and I’m glad I used hard cover bound sketchbooks.  This practice of drawing has been gratifying and is taking me somewhere artistically.   I’m starting to get ideas for larger works such as paintings and recently bought some linocutting supplies.  The adventure continues.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Keogan Cabin

Keogan Cabin is one of the largest in the Park which is a good thing as it is also one of the most accessible.  For years it was my nightime destination as my son, Alec, was downhill training at Camp Fortune.  I do downhill ski, but its much warmer cross-country skiing out of the wind in the woods on a cold, dark night and Keogans always made for a good little jaunt while Alec ran gates.

On Sunday the conditions were superb.  Bright sunshine and around - 8C.  The trails were full of people , many with young children on skis, or in polks (sleds). My wax was right and I think my technique, such as it is, is returning as I had a terrific and fast visit here and along the Fortune Parkway.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

McInstry Cabin

McIntstry Cabin is near the end of the Ridge Road trail - the shortest access is 10 1/2 km.s from he Meech Lake parking lot.  Last Saturday was warm, which is a problem because its difficult to wax for.  With the hilly nature of the terrain my friend Robin and I were rewaxing every couple of kilometres as the downhill runs scraped even the sticky red wax off our skis.

The cabin is large and has a sunken "pit" around the wood stove.  This is the one cabin in the park which seems to have been purpose built for skiers.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Redpath Museum

The Redpath Museum is located on the McGill University campus in downtown Montreal.  It's a real old time museum - dinosaur skeletons, stuffed animals, and cases full of artifacts from all over the world.   Exactly what modern museum display has moved away from, but charming, in a Victorian curio collection, sort of way.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Renaud Cabin

Renaud is one of the cabins accessed from the Lac Philippe entrance to the park.  It is different from the other cabins in that it is in an open field with an apple tree and lilacs hinting at a former farmstead.  Once again I saw a whole flock of blue jays raiding the bird feeder, which is unusual as normally I've only seen blue jays in pairs.  
Close by there is a campsite with a three-sided log shelter.  I can just imagine telling ghost stories to a group of young adventurers by the light of lanterns in this structure and then having to escort them one by one to the outhouse before bedtime.

Drawing "without a net"

I'm trying to relax and just sketch without first blocking in with pencil.  Hard to explain why this is unnerving, especially as I would like to loosen up my style.

I've been keeping a sketch book with me through the day and if I have a few minutes, lay down some ink.  The other day I was early for a meeting and poked my head into the garage behind the client's offices and sketched this lonely, out of work sidewalk plow.

A Grey Day

I may have put more colour in this sketch than was actaully present given the grey conditions.  Hard for some to imagine, but I'm upset by the warm temperatures and melting snow.  I much prefer crakin' cold weather and bright sunny skies.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Forest Nobility

The forest around Lac Philippe is upland deciduous, not the white pine dominated association of the Ottawa valley.  Two of my favourite species hang onto their leaves well into the winter - American Beech and Red Oak.  I regard these as noble trees as they become magnificent large specimens, are slower growing and yield denser wood than many of the other species in the forest.   I particularly love the smooth beech trunks.

The leaves slowly blow off through the winter and often become lodged in the ski tracks, which can be a problem on mild days as the sticky grip wax stalls or picks up bits of leaves.  This was not a problem last weekend as it was a 'blue wax' day which is very hard and allowed me to glide over these vestiges of summer.

The beech leaves are like thin parchment while the oak leaves are leathery and tough.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Lusk Cabin

This weekend I headed up to Lac Philippe at the north end of the Park.  It was -18 C and while my skis were slow with the cold it wasn't uncomfortable with dry air and no wind.  Lusk Cabin is small but has six bunks and can be rented for the night.  I was in early and probably stayed for an hour.  It was nice to not be rushed.  The cabin overlooks Lusk Lake and is not far from the caves, which I'll have to return to another day.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Chilly Chalet

Until 20 or 30 years ago this cabin was rented out. I recall a lovely older couple with European accents who spent weekends there and stocked the birdfeeder, when I first visited the park in the 1970's.  In the 1940's Sheila Thomson's father rented the cabin for the use of Sheila and a group of girl friends.  It was not in the state of repair that it is today and the girls were not very adept at getting it's old wood stove working.  Their nickname for the cabin became the 'Chilly Chalet'....which morphed into another colloquialism 'Shilly Shally'.  My sketch of the outside.

<a href="">My sketch of the outside. </a>

There is a clip of Sheilla recalling the Chilly Chalet in the Gatineau Guide website.