10 Tips on how to keep an illustrated travel sketchbook on the road, even if you “can’t draw” (Part 1)

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A basket of apples in Basque country. The stamps are the the same ones used for Camino “passports.”

In 2014, I decided I wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago and keep a travel journal. Only problem was, I disliked sketching.  I knew what a travel journal SHOULD look like…

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Photo altered and text added with apps
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Storks nesting on top of Spanish church. Photo altered and text added with apps.

Never in a million years could I keep an sketchbook like the ones above– the ones full of architectural detail and castles with swans floating on them, with notes in a perfect calligraphy.

I’m an abstract painter.   I like big, sketching is small. I like color, and sketching is black and white.  I like huge ideas, and sketching is detailed.  I don’t even like reality that much, so why would I want to draw it?

I am not an expert sketcher, so please take my advice with more than a few grains of salt. But I was lucky.  I ended up keeping an illustrated travel journal that has brought me and others pleasure over the years.  As I walked the Camino, this scratchy, amateur sketchbook got me free food, wine and rooms, acted as a thank-you note, and bailed me out of trouble a few times. It got worn and dirty occasionally, as I did.  It also let me keep “secrets of the Camino” that eventually became painting and printmaking series, though I didn’t know it at the time.  And I normally didn’t draw from photos, drawing what was in front of me instead. I wasn’t a purist about it, but I wanted to draw my moment, adding memories of the day and figments of my imagination.

Tip #1: Practice before you go

Yes, you non-drawer, you do have to practice a little. Why would you suddenly start doing something on a trip when you don’t ever do  in everyday life? Everyone can draw and paint. You did as a kid.  So get a kid drawing book that shows you how to make firemen and hot wheels and dinosaurs, or get Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory, or a book on anime or doodling.  Take a course from a local sketching expert like Susan Cornelis if you can, or find your branch of Urban Sketchers.  Find the size kind of sketchbook you feel comfortable with– but with blank pages. Do not use a fancy sketchbook that makes you feel like you have already screwed it up just by looking at it.  It should feel friendly! Make stick figures or cartoons. Spill ink and paint on it. Don’t get too serious.  Draw your Starbucks.  Don’t show anyone.  Take an online course from Sketchbook Skool. Do this for a few weeks to a few months before you go.

Full disclosure: here are notebook pages done as practice before I left for Spain.

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Snow globe and sticky note. I was teaching Moby Dick and Macbeth at the time

 

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Another in the sticky note series. I should do that series again!

 

Tip #2: Use your words and your little scraps of things. Use what you got.

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A plate of paella with cutout collage scallop shell.

Use your words and the paper travel media which you collect, cut into pieces. Stick on train tickets.  Get places to rubber stamp your notebook, then draw later.  The key to an illustrated travel journal is words plus images done NOW, not later.  You can’t plan what the pages will look like in advance, but you can enter the moment and use everything in front of you.  Don’t be a purist and don’t try to have each page make sense.  That is your perfectionism speaking, and it will stop your daily travel journaling like an anvil dropping on the head of Wile E. Coyote .  I did this page with a plate of paella in front of me, looking at a Roman arch hung with hats.  Even if you did only collage and crayons and words, no drawing at all, it might be more amazing than you could imagine when you started.

Tip #3: Do it daily and do it anywhere.

 

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The Cafe Moderno, established 1912. Fountain lady and urn.

I did this one waiting at a fountain for it to be time to see a movie at night. Please do not wait to do your travel journal page for the day.   It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece.  This page had a healing quality for me, as I was stuck in this town as my foot mended from a minor– but threatening to become major– blister infection.   I did work on the train and in cafes.  I am not a dedicated urban sketcher, braving snow and balancing on stools.  These pages do not capture a “thing,”; they address time, space and emotion.  They are not as good if you wait for the “right” scene or right place to draw or even a better idea.  Do it now, with your crummy view and the mediocre idea in front of you.  “If you’re not with the one you  love, love the one you’re with.”

Part 2 and Part 3 of these ideas will be continued in the next two posts.  You can read my Camino blog here.

Upcoming Events

Sunday, November 4, 2018 10:00 AM,  Lecture/Slideshow for SketchKon Art Convention,Westin Hotel Pasadena, Pasadena, CA . “Inner Reportage:” How a Lousy Sketcher and Lazy Hiker Drew an Illustrated Travel Journal on the Camino de Santiago Pilgrim Way.”

Saturday, November 17, 2018, 5-9:30 PM-  SOFA Winterblast. SOFA Arts District on South A Street, Santa Rosa, CA.  This locally-famous free art and street festival includes a parade with decorated couches.  Follow updates on Facebook.  This year, Saltworkstudio will feature work by Tim Haworth as well as my paintings.

First Friday, December 7, 2018, 5-8 PM, Ring the Bells, an informal holiday event. Backstreet Gallery, SOFA Arts District, South A Street, Santa Rosa. Bring your own chimes and bells to ring as you walk through winter studios to enjoy hot cider and live music. The artist Karina Nishi Marcus will have work on display as my guest.

 

Crawling under the earth, leaning into the wind

I saw “Leaning into the Wind” with Andy Goldsworthy yesterday.  In my mind it was superimposed upon my current obsession with Paleolithic art and signs.  Goldsworthy seemed to me to be a shamanic figure, making lines and markets upon the earth with clay and rocks, like our unimaginably distant ancestors.  Who were us.

He climbed into trees a lot; this could have a relationship to the practice of “climbing the world tree,” one of the ways the ancients visualized entering the spirit world.  His body was part of the art.  It’s also interesting to me that the few colors he did use, from leaves, petals, or perhaps natural earth pigments, were deep yellow and red.   The use of ochre, often heated to produce an even more striking red color, is the first evidence of differentiated color preference in early humans.  Goldsworthy spent a lot of time breaking stones, which reminded me of our first tools, the chipped stone hand axes.  He made grave-like stone sleeping hollows and tomb-like tunnels.

Red ochre was used to make signs, dots and forms in the deepest, smallest passages, some of them hardly more than animal burrows.  I am reading “The First Signs” by Genevieve von Petzinger.  She has spent years crawling through dripping, muddy, claustrophobic passages recording abstract graphic forms.  Mud was everywhere in Leaning Into the Wind, along with streaming walls, slick pavements and goopy clay mixed with human hair.

The movie’s soundtrack is as compelling and hypnotic as the film.   Goldsworthy talks transparently about his own evolution as an artist.  For some people,  preferring the Goldsworthy of sixteen years ago in Rivers and Tides, it might prove more of a “Dylan goes electric” letdown.  I found it trance-like and moving.  Have you ever had one of those dreams where you work hard in your dream all night and wake up tired?  The film produces an effect like that.  Recommended.  Currently at the Summerfield, at 3:45 only.

 

Metaphoracards: Creativity Meets Intuition

How do you get that authentic, intuitive creativity going?  When I’m stuck, I make a Metaphoracard.

Metaphoracards, Suzanne Edminster, Saltworkstudio
A sample of the Metaphoracards I’ve made over the years. You can too!

It’s not news that small collages can unleash a big creative flow.  The Surrealists used collage as an alternate language.  Austin Kleon recommends collage, even little messy ones like the Metaphoracards, for coming unstuck.  Maybe even especially the little messy ones, the imperfect ones, the ones that will never see the inside of a gallery.

Suzanne Edminster Metaphoracard Camp Winnarainbow (14)
Cow who would be Queen

Laura Foster Corben and I invented Metaphoracards as a play activity for Wavy Gravy’s Camp Winnarainbow Adult Camp.  We would take the cards the group made and tell fortunes with them.  We wanted to stay out of the territory of the serious, archetypal, and therapeutic, and instead encourage play.   But even before that I made series of small collages one summer with my friend David Short.  In looking through them, I don’t know now which of us made them– but we had a grand time.

Suzanne Edminster Metaphoracard Camp Winnarainbow (2)
Folly Pups

 

Collage is communal.  It’s trashy and it violates rules because it rips and tears stuff.  It releases energy, especially when it is done for itself alone, with no desire to show it publicly.   It’s totally stealing images, and so it is mercurial and a bit sleazy.  I never show my Metaphoracards in public because someone else– many others, in fact– made the individual images I stole.

Suzanne Edminster Metaphoracard Camp Winnarainbow (16)
A favorite. Strong Man

Collage also invites synchronicity and magic.  Austin Kleon writes about how artists cultivate messiness, precisely so that the unexpected can appear.    I have begun to think that even collecting images in advance to use later “kills” them, because they no longer exist in the moment.

Amuse Grove Camp Winnarainbow 2012
Instead of the Muse Grove, the Amuse Grove.

How are Metaphoracards different than other forms of small collage?  Well, we paint first. Getting your own hand and colors on the surface first claims it much better than a glossy cutout background, no matter how beautiful.  And it’s so much better if it IS a we, a group, because image finding is best done communally, through a large, messy pile. There are also no words and no suits.  With Metaphoracards, you’re always playing with a full deck!

If done randomly enough— which is no easy thing– the cards catch a message to deliver both to the maker, and to the group around it.  It’s like they are little nets that catch a fragment of the zeitgeist of the present.

And, by the way, they blow dynamite into any creative blockages you might have.  I like to make them at the start of the year, to mystify myself.  I love to try to figure out what the heck they mean.  And they endure as a source of pleasure for many years to come.

You don’t need to take a class to make them, but I’ll be doing a Metaphoracard Class on Saturday, February 24.  In the meantime, why not try a random collage with stuff on hand around you?  The little spark that is creative intuition will flare up.  You’ll see.

And if you can interpret any of the card photos here, let me know! Happy Valentine’s Day!  Remember making our own valentines in the old days?  These are like Valentines from the collective unconscious.

Have fun,   Suzanne

The Cherubim Experiments and Winterblast

Cherubim 1, Suzanne Edminster

I’m doing experimental mark making and painting.  I start with automatic writing on each surface with drawing tools: conte, graphite, China marker, charcoal, oil pastel.  Then I white or obliterate areas of the writing or painting.  I follow ideas as they arise.  From automatic writing I get ideas and phrases.  An example: “History seeks to remember the mantra.”

I am fascinated with the process of making “sense” of random marks, images, words, and events.   The creativity lies not so much in the painting process as in the slow excavation of meaning out of fields of chance.

As I worked on this series of 3 20″ x 20″ paper pieces, the word “Cherubim” appeared to me.  Originally lions and bulls with wings, they “devolved” into Valentine Cherubs.  Cherubim guard the Tree of Life.   Cherubim guard The Big Chair, that is, God’s Throne:  Chair-u-bim. It seems that floating forms, surreal automatism, and a bit of religious icon are melding in this series.

Experiments are risky.  That’s why they call it “risk taking” and not “sure thing making.”  Below you can see one in progress.  I know they are done when a certain internal narrative about them crystallizes like rock candy in my mind. The point of “finishing” is in my psyche,  not in the painting itself.

Process painting in the Cherubinm series
Process painting in the Cherubim series

I think the real old-style Cherubim would be terrifying, more like wheels of UFO flame or hybrid winged lions, yet we know that sometimes monsters guard the gates we must enter as artists. I go forward with some trust in the process. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, friends.

Suzanne

If you’re in Northern California this Saturday, November 14, come to Winterblast, the best homemade holiday EVER.  I’ll be there with the studio doors open… if I’m not dancing in the street.

Winterblast 2015!
Winterblast 2015!

Big Magic and Big-I Imagination

Suzanne Edminster

Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic on a background of paintings by Suzanne Edminster
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on a background of
paintings by Suzanne Edminster

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, is the latest in a tidal wave of creativity books, and a very fine one.  I believe it will be the go-to creativity guide for the next decade. It was only in the last twenty years that bookstores developed sections devoted to creativity in the written or visual arts.   For many years it was just If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland , Art and Fear by David Bayles,  or The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.   And you never knew what section to find them in the bookstore; they were obscure.  Gilbert’s  message is not new. In fact it is ancient, but is desperately needed today.  Why are we dealing with an erosion in the basic knowledge of how imagination and creativity work?  Is creativity among our endangered species?  Why is a book on creativity a best seller, besides the fact that Gilbert writes like an angel, or a daimon? Anyway, Big Magic was in my bag during my recent open studios.  Interesting that its cover is abstract art.  Hey, I make that stuff.

Over Underworld, Suzanne Edminster
Over Underworld, Suzanne Edminster

I approve of Big Magic and its exploration of Big-I Imagination.  I first learned the tenets of Imagination that Gilbert espouses through studying the Romantic Poets with poet Diane di Prima.  The primacy of Imagination was stressed; the world be damned, and often was. David Meltzer taught gematria and the concepts word-as-creator, letter as energy, word itself creating the universe, for good or creepiness…. go Golem!

Letters create Golem- check out his forehead
Letters create Golem- check out his forehead

I’ve always been lucky with teachers; I was taught about Blake’s Spiritual Sensation. The line was drawn deeply in the existential sand. Imagination is more important than reality.  It creates reality, in fact.  Ideas exist independently of us. The Big-I Imaginations fly, walk, swim, or lump about all on their own, shedding light and shadow, ambrosia and dung.

Blake said Imagination is Spiritual Sensation
Blake said Imagination is Spiritual Sensation

Diane di Prima also taught Western Magical tradition and guided visualization to students back in the 1980s, long before the vogue, as part of her own rich creative resources.  In Big Magic, Gilbert quotes her friend and mine, Caroline Casey: “Better a trickster than a martyr be.”    And Gilbert has the right idea on gods, spirits, angels, archetypes: they are both real and unreal, terribly important and trivial at the same time. Her approach is positive and full of stubborn gladness and a durable mysticism.  I think it is the creativity book for our time, just as The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron touched a nerve in the 1980s. Cameron’s book was based on an archetype of wounding, addiction, and a 12-step style reclamation of damaged creative impulse.  I prefer Gilbert’s straight-ahead optimism and humor.

Here’s what I loved in the book:  The return of the notion of the individual creative daimon or genius. We each have a little whiz-bang spirit assigned to us at birth to guide or goad us.  Ideas have lives independent of us.  Court them, invite them, respect them, don’t ignore them too long. If you lack inspiration, curiosity and showing up are enough. Permission– Bob Burridge’s permission slips for painting, for example. The right kind of entitlement.  Her own experience with the Day Job: no shame,  keep it as long as you need to. Your art is not actually your “baby.”  You can’t dissect, discard, neglect, or chop up a real baby. You can’t ignore it in garages or sell it.

Bob Burridge's Permission Slip
Bob Burridge’s Permission Slip

She’s so funny! How to speak to your inner critic: “It’s best to be insistent, but affable.  Repeat yourself, but don’t get shrill.  Speak to your darkest and most  negative interior voices the way a hostage negotiator speaks to a violent psychopath: calmly, but firmly.”

And when you’re in a lull– as I am right now, exhausted from open studios and down with a cold– she writes, “Any motion whatsover beats intertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion. Make something.  Do something.  Do anything.”    And some sort of inspiration has visited… the next step in narrative abstraction, the next series, maybe called “Themis.”  Or not. Or maybe some silly illustrated journaling or un-sellable Metaphoracards. But something, something, to give a little pinch of snuff or spice or something stronger to my daimon.

In Sonoma County, one person in ten describes themselves as some kind of artist.  For each one of those, there may be a hundred who want to be. In the meantime, we swim in a polluted ocean of information and mind-waste created by nameless others.  (I have just read the excellent novel The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.  The book postulates a nightmarish culture where we all must hear everyone’s thoughts, all the time, a decent metaphor for the interweb. Fortunately, in his book, men are more susceptible than women to this infection.)We have become greedy gluttons of instant, fragmented nano-art rather than makers of a modest, enlivening, everyday creation. Everyone wants to be an artist.  Gilbert’s Big Magic could help.

Suzanne– and thanks to the talented Adrian Mendoza for the portrait

Suzanne at Art Trails 2015. Photo: Adrian Mendoz
Suzanne at Art Trails 2015. Photo: Adrian Mendoza

A Trace of Gold

 

A Trace of Gold series at La Crema Tasting Room
A Trace of Gold series at La Crema Tasting Room
Selfie with "Phaistos"
Selfie with “Phaistos”

It’s been a summer full of road trips, but my newest show, “A Trace of Gold” is staying put, on view at La Crema tasting room in Healdsburg through September 2015. It has been great to have such an elegant space to display them.  I’m told that tasting room patrons have a few glasses of the outstanding Pinot Noir , then take each other’s photos in front of them. Larger scale paintings– these are four foot by five– take you into totally new spaces.  You enter the particular alternate universe of that painting in a way different from other work.  The broken gold metal leaf catches the light, even in near-darkness.   I painted these to try to catch something both fragile and eternal, like our lives.

Over Underworld at La Crema
Over Underworld at La Crema
Suzanne Edminster, The Phaistos, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 48 x 60
Suzanne Edminster, The Phaistos, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 48 x 60

Right now I’m writing from Mendocino, artful and artsy, charming and  pretentious.  I’m staying for a night in a watertower art studio– more on that in my next post. This is my third road trip of the summer.  Not to stretch the metaphor too much, but larger work is really a bit like travel that takes you into odd worlds.  It’s the closest we have to time and space travel through wormholes.  The brush is your vehicle, jalopy or spaceship.   Now I really have stretched that metaphor to the breaking point.  Next post will be the real road trips.  Don’t disembark yet.

Lucid Art Foundation: Critique as Mentorship

Suzanne Edminster

It’s easy to make fun of abstract artists. You only have to watch some TV to see the cultural perspective on abstraction.  In sitcoms, Hal from Malcolm in the Middle throws so much paint on a canvas in his garage that the whole painted surface crumbles off in a paint avalanche.

Hal as abstract artist
Hal as abstract artist

In Grace and Frankie, a recent Netflix sitcom, space cadet  Frankie (Lily Tomlin)  paints two dots on a canvas and stares at those two dots for three days, stuck. (This fictional studio led Tomlin’s co-star Jane Fonda into trying painting and ceramics.)  And in Mad Men, Don buys a painting, under pressure, and sits wondering what it is and whether he’s been conned.  (This painting  was created by my friend Karina Nishi Marcus.)

blog mad men painting

No one really can tell you what abstraction is.  You’re doing this passionate, ridiculous, solitary, incomprehensible, contemplative, snake-oil-salesman of a job.  Who can advise you?  Where can you go for professional critique or discourse outside an MFA program?

This Saturday I loaded up my ancient truck with 4 paintings, all large, two new and two older.  I had been accepted as a participant in an ongoing seminar sponsored by the Lucid Art Foundation.  The seminar was held at The Dance Palace at Point Reyes Station,  a renovated church in an idyllic setting.  It’s not a painting seminar:  it’s critique provided by professor and painter Jeremy Morgan.

Morgan verbally examines and critiques your paintings.  I found it more of a mentoring process.  Much of the critique is devoted to sources and origins, or possible artists to research that might have resonate with your own style.  In this way the critique widens its viewpoint  from the art at hand to encompass an expanse of history and connections.  His examination leads not so much back into the paintings as outward from  them into the next possibilities.  My critique took about 35 minutes. Three people were critiqued in the three hour segment.

All participants were handed index cards to write their own notes or observations for the painter.  At the end of the critique, these cards were handed to the artist.   This allows the whole group to participate, but not interrupt the critique.   Some of my cards are shown below, but it was really the critique from Jeremy that felt like a light shining into my process.  I felt my art had been seen.  And looking at others’ art for a long stretch of time felt both intense and satisfying.  We so seldom spend more than a half an hour just being with a painting, unless you’re the one painting it.

Comments on my work from other artists at the seminar
Comments on my work from other artists at the seminar

This reminded me of my arts education in poetry.   I studied in the New College of California Poetics program with poets Diane di Prima, David Meltzer,  and Robert Duncan (partner of the artist Jess), and others.  The poets chose NOT to teach in a creative writing format.  Instead, the classes were devoted to examination of poets and their root sources.  It was assumed that if you were a writer, you would write, independent of a program.  Instead they wanted to offer the heart of their practices, their source material: myth, Kabbalah, deconstruction, archaic history, visual arts, Hermeticism, alchemy, other poets, natural history.   These were the only treasure they could bring us; the rest was up to us.  Poetry is the most abstract of the written arts.  In a strange way,  this odd education equipped me to enter the wilderness of  non-objective painting.

Robert Duncan and Jess
Robert Duncan and Jess

 

Point Reyes Station is idyllic.  I went with Nishi.  Before the class we hit a bookstore and  went cheese tasting at the Cowgirl Creamery, where I bought Red Hawk and membrillo, which I had not tasted since Spain.  The day was beautiful.  The town borders lagoons, meadows, riparian forests, and everything is walkable.  At sunset, eating sandwiches in front of the view, we both said that Turner would have been right at home, notebook out, getting that Claude Lorrain smudge of eucalyptus on the windy horizon.

Point Reyes Station Barn
Point Reyes Station Barn

Find more information on the Lucid Art seminar with Jeremy Morgan.

The Goose Game: Painting by Chance

Suzanne Edminster

I decided to compose two large abstract paintings for The Goose Game series using rolls of the dice and the old European board game, the Goose Game.  I’d let chance dictate the process.

DSCN0855

 

I used notebook pages and wrote either thematic or painterly elements in a list , randomly numbering them 2 to 12 to correspond with dice rolls.

You can see it’s a real mix: all the way from “use neocolors” to “holy spirit.” This way of working does have a lineage. John Cage used the I Ching to compose music, notably “Music of Changes”, including the notorious Roaring Silence segment. I found out about this during the eighties in New College, San Francisco, where a teacher, either Robert Duncan or Duncan McNaughton, friends of poet and musician Lou Harrison, who apparently also used the I Ching to compose, brought it up in class. Less known is that John Cage also used it to compose prints, monoprints and lithographs, during the seventies, at the end of his life.

john cage two

 

The best article on this I’ve found on John Cage and his use of the I Ching  is on S J Marshall’s fine site, Calling Crane in the Shade.  For painting,  I found the process beautifully meditative.  Quiet and slow, it let each element unfold by itself until I was done with it, with little anxiety or the press of “I could do this, I could change that.” Most important, it gave comfort to be rid of the tumult of “What should I do?”

It was calming and centering to give away the control to a larger element, as I did when I was walking the Camino de Santiago.  The Goose Game is an ancient European board game that has many metaphors for pilgrimage, which is why I chose it. This all sounds so odd.  I find it interesting that abstract composers and artists are drawn to chance in creation.  Something larger moves through us.

I’ll be happy to share more about my process at the opening of The Goose Game, Friday May 1st, 2015, 5-8 PM, in the Backstreet Gallery.  I’m located down Art Alley in SOFA Santa Rosa.  I’ll give an artist talk at 7 PM.  You can play the Goose Game if you visit.

Suzanne Edminster, Wind Over Water, The Goose Game Series.  Acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 45 x 60.
Suzanne Edminster, Wind Over Water, The Goose Game Series. Acrylic and gold metal leaf on canvas, 45 x 60.

 

Foolish Sketching and Big Nature

fools gathering

Fools flocked and chattered in Occidental, California on Saturday April 4 for a traditional Fools celebration.  Susan Cornelis, Carole Flaherty and I went out to sketch from life.  The subjects were moving and in crowds, for me the toughest kind of sketchbook challenge.

 

Carole Flaherty sketching
Carole Flaherty sketching

Susan and Carole have been participating in Bay Area Urban Sketchers Sketchcrawls.  Carole had a lovely setup with her self-designed travel watercolor set and everything clipped and attached to a small drawing board.  Susan loaned me her tiny Pocket Palette to try.  I’m terrible at this kind of sketching, so it was good to do it on a Foolish day when everything was allowed.  This sort of sketching from life takes plein air to a new level.  It is meditative and process-oriented. My style tends to be more of an illustrated journal, with writing and collage.  I kept a sketchbook through Spain, and at other times,  but am entirely untutored in the finer points of more realistic rendering, and am hoping to improve.

 

Fears of Sketching

I might as well make a checklist of my sketching fears, and get them out of the way as soon as possible.  On Saturday I accomplished all of them.

  1. Fear of doing a really lousy sketch.  Check.  Around 5 times.
  2. Fear of doing a really lousy sketch while others sketching are doing better ones.  Check.
  3. Fear of just not being up to the task— moving figurative subjects.  Check.
  4. Fear of messing up pages in a bound notebook.  They will always be there as flubs. Check.
  5. Fear that if I share the messy process of learning, I will be seen as less accomplished in my painting.   Check.

I was happy to have some of my sketching doctors give me a critique, over Prosecco and prosciutto at the Underwood in Graton.  Here are some of Susan’s sketches from the day.  My Rx:  mechanical pencil, slower more continuous lines in ink, some media suggestions.  (I’m hearing that a new-to-me brush pen favorite is the Pentel.)  I’m taking an online sketching class from Marc Taro Holmes which is really excellent.  There is a new wave of arts education and it lives online.  What if we all came to art school with many skills and techniques, and the ways and means, spiritual and practical, of living as an artist were taught by generous, seasoned masters?

I want to sketch people in life, not in a figure class.  I think my best sketches recently were done in DMVs.  It took me 3 tries to get a replacement for the license which was lost or stolen.  Learning to sketch is a metaphor for letting a new identity emerge.  And it’s not always comfortable.

Big Old Nature

fools blog redwoods

My artist friend Laura Foster Corben and I went into a grove of coastal old-growth redwoods on a misty, rainy day.  It used to have the worlds tallest tree at around 380 feet.  Now taller trees have been measured, but these seem tall enough to me. I was struck by the primitive nature of these trees.  Inverting the black and white lets me see the almost palm-like form of these titans in Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve.

A sunburst or natural altar of giant roots.
A sunburst or natural altar of giant roots.

fools standing stone ring

The eerie magic of the giant redwood forest puts those sketching fears in their proper, tiny place.

 

Turner at the Getty Center, Sketching, and Other L.A. Adventures

Suzanne Edminster

Some days are generous, magnanimous in their gifts of beauty.  We spent last Sunday in Los Angeles at the Getty Center for the amazing show of Turners on loan from the Tate,  Painting Set Free.  The sweep, majesty, and freedom of expression in this exhibit was exhilarating. No photos were allowed, but we did do a little portrait by a poster, below.

Suzanne in front of Turner poster

Turner goats
Turner goats

The exhibit was an entire education in painting. I was surprised to find many late Turners with overtly mythical themes. I was more used to seeing Turner as a sort of visual journalist:  the steam train, the fire, the storm, and so on. The allegorical paintings were fantasies constructed from elements of his imagination rather than “real” landscapes, closer to Claude Lorrain’s beautiful, improbable visions, and often were linked to lines of epic poetry he was reading.  Because they weren’t “real,” you could see how he played with  his favorite elements….. the black smudge tree, a centrifugal swirl,  the blue rectangle mountain. The landscape was never literal and the gods very subtle;  the Zeus and Europa painting had no bull and barely a maiden. It’s no news that Turner, when unrestrained, condensed many motifs down to a beautiful abstraction.

We both enjoyed the Sample Studies,watercolors he did as prototypes for larger pieces to be painted for patrons to order.  You’d choose the one you liked best and he’d do it on up for you.

A Turner Sample Study, Watercolor
A Turner Sample Study, Watercolor

 

Any painting could grow and change organically at any point. At times he submitted extremely rough paintings to the Academy and literally finished them on Varnishing Day. I enjoyed details I  had never seen before: his animals, the characteristic smudge of a foreground tree, a focal point exactly at the center of composition. The whole effect of Turner after Turner was breathtaking. We gawked like the flamingos we had seen at the Los Angeles Zoo the day before.
LA zoo flamingo gallery goers

The Getty Center has a Sketching Room where, in the manner of old, one can copy masterpieces. You’re provided with a drawing bench, a board, and materials. I wish they had more variety, but I chose The Allegory of Magnaminity by Giordano. People wandered in. It seems the general museum public is shocked and amazed at the actual making of a sketch in a museum by normal people. There were 10 drawing stations and they were all full. We sketchers became the exhibit!

Giordano Painting I copied
Giordano Painting I copied

I used the conte and charcoal, then watercolor from my travel kit.

Suzanne Edminster, sketch at Getty Center
Suzanne Edminster, sketch at Getty Center

We ended up at the Armand Hammer Museum of UCLA. It’s an often-missed contemporary art museum that was a knockout. Nestled in Westwood, it has an intimate feeling. Both museums were free, another treat. Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989 was an interesting conceptual show. We were lucky enough to catch the artist in person giving a talk. In my own words, his work is based on playing with and revealing various systems of interpreting visual information. The data that comprised “tree” could be translated by assigning numerical or other values into a grid, a musical notation, or a graph. All of our perceptions are based on a sensory translation of information. He makes his alternate translation visible.

Charles gaines 3
The cultural wildlife was varied: allegorical lions, Turner goats, grid trees, and real flamingos. Only in L.A.!
LA Getty Suz portrait