Paper-free Sketching

[Apologies, I think I have three trains of thought in this post (health, being teachable, and the benefits of perseverance), so bear with me. None of them were willing to wait for later.  Geesh, kids…..]

I went for a walk this morning (despite the wind chill of 18°F), because it was sunny and I am developing a bad case of ‘joint rust’. Not just morning stiffness, yet not as severe as advanced arthritis, something in-between. After surviving two solid months of the bacterial/viral flu/cold that invaded our region this winter, I discovered I no longer had the stamina or muscle that I had back in November. I was writing in my journal this morning, and a sentence poured out of my pen.

“It’s not called ‘MARCH’ for nothing!”

The challenge is on! I plan to take a walk every day in the month of March, and if it is too inclement/cold/icy/yuck outside, I will set my kitchen timer and ‘march’ indoors: in place, or around the apartment, for 30 minutes. It’s only a month, right? I can do most anything for a day, and to do it for a month I just have to do it for a day, over and over again.

I confess, I am a Lifelong Sedentary Person. Not much surprise there, because those of us who love to draw, or paint, or read, or write, often find ourselves sitting on our butts more than we like to admit. It is the easiest habit to acquire, and I am well aware that in the long run it is deadly. I also know I am younger today than I will ever be again, so why not give this “move it or lose it” mindset a try? My goal for the month, and beyond, is to incrementally increase my strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility, all essential to a more comfortable life, no matter how long it is.

But what has this got to do with ‘love of words and watercolor’, as this website’s tagline says?

A great deal really. Because Spring Fever has hit me early this year, and nothing says springtime like getting outside again with my sketchbook and kit. I am chomping at the bit, and here’s why.

I just completed several months of studio time dedicated to creating ‘hang-it-on-the-wall’ art for my upcoming show. My goal for this exhibit was to get comfortable (or at least less terrified of) improvisational watercolor, painting  from my imagination.

In the past my paintings relied heavily on keen powers of observation. Whether on location or in my studio using photos, I began each one with long, leisurely minutes of observation, looking, and looking, and looking again, then beginning with mark-making using either ink or pencil for an under-drawing. It was a great way to sneak up on a painting, even felt like prowling at times! Imagine going from that, to taking a deep breath and starting with a splash!

Here are samples of each style so you can see the difference.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Previous style, begun with a detailed under-drawing

North Country Wetland

Latest style, juicy watercolor free-fall

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working in both styles and admire both in other painters’ work. But I have known for a long time that I was jealous of people who could work very loosely, just letting an impressionistic image evolve on the page with no reference image at all. Some time last year I decided that I would do what had to be done to learn their secrets.

Painting from my imagination (where I must be present to interact with the painting as it appears under my brush) felt like trapeze work without a net—exhilarating and stressful. This scary bit was by far the biggest and best hurdle to get past, as I learned to shrug my shoulders when I had gone too far, thereby ruining a painting I had been quite fond of five minutes prior! It happened often, believe me. Tightrope walk indeed!

I will continue to study and practice improvisational painting on single sheets of paper, but I am equally excited now to get out of my studio (the northwest corner of my living room) and reunite with my long-lost traveling companion: my sketchbook. I am dusting off and fine-tuning my Basic Tool Kit for 2020 (more about that next week.) For now, I want to tell you more about a priceless tool that you can make yourself, for free, that will save your life. A bit of oversell? I think not.

Use it to sketch, use it to meditate, use it to return to this very precious moment. That magical tool is: The Viewfinder.

While looking through a viewfinder, I actually transition from pedestrian to artist. I could do this with my smartphone’s camera too of course, but there is something delightfully rebellious about simply using an index card taped inside the back cover of my sketchbook. I get to stay in ‘analog mode’. With a viewfinder, no one ever mistakes me for a photographer, not even me. I am in artist mode.

And if you use it long enough, it becomes a part of you.

I have used a viewfinder for so long that I now can ‘look through a viewfinder’ when I don’t even have one with me. It’s effortless, a part of how I experience life. As I walk downtown, every step of the way I am observing the cloud formations, the colors in them, and how fast they are moving. Subconsciously I am selecting the center of interest, deciding where to place it in the composition, and smiling because I just created a completed work of heart/art without lifting a finger.

The truly amazing thing is that these sketching-by-just-looking moments deliver a feeling of restoration similar to having had a brief nap, the same feeling that comes from an actual sketching session. ‘Sketching with your eyes’ can be momentary relief from the chaos in your head, those mental traffic-jams that can be so bothersome.

Be Here Now. Great advice from Ram Das and other saints throughout the ages. But how? Here’s the secret, and it is so simple.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, open your eyes, and whatever is before you, simply say, “Look at that!”

It can be the best antidepressant in the world. I recommend it highly, with or without pencil and paper.

About Bobbie Herron

I sit here in my loft studio, surrounded by watercolor brushes and paints, fountain pens, sketchbooks, journals- wanting more than anything to write and paint at the same time. I am the fourth generation of journal-keeping women, starting in 1862, and I have read their words and between their lines. This blog was inevitable: thoughts on the unsung glory of women whose lives were recorded and transformed through their writing and art.
This entry was posted in Art-Making, Cafe Wisdom, Life Insights, My Story, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Storytelling, Urban Sketching, Watercolor and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Paper-free Sketching

  1. Sandra Ray says:

    Two of my favorites of your work! View finder example good idea. Really illustrates how well it narrows the focus and eliminates the extraneous.Such a cool tool.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maggie Butler says:

    A lovely idea even for us non-artists! I will use it too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dana Burrell says:

    Oh my goodness… look at that sky! I want to live in your imaginary world, it’s magical.

    And I’m also a viewfinder fan. I always have one of the commercially available ViewCatchers in my purse… never know when I may need it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. madpainter01 says:

    this is a great idea . thanks for motivating me to make one today , instead of keep putting it off !

    Liked by 1 person

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