I went for a walk this morning (despite the wind chill of 18°F), because it was sunny and I am eager. 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 with (or at least less terrified of) improvisational watercolor, painting from my imagination.
In the past my paintings relied heavily on keen 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.
For years I was jealous of artists who worked very loosely, from their imagination. They each seemd to have an innate faith that an ‘image-offering’ would emerge on the page every time, just waiting to be coaxed into focus by a loving and skilled hand. 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. Welcome to Paper-Free Sketching!
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!”