That’s pretty much what sketching felt like today.
I was gently focused on what I was drawing and at some point I thought, “Yeah, I think I’m done.” ( I wish you could hear how I enunciated that ‘yeah’—it was more like ‘yehhhhh-aaaaaah”—it had about four syllables.)
When I finished, I took a photo of the painting, and took another of what I’d been looking at, and it really did feel like waking up, like coming out of a trance. If you do it right, it is also a mood lift.
“You said ‘Do it right’—is that a technique? I collect techniques!”
You wish! No, it is not a technique, it is a change of eyeglasses, a whole new perspective.
‘Doing it right’ is giving yourself the same space, the same elbow room, that any musician has when they practice a riff or they simply practice scales in different keys, over and over, mindlessly. They are working on hand coordination and muscle memory, building up those really tiny muscles in our hands that otherwise don’t get used. Practicing musical scales is mindless, you just do it. And if your sketching skill is ever going to improve, you have to think less, and ‘cut down a lot more trees’ by sketching, all the time. (Here is a post that actually shows you the artist’s version of “practicing scales.”)
It’s the opposite of what you think:
You are aiming for Quantity, not Quality. Isn’t that a relief!
As a beginner you simply can’t afford to be invested in the results of your time spent sketching. Later on, you also shouldn’t be too invested in the results. The good news is that for some odd reason (wink wink), the results will improve on their own.
So sketch often, but not long
Try not to work on a single sketch for any longer than 30 minutes. This is for two reasons.
- One, you’ll have less chance of overworking it.
- Two, personal rust. If you lose all track of time, you might also lose your ability to stand! Honestly, at my age, when I get really into it, I forget to move and I have trouble unwrapping my crooked sitting position when I’m done. I forfeit any semblance of grace in trying to stand up again. So remember: move!
Today I had an errand to run (a reason to go outdoors), and it was a beautiful cool/warm day, so I donned appropriate clothing, visor cap, sunglasses, my face mask, and ventured out with my brand new, never-before-used art-kit: the one I didn’t need, the one that initially gave me buyer’s remorse, and yes, the one that I now love with a passion.
The main new item in my kit is the canvas organizer itself, from the wonderful Maria Coryell-Martin at Expeditionary Art in Port Townsend, Washington. Let me walk you through everything.
The Art-ToolKit: I recently bought only the empty version of the large canvas kit because I have a huge stash of supplies already (I have many other tools previously bought from Maria). Expeditionary Art also offers the two sizes in fully ‘kitted out’ versions as well. The canvas is high quality, rugged, well-constructed, and I know it will stand up well with respectful use.
Sketchbook: I prefer to use a nice 5″x8″ (A5) size sketchbook (like the beige one shown here, details at the end of this blog) instead of anything smaller. It gives me a place to rest the heel of my hand, and a place to attach a palette if I like.
in the above photo, from left to right are:
2 watercolor pencils, grey and brown
1 regular drawing pencil and eraser
1 Pocket Mister to moisten the paint as well as pre-mist the paper for large washes
(My sketchbook is tucked in the big pocket underneath)
On the right side, from top to bottom:
3 little clips to keep my pages secure in the wind
a refill syringe, (needle-free!), helpful to refill my water-brush from my water-bottle
a Pilot G-2 gel pen
a round travel brush, about size 10
little bits of scrap watercolor paper for notes and color testing
In the large pocket underneath the right side I have:
my collapsible water cup
my wrist sock for wiping off my brush as I paint
my 2 Palettes from Expeditionary Art: Pocket and Demi size (the ‘larger’ Pocket Palette is exactly the size of a business card holder- amazing!)
From ‘Bag’ to ‘ToolKit’
Truth be told, before today I simply carried most of these same supplies loose in a 7”x12” canvas zipper bag which I then rubber-banded to whatever sketchbook I was using at the time. It worked perfectly well, except for breaking pencil leads by mistake, fumbling looking for things, dropping some of them, and the bag occasionally spilling out entirely. Also, it was easy to forget and leave something behind, because there were no designated ‘empty spots’ crying out, “What about me??” (Like the time I was psyched to watercolor, and the only thing I forgot was a paintbrush…)
The old canvas zipper bag worked fine, but not fine enough. Because the #1 obstacle to creating an enjoyable sketching habit is…
Another name for Lousy Momentum is “Giddy-Up-Whoa Syndrome.” Imagine you have a real itch to go outside and sketch but, um, which palette? Which sketchbook? Do I even want to bother with color, or should I just take a pen and paper? Which pen? Aw, forget it, there’s another Miss Marple series on Britbox I haven’t finished watching yet…maybe I’ll go outside tomorrow.
The magic moment is lost.
Not so with a really good artkit, especially one with designated slots for all your favorite tools. (I can’t help but picture all the garage workshop walls that have the ghost-outlines of every hammer, wrench, and screwdriver spray-painted on the pegboard. You instantly know what is missing!)
When I organized my kit, I first decided I wanted the two tools that stay filled with water (the water brush and the mister) stored vertically so leaks are less likely–that’s why they are on the left. (See photo above.) Notice that my Mister has lime-green tape wrapped around the cap, making that precious piece of clear plastic harder to lose! After that, I added everything according to instinct. I may switch out one pen for another, one pencil for another, but the Pen Slot and the Pencil Slot will probably remain in the same places. I have used my Art-Toolkit only once, but I was pleased that I was up and running surprisingly fast, instead of fumbling around wasting time making decisions. A palpable difference.
The best part of having a kit all set to go is, well, that you actually go.
You get out of the house on a whim and really put your kit through its paces. You might decide you need little changes, so you jot yourself a note on one of those little scraps of paper that reads, “Replace this water-brush, it is clogged!” or “Add a pan of buff titanium.” These are things you could never figure out at home; you figure it out on site, en plein air, on the go.
Finally, the only thing better than a sketchbook is an illustrated journal.
I enjoy doing the drawing/painting first, then on the facing page I ponder in writing. I ask myself, what worked and what was difficult? What surprised me? I have a chat with the sketch I just completed, and we compare notes. That way I am left with a story that captures more than just a picture, more than just a collection of words. It becomes a time-travel recording, available anytime, anywhere, right at my fingertips.
So here’s your challenge:
If you are already a Facebook user, consider joining my Facebook group, Drawing Attention NH. It is open to anyone pursuing this life-changing humble habit. Check it out, and after you join, I hope you will become a frequent contributor to the ongoing conversation.
As always, let me know how you got on.