Today, the 23rd of February 2022, has been an unreasonably balmy day here in northern New England. Lately we have felt fortunate when the temps made it up to freezing, but today, thanks to insanely strong winds from the south and west, we made it up to 63°F (17°C)! Luckily, I had a mid-day window of freedom, so I loaded up my very small art-kit and headed out for a walk to a park about a mile from my home. It’s a bit hilly between here and there so I had to pause to catch my breath a few times, but even that was a pleasure.
Today was a perfect example of why going for a walk with a sketchbook will change your life.
My first unplanned stop was at a café that serves amazing Greek food, including my all-time favorite, spanakopita. I bought a to-go serving of that, as well as a small coffee, and instead of heading off again, I paused at their high-top café table on their front deck and did this quick sketch.
It’s funny, I used to think any time an artist used the term “quick sketch”, it was really false humility, like they were saying, “Look at what I effortlessly whipped up in no time at all.” Maybe that’s true occasionally, but for me, “quick sketch” now is code for, “Luckily I didn’t give myself enough time to overwork the heck out of it.” The color was added with a water-brush because I wanted to keep it quick, but I knew I wouldn’t settle for that later!
More often than not, I still experience that classic sinking feeling of, “Gee, I look around, and I have no idea what to draw…” The solution is something I think I included in my book, and that is the notion of, ”Draw what drew you.” If nothing comes to mind immediately, I just start to slowly scan my surroundings, and whenever I do a double-take, and glance back, I know something has caught my eye. More often than not, it is a sudden change in value, where a very dark object or area is butted up against a light, bright object. In this case, it was that row of tall evergreens near me, receding into space. Bingo! Worth a try.
Next, I walked along to the park a few more blocks to the west, and after tiptoeing through puddles of muddy melted ice and snow, I found a large wooden box that was housing some sort of controls for either water or lighting and settled in on top of it. There I did the sketch in the upper left of the playground, and the upper right of the stone bridge, leaving the middle of the page open for either words or the next view.
I moved along to my next roosting spot, a granite bench dedicated to a young man who apparently died when he was only 26 years old. I took a moment to thank his family for their thoughtful memorial to their son, and decided to set up my full kit including water container, real paintbrush, palette, and board.
Here’s the kit, which folds down to a mere 7” x 9”, and works perfectly for me, for now. (I think most of us urban sketchers are also closet inventors: we have an unreasonable fascination with creating The Ultimate, Adequate Tiny Kit.)
That below-table-level pill bottle of “well water” has a great advantage over fixing your water container to the top of your board. Any sloshing due to stiff winds or getting jostled still keeps your water fully contained! Yes, this is no time for unintentional sketchbook baptism!
Here’s what I ended up writing at the bottom of this two-page spread, my final moments on the stone bench for today:
“You don’t get a beautiful day like this without gale-force winds as well in the middle of February. I sketched the playground first upper left, then the stone bridge, then finally made it to the Upper Glen— where now I’m having to hold tight to the book as well as my own seat! A gentle man walked by a moment ago with his bike, paused, walked back. Said what a beautiful day it was, then said, “I have a word for you—Hope.” and walked on. There are angels everywhere.”
That sort of interaction just doesn’t happen when you look like you’re concentrating reading a book, or heaven forbid, you’re on your smartphone.
I don’t think I looked lonely at that moment, but after his comment I realized yes, I could always use an extra dash of Hope. Today’s weather was full of Hope. My decision to walk all the way to the park and back was thanks to my hope that I could make it that far (I’m not as spry as I used to be).
When you have hope enough days in a row, it can turn to faith in yourself, your fellow humans, and the world in general. I’m not likely to get that sensation sitting alone at home or hunkered down with my laptop or phone. But give me a piece of paper, a pen, and a place to sit outside, and look out.
Or more accurately, “Look at That!”
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Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.