Left: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen sketch on a piece of drawing paper, cut out and pasted onto a pre-painted background on a 9 x 12 inch page in a Fabriano Venezia journal. (The drawing paper had a texture and the brush pen cartridge was running out and I didn't have another handy.) Click on the image and view the enlargement.
On December 2 blog reader LizzieBo asked if the dog in that day's post had been pasted down and then painted around, and if so why not paint and then paste? And do I go with the flow or start with an idea?
I wrote one long and two short responses to her and I thought when I finished, "that's a post."
So here are some clarifications and some thoughts because I thought others might share the same questions.
First the pup on December 2 wasn't cut out and pasted. That dog was drawn right on the page with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. However I frequently do draw on sheets or pieces of paper and cut out the drawings and then paste them down. (Just like I did in today's image.)
To explain any of this I have to discuss why I do this. Simply I like to collage with my own drawings. It's something I've always done but I think it got "worse" as I got older, and using Photoshop on most days for work probably didn't help the tendency either because that's often about pasting one of my things on top of another.
Typically during lunch time I'll spend 30 minutes or so pre-painting backgrounds in my journal. Then when I actually go to work in the journal later I'll have a prepainted background with which to contend. These backgrounds are great for painting on with gouache, and it's always a great game for me: what can I do on this page and can I make it work at all?
The journal, as I've said before, is a laboratory for me, a place to work things out. I experiment there, I take notes on how my brain functions, I test materials. But most important of all I take drawings and push them to see what happens, to my drawing, to the visual, to the blend of stuff, to anything that is happening on that page.
Really for no other reason than I want to.
So I may draw on single sheets or pads of paper one day and cut out sketches because I want to collage later, or I may draw directly on a journal's page, just because I feel that's what I want to do at the moment.
For the in-studio journal (which is too large for me to carry around all day) there are some other considerations. These days I often stay up late. Often I forget to bring my journal into the room I'll be reading or sketching in, or even watching TV (I like TV). If I forget my journal, since it sits on a table right next to our bedroom and I don't want to wake Dick up, I'll just draw with whatever is at hand.
Of course you can plan for this somewhat, and I have. I have put paints and brushes and sketchpads and my in-studio journal in this quiet little room where I can make noise after Dick goes to sleep. But sometimes I forget to bring in my regular journal.
There really therefore isn't any rhyme or reason to my approach, except the following:
1. Was my journal handy?
2. Do I want to save a loose sketch (and often I do because I can do fun things with them like collage, so why not)?
3. If I'm going to save the sketch do I want a painted background? If so I typically paint it first (but not always—again it depends on whether or not I can get to the supplies).
Other reasons I might work on loose paper—I want to work with a particular media or a particular pen on a particular paper because I just love the way it feels.
For awhile I was sketching on Nostalgie (a padded paper) a lot and then cutting those sketches out and putting them in my journal. I work on this paper because I love how the PPBP feels on it. But then I couldn't get the paper for a little bit and I was using the Aquash light black ink pen for awhile directly on the Venezia pages (as well as on other papers).
And finally after I got through with the Aquash (which I will still use from time to time, but which I was through testing) I went back to my beloved PPBP and I will sketch on the Venezia pages with this pen simply because I love the feel of that paper—but if I want to feel a different paper I'll sketch on that. It's just whim.
At the end of the day if I feel like there is some painting left in me to do I start a little internal dialogue about what I'm going to practice. (Typically that means dogs, birds, people.) If I want to use the PPBP then I ask myself what paper I want to use. If I am working on a series then I might stick to the pen and paper I was working on initially for that series.
After I've been sketching for awhile I might decide whether or not I want to paint. If I want to play with the movement of the paint but don't want to finish the painting I've started with the pen sketch (i.e., I don't want to cover the pen lines with a full up painting—I have a sense for how long that will take and I do have to get to bed eventually!) then I might simply paint around the pen sketch.
If I were doing this and Dick wasn't asleep I'd go into the studio and collage, but again, I have to walk past the bedroom and I don't want to wake him up so painting around a sketch is a natural substitute.
I need to practice every day. I need to paint every day. The great thing about the journal is I get to decide what type of practice and painting I feel like doing.
It's also a way of working with minimal supplies and approaches, narrowing the choices and therefore focusing my attention in one particular manner.
That's where the internal dialogue comes in. I can direct myself in any fashion, towards anything that catches my curiousity. Since the journal is about practice for me there isn't any angst or anguish about whether or not a page will "turn out." What is important is that I actually did the page and learned something.
I might sketch a dog like the December 2 image and realize I don't want to stay up and paint it to completion. If the paints are right there (and they typically are) I can then I think about background painting.
I ask myself all sorts of questions about which approach I want to take, which colors I might want to use, whether or not I want to work opaquely, and so on. Once I start in on the painting I'll ask myself a whole other set of questions: "how would it look if I did [this]?" and "this" can be any number of things: use this color (and "this" color will typically be something I already have out on my palette at the end of the day), make the wash smooth, make the background rough random strokes, blend in another color, go all the way to the edge of the page, don't reach the page edge, add something to the background when the paint is wet, add something to the background when the paint is dry.
Each decision puts other choices out of the running in a natural progression that happens very quickly. And in the internal dialog with myself I get to decide immediately if I like something and wish to pursue it further on other spreads or in a painting, or whether I want never to do that again! I take notes: notes about my first impressions, notes about how the materials and media interacted, notes about composition, whatever strikes my mind. The dialogue is what pushes me forward in my next practice session.
When I post pages like the dog and today's image I'm posting them so that you can see a bit of my thought process. I want everyone to journal and visual journaling is best served by sketching so it follows that I want everyone to sketch. I also want to encourage people to push and see where something can go—whether it's their drawing ability or their color sense, or their compositional eye. I hope that by showing these pages people who haven't kept a journal before will get a sense that it is OK to fail, and fail big, extract the fun from the moment and the learning, and not mind that they don't have a "finished piece."
Journals teach us how to adapt; they provide a playground for practice; they are a reservoir of serendipity. But to access all that we have to just have at it. I believe that having a bit of a plan is the best way to begin, but then I'm equally committed to the idea that as soon as you discover the plan isn't working you move to another plan, and another, and another. Because it's practice.
Sometimes the motivating principle behind the late night drawings (or the lunch drawings, or the allergist waiting room drawings, or whatever) is as simple as "I want to move the paint around even though I have a migraine or vertigo—what is still possible to do in those circumstances?"
If you keep asking yourself "what is still possible in these circumstances" your brain is going to keep throwing out ideas for you. There is something very luxurious in that. I find that you can have a hell of a lot of fun even in crappy circumstances.
I have also found that if you exercise your brain in this way it is apt to toss out ideas for you in non-art circumstances as well. It's a type of cross training.
There's a line in "Win Win" (a movie I wrote about last week)—the young wrestler explains that when he's pinned the "move" that gets him out is to "do whatever the fuck it takes." (The explanation is more involved, both stark and hopeful in the movie, but that's a quick summary.)
I think we all have to do whatever the fuck it takes to get out from being pinned creatively. For some that might mean staying up an hour later, getting up an hour earlier, sketching through lunch, working with your partner to have uninterrupted time. I read somewhere that Erma Bombeck used to write at the kitchen table after her family was in bed. Whatever it takes.
We all have stuff we have to do everyday. But we also have to find time for ourselves.
The most important thing is that I get more drawing in, I'm still retraining my brain from the conk on the head. It is important that I get to test my adaptation skills, that I get to explore; that I get to push the paint around; that I get to have that dialogue with my brain.