RozWorks.com Visit my website to view journal selections, paintings, and book arts projects. For the most recent information on classes and workshops please click on "Classes" in the categories list of this blog.
Second "Design Recharge" Interview: April 1, 2015 In this second interview with Diane Gibbs at "Design Recharge" we focus on International Fake Journal Month. If you're wondering just what that is, I give a great description of it, and why you might want to participate. Also check out our earlier interview (below on this list) if you want more information about how I approach visual journaling.
First "Design Recharge" Interview: February 12, 2015 Diane Gibbs of Design Recharge interviewed me for International Fake Journal Month (2015). We get a little side tracked and talk a lot about sketching, visual journaling, and my creative process. It's a great interview.
Danny Gregory and I Discuss Visual Journaling Sadly a two part podcast from May 2008 made with Danny Gregory, author of "An Illustrated Life," is not currently available. We talked about journaling, art media, and materials…If this becomes available again in the future I will let you know.
Finding Bits of Time Ricë Freeman-Zachery, author of "Creative Time and Space," talks to me about finding time to be creative. (Taped October 23, 2009.)
Above: A quick (less than 5 minute) sketch of Dick (he was ready to go to bed and tired), with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in the Flex Book journal I'll review soon. (I wanted to take it to life-drawing co-op before I wrote my review.) Read below for more details. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
My free sketching time has been rather short lately. I just started a new session of my Drawing Practice class. (I'll teach another one in 2017 if you are interested but the current class closed January 29.) On days when I can't get out and about to sketch, Dick has been obliging me by siting on the couch in the TV room.
On this page spread I had masking tape on the left page, forming a rectangle. As I drew the drawing got larger than intended and I really wanted to include the ear—so I ripped up the taped on the right side of the rectangle and the base.
Then I kept sketching off onto the right-hand page, leaving a wad of masking tape stuck, out of the way, on my shoulder.
With the sketch finished Dick went off to bed and I put down the orange Montana Marker color (with a 15 mm tipped marker). But I didn't rip up the rest of the tape and I didn't want to finish up his head, so I put down two patterns of washi tape over the masking tape, and then used a blue Montana Marker (another 15 mm tipped one) to lay in light blue strokes of color.
I put that same marker color on my finger tip and colored the irises of his eyes.
And then I went to bed too.
So even though I had been interacting with students all day I got a little bit of sketching in between bedtime and that was satisfying.
Also as you can see from the mess, I was having a lot of fun.
Above: Pentel fine-tipped pigment ink brush pen on Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper; background pre-painted with acrylics, rubberstamp ink, and washi tape. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Two weeks ago I went into serious beard drawing withdrawal.
Things have been crazy here. I've had weird computer problems and several long visits from the computer tech. He's great, but he usually comes in the mornings and that means I miss my bike ride. Then I'm grumpy all day, well I have to try not to be grumpy all day because that would be childish, right!?
I missed some very cool mornings, and yesterday the weather turned very warm.
I was surprised Sunday morning, when it was already 75 at 8:30 a.m., that I had one of the speediest rides ever. I got to my turnaround point and looked at the bike computer and couldn't believe it. I decided there must be a malfunction, but it had recorded the right mileage. It was hot and windy and I hate hot and windy.
At my next split I was still ahead of my usual time. I had to stop myself from flagging other people down and asking them to ride next to me so I could check my computer against theirs! (As if they would have!) I ended with a negative split and the fastest ride since the really cold days of spring when I was riding on adrenaline, just happy to be outside again.
And then the whole day went to you know what—but I had that ride. In the heat and wind.
But back to things being crazy here (though this bike ride in the heat is weird enough) I haven't had any time to draw beards! (OR scan images!)
So a couple weeks ago I stayed up late to remedy that. (Some actor whose name I don't know, on an Amazon show I will not be watching. I'm already erasing it from my brain. But I took a moment to stipple a 5 o'clock shadow.)
It was unfortunate that the nose ended up exactly on one of the dark spots, but that's what can happen if you want to sketch on textured backgrounds.
I actually made that comment to Dick and he grumbled something about not understanding why I have to draw on textures anyway…He doesn't understand how much fun it is. And how I usually don't even see the texture.
That we disagree isn't weird at all. So something is normal.
And yes, the text is all blocked out for privacy because "I got up this morning" is the only non-weird thing that happened that day. It's been a long-haul of crazy.
Above: Pentel brush pen sketch (pigment and dye based inks together) over acrylic background on Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media paper (7.75 x 9.75 inch softcover journal). See the detail image below. There you can clearly see the tape and the green paper. Click on either image to see an enlargement of that image.
I have developed a bad habit of casting the second eye I add to a sketch higher than it should be. I did that the other day when I did this sketch of actor Jean Reno. I liked the drawing, except for that, so I grabbed a piece of paper I use for my loose sheet journals—it happened to be green. I taped it over the eye that was too high. I used washi tape that had dots on it. I painted a bit of acrylic Montana Marker over the tape. I think the washi tape sticks better when I do that, but I suspect all these sketches will fall apart in a couple years.
Then I redrew the eye, and closed the book.
I like this solution. I get to fix things a little bit, and still go to bed before it gets too late!
I have been having a lot of fun finding ways to sketch the scruffy beard the actor wears as police detective "Jo."
Above: Page spread from the smaller (8.5 x 11 inches or so) Japanese Lined Journal that I actually cased in. Pentel pigmented ColorBrush with fine tip and color with Montana Marker, 15 mm tip. Lately I've found myself liking the negative space so much that sometimes I can't bring myself to write anything. It's an excuse to stay up late drawing sketch after sketch until the writing demands to come out. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I am blessed with friends who really get me, from Linda who is one of the three people in the world who actually isn't annoyed by my constant reading of signs when traveling by car, and once in response to her dad's inquiry on whether we wanted to borrow his books on tape for our road trip replied, "Don't need them, I've got Roz,"* to Tom who shares with me the belief that the most fun we can have is experimenting in the studio playing with light and pushing everything with the computer.
The other day my friend Diane came over. I hadn't seen her in quite some time because I'd been "hibernating" with the bronchial crud.
I got out some recent work to show her and when I opened the small Japanese Lined Journal that I had cased in (they come with paper covers and I thought—"shoot that's just a textblock") she cocked her head at the sound as I opened the book and immediately touched the pages, all bubbled and warped out of true because of my use of mixed media.
"This is lovely how this has happened, and the sound, when you turn the pages…," she said, almost reverentially.
And I replied, "Yes, I love it so much. Sometimes I hold the book waiting to think what to draw and I stroke the pages so they crackle."
I did just that at that moment.
And we both just nodded.
We need to always be on the look out for such friends, and to nurture them when we find them.
And even when the rest of the world might think that you have gone off the rails with your latest experiments and "direction," they know how to look, absorb, reflect on the past, and hold the faith that you are going to get somewhere new and fabulous regardless of the current mess; confident that we're up to returning the favor.
__________ *I do have to add that Linda was referring at that point about my ability to hold up any end of the conversation that was tossed me, not the reading of roadside signs.
Below: And sometimes I am so tired when I finish sketching that I have had so many conversations in my mind as I sketch, that I write something that is sure to be ambiguous even to me in a couple weeks time…or not? These pages are like the found dialog I catch when sitting in public places and sketch and listen in. Only here I am listening in on my own brain and catching only a phrase now and then. Same journal as opening image, later spread. After I colored in the background I added a bunch of washi tape because "why not" and painted over it as well. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
found dialog, friendship, Japanese Lined Journals, journaling, listening in on my brain, mixed media, Montana Markers, paper bubbling, paper feel, paper noise, Pentel Brush Pens, visual journaling, writing in visual journals
Left: A really large piecemeal style painting—4 sheets of 8.5 x 11 inch paper, so it's 17 inches wide and 22 inches tall. I saw someone with an interesting head and ear negative space and then I started sketching it from memory directly with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I couldn't remember the odd sweater he had on so I turned it into a clown sweater. With Montana Marker (light blue and orange), stenciling with metallic rubberstamp ink, and pink-patterned washi tape on cream Fabriano Tiziano. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
My piecemeal style sketches are getting larger and larger. I used to collage them into my journals, but now, images like today's, have grown so large that isn't possible.
I'm still having a lot of fun with them. If you would like to read more about "Piecemeal Style" please click on that category in the category cloud in the left column.
Basically these are drawings I start on a single sheet of paper (that sheet can be of any size). When my drawing runs off the edge of that sheet I add additional sheets as needed with washi tape. I like the decorative patterns of the tape. I also like painting over the tape.
Today's image had to be scanned in 4 parts and put together in Photoshop. The man's skintone is the color of the paper that was used.
After I had scanned the image I put it back together by gluing it to 5-ply mat board. Then I gave it a trim on the edges.
I did this sketch when we were in the middle of the wasp infestation. Twenty-two to thirty-five wasps a day were invading the studio and other areas of our home—I had to work on the floor in a distant room of the house. It makes me happy when I look at it because I know sketching this, adding the blue and orange, and then stenciling the floral pattern on the sweater, saved my sanity.
We haven't had a wasp for a week today and my fingers are crossed that the fourth trip by the exterminator took care of them all. But I really don't trust the house. I am still on hyper alert. I still clear every room that I enter by doing a walk through and visual scan before sitting down to work. I am still alert to any movement in the room. Every little twitch of tape or crackle of paper or shifting and settling noise I hear captures my attention. I worry that when we turn the furnace on the heat will revitalize any wasps remaining—but for two nights I've been able to return to my bed!
Above: This is the way I doodle. Sketch a figure. Then sketch something on the next page (here a chicken head, because I need to practice chickens for the MN State Fair), then try to link the two together and because nothing jumped to mind, put the figure on a box as if he's practicing public speaking, and then let an idea pop into my head and have fun labeling the box. In this case when I was working on the chicken I really pushed all sorts of levels, not to get a cohesive image of a chicken, but to try different things for when I go to the fair. I sketched (from a 2012 Fair photo) with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Then I added layers of gouache. Then I ended up using a fine tipped white gell pen for some of the lines. See the detail below. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
For the past couple months I've been working in Japanese Lined Notebooks with paper that definitely isn't supposed to take wet media—but I've been using wet media on it and having a ball. For the background in the image that opens this post I begain by covering the page with random strokes of orange, raspberry, and pink Montana Markers (acrylic paint). When that was dry I used some red rubber stamp ink from a re-inker to make some random smears on the verso (left) page of the spread. I also stamped some word stamps on the far left and on the right (top right and far right), though a lot of that was obscured by what came later. I stuck down washi tape, painted over the washi tape, and then rubbed some green rubber stamp ink on both spreads. I also did some stenciling on both pages (most notably behind Charlie's head on the verso page). The pre-painted pages stayed empty for a couple days until I started sketching. For the order of the sketches and my emerging idea read the caption above.
Left: A photograph of a portion of the prepainted page spread before I did any sketching on it at all. It's a photograph so the color isn't as correct as that shown in the scan. This is the bottom of the left-hand page. Click on an image to view an enlargement.
In the detail of the prepainted page before I sketched on the spread you can see the pearlescent ink which appears throughout the spread. It's visible in the first detail photo because I shot the photo at an angle.
Above: A detail of the Rooster's head so that you can see some of the different things I was trying. At "A" you can see thin white PEN lines over the layers of gouache. At "B" you can see small squiggles and dots also made with the white gel pen over the gouache. Elsewhere the white is all gouache, including the strokes at "C" and the dots leading up from that to the right, where the pen dots begin. For the strokes at "C" I took a filbert, pressed the water out of it, dipped the tips of brush's hairs into moist paint (not wet paint), pressed the hairs of the brush between my thumb and index finger so that the ends spread out and then stroked in the lines. I like this type of line more than the white gel pen line, but I wanted to see if the gel pen saved me any time. It actually didn't. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
For me the journal provides a great space for working out visual vocabularly—how do I want to attempt to handle striated feather patterns? Are the options I try too labor intensive for the conditions I'll be sketching under? Are the options visually appealing? How can I best show small detail, such as skin texture on the comb—do I need to avoid it (as too fussy or time consuming in the conditions I'm working in); is it fun to get fussy; how and I going to deal with issues of available light and paint drying time; can I apply enough gouache in the time frame I'm considering to make it a useable approach; and which pigments do I want to be sure to bring along?
After thinking about all those things and doing a bit of a dry run I hope to come up with a plan of attack to use at the Minnesota State Fair.
The reality is that even with a plan of attack I may just toss all the planning aside and go in a totally different direction. But I always find that evey second of this type of pre-planning and doodling makes me comfortable to toss planning aside when I'm at the Fair.
Page spreads like this also allow me to judge whether or not the paper I'm working on is a suitable paper for mixed media. I have to say that the notepaper I was working on here is actually amazingly versatile.
I don't know yet what type of journal I'll take to the Minnesota State Fair or which pens I'll take. I'll probably take a palette with pans of gouache—since the gouache brands I use Schmincke and M. Graham) both rewet well and make lovely light washes so it's like getting two paints in one.
I know I won't be taking these Japanese Lined Notebooks to the Fair because they are too floppy. While they have sewn signatures and open flat, the covers are soft and the large size would be difficult to hold open in the crowd jostled confines of the MN State Fair barns.
I hope to be able to go multiple times to the Fair this year, so I may try multiple approaches. I also know I hope to video tape people sketching at the 6th Annual Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out so that we can have a fun record of the two-day event.
The planning phase is all part of the excitement of the Fair for me.
I hope you're making your own plans for the Fair. But even if you can't get to the Minnesota State Fair this year, or any fair near you, I hope you're working out modes of attack in your visual journal.
Note: The 6th Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out will be held on Saturday, August 23, AND Tuesday, August 26. More details to follow shortly.
Above: Still working in that Japanese Lined Notebook with mixed media. This was a prepainted page begun with pink and orange Montana Marker, then I stenciled with a raspberry pink Montana Marker, rubberstamped in places, placed some Washi tape here and there, covered the tape with more orange marker (which also helped to knock back the stridency of the black floral tape), and started sketching with the fine-tipped pigmented black Pentel Brush Pen. I was working from a mugshot and from a 19th century photo (I collect these). When I sketched the face on the left page there wasn't enough orange paint over the Washi tape so the ink wouldn't stick to the page at the top of his hairline. I finished my sketch and then tore a strip of translucent decorative paper to cover the problem area. I drew over that paper to restate those lines. I deliberately left the head off the body on the right page because I wanted to focus on the clothing. I used the brush pen to sketch and then used Schmincke gouache to paint. I left the paints unpainted because I really loved that portion of the background. Sometimes I can't make myself cover backgrounds up. It's rare, but it happens. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
We all go through our days mostly self-absorbed. Even if we are working to help someone else we are still self-absorbed to the point of keeping track of our to do list so that we can be effective helpers. This is just part of being human (though too much self-absorbtion, like too much chocolate, is bad).
Then when we decide to suddenly zig left when all around us expect us to zag right there can be a little bit of discomfort all around. And sometimes even some hard feelings.
We still have to zig and zag as our conscience dictates.
But what is interesting to me is that people do change. And in that change, come to accept some of our actions, or some of the paths we took, which they might not have understood at first, or cared for at all.
When Dick came into the studio while I was painting the headless guy on the left side of today's image, he stopped and said something complimentary. I was so shocked that I don't even recall his exact words (which is rare for me).
Dick actually liked this spread. And why is that so surprising? Well for years Dick was used to me working realistically with maybe some washes of color and a little bit of tone-on-tone texture. But mostly what he saw when he came into the studio was something very realistic, and often funny or sarcastic.
Since the 1990s he's come in and seen whackier and whackier stuff. All with more and more overblown backgrounds.
A couple things happened to make me zig instead of zag.
1. Hand wear and tear—I couldn't do the realistic stipple sketches I'd done for years. Pouncing your hand up and down like a piston for hours on end is hard work—try it.
2. Eye wear and tear—my vision changed for a couple reasons, only one of which was age. Through all these eye adjustments and new glasses and additional adjustments I started working looser and looser.
3. The need for speed—sometimes at the end of the day I just want to get something in my journal and if the journal page already has a very active background all I have to do is complete a 3 minute sketch (like that man's face above) and bingo bango I feel pretty darn productive. It's just a little game I play with myself.
4. My increasing love of paper which extended itself to washi tape. (I know, I know, just shake your head. ACK ACK.)
5. A seemingly growing need on my part to set myself more and more "difficult" (i.e., fun) "problems" to solve (or not solve, I'm not fussy if things don't work out) in my visual journal—just so I can see "what if." And because of that we end up with mixed media pages like today's example.
6. Which is really part of item 5 and item 3 above—the desire to experience the wonderful sense of well-being I get from items 3 and 5 when exercised on a daily basis.
Do I still do tight ink sketches or graphite sketches? Sometimes, if I feel like it. I rarely feel like it. I remind myself that the approaches I'm exploring are "for now" and I know they will change in the future.
That's something else the journal can remind us of—we're in the now, now, and things can change in the future, but let's stay in the now, for now.
For instance, there is no getting back to the vision I had at 23. Even Dr. Bob, wizard that he is, accepts not only my need to see things crisply, but his own need to work within the limits of "science facts"! Together we deal with the Now.
We have a story in the family: years ago Dick's 90-year-old grandmother went to the eye doctor (Dr. Bob's older practice partner, now long retired) and said, "Dr. Shapiro, will the cataract surgery make my vision 20/20 again?" Without pausing a beat Dr. Shapiro replied, "Hattie, nothing on you will ever be 20/20 again."
That's something we all have to remember as people, but also as artists as physical changes dictate artistic changes.
Throughout my life, because I have always kept a journal, I've been aware of the changes that I've gone through. In fact I've used the journal as a tool to enact some changes, to shift my focus, to improve certain skills. So change doesn't surprise me.
But Dick was so adamantly against the textured and prepainted backgrounds I've used that it took me by surprise he should be so clear in his excitement about this piece I was working on.
And that's when I realized that people can change, not just me, because I've watched myself change over time, but other folks too. It's been like this long-term lab experiment with Dick and now he's finally seen something in these prepainted backgrounds and my approach to them that he likes.
I just plain wore him down.
Who knows what he thinks of all the flat pink backgrounds I've been filling up behind portraits and other sketches on the pages of these Japanese Lined Notebooks, or the drawings I've been doing from imagination—He hasn't walked into the studio and given them his seal of approval.
But the busy backgrounds with the textures and tones, yep I wore him down.
Perhaps it's the discussions we have had in the past several years when he asks me why I did something in one of my paintings. Perhaps my joy in the materials is infectious. Who knows.
I just know that change is possible. He now accepts and likes something that in previous years he didn't. Now if I can only get him to like clearing out some of his clutter. Clearly that's an even longer term project.
But then I've changed too. When his clutter bothers me I simply go into the studio and paint. I get a lot of painting done.
I live in the Now concerning that clutter.
I believe we need to give ourselves a lot of space to change. I think it's healthy for humans. But I also think the best space for change can be found in a journal, whether you work out your change visually or verbally.
I prefer this method of giving myself space to change because it is portable, tactile, and fun. And because it leaves evidence that I can refer back to.
All memory is selective even before it begins to deteriorate. Sometimes we remember the bad over the good simply because we've spent more time dwelling on the bad.
A journal can help you see what you're dwelling on. Then allow you space to deal with it. Next encourage you to diversify and move away into new things. It just takes a moment and something as simple as a pencil.
If you have a record of your creative life staring at you from the shelves across the room, you can feel more comfortable making a self-assessment and setting new goals because you know where you've been and know how change works in your life.
The journal is also a great space for working out how to deal with the fact that others around you don't like or accept the fact that you're changing—because there is always someone in your life who doesn't like that you aren't zagging in step with them.
I'm grateful, because at the age of 3-1/2 I learned that not only do some people disapprove of the ways in which I'm changing, but that the journal gives me a haven for change, freed from that disapproval.
The journal allowed me to grow up into the empathetic, sarcastic, goofy, bitchy, wonder-struck, snarky, perceptive, compassionate person I am today. That and reading Dickens.
Above: Squirrel sketch made with a fine-point, dye-based Pentel Colorbrush on inexpensive primary school paper. Washi tape used to add additional paper (Piecemeal Style) when sketch went off the edge. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
I talk to my students all the time about a "visual vocabulary." I'm not advocating the use of symbols, or lapses in observation. I'm encouraging students to discover ways to apply media to different papers (or surfaces) to create marks that stand in for what they are observing. This is essential when you are transforming the 3-dimensional subject into a 2-dimensional rendering.
Some pastel artists create a series of straight hatching marks that blend visually when the eye takes in the whole. This approach allows them to capture anything that they want. Watercolorists work at blending paints to create realistic gradations and color that lend a sense of three dimensions to something. Anyone working in color may elect to employ alternate, non-realistic color schemes to reach a variety of emotional effects.
When you work in black ink regardless of whether you're using a brush or a nib, you have to "come up with” strokes that convey the realm of gradation black and white don't contain. This can be accomplished by various hatching techniques—typically by placing lines of black next to each other thus creating something that is not white, but by virtue of the amount of white paper still showing through is also not black, but is a middle value.
There's more to think about—the nature of your strokes, their individual quality. I've seen masters with brushes drop great globs of black ink on a drawing and when they are finished they have you believing that a world of nuance and fine detail exists in that dark blob. (I have in mind Rembrandt’s etchings and many great Japanese masters.)
If you already sketch with a particular style most of these issues may have been resolved by you. But if you are just starting out you need to work out how to handle what the world throws up at you. Also if you are not a slave to style or work in many media and are continuously observing, you will meet new issues.
How you ultimately render something is a little bit about the techniques you learned or observed (through your analysis of great works), your own eye, your own analysis, and your own conviction.
There isn't one way to do something. There are a million ways to do something. I think of these ways as a vocabulary used in the dialog between you and your subject and the paper, and then between your drawing and the audience.
To say there is a vocabulary is not to suggest that there are only set ways to create certain effects so that you can stop observing.
In fact I believe that by encouraging people to create a vocabulary of strokes and approaches I'm actually insisting that you look harder, that you see more clearly, and that you know your medium intimately so that you can turn it to your chore.
Vocabulary exists. How you string it together in a sentence will determine how effective you are in communication.
A visual vocabulary doesn't just spring up in your mind. You have to expose yourself to art you admire. You have to involve yourself in a dialog with that artist's work to understand what he or she was up to and why and how they made the decisions they made. You have to filter all that through your own mind and hand until you develop your own "speech patterns" using the vocabulary you've been gathering.
So I don't believe you can sit down and do 30 blocks of different types of hatch marks and then go out and sketch something convincingly using one or all of those approaches.
I believe that such practice gives you exactly one thing: eye and hand control, with, if you're careful, value control.
With that type of control you can then go out and try to apply those various methods to real-world subjects. And in that moment your own eye and understanding steps in and you search for ways to use those approaches to communicate what you see.
If you don't do the practice you don't have the control.
If you don't move beyond the practice exercises to view the world you don't have to decide on the fly what you're seeing—you never make a statement.
I think the process of developing a unique, personal visual vocabulary is one of the most exciting things about art. You are constantly learning, experimenting, testing, trying. Just as sometimes you make a verbal statement that falls flat, so sometimes a visual one might. And then you can look at it and approach again from a different angle. Select a different vocabulary and try again.
This might seem daunting to new artists who don't know where to begin. That's why I wrote that it's important to learn skills, to get control. The more of that you have, the more fun the testing and experimenting will be. And the more quickly unique responses to a given situation will appear to you.
Today's image is an example of me working on my vocabulary building, with the brush pen—in this case a fine-point, dye-based (fugitive) Pentel Colorbrush—which is a dream to move across this cheap primary school paper. (And you can see from the tape showing through under the pink top tab, that it's also a thin paper through which the black ink is going to show. But that doesn't diminish the fun factor of using that pen on this paper.)
For me the starkness of black and white is appealing and convenient (you don’t have to carry a lot of materials around with you). However, you do have to tap dance around the substantiality of the universe surrounding you when you only have an on and an off stroke.
Transparency then is something that interests me—especially the transparency as well as the merle coat of a squirrel.
Squirrels are frustrating subjects for me to sketch. Here, close to the pizza-filled garbage cans of the University students, we call squirrels “rats.” They are everywhere, but not charming in the way that pigeons can be to me. (It’s all personal preference.) They move quickly. They can be quite a blur.
Relying on sketches made from taxidermy at local park reserves and historical societies, I thought I’d have another go at the issue of transparency. I picked up an Aquash pen (with light black ink) by mistake, and you can see its strokes in the eye and near ear where I started the sketch. But I quickly switched and picked up the black ink brush pen and began to think in terms of on and off, dark and light, and beyond white, which is transparency, but in this drawing has to be rendered as white because if I add more strokes, even light ones, it will become muddied. So I’ve asked myself to see clearly, and then I’ve allowed myself to step off and say, no, I have to stretch the use of the paper in this way (here the white areas around the outside of the tail).
This sketch isn’t totally successful, but it is the best squirrel sketch I’ve ever made—and the most thoughtful. I refused to lose myself in tired random strokes but required myself to wait until shape was somewhat in place. I listened to what was most important to myself (in other words I was focusing).
I know that I will continue looking for ways to say what it is I want to say about a squirrel’s tail my entire sketching life. Tomorrow I might come up with a totally different tack.
That’s exciting to me because it tells me that I’m going to increase my vocabulary. It tells me I’m still engaged. It confirms for me that there are still things I can learn from a squirrel’s tail.
All this extra work ahead of me is an invitation, not a homework assignment.
When things don’t go well I can learn from them and decide where to go next, even if I only have a vague idea that I simply want to go away from the general direction of my last solution.
You understand something by working out how to draw it.
When things do go well there’s a happy feeling, like that of writing a clear sentence, and of knowing what I’ve done before has been made useful in this moment.
There is also the sense that I’m building a visual vocabulary useful not just for squirrels, but at the ready when some unimagined subject pops into view and presents a new visual puzzle for me to work out.