Saturday, April 05, 2014

Sketch Therapy

Since I've been working full time I haven't had a lot of time to start or finish any large paintings.  I've been reconciling myself with a lot of photo taking and sketching as a way of collecting future ideas and to keep my skills sharp.  I haven't always been a fan of sketching though.  The perfectionist in me always wants a perfect, flawless drawing as well as perfect, flawless conditions under which to perform.  The thought of keeping a sketchbook during art school was so abhorrent to me mainly because I couldn't think of anything brilliant to draw and the pressure I heaped on myself made it feel like a repugnant practice.  I also wasn't very good at drawing from my imagination as I would put down any idea within seconds of starting a sketch.  It wasn't until I started reading "Free Expression in Acrylics" by John Hammond that I finally realized that it's actually okay to have a personal preference when it comes to subject matter and to work within it:

"I like to paint in a way that is true to my initial response to the subject matter and therefore my starting point is always something I have seen and felt inspired by.  Working from imagination, or from what I know or think something should look like, is not for me, because it lacks the significance and emotion associated with a specific place or experience." (Hammond, Pg. 16)

I've always preferred to work from some sort of reference and I love to practice my amateur photography whenever I come across an interesting scene so it felt good to finally admit that I too prefer to sketch from reference.  Nothing wrong with that.  There is so much you can control when seeking out references, from composition to colour to tone.  I realized I need not wrestle with my imagination when there is so much natural beauty to refer to.  With that in mind I took a four week sketching class last fall through the Art Gallery of Ontario which specifically focused on drawing on location.  I wanted to rely on photo reference less and more from life, and to get over my crippling anxiety over perfection.  I approached the course objectively and shared my personal obstacles with my instructor so I could try to surpass them.  4 weeks is not a long time for any major revolutions but my instructor did help guide me towards a looser hand when drawing.  He stressed the importance of laying down the massive structures on the page first before descending into detail.  This advice has helped me a lot in my own approach and I find I don't obsess over minor mistakes as much anymore.

The process of roughing in the most general details first has helped me with sizing up my compositions so that everything that I want to be in the drawing will be there.  I find that if I can figure out the spatial and size relationships accurately enough everything else will work out by the time I get down to the details- kind of like assembling a puzzle.  My mind gets itself into a kind of zen state when trying to lay out all the size relationships out on the page and it's incredibly relaxing and rewarding to see the image unfold before you.

As much as I do miss painting, I've also learned to approach sketching like painting by loosening my grip on my drawing instrument- literally holding it by the end and letting my wrist do the work.  I spend more time observing the subject in front of me than focusing on the page.  If I focus too much on the page I begin to notice my hand stiffens up and the drawing begins to lose accuracy by my glazing over details.  I've created some drawings that don't look like drawings at all- more like big messes on the page- and I consider those to be as worthy as some of my more polished drawings because the process helps to inform me about what I'm trying to capture.  The ultimate goal for me is accuracy through looseness because it's more enjoyable for me and I think they make for better finished works.

To see some of the sketches I've done since I took the course, you can visit my Facebook fan page:

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