Greetings to all y'all! I hope you are all well and taking measures to be safe when you are out and about, stay home when you can and making lots of fantastic art! If you can, take time to hop on platforms like Instagram and Facebook -- look for hashtags like #USKatHome and #SketchAtHome, even #SocialDistancingArt. I'm sure the plein air painters out there are doing similar stuff and if they aren't, you can reach out to other plein air painters and get that trend going. Here's how I've been keeping busy:
November 9, 2020: One of my latest favorite things to sketch (beside mobile traffic signs ☺☺☺) are driver’s eye views of the road from Fort Collins to Livermore here in Colorado. I can take quick pictures at favorite spots and then sketch from them at home. I stumbled upon this earlier in February and loved it but didn’t figure out how to implement it until this fall. Once I started, I just fell in love. Along US Highway 287 and in Livermore, there’s stretches of dramatic hogbacks of red sandstone and startling vistas of the semi-arid landscape. The kids have had to put up with me taking the long way to visit my dad a couple of times when I’ve wanted to capture a scene on the highway as it heads on up into Wyoming.
The four sketches below show the road cutting through the hogback at Owl Canyon, the curve at Colorado Lien before you dip into the Livermore Valley, the pillared entrance to Phantom Canyon Ranch and the driveway view of Judson Pottery. All of the photos for these were taken under the haze of the fires we had in Colorado this year and added a bit of orange hue to the landscapes. I’m excited to go back and recapture images this winter and then later in the spring for changes in seasonal perspectives. These have been so diverting to sketch even if they aren’t urban sketching (imagine all the trouble I could get into if I were acting like a diehard urban sketcher…).
October 19, 2020: I got to play hooky last Friday and go urban sketching with my dad. I drove us up US Hwy 287 to the Wyoming border to mobile traffic sign we'd driven by previously but hadn't had time to sketch until then. (I may have mentioned once or a dozen times how I have a hankering to sketch these mobile traffic signs whenever I come across them.) Carl and I got out our new SketchBuddy™ Binders with watercolor pencils that day. We spent a hour or so pulled over on the side of the road, listening to the wind whistle and the truckers and cars zoom by. It's a pleasant stretch of road despite the wind. Sadly, both of our sketches included the plume from the Cameron Peak Fire in the background. The weather that often has north central Colorado socked in with smoke was bright and clear from our vantage point.
September 28, 2020: I drive up to Livermore, CO, at least once a week these days. It’s good to get out of town, and the drive into the foothills can be peaceful when not fraught with harried drivers. On our way back one day, I see one of my favorite things to sketch: a mobile alert sign. I love these things, I don’t know why. There’s no pulling over to urban sketch on this road, it’s too busy and unsafe, and even I am not jonesing that much for an adrenaline rush. However, I pull over to the side of the road quickly and carefully just so I can take a picture. The colors of the cut through the sandstone hogback and the wild shrubs behind the construction orange of the mobile sign just grab me. Home I go with my picture to sketch that afternoon. The pencil colors I lay down first are closer to the dull ambiance of late summer but I somehow forget that the colors will brighten when I apply my washes. The end result looks more like spring but I don’t mind. A friend comments that she can feel the atmosphere in the scene and I’ll take that and run with a big smile on my face.
August 25, 2020: There hasn’t been much sketching to be had this August. Between the kids starting online/distance learning again, hideously smoky days due to fires in the mountains and general busyness, I didn’t have much in the way of time or motivation to sketch. That was until George and Nancy Wallace (see previous post) invited me up to their farm to sketch yesterday. I think I’ve finally acclimated to the heat because the near 100º day didn’t faze me much. Nancy gave me a tour of the grounds and I found a nice shady spot to sketch the garden from — Nancy made free with scattering zinnia seeds this last spring and they are a riot along the garden path now. Bandit, a dog featured in one of George’s poems and who I sketched for George’s book Enjoying the Work, kept me company for a while until lured away to go irrigate with George. When I asked Nancy to say hi to Pete for me (a cat who I also sketched for the book), she directed me to his favorite place in one of the barns. Friendliest barn cat I’ve had the pleasure to meet in a long while and what a sweetheart. Nancy loaded me up with zucchini and summer squash and sent me on my way. I’m ready to get back to sketching more often.
July 20, 2020: I'm excited to announce the publication of a book of poetry by George N. Wallace, a farmer/rancher and former college professor at CSU here in northern Colorado, for which I had the honor of sketching illustrations. It was interesting to take what I'd learned while urban sketching last year and to apply it to photo sketches. Without the experience of urban sketching, I doubt I would have spoken up for the gig. I'm very glad I did for multiple reasons, among them being that it helped me to see what can happen when one acknowledges self doubt but keeps showing up. It was a good experience and gave me subject matter I wouldn't have otherwise had access to or the inclination to search for. If you haven't yet, please check it out: Enjoying the Work by George N. Wallace.
June 30, 2020: Got word yesterday that the food trucks in our area got the okay from our local health department and the city to have 4 trucks at City Park, 4 nights a week starting last night. There was lots of space for people to park nearby, place orders to go, pick up and head out while observing social distancing. Usually there's music to be had as well at the food truck rallies but not at this time. It is a good opportunity for locals to support their favorite vendors. I didn't have time to do much more than a preliminary sketch on site, so I took pictures to sketch from later at home. This was an unusual scene to be certain without the usual crowd but it was good to get out to sketch and to take home new reference photos.
June 1, 2020: I ran across a post of an acquaintance on Instagram wherein she wondered at “the practical purpose of making art in a world filled with more urgent problems.” I think a lot of artists are struggling with that (have felt that way for weeks, months, years, centuries). My acquaintance tells herself to get back to work, keep showing up, keep drawing, and to have faith it will make sense later. Somedays, I agree with this and putting in the motions gets me hooked back into artmaking. Other days, it’s not enough.
I found a loophole for my personal struggle in justifying artmaking back in March, when covid-19 really took foothold in our neck of the woods. I put out a reverse call for donations, I suppose. If people requested sketches from me, I’d sketch and give it to them in return for their promise to donate the value of the sketch to the organization of their choice that is battling covid-19. Not only has this given me an umbrella against my own internal criticism, but it gives me a different sense of purpose in my art and gives me a means of contributing to this fight.
Here is my latest sketch for a neighbor. It was a struggle of a sketch in the unfamiliar subject matter, and I had to go back and start again when I got carried away with my brush pen (this still feels heavy handed but, oh, my, it’s an improvement on the first attempt).
May 11, 2020: On Sunday, I was quite in need of a mental defrag as it's been a long week/month/year. I might have mentioned at least once or twice or fifteen times how sketching helps me unwind and reset, so I knew sketching was on the agenda. In my studio I have a stash of pictures I've taken in the last few months that I can plunder when in need of a subject to sketch. I came across pictures of a mobile traffic sign stationed at a local park entrance sometime back (around the time the concept of social distancing and the stay at home order was starting up in our area). These traffic signs have become a favorite and I've been sketching them on and off over the last year -- lamenting the fact that a single sketch can't capture the multi-message of a changing sign... or could it? I sketched the first message on the sign with the scene and then a separate sketch of a simple sign with the second message. With a little help from Photoshop and researching GIF apps for my iphone, I soon had two images to plug into the GIF app and voilà: mental defrag plus a neat sketch GIF.
May 4, 2020: The weather around these parts the last few days has kept us close to home. Sophia and I saw a break in the weather and ducked out quick to visit an old haunt of ours in Bellvue, Colorado. There's a stretch of the Poudre River that long been a favorite of ours. Sophia dips her feet in the river and I observe from the bank with my sketch binder handy.
Lately, my sketch bag has been getting weighed down more and more with supplies -- a strategy for lightening up without giving up on most of my favorite types of supplies is in order. I love my watercolor pencils but it's not possible to sit and sketch for the amount of time I like to devote to a watercolor pencil sketch (sitting for a time outside in public doesn't seem right, even if I bring my own fold up stool and all of us are strictly social distancing). A next favorite is brush pens. So I tested the waters with just one purple watercolor pencil, a plain black sketch pen and a brand new purple brush pen. I was both please and disappointed in my sketch. I had drawn hurriedly, distractedly and my mind wasn't quite on sketching. But I'm anxious to try again. I loved working with the mixed mediums and a favorite color. And I think it may be the answer to simplified urban sketches, capturing a scene quickly and getting back home before my feet protest too much.
April 27, 2020: Covid-19 has taken our regularly scheduled program and doesn't look like it'll be giving it back to us anytime soon. Urban sketching has become a very indoor activity as I try to adhere to social distancing guidelines and stay home. I've discovered that I can be very picky about my subject matter and haven't adjusted well to the idea of a steady diet sketching scenes from my home. [Insert confession to sketching from lots and lots of photographs here.] I love sketching things that are novel and off the beaten path. But there's a pocket of time that I'm particularly fond of sketching: when the kids are "at school" in the mornings with their laptops on the dinning table, quite and focused. This scene is definitely new and strange and fun to capture in my sketchbook.
April 20, 2020: The last couple of weeks I've been helping make masks for people in our community who need them. Some of my friends have been making masks to the specifications of nurses who seek to extend the lives of their medical grade masks -- I'm leaving that to seamstresses more skilled than I, but I can put myself to work making masks for essential and non-essential workers. It's sometimes a little daunting, so when my brain needs to defrag, I take a quick break and grab my sketchbook. Sketching settles my anxieties like nothing else and shortly I'm ready to get back to sewing. I'm grateful to be able to make a contribution like the masks. I’m not a fast sewer and I can’t sew a straight line to save my life but it’s something at least.
Please share with us what you are doing with your artistic abilities to help fight Covid-19 or to help those in your community. Email us at customerservice [at] judsonsart.com.
April 13, 2020: This last weekend would have been the Urban Sketchers Symposium Hong Kong 2020 had things not played out as they have (on many fronts). Despite its cancellation, Urban Sketchers were invited to express support for Hong Kong sketchers by posting their drawings done on location. Those of us who have not yet had the chance to visit and sketch in Hong Kong were also invited to post sketches that shared "a moment or learning or breakthrough" and to tag them with #SketchWithHongKong and #USkSketchWithHongKong. If you haven't yet shared, there's still time. It's been wonderful to see and read what sketchers all over the world have posted this last week to represent their thresholds, their leaps and bounds.
My daughter and I were able to get some exercise when the weather was still nice on Saturday. She had seen new flowers coming up in the neighborhood earlier in the week and wanted to sketch them when we had time. She used my fold up stool and I stood with my sketch binder poised in front of me. We were able to sketch quickly and resume our exercise without encountering anyone or setting our things down on the ground. We felt we were able to meet our urban sketching needs, get out and enjoy ourselves and to still abide by the guidelines for social distancing and safety.
One last quick note: I'm seeing more and more artists offering their work on platforms like Instagram in order to donate proceeds to organizations that are fighting Covid-19. I am very much impressed and awestruck by anyone who is taking the time to do this, such as Victoria (aka @sketchpad_on_tour) in the UK. If you have the wherewithal, please place an order with her and be sure to pass the word along.
April 6, 2020: A while back, my aunt Mibs requested a particular sketch of a seaside sunset. The only reference material she had for me was a video she'd taken on her phone, taking in the scene from left to right in panorama. I said I would but that she'd need to be patient while I worked up my self-esteem and courage to take it on. Since then, I'd tinker once in a while with rough sketches based on the video, and in meantime I'd go outside to play wholeheartedly with urban sketching.
One thing I love about my experience with urban sketching is that it has given me permission to tune out my inner critic. My medium of choice is watercolor pencils - they let my inner child play for a little. Then I let the part of me that was once a sequential artist finish off the sketch in ink. Urban Sketching this last year has changed how I approach art in general. It's loosened me up, to say the least. So when I tackled the seaside sketch again last week, it was no longer the nervous, uncertain experience of last year. I loved the idea of making it a tryptic; but then I made the novice mistake of choosing very odd dimensions for the panels... Oh, well, my aunt loves it and I had a reaffirming experience with the sketch. And we agreed from the start that I'd sketch it for her and she would donate what she felt was my compensation to the organization of her choice.
March 31, 2020: I stumbled across a post on Instagram last week by @brejanz calling artists to draw or sketch a particular subject matter in their own style (#DrawBriansHut). I’d seen this for fan art and fantasy art over the years and longed to participate but wasn't ever lured enough by the subject matter. This was different. It was a fisherman’s cottage, old with stone walls and a bunch of fishing equipment strewn about. It was mesmerizing.
When I had time to sketch this weekend, I pulled up the image and quickly I was lost not just in the act of sketching but in my imagination. I could feel the cool breeze, the smell of the sea, the crunch of footsteps on gravel as people walked by. I was even racing to catch the light in my sketch as twilight approached. After I posted my sketch and hash-tagged it, I looked though other artist’s interpretations of the same subject – there were 466 posts total (as of 3/30/20). You’d think it would be wearisome to see all of them, but it’s not. It’s wonderful and enlightening to see other approaches and mediums put to play. So, I have issued a #DrawThisInYourStyle challenge. You can find it on my Instagram page.
March 24, 2020: Here is my sketch from Sunday. I took some time to join in on an online Quaker Meeting service via the Zoom app and it was like I was able to draw breath for the first time in a long while. I got to check in with friendly faces and sit in stillness for a pocket of time. Before I knew it, my hands had wandered over to my sketchbook and supplies and I settled into the familiar and comforting mode of urban sketching -- capturing the world in front of me for a moment in time. It was a balm and much needed regeneration.