Tag Archives: sketching

Keeping an art journal

Last year I talked about taking a sketchbook with you wherever you go.  (September 2019) But today I’d like to elaborate on that a little. 

A day at the lake. Loved the fall colors which were more brilliant than I could capture. Many of the boats are readied for winter but there was still a fair amount of traffic on the lake for a beautiful fall day. This is the elongate sketchbook, about 5 x 7, opened to 5 x 14, perfect for landscapes.

This week the temperatures were up in the 80s here in southern Indiana.  My husband and I decided to take the day off (heh heh) and go to the lake.  We took breakfast sandwiches.  He fished while I painted.  Later, as we were waiting for the paint to dry, I showed him some of my other sketches over the years.

This particular book is an elongated one, perfect for landscapes.  I’ve captured scenes from vacations and travels in many places over the years.  He asked if I would ever consider selling the book. After a little thought, I replied, no. It has too many memories. 

One word of advice.  Date your sketch and make a note of where it was done.  Our memories get fuzzy over time and this really helps.

Gare de Lyon. One often has plenty of time to wait in airports and train stations, but this was one of the more beautiful ones that I have been in. What you can’t see are the jillions of people milling about, on their way here and there.

The primary difference between a sketchbook and an art journal (in my mind) is that the journal may have much more extensive writing, like a diary, along with sketches, and even things that have been glued inside.  One of mine has the label for a special chocolate shop in Paris.  I will visit that if I ever go there again.  And I sure would not have remembered exactly where it was.  Tickets, photos, postcards…even pressed flowers have all ended up in my art journals.

This is a view of Avignon taken from the hill where the Palais des Papes is. I later used this in a large watercolor painting.

You may wish to keep a running commentary in your various journals.  But one thing that I’ve found really enjoyable is to create a dedicated book for a special trip or event. 

A museum visit in Paris. I wanted to remember the general layout of these paintings and they didn’t allow photographs. So, I made sketches. AND…recorded the artists’ names.

One of my favorites is a bicycle tour I took through Provence a number of years ago.  The journal wasn’t very large, only about 5 x 7, but was easy to slip into a purse or my bike pack.  And it really turned out to be more of a diary with sketches than a sketchbook.  But it has been so fun to pull it out every once in awhile just to read about my trip and think about where I was when I made the sketches. 

I loved this small marble bust of a boy with a wreath in his hair. Sketched at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. You have to get used to people leaning over your shoulder when sketching in a crowd, but really, most people are very polite and may not even notice you at all.

I know we are all feeling the angst of staying at home these days, but do you have any ideas for an art journal?  Maybe a gardening one or something dedicated to the holidays?  What do you see out of your window?  Activities at the park?  Let your imagination roam. 

Picasso exhibit at the Guggenheim. It was truly a memorable exhibit, but again, no photographs. I completed several sketches under the watchful eyes of the security guards.

There are a number of books about art journaling which might give you a few ideas. Here is one of my favorites by Danny Gregory. He has actually written several books on the subject. Check them out here.

An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration from the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators, and Designers.

Figure drawing. How to improve your work.

A typical selection of notebooks or sketchbooks. From 4 x 6 up to 11 x 14, I use these to captures moments of everyday life no matter where I may be. I try to remember to make a note of the date and location as my memory is poor after time passes.

There are so many artists who really excel at figure drawing that I’m always envious of their talent and the ease at which they seem to be able to capture the human figure.  I’m not one of them.

For me, drawing the human figure is mostly a matter of hard work.  Draw. Draw. Draw.  That is my MO.

I was pulling out some notebooks in my studio this week.  In a career of over 30 years, I have a lot of notebooks!

I noticed that I seem to be attracted to figures of all types and sizes, all ages and venues.  I don’t concentrate on one “type” of figure.  Not the big eyed children nor the beautiful sylph models, but the old and the gnarled, the fat and the thin, children doing what children do, people doing what they do when they think nobody is watching.  I don’t think I have a type but others may disagree.

One thing that I noticed when I was pulling notebooks out of my flat files is that I’ve been consistent over the years with my drawing.  I draw a lot. This, more than practically anything else, has probably led to my ability to capture figures.  And I’ll admit right up front that not everything I’ve drawn has hit the mark.  But practice is the best way to develop a skill.

I have small notebooks (4 x 6) which I can squirrel away in a purse or bag.  I’ve been able to amuse myself at airports and museums, restaurants and beaches.  Nearly anywhere people gather.

This is a situational sketch in my small notebook. The location is Topaz Thai Restaurant in mid-town Manhattan. I did this while I was eating lunch. Toned markers were used for quick shading.

Macy Gray at the Iridium Jazz Club near Times Square. Using pen and toned markers.

It was late evening on Times Square. I found that if I leaned up against a wall, I could draw street vendors and other passersby without any notice. It’s a fun challenge.

Audience members at Birdland. I think we were waiting for Rita Moreno but can’t remember exactly. Should have written it down.

Some of my sketchbooks range up to 18 x 24 or larger, which are not always easy for transporting, but great for working on larger compositions.

For drawing instruments, I use everything from pencils to pastels, gel pens to markers to charcoal.  Each has a special characteristic but I suggest that you try many different types of instruments.

Some life drawing sketches. The model is Ron whom I’ve drawn for over thirty years. He can hold a pose for a long time and entertains the artists with stories in his southern drawl.

I’ve taken life drawing classes.  Yes, the models are naked but you get used to it.  I’ve drawn one male model, Ron, for over thirty years.  He’s not a Mr. America by any means but he’s a really great model with inventive poses which he can hold for a long time.  He’s in his 70s now!

Another typical life drawing sketch. If you look closely, you can see where I’ve made initial marks for the model’s trunk. Pencil is the medium.

These are quick sketches in life drawing class. Typically the artist is only given 2 – 4 minutes before the model changes poses.

We don’t get too many opportunities to draw two models together so this was fun. Also, nice to be drawing some real bodies with all the lumps and bumps.

And then when I’m working from photographs, I do several preliminary drawings of the subjects.  This helps me get acquainted with their shapes and postures.  I can work out problems before I even begin to tackle anything in paint.

This is one of several preliminary sketches that I made from photos for a painting I just completed. It’s good to work out problems before I tackle the final subject.

This is an older sketch of my son and granddaughter as a preliminary drawing for a large painting. I love the way his hands dwarf her tiny body.

More preliminary drawings from photos. The granddaughter and her tiny hand grasping her father’s shirt.

So my best advice is to get a notebook, any size but you might be more comfortable with a small one to start with, and a pen or some toned markers, and get to work.  You will be surprised but most people don’t even notice that you’re drawing.  I’ve drawn in restaurants and theatres, at musical venues and just along the street.  I’ve even drawn while in line waiting for a theatre to open!  Yes, really.

Sketching in New York

The Three Graces at the Met

The Three Graces at the Met

I was in New York last week.  At the end of my trip, I had a few hours before I had to catch my plane so I went up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This is a favorite haunt of mine.  Big surprise.  This time, I decided to spend some time in some different areas.  First I went to the Greek and Roman sculpture area.  Very inspiring.  I whipped out my small sketchbook that I always keep with me and practiced on these beautiful statues.

I believe that every artist should practice sketching as much as possible, daily at least.  This is the artist’s equivalent to a musician practicing scales or an athlete throwing pitches.  You should do it enough that capturing what you see before you becomes second nature.

I usually travel with at least a small sketchbook, a commercial permanent ink pen, and maybe a set of colored brush pens.  I like Faber Castell shades of grey or their landscape package.

The subject doesn’t really matter although my sketches are usually just memory joggers.  My hotel room, at dinner or the theatre, in the museum, on the street.  Sometimes people will approach you to see what you are doing, however, most people won’t even notice.  I’ve leaned up against buildings at night and have drawn street vendors on Times Square, stretch limos, the night buildings in fog.  The drawing makes me “see.”  There are many better draftsmen than me…but it works for me.  Try it yourself.  Also, check out Urban Sketchers for some real inspiration.

Aphrodite at the Met

Aphrodite at the Met

Boy Wearing Wreath

Boy Wearing Wreath

Stephanos Youth

Stephanos Youth