Pencil Jam

Art under the Influence?

Posted in Drawing-Seeing, meditation, Sketch Club, Sketchbooks by crabbits on June 29, 2010

This discussion on our online community made me think about why we draw what we draw.

The question was, why do we draw?

George’s reply was enlightening:

“… Why this urgency to convey our subjective experiences? Writers, artists, musicians are all engaged in this activity, so it’s not simply a one off thing. The attempt to turn subjective experiences into tangible reality is a natural process of being human….”

Why, then we should be drawing all the time! George explains why we don’t:

“… As a young ‘un your inner, subjective experiences tend to be raw and powerful (Remember your first love, first breakup, first birthday gift etc…) These are often channelised through activity such as poetry, art or in some cases in adverse ways such as violence or depression. You probably sketched a lot when you were younger because many aspects of life were new. As you grow older you develop stock reactions to life’s situations, shorter, snappier, seemingly more efficient ways. A breakup is familiar territory and new love doesn’t quite feel the same…. “

Which is why music, depression, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, absinthe (am thinking of Marilyn Manson, who has Mansinthe to his credit!), shrooms, shoes, shopping, puppy dogs and other exciting stuff help a whole lot in heightening a dimension of emotion to a level potent enough to pin down a subjective experience as an objective work of art.

Even J K Rowling’s epic-in-seven-parts talks about some aspects of this kind of emotional channeling and their uses. Wizards can produce a Patronus they concentrate upon a happy memory (with all their might), which protect them against Dementors, the very epitome of weepiness and depression. A Boggart is a magical creature who takes the form of your very worst fear when it confronts you, becoming concrete and objectified in front of children, whose fears are simpler (spiders, snakes!) as opposed to forms that are more complex (the moon, scenes of death?) for adults.

George mentions in his post that as we evolve and survive, we develop language to help describe experiences, and develop stock reactions to common or recurring occurrences (breakups, brushing teeth et al). However as grown ups (groan ups!) our internal emotional state is increasingly complex with “hopes and dreams” and “vague fears hard to describe”.  Interestingly, children with their simpler inner hopes, dreams and fears (“I want a new toy car!”, “I hate school!”) – might I venture to call these “stock” – have vaguer descriptions of external experiences due to their limited linguistic capability (“It huuurts!”).

The stock reactions that we usually apply in everyday life lead to expressions like “quirky”, “embarassing”, “weird”, “surreal” to describe anything out of the ordinary hum of collective normalcy. The little children who love drawing truly express themselves with flourishes, squiggles, fingerprints, left hands and feet, tongues, toes and walls; relishing the feel of crayons on a surface, the process of drawing. As they grow, their abilities are chanelled into “colour within the lines”, “draw a scenery”, “trees are NOT blue”, “DON’T draw on the wall!” “Architecture entrance exam: draw in perspective for 10 marks!”, a systematic process of creating the equivalent of stock reactions; thus taking away all the undisguised pleasure of “drawing” as a process. Then comes the day when you draw every day for a living, where every drawing is a “job” and a “portfolio piece”; or you “can’t” draw; or haven’t drawn in ages since the computer took over your fingers.

This is when you need to unlearn all that those square systems of education (read stock reaction-conditioners). Its harder than it seems, isn’t it? Which brings me back to that immortal discussion on why we draw. This will hopefully push you a bit on the way to real unlearning.

Draw, draw, draw… like nobody’s watching!

We Draws for a Cause.

Posted in Drawing Nature, Drawing-Seeing, events, Sketch Club, Sketchbooks by crabbits on June 14, 2010

Saturday before last, we found ourselves bright and early (at 9:3o am, haha!) on the shores of the mind bogglingly HUGE Bellandur lake. Remember, it was World Environment day then? We had our eyes open and our sketchbooks out (wands at the ready!) We found HSBC employees on a tree-plantathon, here.

An un-illustrator on Sketchbooks.

Posted in Drawing-Seeing, meditation, Sketchbooks by crabbits on June 12, 2010

Greeshma Y, PhD student, has been inextricably involved with my work as a critique-r, secretary, manager, scratching post, moneylender, brainstormer and other similar roles. Finally provoked into writing a blog post, she has artfully described a non-sketchbook-er’s view of sketchbooks, that I found very enlightening.

The sketchbook is personal again (?) Or, some more thoughts on sketchbooks.

Posted in Great Artists, meditation, Sketchbooks by crabbits on June 10, 2010

I’m picking up where George left off in his last post.

Danny Gregory, compulsive drawer and constant observer, compiled this book called “An Illustrated Life“, which found its way to my desk one day. It’s a book compiled by one sketchbook-er about other sketchbook-ers to other aspiring or actual sketchbook-ers. Gregory’s artists talk about their sketchbooks and sketchbook-keeping habits and tendencies, and show you selected pages of their books that you can drool and leave puddles over. It is a beautiful book, it is so because of the myriad of disconnected, but colourful thoughts, ideas and images you see in it.


Some thoughts on sketch books

Posted in Sketchbooks, Techniques by George Supreeth on June 9, 2010

I’ve noticed a few habits when I use sketchbooks. Some of them may be useful? Or funny. maybe.

1. When I sketch, I turn my book around a lot. So sketches are at multiple angles on a single page.

I noticed I do this a lot. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want the lines from the previous sketch to bias the current one. It also helps me to ‘free myself’ from the previous image. Also it allows me to use bits of white space on the page. Finally the overall ‘accidental’ composition of sketches on the page sparks off an idea for a full composition on it’s own.

2. I am concious that someone’s going to look at the sketchbook later

I often find myself concious that someone is going to look at my sketchbook later. So while i’m drawing I find myself studying my subject less and prettying the drawing more. I also find myself trying to maintain a pretty sketchbook. I tried to break this habit by not using bound books but loose leafs and immediately destroying the drawings after I was done with them. That helps a bit, but the problem still crops up from time to time.

3.  I use both sides of the sketchbook simultaneously

In a previous avatar, I was an information architect. It fed my penchant for structured information. Now that’s creeping into my sketchbooks too. I tend to use both sides of the book. For instance the current sketchbook has nature studies and general sketches. My nature studies are of plants, birds, seeds etc and start from one end of the book. The general sketches that I draw everyday start on the other end.

4. Sketchbooks are more evocative than photographs

For me sketchbooks are more evocative than photographs. A single page dredges up many images from that moment. I’ve thought about this a lot and I figure that the precise detail in a photograph freezes a moment forever and thats why the memories from a photograph are very precise. Like a checklist. A sketchbook on the other hand because of it’s indefinite structures requires the brain to create more information. This makes for colourful and vivid memories.

5. Sketchbooks are the best place to discover new techniques

I’ve seen that sketchbooks are the best place to discover new techniques. Not only that it gets documented and archived, but also for the fact that sketchbooks are the place that I loosen up the most. On a professional project I am wary of using experimental techniques, but give me a sketchbook to blow paint around on anyday!

So that was a bit of a ramble, no? That’s my little ditty on sketchbooks.

Want to read a really great post on sketchbooks? Read Prabha’s what sketchbooks are for.

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What’s a Sketchbook For?

Posted in Sketch Club, Sketchbooks, Techniques by crabbits on June 2, 2010

There’s piles and piles of sketchbooks around me as I speak. Real physical sketchbooks (courtesy George and Smee, and me) and the sketchbooks I can remember my classmates made when we were all together back in art school, and of course online  sketchbooks of famous people we’d gawk at on the projector screen during class. I’ve come to understand very early on, that a sketchbook is a hopefully not gory peek into an artist’s head. The kind of things they like, what they observe, what they remember, where they’ve been, how they think, and how they see themselves, too. Fancy all that being revealed by drawing! Grab someone’s sketchbook and take a look sometime.

The obsessive-compulsive need for classifying creeps in now. I realise there’s different sorts of drawing people do. So a sketchbook may serve different purposes, sometimes all purposes rolled into one sketchbook. Sometimes unintentionally.

1. Studies

You draw objects, people, trees, dogs, over and over in different poses and from different angles to study them and understand how they work.

2. Journal

Your sketchbook is a visual diary, that you carry around with you and draw even while the person opposite to you talks to you. Often contains words, phone numbers, poetry, comments on the people you’re drawing.

3. Experiment Space

You try out those weird new media that you’ve got your hands on, in the sketchbook. Watercolours? Wet-on-wet? Light-on-dark? Newspaper collage? Inky-doodley technique? Yes, yes, yes! Your techniques see the light of day here and are later on used in your finished work.

4. Idea Bank

Your sketchbook is a space where you store ideas for later use.

Remember what we said earlier about Drawing What You See. By that logic, I suppose in category 1 and 2, The Study Sketchbook and the Journal helps you draw exclusively what you see. However the Journal may sometimes wander into the realms of What We Know, when you draw little imaginary butterflies where you actually See none. Category 3, the Experiment Space can be either about what you See or what you Know. I suppose category 4, the Idea Bank, is made of what you Know, most of the time!

Check out some sketch books over at the Pencil Jam community.

A Note on Colour.

Posted in Resources, Sketch Club, Sketchbooks, Techniques by crabbits on May 22, 2010

You’re the manic sort who sits in a corner of a cafe and viciously draws everything and everyone you see. You’re the crowd-puller in the park, as spectators sprout behind you, watching you work as you make a detailed study of a tree. You stop traffic in a crowded market street by setting up an easel, ready to capture life as we know it on a A4 sheet. Well! And you’re equipped with one or more of the following colouring materials to sketch away at the world outside exactly the way you see it.

Coloured Pencils: Quick, handy and clean, coloured pencils are useful for shading in as well as for drawing.

Watercolour pencils: Shapeshift gracefully from the clean clayey stroke of a coloured pencil to chaotic, transparent watercolours at the touch of a wet brush. Very convenient for watercolouring  in quick sketches, if you’re not the sort who lugs around watercolour tubes or palettes.

Watercolours and Inks: The unforgiving medium, that can create an almost magical happy accident with their tricksy bleeds and watery edges, or sometimes for these exact same reasons cause a tragic disaster of a finished artwork. Watercolours really shine when they’re used on white (light-coloured) paper because they’re transparent and rely a whole lot on the brightness of the paper for their overall effect.

Get hold of the school-kid’s box of 12 (or more) watercolour cakes for a convenient carry-around set of colours, or create your own by allowing inks or tube watercolours to dry on a white palette. Remember to use a watercolour brush with this medium, the kind that have soft bristles and that absorb and hold water while you paint.

Acrylics and poster paints: The antithesis to watercolours; forgiving in their opacity! They let you paint over and over your work till you’re finally done. Poster colours are have a chalky consistency and can be used even after the contents of the little bottle have gone dry. Acrylics can be layered and can be used to create “brushy”, textured paintings. Both media can be dry brushed, and when watered down enough, can even be a worthy substitute for watercolours.

You can carry just a few basic colours like blue, red, yellow, white and black and create an infinity of shades and tints.Use a poster brush with strong, coarse bristles because these paints can be quick-drying and tacky, which would mean a quick and sorry death to a watercolour brush.

{ Never, ever let a brush stand in water for too long. Try it and see, the brush tip gets all bendy and impossible to straighten and work with. }

Pastels and crayons: Pastels and crayons are soft media that can be used to create fuzzy lines and soft gradients of shading. Try them on darker-toned paper to really let them sing!

Paper collage: If you’ve got some interesting bits of coloured, patterned or textured paper or fabric lying around (else go collect some…! gift wrap, newspaper, craft paper, or paper that you’ve painted on.) this can make for a really fun, wacky technique of colouring.

So go on, give your sketchbook the zap of electricity it needs by using a whole lot of colour!

Big bad scary drawing.

Posted in Drawing-Seeing, Resources, Sketch Club, Sketchbooks, Techniques by crabbits on May 14, 2010

Drawing is really darned scary for so many people. “I can’t draw.” “Did you draw that with your own hand?” (Yes, who else’s!) “Eeee… these are really bad drawings. Don’t look at them.” “I don’t draw because I don’t know how.” “I am a graphic designer so I don’t have to draw.” “My left toe hurts so I can’t draw.” The list of excuses is endless. So here’s some more demystifying tips for those happy folks who’ve got a sketchbook close at hand and a desire to draw in their heads.

1. Why not?

Remember art classes and those good ol’ Navneet drawing books from back in school? Everybody created versions of the familiar “scenery”, stippled, dabbed and scraped across layers of mucky oil pastel.  Nobody stopped to say “I can’t draw.” What changes now that we’re “all grown up”? Perhaps its a feeling of being watched, judged, or of measuring up to something or the other. (Read Vinod’s post on Belief.) The first thing to do is to draw like nobody’s watching (not even you). You’re drawing it for you the way that you keep a diary for you. When you let go of the Watcher around you, you can really observe your surroundings and make those visual notes about them that we call drawing.

2. What do I draw?

Well, lets look around. We’ve got a beautiful, wacky world around us waiting to be captured on paper.  There are people, trees, houses, dogs, squirrels, birds, vehicles and so much more. Besides, you can look to your immediate surroundings and draw your own  toes and fingers. You can pull out old photographs and try to turn those into a drawing. You can delve into your own head and pin down that awesome conceptual butterfly that just floated in there a moment ago. You might have a sudden urge to draw a dinosaur out for a walk with a top hat on. Draw it.

3. How do I draw?

Grab some paper and a pencil. As George has mentioned in his earlier posts, the pencil is superb for soft lines that you can mess around with endlessly, erase (if you’re the sort that likes a “perfect”, finished drawing”) and shade with in gradations from dark to light.

A great idea for “loosening up” your drawing hand is to draw a whole lot of circles on a plain old A4 sheet. Fill the sheet with circles, and then fill another sheet with straight lines. Make your strokes loose and quick without any aims at exactness, perfection or neatness. Draw until you’re on a roll to draw more complex stuff. Like this.

Pick a subject to draw. You’ll find that most subjects are either still or moving, and I’d recommend drawing the still ones first, practising on them till you’re cool enough to take on a mover and shaker! You could be drawing outdoors, and pick an interesting building or tree or sleeping guy to draw. Or on an exceptionally rainy day, you’d be indoors, still itching to draw, and pulling off photos from the Internet as your references.  The general rules of drawing apply to all of these subjects.

Observe the form of the object. Or the shape or silhouette that it makes against the surrounding space.For example, look at this doggie here.

When you start to draw him you’d find that what you “know” about a dog’s shape will kick in and you’ll start to try and draw those without “seeing” what this particular dog is all about. Then issues of exactitude creep in and could possibly make you so bent on creating a perfect doggie that it could drive you nuts. For now, we’re only trying to draw what we see, because what we see is going to sit around for some time, and we can look at it for as long as we like and draw it real slow. Drawing what we know is important in a case of a moving object (like a real, moving, live people) our subject has posed for us for practically 10 seconds, and we need to fill in the blanks of our drawing with what we “know”.

So look at the subject through half closed eyes and spot areas of “light” and “dark” that soon resolves into shapes that you can put down on paper. Like this.

And you get this.

Which you shade in to get this.

This could very well be a completed sketch! Or you could get real finicky and add some detail. You might get something like this.

And that’s all there is to it. All. I promise you.

Here’s another example.

If you give this method a think, you’ll realise that what you’ve just captured is one still frame of a moving object. And it took you a certain amount of time to do this. If you keep drawing subjects of this kind, for a while (anything from one day to a few weeks) you’ll realise you get faster and more confident at dashing out lots and lots of  drawings. You’ll find you can get a light-dark-shape analysis of any subject more easily, and you’ll take on a moving object quick-scan-and-draw sometime.

Who ever imagined that you couldn’t draw?

4. Now what?

Go draw, you. Go.

Josh Keyes Sketchbook

Posted in Sketchbooks by George Supreeth on May 8, 2010

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Josh Keyes is a contemporary artist who works on a diverse set of media including painting and sculptural installation. His works have a very ‘information design’ quality to them, as though you’re browsing through the National Geographic. Josh maintains a sketchbook for jotting down inspiration. These pages truly allow you a glimpse into this amazing atist’s thinking process.

Go take a look.