Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Warts and All, My Journal

Here come the warts ..... if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I promised to scan some of my journal pages, warts and all, so those of you who are interested can see my working process. (see my last post: Question -- March 8, 2012). I apologize it has taken me so long to follow up on my promise. Life has been busy.

Many artist’s journals are works of art -- beautifully laid out, lovely drawings, and carefully worded . A few of my journal pages qualify, but the vast majority of my pages are scribbled notes and sketching. I try to put the entries in while they are happening, or as soon after as possible. I want to capture what has just inspired me, and not worry about wording it carefully or making a sloppy sketch. I call it a ‘working journal’. I’m not about to tell you that is the way to keep a journal, but, for me, it works.... and has worked for many years. I’m just about to finish Vol. 39. I have a wonderful record of things I want to remember that goes back over 30 years. Many of my paintings have their roots in one of my journal entries; I often refer to an old journal to remember when to expect natural events (when do skunk cabbage bloom, or elephant seals pup); I savor old memories; I even save a few recipes; and a treasured sketch or two by someone else. I only wish I had started sooner.

More more of my ideas on journaling go to my post, “Thoughts on Keeping a Journal” -- Feb 1, 2011:

And now for some pages......

First an old one, from Volume 6. I sketched this page over twenty years ago when we were in Grand Tetons National Park, yet the style is similar to my current journals.
The next six pages are in the order they fall in my journal. I intentionally picked pages I never got around to blogging about. The first page is the beginning of a four day trip to Burns, Oregon. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is just to the south. The Malheur basin is host to a wonderful variety of birds. We stay in a little motel on the edge of town and spend our days photographing and sketching.

To get to Malheur from home we drove over the top of the Cascades, and see Mt. Thielson along the way.

The funny little squiggles at the top of this page is an attempt to record a Swainson’s thrush’s song visually. It does help me remember a bird song.

This page looks odd because three fourths is left blank. I know the paper in my journal is too thin, so I often leave the back side of some of the art blank .... so no writing shows through on the back side. The Mt. Thielson color sketch is on the other side.

Often while Dale drives the miles and miles of the open West I entertain myself with quick sketches. Here I focused on the variety of fence posts found in the thin, rocky soils of central Oregon. Part of being an interesting artist is knowing the variety a subject offers, not just the easy symbol. Fence posts offer a lot of variety.

If you bother to read the text you’ll find it quite jerky. Even with my words I’m not aiming for a polished product. That comes later. Far more useful to me to capture some good phrases and details that capture the moment, than worry about it flowing well. Words can always be edited.

The black spot on the right side bears mentioning. Before I added color to the red-winged blackbird I was sketching with water soluble ink in a fountain pen. I wanted more darks without adding any more lines, so I just scribbled off to the side and dipped by water brush into the scribble to pick up some ink.

Quick sketches ... probably drawn while Dale stopped to photograph ... The top two could have been drawn while he was driving. I can’t remember. The middle one is of huge bales of hay lined up in a row. The bottom one is an avocet.

I spotted the baby great horned owl as we drove by a small ranch. Most of the country is very open. Ranches usually have a few trees at the homesite .... and that is where the red-tailed hawks and the great horned owls nest. This owl was old enough to fly, but still covered with down. He was perched on the corral fencing. You can still see my pencil lines. Sometimes I pencil first. Sometimes I jump in with ink right away.

The pencil sketch in the lower left is a flop, so I didn’t bother adding ink. The drawing of the swallow was almost surely done from my laptop that evening.

In this instance I filled 6 pages in a 24 hour period. The number of pages I fill in a full day in the field varies a great deal, but seldom more than this. I try to do most of my writing on the spot or as soon after as possible.

One last sketch, from a different journal. Sometimes I tackle a much more detailed drawing in the field. While Dale spent two or three hours photographing the flickers excavating their nest hole, I had plenty of time to almost complete this drawing.

I just found a marvelous quote, so appropriate for this moment:
"There's only ONE way of Life, and that's YOUR OWN." ... THE LEVELLERS
Found at the end of "Drawing and Painting Birds" by Tim Wootton .... a nice book on bird art.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


I usually get the most 'comments' when I post about art ... so, obviously, a bunch of you (my readers ) are artists, or at least interested in the art process. .... and for the others of you, never fear. I'll soon run out of art posts and get back to organizing the several posts I have in my 'to do' basket.

At least two of you (my readers) expressed a desire for a peek into my sketchbooks. Are there more? If there is an interest I'll post several unaltered pages, warts and all. I have to admit I'm probably a fool for even considering it. Some of you may be operating under the illusion I keep a beautifully laid out journal. Ha! For others, is may be liberating. Once upon a time I thought my journal had to be neat and tidy ... and I was always way behind in putting anything into it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sketching Versus Drawing

Life has been all too hectic lately. But I do have this post on sketching versus drawing ready -- another essay I wrote for The Sketching Forum ( ). More wanderings in the field soon to come.

A drawing of the cabin where Dale and I honeymooned in northern Wisconsin. Drawn in 1964.

When I joined The Sketching forum I knew I was joining a ‘sketching’ forum. I didn’t bother to differentiate between sketching and drawing. I looked at various postings and figured I belonged. Then the back and forth of ideas got me thinking. What is the difference?

At first it wasn’t clear to me. Where does one draw the line between one and the other? It is rather like fine art and illustration. Often you know which one you are looking at, but there is also a grey area in between.

About two weeks ago, I was going through some of my old journals. Suddenly it dawned on me. I could draw long before I could sketch. In fact I could draw quite well long before I could sketch, partly because I wasn’t even trying to sketch well. Sketching as an art form wasn’t even on my radar. My earliest journals are mostly words, some quick thumbnails that were only intended to remember an event, and some careful drawings.

Oh how I wish I had appreciated the value of sketching all along. I have to admit I was exposed to some sketching in college. Unfortunately the instructor thought we’d learn by working from the same subject arranged differently .... the subject was pieces of a junked car. You can imagine how much that inspired me! He didn’t succeed in telling my why I was drawing pieces of a junked car. I only knew that when I got mad and scribbled crap, he liked it. I had no clue I should have gone looking for a different class. I finished college but never took another art class in college. After college I took a three year correspondence art course and learned a great deal ... about drawing, but not about sketching.

I bumped along for twenty more years. I painted a lot and did some pen and ink illustrating. Had my work accepted in some very nice places, but my ability to sketch hardly grew.

As I mentioned in an earlier post in 1984 I attended a week long workshop taught by Jack Hines, Jessica Zemsky, Veryl Goodnight and Robert Bateman. And I went to the same workshop in 1987. Suddenly I saw sketching as a means to become a better artist -- learning to really see the world and to capture it. I wanted a sketch to say something, to capture the character, and not just be a reminder. I dared to be much bolder. There is a quote in The Art of Robert Bateman, “ A great master once said, ‘In order to learn to draw you have to make two thousand mistakes. Get busy and start making them.’” I think this applies to sketching even more than drawing.

My ability to sketch jumped forward. I’ve long sensed that real growth in my artistic ability tends to be in jumps, not an even path. I jumped. Thumbing through my journals for the next few years show some sketches that sing, some fall flat on their face .... but I was reaching out and trying. My sketches had very little attention to fur, feathers, bark ... Form and light had suddenly become more important. Thinking about a light source is often the key to good form. Successful sketches captured the gesture. Each sketch tended to be of a specific individual, not something generic. Sketches were done quickly. Drawings were done carefully.
A wonderful byproduct of taking sketching seriously is that I incorporated some of my new found knowledge into my drawings. Instead of relying on texture and detail, I began incorporating gesture, form and light along with the texture and detail. This Swainson’t thrush was carefully drawn in pencil, yet has some of the freshness of a sketch.
When I’m sketching I’m usually working quickly. Either my subject is going to move or I don’t want to keep Dale waiting. In the long run I think having to push myself has been good. At first I judged my sketches in terms of how well they were done versus a careful drawing. I now realize they are different art forms. A lovely loose watercolor can be just as great a work of art as the carefully controlled oil painting.

I have a strong sense that sketching comes from somewhere within, sort of zen. When I’m drawing I’m thinking about what I’m doing; but sketching doesn’t give me time for much thought. I’m accessing a skill I’ve slowly developed.

I’m currently enjoying a very different art journey than the one I followed for so many years.