Stretching

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I’ve heard a lot of sketchbook artists say they love the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, and with a bit of discretionary personal money burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to give one a chance. It arrived in the mail last Friday and I’ve been able to give it a couple test runs.

The bird in this spread uses the brush pen. It looks pretty much indistinguishable from the ink + brush combo I’ve used on birds before, so it was a pretty familiar process. The obvious benefit of the pen is having it portable and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I plan on using it primarily on organic drawings in the future—trees, animals, landscapes, and the like.

In the background is a drawing I did of the Siena cathedral (from a photo). It took a very long time, and the inspiration for it was trying to incorporate some of Lapin‘s style into my own. Perhaps I succeeded in my own way. I certainly felt an achievement in how it turned out. Perhaps the composition is muddled, the styles conflicting, the captions banal. But I am very proud of the progress I made in these two pages.

Public

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I’ve brought my sketchbook to several baseball games over the years, but I can never seem to get a decent drawing. For one thing, I’m much better at objects than scenes. Also, having people right there next to you as you do your thing is unnerving, even if you’re certain they’re not watching. (At a Rockies game, it’s never a sure thing. The team isn’t much to watch.)

So this time I got myself all pumped up beforehand. I was going to draw. A lot.

I didn’t end up drawing a lot. It was a hot day and sure enough, people were right there next to me to watch. The only time I got in any sketching was when they left for shade during the middle innings. I tried my darnedest to do something decent, but I’d say the results were uneven. Oh well, I suppose that’s just an excuse to go to another baseball game.

Time

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I have a strange relationship with watches.

When I was little, I would intensely love a new watch. They were always brightly colored, and this was in the time when having a stopwatch or a little light on your watch was a huge deal. I pretended it gave me powers, like Batman. But, because I was a kid, I would invariably lose the watch within a week. I distinctly remember my dad voicing his frustration over this.

Then I grew up, as people often do, and I started holding down a job, as people often do. I wore a watch for its functionality, and I started being able to hold on to it for a long time. I still did get the occasional goofy watch, like the huge, clunky, blue Bart Simpson watch I got from Burger King that had a button to make it say, “Cool your jets, man.” I loved that watch. My girlfriend, now my wife, did not.

I took a lot of pride in not losing my watches anymore. So much so, that I never lost another watch. I have a half-dozen of them sitting in my nightstand at home. They all have dead batteries, but they’d still work. And now that we have iPods and computers everywhere, and I work in an office with clocks on the walls, I no longer need a watch. I stopped wearing them a few months ago in an experiment at freeing up my mind, and now I can’t go back. I’ve tried, but it hurts my wrist. It’s like my body is telling me not to enslave myself any longer.

And I suppose that’s sort of like our relationship to time. It’s precious when we’re young because we’ve seen so little of it, but it’s intense and bright and magical. We learn to harness it to some extent as we grow older, then we reach a point where we realize it’s controlling us. We try to step away from being slaves to it, with varying levels of success. Hmmm.

I don’t know, just musing.

Failure

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I got it into my head recently that I would like to learn how to loosen up my style, be more free-flowing and painterly. Mostly it’s because I’ve been very intrigued following the exploits of Veronica Lawlor who, admittedly, has far more experience and talent. But it’s good to have goals, right?

I drew this tree outside my place of business one day at lunch. And it didn’t go so well, certainly not anywhere near where I’d like it to be. As much as I like the idea of being connected to nature, actually sitting outside for any amount of time makes me uncomfortable. Ants, bugs, a four-foot long bull snake (yep, that happened), not really my idea of good times. Furthermore, I lacked the patience to do the painting right. In my mind I equate freshness with speed, and perhaps that’s not so much the case. Things get muddy. And a marker I decided to use (the purple at the base of the tree) ended up bleeding through the paper. I finished this page feeling pretty discouraged.

And I guess the point I want to take away from this failure is that I need to keep trying. It would help me to learn from my mistakes and take another attempt at it. Try standing so the ants don’t get me. Maybe use a different set of tools. Be more patient and controlled when it comes time to color things in. I honestly don’t know what will work in response to this or not. I have a goal, and I’ll know when I get there, but until then I’m just fumbling around to see what gets me closer. Sort of an artistic game of hot-and-cold.

Too Hot

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A word of advice: it’s nice to come home from a road trip a day or two early, to get things squared away before heading back to work. I’m a big fan of this idea.

What I’m not such a fan of is coming home three or more days before you go back to work. Especially if you’ve been driving for two whole days with small children. They get totally bored in the car, so when you finally get home you will be exhausted and they will be completely hyper. And if it happens to be the hottest weekend of the summer, that’s a double whammy. Then you’re trying to stay out of the heat as well, and I’m convinced that society as a whole goes a bit nuts in extreme heat.

All that aside, this particular weekend actually had some good moments. Instead of trying to stay up for fireworks on the 4th, our tradition is to tune in for the PBS Capitol 4th Whatever-they-call-it. This year’s installment was deliciously atrocious. You can count on four things from this program: 1. Tom Bergeron, 2. B-list teen heart throb du jour, 3. fireworks, and 4. some completely washed up old singer who has no business being in front of a crowd anymore. Previous installments of this have included Neil Diamond (I’m actually a fan of his) and Barry Manilow. They have nothing on this year’s re-animated corpse of Frankie Valli. They had to keep cutting away from the close-ups of him because he was incapable of keeping up with lip syncing his own songs. I might have laughed the entire time.

Also, as the page says, Michael MacDonald is completely unintelligible by now. But somehow he was just annoying instead of entertaining. [Shrugs.]

Vacationeering

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Ever since we had kids, my wife and I haven’t taken a real, honest-to-goodness vacation. And we still haven’t, because this year we took two weeks to visit family in Minnesota. I don’t know about you, but travelling to see relatives is not something I’d categorize as even remotely relaxing. But this time around everything was pretty smooth sailing. I was able to stop trying to control things and ended up having a pretty good time, despite the cool weather and mosquitoes.

Travelling with a sketchbook is always a tricky situation. I don’t really want to slow anyone else down, and I usually can’t find the time otherwise, so I end up drawing much less than I want. But, again, this time proved different. I had plenty of opportunities to get some drawing in, either on the scene or from my mind’s eye afterward. It was a good way to step back from the hectic nature of travelling with small children (we drove, because we’re geniuses) and find a bit of sanity.

Anyone out there travel with small kids, and find the time to actually do some decent sketching?

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Style

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I have a lot of personal inner anguish about style. It goes something like this: as a graphic designer by trade, I have always thought it was best not to have a style. My job is to solve other peoples’ visual problems, which means it’s an asset to be a bit of a chameleon. But that leaves my brain wired to pretty much mimic anything. You ever see that SNL where Phil Hartman was the host, and his monologue was about not knowing what his own voice was? Yeah, it’s sorta like that.

Another complicating factor is that I just got a copy of An Illustrated Journey. It’s an amazing and inspiring book, but every few pages is a new style and another way I want to try doing things. So each page or spread I make in my sketchbook is another direction. Will I use the Uniball, the dip pen, or a brush for the ink on this one? Will I use watercolors, water-soluble crayons, colored pencils, all?

And here’s another thing—I’m really good at copying other people. That’s not trying to be a brag, but I can mimic very well. This spread above is in the style of Tommy Kane, who is a major influence on me. He gave a lesson in Sketchbook Skool recently about how it’s okay, good even, to steal someone else’s style. But the main idea is to make it part of your own style. Don’t be too convincing in looking like the person you’re heisting. But when I go for the thick outlines, the cross-hatching, the colored pencil finish, it ends up looking very Kane-ish. Too much so for my taste. But it also looks so good and I like making really good drawings.

So that’s the problem in a nutshell. No firm direction, and afraid to be too good at copying others. These are probably universal creativity problems, but they seem very unique to me right now.