We took our first real trip since getting back from France in March of 2020 – destination, southern Utah’s national parks. We visited Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Bears Ears, Escalande, Capitol Reef, and Hovenweep in Colorado. It was an eye-opening experience.
We started with a visit to the Alaska Boardroom at SeaTac, I was a member for many years, thankfully a couple of people I knew were still working, good to see a friendly face from the past.
Thinking more about why we do art and what, if anything we are trying to say. It strikes me that there are times when I am just looking for something to paint for the sole reason that I feel like painting. In that situation any interesting object will do. Other times the sketch is driven by the moment, capturing it is a means of experiencing the time and place more fully, as well as a memento for the future. Neither of these would fall under the category of having a message, other than revealing my tastes.
Here are two sketches I did this week that captured a moment. One was at the Red Cork in Mukilteo. I was waiting to pick Tricia up at her bus stop so we could go to Cabernets & IPA’s for dinner. The other is of turtles sunning themselves on a log at Golden Gardens Park on Shilshoe Bay in Seattle. (Check out Tricia’s Travels Through My Lens)
Often though an artist is a revealer, an illustrator, illuminator, or they cast a spotlight on the world. We put thoughts and events into pictures that do in fact have a message in them by the emphasis we make.
If you look at the classic painters they illuminate an event in a way that is introspective, causing us to react to the scene. Here are two very different styles, both stir very different emotions.
The first is Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal Son.” The sensitive forgiveness is clear in the fathers face, the skeptical onlookers, all challenge us to consider how forgiving we are to others. The son himself reminds us of the times we need forgiveness and acceptance.
Picasso was so angered by the destruction of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War that he painted “Guernica.” He said of the painting, “Painting is not done to decorate apartments, it is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.” Even today it is hard to look at the painting and not be moved by the evil of war.
The horrible destruction of our forests through fires and the clear-cut logging of old growth forests has been on my mind of late. That was the motivation behind two pieces I did this week. My goal was to create an image that would move people to grasp a bit of what we are doing to the planet as we move at a snails pace to address global warming, a pace that ensures its destruction
So I have adjusted my thinking: yes artists may have a message, or they may just be capturing a moment.
It’s getting close, really close. Travel is again in the realistic future, and I am ready. Utah and national parks in just 21 days and confidently we are planning Europe in the spring.
Followers of this blog know my compulsiveness about packing light. Tricia and I traveled for five weeks in Scotland, France and Italy a few years back, each of us had one carry-on-sized roller and a shoulder bag, we both admitted after the trip that we had clothes that we wore at most one time, if even that. My sketching kit is just as compact. (Be sure to check out Tricia’s photos from that trip on her blog)
A shoulder bag is most always one of my accouterments. For the 25 years I traveled for work my bag, most recently a Timbuk2, which replaced an Antler bag from Australia, was always packed and ready at a moments notice. It carried my passport, sketching stuff, noise cancelling headphones, etc. In memory of my mother I have a new NutSac Mag-Satch 11, it is perfect and packed.
So here is my current travel kit and some explanation.
My watercolor pallet is of course Art Toolkit. I fill it before I leave, and then carry in my luggage pre-filled pans of a couple of most used paints, though I rarely need them, I never carry tubes, as they are a bother. (BTW I have never in any country had any problems with tubed watercolors and security, ever.) I do at times stick a white gouache in for highlights.
There is plenty of room for a couple of sketchbooks, though the largest i carry is a 6×8”. At the moment there is a small Moleskine and a Stillman@Birn Epsilon Series.
Recently I switched to a Caran d’Ache waterbrush. It has a built in piston for filling and better bristles than the Pentel that I have used for 25 years.
There are two fountain pens: TWSBI fine nib, and Manufactus Fine nib. The brass looking pencil is a SMOOTHERPRO metal tip forever pencil. It is like using a 7H pencil, never needs sharpening, and works great for under-sketching. For graphite I use Kaweco Sport 3mm, sharpener is always in the watch pocket of my jeans. Recently I discovered a Faber Castile Dust Free eraser.
Then of course there is my iPad Mini, the full size ones are just too big and heavy for my compulsiveness of light and small. The stand is Max Smart, truly a game changer when sketching on the spot.
My packing advice to travelers is to ask this question of every item you take, art or otherwise, “Will I use it?” If the answers is, “I might.” Then leave it behind. The odds are you can figure out a work around or buy what you need.
People ask, “What is the artist trying to say?” It beats me. Living artists often give some esoteric reason for their painting, all too often motivated by a desire to be relevant. Dead artists must suffer with academic explanations that assume they know the intimate thoughts and desires of the artist – we are rarely correct when we analyze an other person’s motives, I rarely understand all of mine. And even after I get some explanation from someone who “knows” what the artist is saying I still find myself looking at the painting and thinking, “really??”
I realize that I have probably just insulted some artists and academics, so I apologize. Yes, I am sure, some artists have a message they want to convey, and I say more power to them, but for me, and I would guess many other artists, I just don’t get it, nor do I do art with some underlying meaning.
My first book, “Let it be Hot” came out many years ago – not exactly setting the publishing world on fire. People would often ask, “What motivated you to write it?” You could tell they were looking for some moment in my life that motivated me to write, I am sure my answer was disappointing. I wrote it at the beginning of my seminar speaking career, and since seminar speakers write books and sell them at seminars I wrote one – not too deep of a reason.
Artist’s motivations are quite varied. Monet was fascinated by light, he was not really trying to paint a scene, he was trying to capture the colors of the light. Van Gogh was obsessed with the peasant farmers, the burdened people of the world, because he felt that they were like him, so he painted them as a kind of catharsis which of course did not really work out too well in the long run.
So if not trying to make a statement what am I, and many others, painting for? To capture a moment, to embrace what is before us, or even just because the mixing of paint is a lot of fun. A photograph captures everything, and photo artists do their magic by composition and lighting. An urban or travel sketcher captures the part of a scene that touches them, or that they want to remember.
This is the terroir of sketching. We sketch what is around us, I live near the mountains and Puget Sound, so those images are frequent, when on a trip it is the places we visit that are the terroir. Yet there is a deeper terroir, what catches the sketcher’s attention regardless of where they are. For some it is the people, others the buildings. If a group of sketchers go to a coffee shop to sketch, some will fill pages with the people in the cafe, the architecture only serves as framing for the people. Me, I tend to sketch the counter, the cafe itself, adding people as interest to the overall scene.
Rolando Macedo is one of my favorite artists, I have one of his rare still life paintings. Macedo lives in Lahaina, Hawaii so of course most all of his paintings are of Hawaii life. We absorb the terroir of what we like and what is around us.
Here are a few sketches from the last couple of weeks: mostly landscapes with a few buildings, one that was the last page for the Brooklyn Sketchbook Project, and a couple of plants.
I did the Volcanoes National Park sketch for a blog Tricia is posting today on National Parks we have visited. Visit her site for some wonderful photos. Travels Through My Lens
In the end as long as we are enjoying art the why does not matter. So keep on sketching and traveling.
Where I first heard of “70-20-10” eludes me, I know I did not come up with it though it reflects reality for those of us who create: 70% of what we sketch, paint or create will be mediocre or average, 20% will be just crap, junk, and 10% will be truly wonderful. Expecting everything we do to be amazing is a surefire set-up for frustration and disappointment. Even the great Monet wrote a letter in his mid-forties that he could not produce anything of value and wondered if he should just give up painting, a sentiment frequently shared by Van Gough. Yet we persist through the crap and the mediocre for the thrill of the 10%, the secret is to find satisfaction in the process of all the art we produce, not in the “likes” we get on Instagram; though I do like the likes.
Robert Ringer had what he called “The sustaining of a positive mental attitude by the assumption of a negative result.” His world was business not art but it applies to artists as well. He observed that the majority of the endeavors we embark on fall short so we should not be shocked and dismayed when that happens, we should not allow the things that do not work out to ruin our day, because life tells us that this is what will happen more often than not – sounds a lot like the 70-20-10. This is not pessimism, it is accepting reality. Ringer also says that “if we don’t use reality to our advantage it will always work against us.” He is emphatic that we must do everything possible to bring success. I must give every sketch, even a 5 minute quickie, my best. Yet when it does not produce a masterpiece move on and look forward to the next piece.
Here are a few of my endeavors this week, I will leave the evaluation of 70-20-10 up to others. What I do know is that I enjoyed the week and that is what matters.
Sketching captures my thoughts and experiences then saves them for later reflection while enhancing the moment itself. Though I do have journals, it is clear that the traditional practice of faithfully recording the day’s events eludes me. Random thoughts get recorded, a memorable meal or person, yet spontaneous rather than intentional. Perusing my sketches over a period of time reveals the non-linear nature of my life and thinking, these last two weeks are a prime example.
A post on Instagram reminded me of how I started doing art in the first place: pen and ink. Color and paint intimidated me, lines seemed safe – though one of the first things I learned about pen and ink was to use hatching to indicate shapes not lines, to this day I avoid using a continuous line, which is not always a good thing.
The first sketches in ink last week, done with fountain pen these days, were of Joshua Tree National Park. My thoughts are often about nature and National Parks are a national treasure. My second was of Phare de Cordouan in France.
No week would be complete without a visit or two to un café. So I had un café noisette at Uptown Expresso – Magnolia, while sketching people at Starbucks across the street – how Northwest is that? The sketch was done on iPad with Procreate and Apple Pencil.
The fountain pen sketching was fun, so why not do ink sketches on iPad? And why limit myself to the real world around me? The result was a couple from my imagination: wandering in the desert, and watching a boat sail by. I added a bit of color for interest.
It was hot on Friday so sketching flowers on the deck made good sense, one in a sketchbook with ink and watercolor, the other on the iPad.
Our friend Tim came up from Portland for a few days while Lisa was in San Diego visiting her mom and watching the Olympics. On Tuesday we went up to Taylor’s Shellfish Farm on Chuckanut Drive. Tim of course had to climb on the rocks. See if you can find him in the sketch. I would imagine Tricia will blog about it one day on Travels Through My Lens.
On Wednesday Tim joined me for my coffee and wandering in Magnolia, discovering that he had never been to the Ballard locks, we headed to Ballard after coffee and a book store – our reward was watching a Sentinel-class Coast Guard cutter going through. We finished the day by meeting up with Tricia at Tapster back at South Lake Union in the Google building.
So it was quite a varied couple of weeks: pen and ink, ink and wash, ink style on iPad, ink and wash style on iPad, coffee shops, National Parks, France, flowers, my own imagination. The wonder of sketching is it works to remember and enhance all of our experiences. I hope your travels are as varied as mine, the distance you go does not matter, nor does it matter if the trip is real or imagined, the important thing is to enjoy and sketch the journey.
We rekindled some old memories this week at the Deckhouse on Chuckanut Drive.
When I was young we had a 1950’s era tent trailer. It had plywood sides that were stained dark brown, long before plastic I have no idea what the flat roof-top was made of, only that it was heavy. The sides of the part that expanded, an unpleasant task for one or two people pushing the roof up, then poking metal pins into holes in the four corner posts to keep it up, a process destined to produce a few swear words, were made of faded green canvas. There was a Coleman style stove for cooking and four bunks; in those days any kind of “indoor” toilet was not even a dream. The mattresses were standard camper and youth camp issue of the day: off-white ticking with blue stripes. For some reason after the tent-trailer was passed on to some other unwary soul we ended up keeping the mattresses, stored on shelves in the garage. They turned our backyard on Harrison Street in Milwaukie into everything from a camp ground, a place for tumbling and gymnastics, and the interior design for multiple tents and forts.
Us kids frequently slept outside in the summer; I remember sleeping outside every day for a week or more when I was maybe ten. The camping adventures that we did as a family, unenthusiastically by mom, but a favorite of dad’s, are some of my best memories. I loved sleeping outside. I remember one night, when I was about six, on Saddle Mountain in the Coast Range, not far from Astoria where we lived at the time. It was just Dad, me, and the violent thunder and lightening that shook our tent. As I got older backpacking was my passion, often with only a tarp for a tent, strung between a couple of trees, or on occasion, just sleeping on the ground with the tarp on top of the sleeping bag if there was chance of rain. But the back yard adventures are a special memory.
The Deckhouse on Chuckanut Drive has a large deck, with an amazing view of the Salish Sea, game trails through the underbrush, frequented by deer, just a few feet away, and two enticing chaise lounges. I don’t know who suggested sleeping outside first but Tricia and I looked at each other and said, “why not.”
No sleeping bags, there was one large fleece throw, a couple of large beach towels for hot tub use, and a couple of extra bath towels. Tricia used the fleece, I retrieved a wool plaid stadium blanket from the trunk, grabbed a beach towel, and we settled in. Eventually the stars came out, with the sun down the far away lights of Anacordes twinkled on the horizon, and we fell asleep. It was like the back yard on Harrison Street all over again.
At about 1.30am we both woke up, and decided to move inside. Yet we enjoyed it so much we did the same thing the next night. Thankfully we don’t grow out of everything we did as a child.
Here are a few other sketches from the week. Imagination of a chapel, and sketches at Taylor’s Shellfish Farm
Wherever your travels take you this week, keep on capturing the moments in your sketchbook.
In Derbyshire, on the banks of the Trent River, stands a limestone Anchorite cave church. Archaeologist Edmund Simons said: “Our findings demonstrate that this odd little rock-cut building in Derbyshire is more likely from the 9th century than from the 18th century as everyone had originally thought. This makes it probably the oldest intact domestic interior in the UK – with doors, floor, roof, windows, etc.- and, what’s more, it may well have been lived in by a king who became a saint.”
Anchor Churches, or more properly Anchorite Churches from the greek anachōreō meaning “to withdraw” or “to depart into the countryside,” were built in the 6th through the 9th centuries. They were the cells of hermits who withdrew to live a solitary life of meditation and prayer.
This particular cave church was most likely occupied by Eardwulf, King of Northumbria after he was exiled from power, a somewhat common practice in those days. His devotion resulted in his canonization as Saint Hardulph, a nearby church bears his name.
On my next trip in the area I plan to take the Anchor Church Walk in the Village of Ingleby, which passes by this and other cave churches in the area. I would love to sketch these plein air, and I know Tricia will take some great photos for her blog Travels Through My Lens.
Here are a few other recent sketches. I hope you are sketching and getting out more.
It is hard to believe that 2021, this year that we looked forward to with such anticipation, is already half over. Washington State is now pretty much back to normal, masks and such still used by some, most trusting the vaccine or just not concerned – the change is quite welcome.
It has been a long time since I have done any Sumi style painting, I downloaded a brush set for my Procreate and gave them a try.
Sunday the temps started rising to record numbers. From my deck I watched a parade of folks getting out early for their walks and jogs.
Monday was over 100F, extremely rare for us Puget Sound folks.
Our daughter was in town briefly, we went to the Sculpture Garden in Seattle, Smith Tower was in the distance. I sketched this standing on the overpass while Tricia wandered on taking photos.
Wednesday, as seems to be my new norm, I met up with Tricia at South Lake Union. Tapster Seattle is a new spot, I sat on the deck and sketched Google folks eating lunch in the sun.
It was a good week, a bit hectic at times, but good. I have discovered that I have come accustomed to the simple routine that developed during the COVID shutdowns, time to get reenergized.
At the most basic level I am a sketcher, yes I paint and sell watercolors and acrylics, but in my soul I am a sketcher. Sketching captures the moment, expressing emotions better than a carefully constructed painting, because with sketching the process is more important than the outcome – just what I needed this week.
Flowers are a comfort whether growing in a garden or arranged in a vase, I did this on my iPad in the style of an acrylic on canvas.
Sunday and the events of the week got me thinking of chapels in France, which always brings me a sense of peace. This is Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe (Needle) near Le Puy-en-Velay, France. It takes a climb of 268 steps that are carved into the rock to get to the chapel. Someday I would like to give it a go.