The Terroir of Sketching

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.

Volcanos National Park, Hawaii

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.

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