Twelve years ago, in November 2009, my sister mentioned something she'd seen in the newspaper. This guy, the Seattle Sketcher, was inviting people to sketch at Volunteer Park the following weekend. Was I interested?
I went and I fell in love with sketching. And I keep falling in love again and again and again -- every time I hit the streets to sketch what I see.
|My very first sketch with Seattle Urban Sketchers - 11-21-2009|
In some ways, my first sketch outing was the re-kindling of an old flame -- like meeting up with a former beau and starting up where were left off. I'd been drawing since I was a kid. I studied art in college -- drawing, painting, printmaking -- but not being confident enough to believe I could earn a living at it, I expanded my interests enough to get an unfocused degree from a local liberal arts college. I continued to draw quietly. I was a closeted sketcher.
In 2005, my son returned from college study-abroad in Italy and brought me a deliciously creamy handmade paper sketchbook from the Amalfi coast. I took it with me on a trip to China in 2006 and made a few simple sketches.
|Hainan Island - Save to Living the Station |
Then came 2009 and the sketch outing at Volunteer Park. I didn't know what to expect, but I was excited. That day I met other folks who I knew what it was like to be taken aback at what they saw, put a pen to paper, and record it. And better yet, there was no need for a studio, easels, or special lighting. The world was my studio and there was a reason to sketch -- to share other sketchers. The practice was simple--meet up, sketch, share, post. That's it.
Due to Seattle's notorious November drizzle, we held our 2009 throwdown in the now-closed observation deck of the water tower at the south end of the concourse. The guy, Gabi Campanario, gave us credentials to sign in to the blog he had just created for Seattle Urban Sketchers. He explained the manifesto. I immediately signed on and then volunteered to start a Facebook Page for the group. I was happily hooked on sketching and I was committed to driving the 120 miles round-trip for every outing I could.
|Group Photo at the Water Tower Observation Deck - Nov. 21, 2009|
I've come to understand that this aspect--falling in love with what you see--is, for me, not only a side effect but a key component in the art of sketching. Frederick Franck, author of The Zen of Seeing calls it identification
"To find the essence, the artist needs the grace to obey the reflex with ever increasing sensitivity, coordination, and freedom. The reflex begins in identification. I have to become the apple, then draw the apple, yet remain myself. What applies to the apple, of course, applies to a figure or a crowd. Where identification is missing, I stumble, and find I cannot draw a line."
- My Eye is in Love, by Frederick Franck.
I find if I slow down enough to connect with what I'm drawing as I'm drawing it, my hand records what I'm seeing/feeling. That is the reward of drawing from life.
Sure, I have grown as a sketcher over the past 12 years -- I've gotten better at remembering principles of composition, color theory perspective. But the real value for me is experiencing the activity of seeing/drawing/drawing.
|2019 - A friend's 50th Birthday Party - Sunny's Bar, Red Hook Brooklyn. It was dark and I couldn't see what I was drawing. One of the most fun times I've had drawing at a restaurant/bar. |
I hear people say it in many ways. They remember the whole experience of being on location--the sights, smells, sounds. When they look at old sketches the experience comes back to them with all the senses ignited. When they sketch it's like a meditation. They slow down; they're in the moment.
Sounds like love to me.
I sketch a lot now. It makes me feel alive. It rekindles my love of life. I've sketched in places I never thought I'd see. I've made connections with people who know what I'm talking about.
To honor this past twelve years with urban sketchers, I re-visited the location of my first sketch outing, Volunteer, that expansive Olmstead park on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I love the expansive park, Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Water Tower at the south end of the concourse, and of course, the Volunteer Park Conservatory which was modeled after London's Crystal Palace.
When I visited the other day, it was unusually cold. I chose to draw some of the same subjects I had drawn in 2009. but took the most time with the Conservatory. It was a challenge. November nostalgia painted the skies grey, but the room of poinsettias tinted the windows. While I sketched I was totally focused. Until shivering took over,
I was in love . . . with yet another corner of the world.