Yesterday Marilyn Juda-Orlandi, of Monte Porzio Catone, Italy, wrote, “Now that it’s summer I often spend a day at the beach. It’s an opportunity to have a lot of scantily dressed free models! All shapes and sizes, from children playing to big fat Botero-size figures. I bring a sketch book with me and it’s a great exercise to draw people in odd perspectives (like Mantegna’s Christ) — foreshortened, lying in the sand, etc.”
Thanks, Marilyn. On the beach at Nice with a long lens I was just another papa paparazzi voyeur. With camera tucked away and a sketchbook in hand I was un artiste extraordinaire and the focus of friendly, wander-by encounters. Funnily, when you’re drawing, people don’t seem to mind the staring. Something happens in people’s brains when they see a sketcher. “Just a harmless, self-indulgent hobbyist,” they think. “Probably needs money.”
In sensitive zones a camera can be dangerous. In 2001, travelling by car from Beirut to Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon, we found the road lined with tanks in revetments and the occasional parked MiG25. I was sitting in the front seat with my long lens — the one my friends call “the bazooka.” Every so often we came to a checkpoint with smartly dressed, Kalashnikov-wielding Syrians who peered in and waved us on. I covered my equipment with a big, touristy, inaccurate map.
There’s a time for photos and a time for drawings. In the summer in Canada’s far North, the sun never sets. Time itself seems distended and drawing is often the appropriate mode. For those most agreeable and gentle sitters, the Inuit, I sketched on Lithographic paper so I could make copies and return them by mail — their names and addresses right on the drawings. Nowadays, mailed photocopies do the same courtesy. People really treasure drawings as gifts. Years later I’ve seen my efforts still pinned to walls — sometimes marked here and there by smudgy fingers.
Restraining creative excitement in subject-rich environments can be difficult. Voracious as we may be in our collecting, we generally have time for human interaction. In sharing the magic, we give our imaging a beating heart.
PS: “Our responses to the world are crucially molded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others.” (Alain de Botton)
Esoterica: Small inconsequential cameras, as well as small inconsequential sketch pads, create less concern. I once had an entrepreneurial young Mexican ask for 25 pesos every time I snapped my big one at his sister or mother. He thought I was an important guy. For a while in Spain and North Africa I used a 45-degree mirror mounted on the lens shade. Nice idea — you can look in one direction and take pictures in another. But people watch you and soon catch on. By far the most satisfactory solution is to simply and enthusiastically ask, “Do you mind if I draw you?” Most often you get a smile and “Si, senor, no problema.” Sometimes you get a guava melon or a bunch of grapes as well. In more ways than one, art is shaking hands with strangers.
Robert Genn — drawings as friend-makers
by Ursula Kirchner, Germany
Stuttgart has a green heart. It’s a big, lovely square with two castles, two fountains with putti and a huge pillar with an angel on top. There are chestnut trees and many flowers. At sunset, people are sitting happily under a café’s umbrella with big helpings of ice cream. People are lying in the grass or passing by and they all want to be seen, especially the young girls. It’s fun to draw.
by Martha Markowsky, Ottawa, ON, Canada
I have read with great interest your current letter of sketching versus using a camera. It all comes back to one of your letters a short time back regarding drawing. A photo is a snap shot. A sketch is a memory trip. You remember the small nuances, the fly on your face, the conversation over there, the hot weather and the movement or lack thereof of the people or thing being sketched. My travel diary consists of sketches with notations. It provides more memories since it was all about seeing and recording.
by Lisa Stewart, Raleigh, NC, USA
I’ve discovered long ago — as a kid — that drawing is a natural extension of myself. Where can I find the lithographic paper you mentioned? I’ve Googled the term and cannot seem to locate it.
(RG note) Thanks, Lisa. And thanks to all who asked this question. The lithographic paper that I use produces an image about 13 x 19 inches. Most grease pencils will do the trick. The paper fits on a standard A. B. Dick, Multilith, or other lithographic press. Many commercial print shops still have one of these machines, outdated to some degree now, but nevertheless workable. I have been in the habit of taking in a few dozen different drawings at a time and running off about twenty copies of each. Some presses take thin aluminum sheets, and these work nicely too, though not as smooth as the paper ones.
Sketching to entertain
by Annette Waterbeek, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
Going back a few years, my kids were into high school basketball. I was one of the driving moms and to pass the time I would sketch. It started as stick figures to just get the motion, then they became a little more detailed. After a while at doing this you got to know how the kids’ bodies would move and as a result, the sketches became more automatic.
by Michael Warner, NY, USA
When I was 15 years old (summer of 1966) and on a choir trip to Germany, we toured most of the large cities and eventually arrived in West Berlin. We were allowed to spend a half-day in East Berlin sightseeing — if it could be called that. Where the West was colorful and gay — the East was quiet, reserved in drab shades of gray and browns. One of my fellow singers took a photo, with his Kodak, of a building just as an Army truck went by. Immediately two AK-47 guards marched up to us, confiscated his camera, and stripped the film out of it to expose the emulsion. They handed back the camera, devoid of film, and left several terrified young Americans in their wake. Remember the Wall?
by Sonja Donnelly, Lake Oswego, OR, USA
Why didn’t I think to ask for a name and address? While on a vacation with friends in California, I was testing my new camera and taking random pictures of everything. We stopped at Starbucks and this adorable little girl was sitting in a chair with her dog. I jumped out of the car and asked if I could take her picture. She agreed. When I got home and looked at that shot, I was truly taken by that picture. The light was perfect in the late afternoon, giving such a warm glow to her skin. I couldn’t have improved on the pose and composition. She and her dog were adorable. I was wishing I could send her a copy, but had no idea who she was. I even debated sending a copy to my friend and having her post it at the Starbucks, in hopes she would see it. Hopefully, I will not have to be regretful again. I will be asking for names and addresses to send them a copy. And perhaps make a new friend in the process.
by Leslie Anderson, Sedgwick, Maine, USA
I’ve been so busy this summer I’d gotten behind on my Painter’s Keys reading, so I printed out a batch of them to read while sitting all day at an outdoor art show (my first as an exhibitor) in Camden, Maine.
I “bozetto” like crazy, then mat them up and sell them for $50 at the farmers markets in Blue Hill and Stonington, Maine. But here’s the thing: how do I get the looseness, audacity, freedom and elan of the bozettos into my larger work? I’m trying bigger brushes, setting a timer (to make me stop every 20 minutes), working wetter (I work in acrylics), but I’m not there yet. Any suggestions?
Seeing or being
by Pat Oblak, Miami, FL, USA
As you have recently also delighted me in writing of John Ruskin, it reminded me of de Botton’s book The Art of Travel, one of my favorites, where he attempts to experience specific places through the eyes of artists who have immortalized those places through their works. He speaks of Ruskin’s evangelic advocacy of drawing over photography, although admitting that both have their place. Alain de Botton writes, “…he began to note the devilish problem that photography created for the majority of its practitioners. Rather than employing it as a supplement to active, conscious seeing, they used the medium as a substitute, paying less attention to the world than they had done previously, taking it on faith that photography automatically assured them possession of it.” Through drawing, the artist is compelled to see the way a leaf joins its branch, the branch joins its trunk, the trunk its roots, and so on. Drawing demands that the artist pauses to be. What greater gift is there than that? Live! See! Capture beauty!
by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA
I am guilty of cruising around with my digital camera throughout France and Italy over the past 2 years and so far the responses have been positive or ho-hum. However, my feedback was rather unexpected when I was shooting native ‘models’ in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was taken by the delightful scene I stumbled upon in a busy local market. An older woman in colorful dress was snoozing as she sat on the ground in the outdoor tent surrounded by her fruits and nuts… a truly artistic display of the local culture, I thought! I quickly snapped my photo as the nearby locals gasped in horror. Well Senora’s eyes opened wider than my shutter and up she jumped throwing her colorful delicacies at me. I proceeded to run from her while being bombarded throughout the market. It was quite a scene. I learned later that it was considered an insult and perhaps against her religious leanings to be photographed at all! When I got home anxious to see the picture, I searched for the image, it was gone! All the other photos were there. I think she willed it away. Anyhow, I’ve learned to ask before “shooting” (well, only if I’m looking obvious, that is!).
Don’t hold back
by Sandy Sandy, Tabernacle, NJ, USA
A few years ago, we had an unusually warm break in February. I headed for the beach with my sketch pad and easel in tow. There were only a few people on the island, let alone on the beach. I did some pattern sketches with a brush and wash. Although it was warm, the winter wind was blowing and the sand was flying. I incorporated several of the figures that were present. Two men came over and talked to me. The sketches were extremely simple, even crude, but the couple seemed impressed. I told them I may do some paintings from the sketches. They said that if I did the one of them, they would be interested in seeing it. I took their contact information, did a painting, emailed it to them and sold it that week.
If any artist out there has the initiative and “balls” to plop themselves down and sketch in a populated resort or historic area, I’m sure that eventually it would lead to proficiency and profit. Of course, it would take some artists more time and fortitude than others depending on their artistic as well as people skills. I know, ever since that day, that even though we artists think our work is not so good at times, others may see it differently. So, I guess the message to artists out there is: Don’t let that feeling of not being good enough hold you back and keep you from reaching your potential.
Welcome critics like John Ruskin
by Pamela Griffith, Sydney, Australia
An excellent biography of John Ruskin by Tim Hilton, covers all periods of Ruskin’s life. It’s now in paperback rather than two volumes in hard cover. Knowing about Ruskin is essential to understanding the age in which he had so much influence. His ideas still permeate the art community. I always urge my drawing students to buy his treatise on drawing.
The American critic Clement Greenberg influenced art here in Australia. He was powerful and he skewed art his way. Influential critics can certainly impact on the art output of a country and may hinder some artists as well as give others a boost. Art generally suffers very little coverage in the press these days, and when written up it is often in a derisive way. I would welcome critics with the prodigious output of John Ruskin, and if they are clever enough, like Ruskin, to draw attention to the importance of art and artists to a society.
Close Friends, Magale
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.
That includes Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki of Port Moody, BC, Canada who wrote, “You have us artists lined up, and in each letter you give one of us a pat on the head until you make a round. Then, you make another round by giving each a kick in the pants. Keep making your rounds… perhaps that’s how you help keep us all in the game!”
And also Isobel McCreight of Orillia, ON, Canada who wrote, “Each letter sent in is akin to having coffee with an artist pal and I am nodding my head, to say I understand what they have written about.”
And also John Burk of Timonium, MD, USA who wrote, “Artists are hunters first, before they become recordists. And I love the hunt as much as the recording.”
And also Mary I. Johnson of Albany, OR, USA who wrote, “The information you share is invaluable, and I find myself often referring back to your ideas to solve many of my creative problems.”