View Full Version : Elaine's Super Sloppy Homemade Coptic-bound Ink and Watercolor Sketchbook

05-11-2012, 07:05 PM
Whew, okay. I blame Tina. I found her blog last week and started corresponding with her at first about brush pens (because no kidding, I think she is my long-lost twin separated at birth. It's spooky how much we have in common.) Anyway she pointed me here and described the amazing 117 page AMASS thread, which I just spent the past two nights reading. I have managed to come through the experience only $25 poorer than when I started. (An amazing feat of self-control. But I suspect the repressed frustration is going to make me explode at the next Dick Blick clearance sale here.)

I also started to read the threads showing people's journals, and I'm in awe. So much talent and skill. With real humility, I am posting some pages from my latest sketchbook to share with you. Like Tina, I only started sketching this past January, after a couple of decades spent doing textiles and beadwork. I had the misfortune of going to a small liberal-arts college in the late 1970s, when representational art was considered a sellout and so very uncool. Nonetheless, I kept trying to do figurative work, and each time my professors made it really clear that what I was doing was -wrong-. "That's not art. It's just decoration." "That's not art. It's just a joke." One teacher even told me to rip up my week's assignment, in front of the class during the critique. So I gave up studio art and turned to textiles (another passion) and spent my adult life helpless when confronted with a blank page. "I can't draw. I have nothing to draw. I have no talent for it."

Bleh, this is getting long. Long story short, after some catastrophes involving my family and children, I came to a reckoning with myself. I realized that I had spent my adult life longing to draw, and I realized that my teachers in college had been idiots. More than that. They had been irresponsible, and probably had no idea of the damage they'd done. So, I picked up Danny Gregory's book, then Betty Edwards', then started sketching a little every day. And within a couple of weeks, I signed up for a college-level drawing course as Mass College of Art in Boston because I wanted formal instruction. And it's been a joy. This whole experience since January has been a joy, because I've started to reconnect to drawing and seeing the world through artists' eyes -- that unique state of mind of clarity, objectivity, and infinite curiosity about how every shape in the world fits in with all the others.

So, nitty gritty. My sketchbooks are done mostly in brush pen and watercolor. In class I worked in charcoal and then soft pastels (which are unbelievably cool...). From all my years dyeing textiles, I have a pretty well-developed color sense that is very applicable to working with watercolor pigments. My sketchbooks are a mishmash. I have a bunch of very lovely, expensive commercial ones (like a Moleskine Watercolor folio, and a couple of S&Bs) but they completely intimidate me. So I've ended up making really cheap books myself (tearing down a sheet of watercolor paper for each, and binding it up quickly with cardboard covers.) Total costs is about $4 each, so if I mess up and hate what I've done, I can just throw the thing away without a glance backwards. No, I haven't done that yet. But it's nice to know that I could...

So, enough blither. Here's the first pages from a book I started about a week or so ago now. (90lb Arches hot-press watercolor paper)

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7196/7152246297_2fc2594987.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7152246297/)

Onlookers at a local arts festival

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7060/7006156516_fd2c10815c.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7006156516/)

Tea and cake with the sketch group

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7186/7153558849_6dd56fcdbc.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7153558849/)

Juice bottles

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8145/7006160134_de7c7ed068.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7006160134/)

St. Francis garden shrine one block from my house (I only recently realized that these blue and white shrines are regional to just this small area of the U.S. I'd never really paid much attention to them before, but now I think they're kind of interesting.)

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5448/7152248771_4cec1c11ec.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7152248771/)

St. Mary garden shrine. (This is an odd one. Mary appeared to be standing on a dead rabbit with a red apple in its mouth. I've never seen that iconography before.)

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7079/7006159052_5efa55691c.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7006159052/)


http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7236/7152246695_11b4d0dfbd.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7152246695/)
Watercolor palette studies. I spend a lot of time just mushing paint around to see how it mixes and behaves.

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5442/7175064624_bfa0b30c3e.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7175064624/)

View from the 3rd floor window at the library

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7218/7175065344_51303731f4.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7175065344/)

Gentleman reading by the windows in the library

05-11-2012, 08:07 PM
Hey Elaine! Welcome!

Holy Smokes! What great GREAT start. I love the sketches and the vibrancy of colors you're getting! I just started sketching, too. (in Nov last year). Your stuff looks nothing like a beginner's work.

You'll find that the people here are very nice and encouraging. I hope you'll keep posting here!


05-11-2012, 09:27 PM
Hi Elaine, welcome to Wet Canvas. These are fabulous. You may have only been drawing since January, but, I think you've been drawing and painting in your head, practicing, all along. :)

05-11-2012, 11:47 PM
Hi Elaine,

Welcome to the forum! Your professors were idiots. The 'only abstract expressionism is REAL art' period and crowd really was harmful to a lot of people whose tastes were different from what the in crowd deemed as 'right' at the time. Your sketchbook work is great and I look forward to more!

05-12-2012, 12:27 AM
Elaine, welcome! Thanks for sharing more of your story and all the great sketches! Debby's right... you've had those drawing skills all along, just waiting to release. Looking forward to more!

05-12-2012, 01:47 AM
Hi Elaine, welcome. The harm done by not so clever teachers never ceases to amaze me, so glad you decided to draw again! Lovely sketches, and what a clever page of palette study.

05-12-2012, 03:02 AM
Welcome! Your sketches are beautiful, I love your style. The combination of the clear outlines with those strong, vivid colours makes them realy come alive.

I did some quick research on Mary and the rabbit, but the only thing I could come up with it a painting by Titian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Madonna_of_the_Rabbit) and there the rabbit is very much alive and no apple in sight. Very strange.

05-12-2012, 07:12 AM
i love your colour choices....cant wait to see more

05-12-2012, 10:17 AM
Hello and welcome! These are lovely pages. . . I like not only your painting/drawing but the various layouts of your page/text as well

05-12-2012, 10:50 AM
A great start :)

05-12-2012, 11:53 PM
I think all of your art teachers who did and said that should be wacked in the face, with a shovel; figuratively speaking - of c2#%@# no heck with that- > yep, wack 'em! I hope they feel guilty today for what they have done to so many people. It's - to me - like art homicide..


05-13-2012, 06:24 PM
HI Elaine

great drawings. Journalling is so satisfying, isn't it? Sort of a free-style record.

Look forward to seeing more.

05-13-2012, 10:29 PM
Thanks for all the kind words. Yeah, it really wasn't until I started to sketch again in January that I realized just how ANGRY I still was at my teachers. How many years of artwork have I lost, because they were so blinded by their own 70s anti-establishment ego trips? The thing is... it wasn't just one professor in one class. I tried to take studio art courses for my four years of college -- first year at an Ivy League school, and the remaining three at a very art/music-oriented liberal arts school. This was the attitude of every instructor I had at both schools.

I remember freshman year, in my very first college art class, I asked my professor if I could go to the art library and look at other artists' work, and he said no. It was just dead art, he said, printed on dead trees, and was irrelevant. I was kind of stunned. I should have gone and shown him articles about some of the great representational painters at the time, like Wayne Thiebaud, David Hockney, Jim Dine, Alice Neel... ("Dead art on dead trees"? These artists were doing brilliant solo exhibitions in New York and California at the time. Were my professors just living with their heads in the sand?)

Anyway, I do have to accept it all as water under the bridge. There's no sense losing even more time and creative energy to what happened.

So, it was a beautiful day today, the first whispers of summer. I went out with my sketch kit and my brand-new little folding stool to try out. This leaf quickly volunteered for a portrait soon after I sat down.

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7102/7192963704_5e9d684da0_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7192963704/)

I walked along a bikeway into some lightly wooded areas. I saw a lot of this wildflower around, but I don't know its name.

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7084/7192967308_153b7bac49_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7192967308/)

And yesterday's sketch was done yesterday as I was waiting for a doctor's appointment. I'd never noticed there was a fire extinguisher in the corner before. I'm always amazed about how many things in our environment are invisible in plain sight.

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5311/7192965596_28da7e5752_z.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7192965596/)

05-14-2012, 12:31 AM
Amazing detail on the fire extinguisher!

05-14-2012, 01:24 AM
it looks like you are having a blast drawing/painting everything. i'm really enjoying seeing your illustrations. i like that pen you're using. what kind is it? brush pen you say? nice control!

05-14-2012, 02:26 AM
When I started sketching, I was amazed just how many things I never properly saw and how much sketching teaches us to really observe. Your fire extinguisher is a great example :)

Dead art on dead trees, huh? I guess then books are just dead words on dead trees and we should ignore them as well. Heaven forbid we'd learn something from them, both books and art (even if it's only what not to do).

05-14-2012, 04:05 AM
Woohoo, love that red fire extinguisher!

05-14-2012, 02:14 PM
JP, I've been using brush pens in this sketchbook. This one was an Akashiya Waterproof Extra Fine (http://www.jetpens.com/Akashiya-New-Brush-Pen-Super-Fine-Brown-Waterproof-Ink/pd/5276) that makes particularly fine lines. It's good for detailed drawings.

I'd been attracted to brush pens for years -- long before I started drawing. I could never do much with them though, until I started sketching in January. (I really think the attraction had been my heart's way of expressing the longing to draw I unconsciously carried inside. I just hadn't understood what it meant.) I pulled out my brush pen on the second night I started drawing, and never looked back. It actually took me a while to get used to them, but the line quality was so different than anything I'd done before that I didn't mind the clumsiness.

Actually, I still feel clumsy with them (when I look at the brushwork of Japanese and Chinese painting masters, I just blibber and blubber in awe) but it's a joyful clumsiness! They're fun, I'm sort of making a mess, but it's an adventure! And each drawing builds a tiny bit more skill. The word "lyrical" comes to mind when I see brush pen drawings. The line variation brings just so much extra sweetness to the songs people draw on paper.

05-14-2012, 04:50 PM
The drawings are wonderful. Love it that the leaf fell into your lap. That's delightful. And from your writing, you seem to have a knack there too. Keep looking forward. It's never too late.

05-14-2012, 05:56 PM
Lovely sketches. Full of life.

The wildflower looks like a buttercup.

05-14-2012, 07:44 PM
Elaine, that is such a sad and all-too-familiar story. Your sketches are interesting, lively, full of personal style, and show the skill developed in your design work. I enjoy the vibrancy of your color and can feel your excitement in your art.

I think you'll be very interested in seeing this video. It's in four parts that load one after the other. Well worth the time. I wish all the art critics and historians and teachers like the ones you had could see it.



05-14-2012, 11:23 PM
Elaine, I don't mean to hijack your thread...
Jamie thanks so much for putting that video up, I watched them all. I have always opted for beauty.

05-15-2012, 01:13 AM
Good stuff, thank you for posting it, Jamie. I could talk for hours about this topic -- What is beauty? Why is beauty important? My reaction to the movies was a little mixed though, because I personally loved some of the pieces that Scott Burdick used as evidence of the emptiness of modern art. And some of the things he showcased as beautiful I found to be pretty boring. So he and I would disagree on what we personally find beautiful. Nonetheless, I absolutely agree with his central tenet that the current academic art scene (involving art schools, museums, galleries, corporate sponsorship) is pretty warped -- and ultimately irrelevant to what most people consider to be art.

I have a favorite story about all this. My best friend went to Rhode Island School of Design at the same time I did my music/liberal arts degree (late 1970s). Sadly, she developed cancer at the age of 19, and lost a year to its treatment. When she went back to RISD, a lot had changed for her, and she didn't buy into the art scene any longer. She just wanted to get her degree and get out of there.

So she slogged her way through her sculpture degree and it finally came time to do her senior show. There were many white walls and a lot of floorspace to fill with her pieces. She just sloshed out as many as she could as quickly as possible. (She has a wickedly funny sense of humor, btw.) For instance, one of her pieces was a gigantic map of the United States made from sheets of clear plastic (about five feet high). She somehow managed to buy enough Cheetos to fill it to the brim, then sealed up the plastic and stuck it to the wall. There, ta-daa. Art. She was really just playing to see how far she could push the limits with her teachers.

One day, soon after the exhibit went up, she went into the gallery to check on something, and there was a docent leading a tour group through the space. She stood nearby while the docent went on a big, long explanation of how this Cheetos-filled map was a brooding social comment on the emptiness of American society, blah blah blah. My friend didn't say anything to the group and just left quietly. But she told me later how absurd and pretentious and sad the whole thing had been. It was the perfect encapsulation of what is wrong with the current contemporary art scene. (Oh, her show was a success, btw, and she graduated with a BA in sculpture.)

If someone comes up to you in a museum, looks at a modern painting and says, "I don't get it", just reassure them: Don't worry. There's no "it" to get.

Joan T
05-15-2012, 02:53 PM
Elaine - After reading your story I started thinking about these "professors" who probably did the same thing to so many aspiring artists. What a waste!!! I am glad you have given yourself the chance to start again...and your sketches show the talent you have. I love the leaf that posed for you, but the fire extinguisher is just awesome!!! Keep these coming!

05-16-2012, 12:30 PM
Where did you go to college? they sound terrible.

Mind you, our tutors said they aimed to give us a nervous breakdown, destroy what we did and make us start again :(

It was very different when I went back in the 90's as a mature student :) Very challenging but apart from the frequent stress levels I loved it - a real buzz.

05-16-2012, 01:14 PM
I'm not against demanding teachers, quite the contrary. I've had teachers who pushed me to my limits and then made me break past them. Painful grueling experiences, filled with frustration and anxiety. But it was also some of the richest education I ever received. The difference was that these teachers had fundamental respect for the us and our talents.

05-16-2012, 06:33 PM
Keep posting! Your drawings have a lot of life to them! Especially the line quality. Makes me want to try a fine brush pen.

05-17-2012, 08:31 PM
I feel a bit odd saying 'welcome' to this Forum being that I've been a lurker for a while now but haven't yet posted anything myself. I just wanted to say that your sketches are delightful! I look forward to seeing more. :)

05-18-2012, 01:55 AM
Thank you, Serena and everyone, for the kind words. Your encouragement really means a lot to me.

Today was a day off. I went to the local coffeeshop for lunch and to sketch a bit. I worked just in pencil, and practiced the "I'm staring out the window, I'm not looking at you" technique to draw people surreptitiously. I felt like I was in a spy movie!

Then a little Japanese toddler started making a tour of the cafe, proudly drinking from his juice box and showing it to everyone. Too cute for words, so I drew him. And it was an odd luxury to be able to stare straight at someone and draw their picture without getting self conscious. There were actually quite a few little kids there today.

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7082/7217759524_92391a7364.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7217759524/)

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8028/7217760912_9257620dd9.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanspinner/7217760912/)

05-18-2012, 02:34 AM
very nice sketches :)

05-18-2012, 03:17 PM
Great sketches of people. Cute little one with the juice box.

05-18-2012, 03:41 PM
Great sketches.

So with you on the feeling of "I'm staring out the window, I'm not looking at you" technique to draw people surreptitiously.

05-19-2012, 01:40 PM
It's kind of funny. In all that I've read about sketching in public, writers always mention their numerous strategies on how to avoid notice. Baseball caps with the brim pulled down, sunglasses, staring in one direction but paying attention through peripheral vision... Spy training!

The pencil sketches were a really big breakthrough for me. I've always struggled to draw people. These quickies came out fast and pretty proportional, and I'm not sure how that happened.

05-19-2012, 07:55 PM
Elaine, these pencil sketches are great! People are my favorite sketching subject, even though they are challenging. And children are the most difficult subject of all! The boy and his juice box is my favorite, too -- you captured him very well, even though I'm sure he was moving!

My strategy for sketching in public is one I learned from Don Colley (http://buttnekkiddoodles.com/) when he gave a demo in town last year: I pick two subjects and sketch them both simultaneously, jumping from one to the next, back and forth. That way if one catches me, I can simply work on the other, and flip back to the first person later. But actually, I think all the surreptitious behavior probably isn't necessary. Most people are lost in their own heads and aren't paying attention!

Joan T
05-22-2012, 03:08 PM
Cute sketches of the people and the kids at the cafe.

I find that most people never notice you are sketching them. I stopped trying to hide so people didn't notice. lol

06-01-2012, 12:08 AM
I love the people sketches, especially the one of the cute-as-a-button toddler!