Thoughts on Exhibiting Sketches

Last week was the opening reception for our annual College of Art Architecture faculty exhibit at the Prichard Art Gallery here in Moscow, ID. This is the ninth time I have participated, and it's always a lot of fun seeing what everyone has been up to with their individual creative pursuits. I typically take the exhibit as an opportunity to display a group of my sketches from the previous summer I spent in Italy. It's always nice to see these humble, quick drawings in frames and hung on the wall adjacent to all sorts of other artwork. 

It's been great to see so many Urban Sketchers exhibiting their work in galleries over the past few years. As a result, I've been thinking that our Manifesto could be updated slightly. Item #7 states that "We share our drawings online," but perhaps we should amend this to say simply, "We share our drawings." Certainly, our community relies on the internet for the bulk of our interactions, and the connections that we make around the world via online communication are fantastic. But there is really no substitute for the direct interaction that is facilitated through exhibits - after all, it's what we already do at the end of virtually every Sketchcrawl, at least in an informal way.

This is one of the topics I discuss in my new book, Sketching on Location, in the chapter entitled "After Sketching." I strongly encourage everyone to seek out local opportunities to share your sketches. Most municipalities have some sort of arts commission that is tasked with supporting local artists, and group exhibits seem to be getting more common. In my experience, these events have been a fantastic opportunity to connect face-to-face with other local artists - whether they are professional or amateur, focused on plein air painting or urban sketching. Entry into local exhibits is most often open, though occasionally the selection process is juried and awards are presented in various categories.

I understand that the idea of juried exhibits doesn't sit well with everyone, and I agree that the most important objective in sketching is to do so freely, driven by a fundamentally intrinsic motivation. But I sometimes find it inspiring and motivating to draw with some additional purpose or, at the very least, to share sketches I have already made in a new venue. For example, the sketch of the Roman Forum on the front cover of my book was recently selected for the Design Communication Association's Juried Drawing Exhibit, and it received the highest award in its category of "Observational Images - Faculty." The DCA is a group that was founded over twenty years ago, comprised mainly of educators who focus on design graphics at the university level. Many of these folks have been teaching aspects of what we now refer to as "urban sketching" for decades, and the jury for the exhibit consisted of Steve Oles, William Hook, and Anna Loseva - three very highly-accomplished artists - so I was thrilled that this drawing was recognized with an award. But regardless of whether the exhibit is a group show, a solo event, a juried competition, or open to all, I strongly encourage every sketcher to share their work both online AND in bricks-and-mortar galleries at every opportunity!


Palouse Plein Air

I recently took part in the "Palouse Plein Air" exhibit here in Moscow, ID, and was thrilled to receive an award for one of my two watercolors. The exhibit is organized and juried by the Moscow Arts Commission, and asks artists to draw or paint on location in the areas around and/or within the city. Each person first must have their paper stamped by the Commission and then complete the work within about a week's time. I did these two sketches on the same day, starting in the late-afternoon and finishing the landscape watercolor as the sun began to set. I have always been interested in the alley shown here, which is a half-block east of Main Street. It has a fascinating series of wood structures that carry power lines behind the buildings. Further down, there is a swirling pattern of bricks in the pavement, and as a whole it feels less like a gloomy alley and more like a pedestrian street. As the sun starts to go down, as it was just beginning to do in this sketch, the light can become dramatic, so this is what I was trying to capture. This drawing received the "Best Moscow Downtown/Urban Award," which was sponsored by Palouse Commercial - many thanks for their generous support of the arts in Moscow.
After completing the first drawing, I decided to head out to the edge of town and attempt a landscape. The "edge of town" is about a two-minute scooter ride from the very center of town, so I still had plenty of light to work with. This region is known as "The Palouse" and is characterized by its rolling hills - formed by wind-blown glacial silt during the ice ages. Most of these hills are now used for agriculture - wheat, peas, lentils, etc. - and in the late fall the golden colors of the harvested fields are spectacular.

So it was another fun opportunity to get out there and draw in a slightly more deliberate way than my usual quick sketching. This is the second time I've participated (last year's efforts are part of this post), and it was extra satisfying to be recognized with an award. I'm already looking forward to next year's event!
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