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!


A Small Homage to Mattias Adolfsson

I was in a lecture yesterday, so I started drawing in my notebook. One of the things I enjoy about drawing is that it doesn't prevent you from paying attention to what someone is saying - somehow the brain allows auditory input through a clean channel while a different part of the brain is engaged with the process of drawing. Anyway, I recently received Mattias Adolfsson's new book, Mattias Unfiltered, so his work has been on my mind. I've been amazed by his drawings for years and astounded by his ability to produce so many drawings of such exquisite detail and humor. I've often thought, "I should try something like that" when I see one of his spatial constructions that covers the entire page - like the axonometric on the book's cover - giving the sense that the microcosm being illustrated extends far beyond the limits of the paper. I utterly lack the ability to draw characters like he can - all the people, animals, robots, etc. that populate his worlds are beyond me at this point, but I can learn quite a lot from his way of drawing places. Apart from my fascination with Mattias' drawings, I've also been thinking for a few years about doing some drawing projects of my own that focus on imagined spaces - large scale sections, mainly, that might draw on the tradition of artists like Piranesi and Escher. I've also just discovered Mathew Borrett's work on Lines and Colors, and his stuff has my mind moving in some interesting directions. It was in this context that I made the drawing here. I might still add color to it, and I might extend it onto the left page in the spread ... I don't know. It was just a small experiment that might lead to other things. For now, I just want to say thanks to Mattias for the inspiration.


Portland Visit

I had a nice visit to Portland a little over a week ago, guiding a field trip for a large group of students. I didn't have as much time as I would have liked for sketching, but did manage to do a few. On Saturday morning, I met a group of students at the Saturday Market, and we decided to draw the nearby Burnside Bridge. After helping them with their own sketches, I stayed a bit longer and did this one with a Copic Multiliner SP - "Wine" is the color of the ink, one of my favorites.

The day before, I carved out some time from our touring schedule and did the vertical sketch at Pioneer Courthouse Square. I was trying to capture the umbrella-like structures and the building beyond ... but I was pressed for time, so things got a little sloppy. Still, it was a good way to spend the lunch break.

Friday evening I spent some time visiting my old friend Jeffrey Morgenthaler, bar manager at Clyde Common. He and I have known each other since our days at the Tiny Tavern in Eugene, OR, when I was playing guitar there and he was just beginning his career as a bartender. I did the sketch here with a Namiki Falcon and Noodler's Lexington Grey ink ... and just barely finished the drawing before the ink ran out. It was fun bending the perspective and trying to indicate the plethora of liquor bottles from my perch at the end of the bar.


Spokane > Portland

On my way from Spokane, WA, to Portland, OR, for a field trip with my students. I usually drive, but I figured out that flying actually costs the university less (because they reimburse you per mile when you drive), and it shaves about 2 hours off the trip. Not that I don't enjoy the drive - it's beautiful, especially through the Columbia River Gorge. But flying certainly gives you a different point of view, and it also allows for the obligatory time-killing in-flight sketch. That's Mt. Hood out the window to the left, as we were making our descent.


Green Lake, Wisconsin

I'm currently enjoying a nice vacation with the family in Green Lake, WI. Swimming, fishing, boating, eating, watching the Olympics, sleeping ... lots of sleeping ... and a little sketching. This is one of several "prayer towers" that are scattered around the area where we stay. They are apparently part of an old Baptist compound, though I've had a hard time finding out very much regarding their history. In any case, they make for a nice sketch - simple forms in the landscape, one of my favorite types of subject. I may try to get out and sketch a few of the others ... or I may not. I'm on vacation, after all.


Google Map of Rome Update

Visualizza Sketches - Roma in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori
It's been a very busy summer here in Rome. I spent most of my scant free time reviewing proofs of my forthcoming book, "Sketching on Location," so I haven't had as much time as I'd like to actually get out and draw, let alone do any blog posts. And now the summer heat has arrived in full force, which makes outdoor sketching a challenge, to say the least. But I've managed to do some drawing, and I've just updated the Google Map that marks the 200+ sketches I've done over the past several summers here. As always, more to come ... and I'll be sure to post more information about the book when I have a release date!


Villa Giulia

We started sketching class yesterday at Piazza di Spagna (aka the "Spanish Steps"), and I spent my time helping students - it's a very challenging subject. When we broke for lunch, I scooted ahead to do a sketch of the Palazzina di Pio IV, which turns the corner with a beautiful composition of engaged columns, inscribed tablets, and a fountain at the base. My students caught up and started gathering around just as I was beginning to put down the first washes. I sort of rushed it at the end, but was still happy with the result.

Next we walked down the street to the Villa Giulia, built for Julius III in 1550-55, and designed be Vignola, Vasari, and Ammannati ... "with some help from Michelangelo," or so says my guidebook. It contains the national museum of Etruscan antiquities - though I suppose it's redundant to say "Etruscan antiquities," because, if it was made by Etruscans, then it must be ancient. The museum is very interesting, but the villa is really fascinating. The organization of the plan and the way the nymphaeum drops in section ... it's a sequence of spaces that's impossible to capture in one or two perspectives, so I opted for a plan/section/paraline combination. It was a great challenge! 


Rome Sketchcrawl

I only managed to make it for about 30 minutes at the Rome Sketchcrawl this past Saturday ... I was busy welcoming the new group of students. It would have been nice to have more time and meet more of the local sketchers, but hopefully next time. I did get a chance to do a quick watercolor of the Lateran Obelisk - the largest in the world. It was originally carved in the 15th century BC, then brought to Rome in 367 AD to be placed in the Circus Maximus. It was rediscovered in 1587, and re-erected by Domenico Fontana in 1588 (that's a brief summary of the text at the bottom of the sketch). If I'd had more time, I would have added the buildings that were in the near-distance behind the obelisk, but I actually like the way this turned out ... it gives much stronger emphasis to the obelisk itself. It's good to be back in Rome, lots to draw! 


A Visit to Clarkston

I was invited to give an informal talk by the Palouse Watercolor Socius today, down in Clarkston, WA, which is about 45 minutes south of Moscow. It was a nice group of folks, and we had fun talking about my sketchbooks and my involvement with Urban Sketchers. After about an hour of discussion, we headed out to do a little sketching nearby. I took a stab at an ink drawing, but my fountain pen was running low (and I remembered that this was a group focused on watercolor!) so some quick washes saved this sketch of a pretty house on 7th Street.

After some more talk and a little critique, we said our goodbyes and I started heading back home. Driving along the Clearwater River, this rail bridge caught my eye, so I pulled over. There's something special about old steel bridges like this ... the rusty color, the stark values, the simple structure, the obvious mechanics of how these things work. And when they happen to be surrounded by green/golden hills like this one is, on a beautiful sunny day ... it makes for an irresistible sketching subject.


34th Worldwide SketchCrawl

Had a nice visit with one of my students as we sketched in a couple of coffee shops here in Moscow. After a week of crazy winter weather, and way too much shoveling of snow and slush, it was fun to relax and draw a little. We were both trying out our new Moleskine A4 watercolor sketchbooks. The first one here was done with a Copic Multiliner SP pen, "Wine" is the name of the color. The second is watercolor over some graphite. I'm not too happy with the scans, so I might need to re-scan or photograph these at some point. Hope everyone around the world had another great SketchCrawl, I look forward to seeing all the results!

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