Quarantine Sketchy

Posted
1 year ago

I've been struggling with the idea of posting happy things during the pandemic lockdown.

Many people I know -- we all know -- have lost jobs, health, sanity, and even that comforting thread of normalcy. Sharing pictures that ignore this fact creates a fuzzy line between cheerleader and oblivious. The obvious solution is to stop posting. Yet, dropping out of sight, ignoring that some people just want to know that others are out there, is a gap that cannot be ignored. So... what to do?

In my wanderings I had been taking lots of random photos of the garden, of spring, of new life emerging from the ground and soil and seemingly dead tree branches. The snow melted over the span of a week, the sun came out, and little shoots of green appeared as I walked by. I snapped. Or clicked. Or whatever it's called when one presses a silent virtual button on a touchscreen. Alas, I didn't want to just upload, so besides just wavering between either deleting or wantonly posting these average phone pics of my walks, I instead sat down one evening recently and began to use them as a layered inspiration for some sketching.

Backup. Nine months ago when we were wandering around the UK and Ireland, I happened upon an art store where I bought a sketchbook and some ink pens. Paper, time, and inspiration. I returned home with a dozen or so rough travel sketches. I've never been an artist, but I've filled more than my share of pages with attempts. The idea of travel sketching appealed to me, and so when I came home I had this notion that I would continue. But the familiar sights nearby work and through our neighbourhood seemed to lack the inspirational push that I required to keep it up.

A few months passed on I came into possession of an amazing birthday gift: an iPad (and later the dedicated Apple Pencil stylus) turned my artistic inclinations through a new tool: a useful tablet for writing and gaming and video became an incredibly useful sketchpad, too.

Back to May 2020 and I find myself with limited access to travel inspiration, but a penchant to draw.

To be fair, the iPad allows me to cheat a little bit. Those inspirational photos that I snap have served as not only memory joggers for the sights I've captured, but I had adopted an artistic style that blends some cheater enhancement gained from using each pic as a starting layer in my sketching software. Simply: I've been starting with a rough trace of the photo. Atop the photo, a blank transparent canvas lets me capture the rough shape and outline of the object. Quickly. Broadly. And then I ditch the photo and do detail work and colour work and texture work completely from my own mind.

But, yes. I'll admit to a bit of lazy pen work on the high level structure.

The idea of travel sketching is often thought of as loose, however. It is an art form that is accomplished with the time and tools in hand. A pencil, some paper, a quiet spot on a noisy street corner where one furiously grabs the barest details from a scene to fill a gap of time and story. It strikes me as something of an exercise in mental impressionism, an act of capturing a feeling of a place as much as a photo captures the detail.

The end result is not the sketch, then, but the feels it leaves on the person who looks at it.

So back to the beginning: Many people I know -- we all know -- have lost jobs, health, sanity, and even that comforting thread of normalcy. Sharing pictures that ignore this fact creates a fuzzy line between cheerleader and oblivious. The obvious solution could easily be to stop posting. The less obvious solution is to stop posting reality.

The sketches, to me at least, are a fusion. They are traced from photos, hacked from reality, blended from memory and image, and at the same time impressions of a moment in time layered with colours and textures and scribbles. Travel sketches of a moment in time when travel meant something besides getting on a plane or in a car and going away physically, but instead escaping the complexity of reality for fresh air in a garden or a park or along a riverbank.

I continue to struggle with the scope of posting anything during this time, a moment when a global pandemic has uprooted the very notion of normal, but I think creating art from that mental space and sharing it is anything but oblivious.