Sunday, July 11, 2010

CHICAGO! - Art Trip - Part 1

I had a Delta flight voucher I had to use by August. Dearest suggested I go somewhere on an extended "Artist Date." I decided to do an art and sketch visit to Chicago. I had been once before, but that visit only whet my appetite. The Art Institute of Chicago's museum is one of the best in the country, and possibly the best for a painter, since so much of the collection is on display deliberately because it shows solutions to problems painters encounter in their work. Marvin Saltzman told me that last bit - I had loved what I learned last time I visited, but I had not known why so many of the pieces seemed to be teaching me as I stood before them. So I wanted another look, and I wanted to take large format shots of certain paintings so I could look at the technique later, when I needed a lesson.

But to me, the real purpose of the trip was to fix my sketching problems. For a number of reasons I don't feel comfortable sketching - so I find it hard to do. I wanted to get over that in one big push.

I armed myself with sketch books, pens, pencils, watercolors, and whatever clothes I could squeeze into the remainder of my day pack. I planned to travel light - just the pack. I took off Friday, and left early in the morning for the airport, with a return ticket for Sunday afternoon, and two nights on Marriott points out by O'Hare Airport (I couldn't afford a room closer to downtown).

I began sketching people, into my smaller moleskine, at the airport in Raleigh. One of the Urban Sketchers had mentioned how easy it was to sketch in airports, because no one is paying real attention to each other. One of my problems with sketching is relaxing and not worrying about people around me. I don't want to be observed, or interrupted. So the airport was a great place to start. The other tough part is that models, when they don't know they're modeling, tend to move around... This interrupted a number of sketches. That's terrific, because it means you can't dither over details - you work fast to capture the essence. I got so I could capture more in less time as the three days progressed - and I found I could hold more in my memory and go farther AFTER the scene changed, or the subject moved. I will certainly take advantage of this on business trips in the future (I bought a moleskine in Chicago to keep in my briefcase, for just this reason).

I eventually learned that I can't work the way I want with a pen this broad. For now, I find it easier to find my subject using a much finer (and more forgiving) line. But those are for another post. The sketches here are first attempts. The other challenge/fear I tackled was drawing people, because that's a risky subject. We all know immediately if something is wrong with a drawing of a person.

AND I deliberately focused on faces, at first, because that's where I was most afraid of failing. Where the fear is worst, there is the deepest water (and usually the most reward - I wish I could remember that all the time).

Later I will post other skecthes, as I improved and got more relaxed. Eventually I was tackling larger scenes and context, and loving it. And I got so I could sketch standing in the middle of a crowded street, holding the pad up to eye level, as if it were on an easel. While hundreds of people walked past me, not one interrupting (I was pretty focused, and looked it), I drew my favorite of the Art Institute's large bronze lions. But that's several posts away...

The last illustration here is in my fat little notebook, where I jot down ideas. I kept a tiny journal of the trip on about ten pages of it, and in this case I used my ballpoint to sketch the seats in front of me the flights out (Raleigh to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Chicago). The person in the right hand seat was a 300+ pound Catholic priest, in black with his Roman collar unbuttoned (it was hot). He made the seat flex and creak alarmingly as he got into it - at one point I really thought it would break and seat and Padre would be lying in my lap. My favorite thing about this sketch is the way the sketch is in the sketch, and the sketch is in that sketch... And it's a fair likeness of my knee...

Click any image for a closer view.


Pagan Sphinx said...

I had to enlarge the knee sketch to see what you meant.

How nice that your spouse is so supportive of your creative pursuits.

I want to go to the Chicago so badly! It's on the list!

Lisa said...

What a cool thing to do. I love how your dearest supports your artistic needs.

susan said...

I wondered where you'd gone off to and I'm glad to see you've been away enjoying yourself while getting some excellent drawing practice too. I actually like these sketches done with the broad nib. They look and feel very solid and stable with characters unique and realistically expressive. It was time well spent.