Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sketching Classes--Helpful and Humbling

Some of us at Mimi's (with our amazing server, Shaniqua). That's me, front right.
     I just completed the fourth in a series of sketching classes with children's book illustrator and travel sketchbook author, Mary Ann Miller. Mary Ann is a delightful, encouraging teacher who requires her students to sketch in (gasp!) pen. Even though I have been creating landscape paintings for several years, I know that my drawing skills are very limited and had planned to take a class sometime. I occasionally draw in grey tone pencil or colored pencils, often landscapes or individual elements, such as a particular tree. Small sketches are also invaluable in my planning for any painting to establish a good composition and an effective tonal balance (darks and lights). However, those sketches do not need much development; they are not meant to stand alone (one example, here).
Teacher extraordinaire, Mary Ann Miller, in the plaid.

     So, when I attended a fascinating book talk by Mary Ann Miller and saw her published travel sketchbooks (she travels often and fills a sketchbook on each trip), I knew I had found an excellent teacher. Mary Ann usually sketches with pen and water color; you can see her travel books here. The reason for her insistence that students use pen also is that pencil and eraser enable the student to draw with little forethought or planning (using a pen encourages thoughtfulness) and/or to become fussy trying to perfect a drawing with erasures and corrections. The fussy approach kills the spontaneity and liveliness of sketching. Given my limited skills, using a pen was intimidating. I had to remind myself that the learning process was what mattered and that any "failed" attempts only meant I had learned something, then turn the page and try again.

     We met on four Wednesday mornings from 10 - 12 (plus lunch together if we wished) in a different cafe each week and practiced sketching the objects and people around us. Students often sketched their breakfast, lunch, or beverage, but it is surprising how many other good practice subjects were right around us in each location. 

     These photos show the results of my work in our second class, at a Mimi's cafe nearby. Mary Ann travels with a small blue plastic vase so that she can keep a fresh flower or two in her room or even on her table at an outdoor cafe. The vase makes an appearance in many of her sketches, and several came to each class for our use. For Mary Ann's photos from these classes, see her blog (scroll down past the wonderful photos from a recent opening of their travel art group for the first two classes of our group). My first, small sketch from Mimi's followed Mary Ann's suggestion to include something that sets the piece in the place it was made--here, a Mimi's menu under a few objects. 

     The second, larger sketch shows some decorative pieces on a shelf at the cafe. You can see I took the liberty of moving the messy wine rack out and added another object from nearby in its place as well as "resizing" the urn for more variety. Given that I have never used water colors as an adult, I practiced at home after our session before adding some simple color to the first sketch. The second is still awaiting color, unless I decide to leave it as is. When I asked Mary Ann's advice about the matter this past session, her suggestion--pure genius, I think--was to make a copy of the sketch on art paper (which will fit in our copier) and to try out some color ideas on a copy or two. Will definitely do that.
Question of the day: Do you put yourself "out there" to try new activities and to attempt to learn new skills even if (like me) you hate the feeling of incompetence in the beginning stages of learning?