Thursday, April 26, 2007

Carrying a Sketchbook, part four: Listen to Your Ol' Pappy K!

Okay, this is the post where I sound like an old crumudgeon.

The last thing I want to say about sketchbooks is that there are many other things that technology has developed that have made it harder and harder to carry a sketchbook. Sketchbook killers, I calls 'em! The proliferation of handheld video games, cel phone games, ipods and the like has taken away a lot of the time when we could be sketching. I can't tell you how many times have I been waiting in line to see a movie and using that time to fill my sketchbook with drawings of the people around me, and noticed that most of the people around me are using their PSP, GBA , DS (which are all handheld video game systems, for the unitiated), or just tuning out and listening to their ipod, closed off to the world around them.

Certainly these wonderful modern machines have taken the tedium out of sitting around and waiting, and they help pass the time while traveling. But if you can get out of the habit of using these things and really connect to the world around you, that will be much more helpful to your improvement as an artist. Those times when you are just sitting there with nothing else going on, immersed in the people and happenings around you are when you really get to see special things: people just going about their ordinary business. That's when people are at their most fascinating. You'll never get to observe all that much of the world when you're busy rushing from place to place so that times when you're sitting and "doing nothing" are actually prime observation opportunities. Take advantage of them by sketching and seeing what really happens when people are just going about their regular lives and interacting with others.

Even the most boring of moments is interesting to a good artist: how do different people sit differently while they wait at the doctor's office? How do different people flip through magazines differently while waiting for the dentist? Who just flips nervously through without looking at it and who gets so engrossed in an article that they don't realize it's their turn? What type of person picks what magazine to read while waiting? Just how old are the magazines in the doctor's office, anyway, and what kind of magazines do they subscribe to? What does that say about the doctor, or the nurses who ordered them - what do they think their patients are interested in reading about? My physician's office is full of magazines. Mostly things like "Car & Driver" or magazines about golfing. I've never seen anybody read any of these. Everybody reads the same thing: People, Time and Newsweek. Occasionally some daring lady will be reading a Cosmopolitan. So I suspect the car and golf magazines say a lot more about the doctor who subscribes to them than the patients who visit him.

All that kind of information-gathering is valuable to any artist who is trying to learn about the world and put that into their work. And I never would have noticed any of that if I didn't watch and observe in the doctor's office. And my sketchbooks are full of drawings of a wide range of different types of people I've seen waiting to see him: from the patient old people who seem to exist in a constant state of visiting doctors and seem not to have any sense of time, to the harried businessman who is on his cel phone the whole time and checking his watch every five minutes while constantly bugging the receptionist to see when his turn with the doctor will be.

And I even have sketchbooks pages full of drawings I have done in the examination room while waiting for the doctor to come in (not being interested in Golf magazine, I had nothing else to do). There are pages in my book with sketches of jars of tongue depressors and those round stools on wheels that all doctor's office have as well as drawings of the view outside the window of the exam room.

And I never mind all the waiting around too much because it's really the only time I get to sketch. Things are too busy for me to ever actually set aside time to sketch in a normal day. It's a great habit to set aside time for a sketching trip to the zoo, but the great part about sketching while waiting around in an everyday place is that, unlike the zoo, you have no idea what you will see. And even waiting in line for a movie there is plenty to draw - everyone has a different way of standing or sitting. Try to capture those nuances - every character you draw will stand or sit differently, depending on their personality and emotional state, so learn to see the difference in real people. Sketch the difference between an impatient person standing in line and one who is standing at ease, waiting patiently. To be able to capture the difference in those two things is an amazing feat for an artist and will really help you start to see degrees of subtlety which is a big step in developing as an artist.

So don't make the mistake of ever thinking that there is nothing around you worth sketching. There is always something around to capture and see anew. Don't wait to sketch until you are facing that perfect-looking lion at the zoo. Sketch the stuff you see every day and see it in a fresh way. That's the kind of stuff that great art is made of!

Although I have to soften my stance a bit on video ipods. I have one and I love it. Mind you, I never watch it in public when I could be sketching, but sometimes at work when I have a couple of minutes I love to watch three or four minutes of a movie. That's a great way to study the way a film is put together, because when you watch a whole movie in one sitting you end up being engrossed in the story and events and it becomes near impossible to focus on the nuts-and-bolts filmmaking. But when you watch a movie for a few moments at a time you can really focus on how the staging and cutting works, how the shots are composed and how the actor's performances are put together.

But other than that, I say ween yourself off of those new-fangled time wasters, you whippersnappers!

For the rest of your life, you can always look back at your sketches and see what you learned when you were sketching. You can remember the places you've been and the people you've seen - and even remember the way you felt about them - through your old sketchbooks. I promise, getting to level ten of Haloman 3 or Grand Theft Motorcar 11 will never be as fulfilling as finishing a sketchbook! And if I see you in public playing your new-fangled video game computer machine when you should be sketchin', I'll slap it outta yer hands with my cane and get away with it too, because I'm a crusty old man and I can pretend I was just befuddled at the time.


Benjamin said...

You know what you'll get at the zoo?? To me, the zoo is the ultimate sketching place, because aside from having animals, it has one of the most diverse ranges of people and emotion at public places. All ages, regulars and simply visitors, tons of kids, all annoying their parents, all of whom react differently to that... just great, especially compared to drawing people waiting all the time, no matter how diverse people do that.

Oh, and you left out the most horrible sketchbook killer, which at the same time is one of the most fantastic sketchbook birth-givers: the Internet! You can learn to draw with it (this blog), you can draw from it (youtube), but, it's probably the most addictive of time-wasters around... killer of time you could set aside for sketching.

Great post!

John S. said...

I like to listen to my ipod WHILE I draw people. Nobody bugs you while you listen to an ipod, at least most people don't.
Try it! You'll see!

antikewl said...

I was going to mention how listening to my iPod while sketching outdoors helps avoid the "what you drawing?" questions from strangers, but I see John has beaten me to it!

Anonymous said...

I have messaged you before, but since I hate signing up for these things I post anonymously. :(
Anyway, because of that I don't post often but I have to tell you I've been reading your blog since it started and I can't get enough.

Been drawing now for 20+ years, but have had much time away due to video games etc. and you have definitely straightened me out. For the past 8 months or so I start my morning by drawing from life for an hour, coming to work, going home and sketching, THEN if I have time I'll play a game or something. Sketchbook is now always with me also. You have made quite a change in my artistic devotion and I say THANKS! Even If I don’t write often your making a huge impact.


Goobeetsablog said...

since I have never seen you.
this is what I'll imagine you actually look like:)

It's a good point about hand held watchamacallits. Although if you are at a theater aren't you a practicing escapist?

Doesn't listening to music enhance and emphasize the movement and gestures of the people around you?

Would having a phone conversation
(while waiting in line) lead to a different creative idea than a while drawing?

I get it though,
if you are not drawing
you are not drawing.

mark kennedy said...

Benjamin - of course I agree with you about the zoo, I just meant that some people will only draw at the "right times" and the "right places" and they let a lot of other good times to sketch pass them by.
The Internet wastes a lot of my work time, so it interferes with my job too.

John, antikewl - good tip, thanks!

Paul - thanks for writing, keep at it!

goobeetsablog - I never said I wasn't a total escapist! I'm in the escapism business. I watch tons of movies and I even play video games...but only at home at the end of the day...never while outside when I could be sketching.
Personally, I don't like listening to music while I draw, it's too distracting. I can't listen to music while I storyboard either, but most others do.

I'm not trying to tell you not to talk on your phone or anything like that. Just trying to open people's eyes to the everyday opportunities to sketch great stuff. Maybe I poured it on a little too think!

Stephen said...

Oh, man, Mark, thanks for the laugh. You are so right about people and their new-fangled gadgets. After all, if they aren't artists (and not everyone is), at the very least, they could be reading a book or talking for crying out loud. Or just people watch even.

And if no one else is in the doctor's waiting room and there's nothing else to draw, you can maybe draw what all the germs look like on those ancient magazines that sick people have been reading all these years.


Stephen said...

By the way, do you use one sketchbook and carry it with you everywhere until it's all filled up, or do you have separate ones to take to the movies, doctor's office, etc.?

mark kennedy said...

stephen - I just have the one that i keep in my car, and since you can't go anywhere in Southern California without driving there, I always have it with me.

k. borcz said...

lol. I do only have a shuffle and I never thought to use it as a people blocker. But I do find people are always stopping to ask me questions when I have them on, so maybe for me it might not work as a "what ch'a doin" blocker....

I do now carry my sketchbook with me all the time (thanks Pappy K, you've made me feel sheepish if I don't bring it). I forget my cell phone, but not the sketchjournal!

good post. I will not waste my time by being on the internet all the time...(cough, except for a few hours on World of Warcraft, I swear only once in a while...).

John S. said...

K. Borcz, the Ipod trick does not work if you are a girl and are in any way attractive.
My wife is an attractive girl and the Ipod never works as a people blocker for her. However, since she is Korean, she just pretends that she can't speak English.
Try it! It works!

Goobeetsablog said...

that's cool.
I was just playing devil's advocate.

Your recent posts are the reason I'm starting my day off with more terrible drawings than ever before:)


Brett W. Thompson said...

Very inspiring. Thank you.

Julie Oakley said...

Despite spending eight years at art college in my youth, I only learned to keep a sketchbook when I reached the grand old age of 47. I haven't looked back - I'm not going to regret the time I didn't keep one, I'm just grateful that I learned how to do it before it was way too late.

gonzobird said...

I just came across your blog today via a link to this entry in a friend's journal. I just finished reading these four Posts about sketchbooks and greatly look forward to perusing the rest of your blog and future entries.

Thank you!

Felicity said...

The sketchbook killers have also, I think, taken away kids ability to have patience to develop their skills. I wonder how many potentially great artists are spending their childhoods distracted by these things?

Another thought provoking post Mark, thanks!

Jeff said...

Okay! Okay! I'll put the PSP down!! Lego Star Wars is pretty cool I have to say...ahem. But I do have to say these posts about sketching has beaten some sense into me and I went out and bought two moleskins and while I'm in NY this week I will be sketching like a mo-fo!! No kids to look after!! Wooo hooo!! I will post them on Storyboredom when I get back. Thanks for the inspiration bro.

NateBear said...

i also find ipodding and sketching to be compatible. since i moved from the city to the suburbs i drive everywhere rather than taking trains. I really miss those 100 minutes worth of daily commuting where i could read or draw or listen intently to my latest CD/download. At least while driving i can listen to CD and sometimes book, but i certainly don't have the option to draw.

Jack Ruttan said...

The internet helps my sketching, since I put a lot of the sketcthing on my blog. It also tunes me in a lot of great blogs like this one, and artists and their processes as never before, so I'd say the internet's helped that one.

Princess Rockstar Scientist said...

I think that I was lucky in a strange way. I used to get very carsick when I was a child, to the point where all I could do most of the time was stare out the window. That has given me some immunity from handhelds and cellphones and books, and it's also taught me the value of boredom.

Mind you, I can only draw on the bus when I'm stuck in a traffic jam and the bus is mostly motionless, but if nothing else it has made me a better observer of the world around me.

The Internet is a terrible time waster, but it's a great motivator, too. I love going to journal sketchblog sites and catching glimpses of other people's lives through their art.

Anyway. I've enjoyed reading your blog -- it's been one of my most useful Internet finds. Thanks for posting! :)

CA3 said...

I am so glad that I came across your weblog. Man, lots of useful insights and bits of wisdom shared in this thing. I'll definitely have to make a note to come back here on a regular basis.

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