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.