Since closing my studio a year and a half ago due to Covid, it is a joy to finally connect with students through on-location workshops and private sessions. We are escaping digital screens, getting outdoors, and getting real with our sketchbooks at various locations.
“What’s the difference between drawing indoors while looking at a computer screen or drawing outdoors in real life?” I asked.
With outstretched arms gesturing toward a nearby tree looming overhead, Eva replied, “The thing you’re drawing is right here, right in front of you!”
Instead of sitting in front of a screen, youth sketchers Eva and Naomi chose to sit in a wooded area near their homes for our drawing session (shown above). Just two good friends sharing a beautiful afternoon, learning to draw in nature.
Not even for a brief moment does life hold still for you.
When sketching outdoors, the first lines placed on the page are the most important. These spontaneous marks are what I call life lines and they are vital in translating your first visual reaction to your subject onto paper.
The landscape sketches of master artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) are excellent examples on how to put life lines to work while facing the challenges of observational drawing.
You get a sense of the underlying life lines Corot used to set the tone for his landscape study at Mortefontaine, France (shown above) in 1864. His layering of darker strokes emphasizes the movement of trees growing toward the sun and their lifelong struggle against prevailing winds.
Life lines draw the connection between your mind’s eye and your drawing hand. They are impulsive marks on paper that unveil a world of movement and structure that you actually don’t see.
Drawing What We Don’t See
Corot’s masterful life lines reveal the essence of what we don’t see when drawing from observation: the invisible, abstract framework underneath the surface of all things in our field of vision. Corot’s study sketch of an Italian landscape (shown above) perfectly illustrates my notion of life lines.
His sketch stands on its own as a beautiful piece of art. But Corot’s lightly drawn abstraction serves a direct purpose—laying bare his intuitive visualization of structural elements at the core of towering trees, distant buildings, and figures standing in the foreground. Even the movement—over millions of years—of an imposing cliff is recorded.
Take a moment to study Corot’s sketch. Open your mind’s eye to the immediacy of his well placed, rhythmic life lines. Your imagination starts to fill in the spaces of his abstract framework. A finished landscape painting begins to emerge from the beautiful entanglement of lines.
There is no turning back. Your brain has made the leap from noticing a few abstract marks to visualizing a finished, detailed composition. You have discovered the secret to sketching an unseen world of movement. Your approach to drawing will be radically transformed. Minimal line work becomes bliss and abstraction becomes realism.
Can urban sketching—the art of drawing what you observe in a city—ever become a truly comfortable and relaxing pastime for amateurs? By way of curiosity, commitment, and courage the answer is a resounding YES!
The world changed dramatically and became increasingly restrictive during the Covid hibernation of 2020-21. I still had a desire to bust out, to live a creative and productive lifestyle. But paranoia quarantined my brain. I opted for perpetual indoor slumber.
My daily routine eventually drifted into the doldrums: hit the snooze button; pull the covers over my head; go back to sleep.
Reset Button There are encouraging signs that Covid is in retreat. Spring is in the air and “jabs” are in the arm. I’m sensing a new season of cautious optimism. Hitting the snooze button is no longer an option. Fresh ideas bloom in springtime.
I sketch a bear waking up from the Great Hibernation (shown above). Perhaps it’s a self portrait of my year-long procrastination. Sunshine through the window. Reset. Get out of bed. Go outside and draw like the wind!
As we look forward to future “pop-up” in-studio sessions and on-location sketchbook workshops in Santa Cruz and Monterey, I will continue working online with a small number of students in our Premium Membership program.
Optimism in the Springtime Air As pandemic restrictions for cities and schools recede, we’ll be able to laugh and draw and enjoy the bustle of sharing creative ideas with friends once again.
Not making this drawing would have been easy. For a couple of days I walked right past my friend’s basket of ordinary garden tools and nearby potted plants, not even giving them a moment’s notice. But little by little, this random backyard arrangement began to capture my fascination. And then it found its way onto the pages in my sketchbooks.
My eye began to wander to contour studies in the nearby planter.
During pandemic restrictions, you don’t have to travel any farther than your own backyard to start an exciting sketchbook adventure.
Our irrepressible youth sketchers have forged ahead to improve their drawing skills while enduring month after month of pandemic restrictions. And they’re staying true to their passion for drawing as they balance online school courses with phased reopening of hybrid classrooms.
Youth sketcher Scout emailed me several drawings of animals that she did during a Cabrillo College art course. Scout practiced various techniques including making dots to create a stipple effect in her beautiful ink composition (shown above).
Animals seem to be a favorite subject of interest for our community of sketchers. The wilder the creature, the better.
Learning at school in the virtual digital world has not been easy to navigate for many kids. But finished drawings are tangible results that students can hold in their hands or hang on their bedroom wall in the real world. Our diligent sketchers apply their drawing skills to school assignments whenever possible.
With a cautious sigh of relief, we glance in the rearview mirror while leaving a turbulent 2020 in the dust behind us. But let’s not forget the great strides we made during our Drawing Lab sessions in the months prior to the pandemic shutdown.
In fact, our lively student sessions spanned the course of 11 years before I had to close the Scribbles Institute studio permanently due to Covid restrictions.
A Stroll Down Memory Lane As a special thanks to all of you for the many wonderful memories of working together during the past decade, I created this music video featuring our innovative Drawing Lab sessions.
Please enjoy watching it. You may see someone you know! Here’s the link:
Okay, it is true. I carry a sketchbook with me wherever I go—even to the hospital!
Recently, I took time off work to deal with a few minor medical issues that I had postponed for quite awhile. I booked them all in the span of two weeks—what I will call my Club Med vacation. Of course, my sketchbook was in hand to record the experiences during the exhausting journey.