Introduction to Sketch Book

We’ve posted a lot of excerpts from Warren’s Sketchbook here on An Artist Who Thinks He Can Write. This week we’ve decided to share the introduction with you. Please enjoy.

 

SKETCH BOOK INTRODUCTION

I draw to see, to explain my visual world, to remember the place, the event. I need to express the feelings I witness. My world is a kaleidoscope of images that stirs my imagination and from this I abstract my drawings. Time stands still when I draw and I am lost in the experience.

In this book, all of the drawings are created with an ink pen. The single ink line has been executed with purpose and intent. There’s no going back, no erasing. This way the viewer is seeing the simple shape, simple statement. The book is a collection of drawings I have selected. They represent a short period of time, with a variety of different types of emotions, events and ideas. They range from line work drawn during holiday travels – to pure whimsical doodles – to value drawings of abstract figures.

I have purposefully put works in the book representing the full spectrum of my draftsmanship. I want you to know how I draw, why I draw. I have included the entire repertoire, not just the “pretty ones.” Art is all about truth so here is my truth in drawings. Enjoy it. If you are an artist and I suspect everyone is, my desire is that you are inspired to expand your creative palette.

To draw is everyone’s ability and I can prove it. Feel the callous on the finger that holds the weight of the pencil you have been holding since the first grade. Now sign your name three times. See how similar the line, strokes, dots, etc. are. You repeat the signature with learned skill over and over again. Your hand/eye has been trained so you can draw; you have the ability trained into you by writing. Now, all you need is a little assistance in seeing like an artist; then expressing what you see with a pencil, pen, crayon, or brush.

In the beginning, my art was timid, crude, tight and overworked. My only intent was to pay the bills, earn a living. Today I draw with confidence and freedom and am fulfilled in that pursuit.

After 28 years of making my entire living as an artist, I realize that many drawings were always thought of as practice, studies for paintings. I changed that viewpoint when I saw my wife Kitty picking up my telephone doodles and stuffing them into an envelope. She requested that I was to put a folder marked “Kitty’s Doodles of Warren’s” in my desk file and I was instructed to “file” them away. I now do that, and the last drawing in the book is a collage of some of those drawings.

Last year, I was drawing while I waited for my flight at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. A small woman in a black hat plopped down in the seat next to me, stuck her head over my sketch book and asked, “Are you sketching or are you drawing? Are you famous? Let me look at you, I might recognize you as a famous person.” I was shocked, not by her actions, but by her questions. I didn’t know what to say. I was at a loss for words. I finally replied, “I don’t know if I’m sketching or drawing,” and went back to work.

I asked a very above average person, my wife, what was the difference between a sketch and a drawing. Her answer: “I think of a drawing as being more complete while a sketch is just dashed off more as an impression of the moment. What is the true definition?”

I replied “I don’t know. Your answer sounds fine – in art terms I don’t them of them as that different but the word ‘sketchy’ implies something unfinished compared to the word ‘drawing’ that seems like a completed work of art. A sketch would be the beginning of a drawing, so when does a sketch become a drawing?”

Her answer – “When the artist deems it to be so.”

“So, therefore, all sketches become drawings?” She said

“No!”

“Why Not?”

“Because you may never return to finish it.”

This conversation could go on until the glass of wine at dinner is finished.

My History of Drawing

I was an average art student in high school. Did not knock anyone’s socks off with what I produce. I did do such things as paint a Christmas scene on my parent’s living room picture window and win a fountain design for the city of Abilene, Texas. I also painted a mountainous landscape across the wall of our home which was painted over as soon as I left for college.

I drew in school. Received better marks from my decorated report covers than for what was inside. Decided to study architecture (probably due to winning the fountain design). In the spring of my 18th year and during dinner around our yellow 1950’s kitchen table, my father stated that it was time to “break my plate.” His explanation: “We love you and you are always welcome here, but you are on your own after graduation.” I could fill pages[1] on the feeling of being scared, anxious and alone – that ritual when we take flight into adulthood with no parachute. Years later, I respected dad for such wisdom. He allowed me to grow into being a man.

In 1960, I left for college with $150 in my pocket and a chrome loaded old ’49 Chrysler. As a result of this rite of passage, I transformed into a “green freshman” at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. I washed dishes, took Basic Design, took more design, washed more dishes, and eventually I took a drawing class called freehand. My results were consistently the same: fair. However, I do remember a still life project requiring a “set up” for three weeks – which seems an eternity to a freshman. Actually it’s about 18 hours in a drawing lab, drawing on one piece of paper. The object was to make the end result look like a photograph. From this experience, I learned to draw in detail not from talent, but from the pure time of doing it.

Over the next twenty years, I moved boxes of my drawings along with my living gear as I crisscrossed Texas and Mexico. One of those moving days, I pushed three wheelbarrows of drawing papers out to the back of our country property and burned them. Everything that was mediocre in me went up in smoke and with those drawings forming new images in their smoky media that still haunt me today.

Years later, I reflect on that action especially since going through the Barcelona Picasso Art Museum, which houses the largest collection of his school art. Picasso never threw anything away. Respect for his talent came early. Or was it ego that came early? I also reflect on how many drawings that perhaps Renoir, Van Gough, Rembrandt, Monet, or Cezanne tossed into the trash thinking my same minimizing thoughts before they came to respect themselves and their talent.

I think I learned to draw from spending eight years teaching at the college and university level. I believe in teaching and the teacher is the one who benefits the most. I am blessed to have taken the step to resign my teaching position and to pursue the creative craft of making art and selling it to earn my living. For years, my drawings were in pencil – mostly studies for my watercolors. My first sketch book completed in ink line was from a travel tour to Egypt in 1976, I had received a study grant for six weeks. I drew almost comic strip like, recording the events. The drawings are more visual and faster than the written word.

I am an adventurous, orientated person. After that trip, I was going on quests, joining scientific expeditions to Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, East Island and Spain. I was using my drawing skills. For example, in Peru, my job with an Earthwatch team was to do quick sketches of all stones that were carved on, that were not directly related to buildings. Then the sketches were labeled in relationship to the photos that had been taken. Great fun – great work. I was filling the sketchbook after sketchbook with ink line drawings. I treasure those. Every time I visit a museum show and see some artist’s sketchbook opened to only one page and under protective glass, I believe some of my sketchbooks may someday be there. Then some younger artist will peer down into that display case and longingly wonder, as I have done, what the remaining pages could disclose.

I saw my first ancient pictograph when I was 15 on a canoe trip with my scout troop to the Canadian wilderness. One day our guide directed us to a gray lichen-concealed outcrop of rocks reachable by canoe only. At outstretched hand height were white lines made by fingers perhaps a thousand years ago – protected by the over-hanging rock – images of what appeared to be a deer – straight lines and a mass of diagonal lines. Years later, I was pulling myself up by a rope and behind me my portable easel was scraping against the black granite mountains in Southern Venezuela. I was on an expedition team with the University of Texas – Austin. My job that day was to reproduce the drawings from the ceilings of an overhanging shelter cave. The large shelter cave contained a gallery some 100 feet across covered with white, black, red and some yellow ocher drawings of life sized deer, abstract shamans, circles within circles – fish, lizards, armadillos – more than one artist could produce in months of copying. I did a section that day of a couple of square meters. I was lost in the images that did not have a top or bottom but floated in a swirl of animals and geometric symbols across the stone ceiling.

These artisans drew in colors made from local white Kaolin clay, charcoal for black and yellow ocher earth. They made brushes of hammered tips of limbs and drew their animal world that fed and clothed them. Their drawings were beautiful, understated abstracts of that which they knew – their seen and unseen world. Those drawings were 1000 to 1500 years old. The contemporary ones were crude, uneducated strokes. It was as if in the old time artists knew what and how to draw and sometime in the last five hundred or so years, the skills were lost. I wonder what happened. It is not enough to just look and draw, but to practice and practice well.

When you draw you communicate better than with just the verbal words. I remember my father visiting me when I was a student in San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico. He spoke no Spanish but decided that he wanted to go to the market to buy bacon (tocino). Arriving at the butcher shop he was confronted with the lack of verbal skills. He pulled out a pencil and drew a simple outline of a pig, then drew a square on its side. He arrived back at home with his bacon in hand and the story of his drawing adventure.

My treatise: If you draw you communicate better. I remember once when I was running an errand for the electrician who was working on my home. The array of electrical breakers was more than what I could describe, so I took the salesman’s pen and drew the device I remembered and wanted. He promptly handed me what I needed. Traveling in foreign countries where language is not one’s own; map making, simple sketches, and crude doodles have won over the crankiest old coot with a warm smile and many a good laugh.

I remember sitting in a cool, dim violet colored room in a London Museum viewing a Da Vinci drawing. Soft, flowing lines seemed to envelop the female figures that entwined them in a gossamer web until they floated off the page and into the dimly lit room. So it’s a romantic viewpoint. In reality, it was a working drawing for a future painting. Preserved, saved, and passed down generation upon generation to the present moment that I owned it. It was mine for the viewing, mine for the tracing with my eye. I could see the pressure of the conte crayon put down in only chalk dust, a “weighted” line to represent the under muscle of a forearm. The line was executed so as to make only one line tell more than a thousand lines. Yes, I love drawing.

When visiting Santiago Chile, my wife and I were browsing an antique shop when I spied a stack of framed dusty drawings. From that angle, just for a moment the signature of Picasso jumped out at me. Picking up the wood framed treasure and bringing it into the light Pierro, not Picasso became readable. Well, for a moment I had found a treasure, a piece of history. I wonder whom Pierro the artist was and the story he was telling. One of the drawings depicted a man’s head. He was dressed in jacket and tie. From the look of the clothing, it was drawn in the 1830’s, simple, almost abstract, stylized. Fine weighted thick to thin lines in brushed ink formed the splendid head. No more, no less but still a drawing, a statement now in a weathered frame with dust covered glazing. We purchased several of the unframed drawings and left with our treasure.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Degas pastel drawing I saw weeks ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina or the Children’s Art show in the Santiago metro station. I look to learn, to understand, to feel the vision of the artist whether the artist is 4 or 40. I still want to read the “visual marks” put down by the expressive mind. Whether those drawings are a soft pastel ballet dancer by Degas or the crayon lines of a choo-choo train that goes through the middle of town with buildings, clouds and birds all in the same proportion drawn by a seven year old. Yes, I love to see.

Twenty five thousand years ago, a Neanderthal picked up a lump of burned wood, charcoal, from the center of his campfire, to draw animals across a cave ceiling in beautiful abstract forms that are amazing to us today. In our high-tech wonderful world, we can go into an art supply store and buy the very same lump of charcoal to draw with. I would choose this charcoal drawing instrument as an example to represent man and his creative search to record, create and communicate for it is unchanged. We still want to make marks that create, communicate, and just for a few moments connect to something beyond us.

Enjoy my artwork for it comes from the higher creative spirit that lives within us all. Seen from the eye, executed by the hand, and inspired by the heart.

– – –

We hope you enjoyed this entry. Next week Jacob will share his experience visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque, more commonly known as the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem.

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[1] Jacob: He has

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