I’ve started a new practice over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps like the best of new habits, I didn’t exactly set out to do it; it just kind of happened. Is this intro making whatever ‘it’ is, sound adult and possibly naughty? Unfortunately, this habit is not quite titillating ;) as I’m actually talking about working in my sketchbook.
While I was writing this blog post I realized that getting back to sketchbook drawing isn’t out of nowhere; In a previous studio blog I did mention the fact that working in my sketchbook had been part of my daily life in undergrad. That’s significant because I trace my whole art career to that time.
Although I have been doodling, drawing, painting and crafting since I could walk (ugh does that sound pretentious?) and both my grandfathers were artists, I didn’t really view being an artist as a realistic career choice. So when I went to college and made the huge decision to change my degree from English to Art-something-or-other, I still couldn’t stomach the idea of focusing on just Art. Instead I changed to Art education. One semester of the intro to art ed curriculum and I knew that wasn’t for me either. (I’d done an early childhood education certification program in high school, and was kinda surprised at how similar my first art ed class was to classes I had already taken. In short, it didn’t excite me.) So, it was a BIG Deal. when I took the plunge and committed to a BFA program in undergrad. It was me saying: I am doing this; I am taking my skills and my passion as an artist seriously and I’m really, really doing this.
That level of commitment kind of overtakes your life. I was always in the studio classrooms after hours, taking advantage of the free paper, and a good lighting system. I had spent the first semester of college abroad and the second semester in the art ed program. So, still not knowing any of my peers super well may have encouraged my solitary studio hours. Nevertheless, I was filling up my time the way I always had pre-college: drawing. Only now it was serious. It was learning time and I really buckled down and committed.
That level of focus and rigorous practice was something I held onto throughout my BFA program. I filled up sketchbooks, researched and looked at artists and went to galleries whenever I could. Things have certainly changed a lot since then, haven’t they?
A hop skip and a jump later, there was graduate school; there was starting a business; there was a lot of moving to multiple states; buying a house and adapting to many new environments. Now, here I am, and I feel a little bit like that undergrad student, who has just gotten back from a study-abroad semester, a little uncertain of the lay of the land, but ready to figure it out, and once again commit.
I think that the lines I am trying to tenuously draw here are loosely between commercial work and high art; between illustration and capital-p Painting. I’m realizing that this tension I have always felt between making work the average person wants and is able to purchase, and the fine art that gallerists and other fine artists value hasn’t really gone anywhere. Perhaps I’m not explaining this very well.
There has to be a middle ground, between making work for other people, and making work for myself, either for my own education and skill-building or for subjects I enjoy or find meaningful. I have to earn a living by the art that I make, and that fact is not a burden. I want to be very honest and clear about that: I enjoy illustration. I feel passionate about the subjects I create illustrations around, and to be honest, I really, really enjoy quotes and affirmations (more on that subject in a future blog post, I think). But, now that my business is a bit more established and I’m finding more rhythm and flow, I think it’s also fair to make more time to continue to learn as an artist in ways that feed and excite me.
I want to make big paintings again. I want to set up a studio space suitable for oil paint. I want to recover and refine my drawing skills. Looking back at my older artwork reminds me of how developed my skill set once was, which is sad because I know I’m not at that level right now. However, it also affirms that it is something I can do. And, with practice and time, I can also get better. It doesn’t matter if I don’t earn a single penny more for having done that work (though I suspect as is the way with most skill sets - they will help in some way or other) it’s an investment in myself and my own education. I wish I hadn’t disassociated from that for so long.
I’m not being too formal or structured in my sketchbook time for now. I have so many on-going projects and required tasks for work that adding one more item to my daily schedule would feel too much like a burden. That’s not at all the feeling I want for this. Instead, sketchbook time is a reward; a pleasant activity I get to end my day with after accomplishing all the hard stuff, whenever I have the time. If I don’t have time that day, it’s alright. Tomorrow is another day. But, more and more often, I am finding that time and I love it. I’ve been very intentional to not take these drawings too seriously, and they’re in a cheap blick brand sketchbook, so all the formality is immediately taken away. The paper practically screams, “These are just for fun; These are just for practice!” I make a note in the corner of each page indicating how long I worked on the sketch, both to see if I improve and to make sure I don’t spend too long on any one drawing. When you are used to looking at your art as a product, it can be too easy to get sucked into criticism when what you really meant to do was just put some lines down on a page. These systems help interrupt that, at least a little.
As my schedule frees up a bit, I’m hoping I actually will get to put sketchbook time onto my daily to-do list. Maybe I’ll start filling up chonky sketchbooks left, right and center. For now, I will take this for what it is - a happy step in the right direction, and a reminder that I can still be that slightly over-eager art student ready to super commit.
I hope this blog post can help remind you that whatever skill set or creative exploit has fed you in the past, it is worth fighting to give some time to, in your present. Your joy is worth the same time and energy you are investing everywhere else.
- Read my previous studio update all about making video content even though it makes me extra anxious
- Follow me on instagram & youtube for more regular updates on my art and stuff.