doodling for new concepts

I decided to do one of my 25 ideas (August 15 post) this week. No. 4: Lightly draw a checkerboard pattern on your page. Fill each square with hatch marks, dots, scribbles, color, or interesting lines.

I altered the concept to start with. I didn’t make a checkerboard; it looked more like the boxes that you would draw a comic strip in. And not the whole page, just six boxes. Then I drew with diagonal lines and crosshatching inside the boxes. I didn’t have anything in mind except to just make an all-over texture.

Then I went into the texture with white gouache and started to pick out little interesting bits. Before you know it, I was crossing the lines between the six boxes. Now the original grid was not as distinct.

Finally, I wandered back in with some colored pencils. Here is the end result.

I may go back into this one at a later date, or try some more. It’s a doodle in that I had no notions of where I was going, or what new little line or shape would call out to be filled in with white (or later, with color). You can still see the original grid, and some of the original pencil marks. The whole process is contained within one drawing.

There are ideas inside this drawing-about-process or drawing-which-is-process that I will continue to develop and use in my paintings. One nice thing about keeping an artist’s journal is that I can return to this page and remember the thoughts I had about using a grid, and then crossing over the grid. I can remember the process of laying down a flat, repetitive texture and then finding new lines and shapes within the texture.

In that regard, a visual journal doesn’t have to be solely a recording of the world outside; it can, through making marks and shapes and layers, be a recording of the process of making art. For me, a return to this page will be a way of revisiting an idea.

25 ideas: stuff to put in your visual journal

I could create a list of all the ways the little editorial voice in my head tells me not to work… there’s not time, you’ve got laundry to do, my sketchbook is just too small (or large), I think I’ll just catch up on emails first, there’s nothing interesting to draw… and if I listen to it, I stay stuck and my pages remain untouched and blank. It’s a sad state to be in, and quite common. There are countless books and articles which address the subject. The answer most all of them give can be boiled down into one word: activity.

Draw, paint, write… go! The more you do it, the more the editor fades into the background. Pages fill. Ideas start to flow. Life is good.

Feeling stuck? Here is a list. Pick one, crack open your sketch diary, and get to work. It’s the easiest way to get un-stuck.

1. Draw your wallet or purse.
2. Draw concentric forms like Witold Riedel.
3. Cut and tear up pages from a phone book and/or newspaper and make a collage with the interesting pieces.
4. Lightly draw a checkerboard pattern on your page. Fill each square with hatch marks, dots, scribbles, color, or interesting lines.
5. Draw the inside of your junk drawer before you organize it.
6. Make a self portrait.
7. Stick your cooking utensils (spoons, spatulas, ladles, whisks, etc.) in a big canister or jar and draw or paint them.
8. An idea from a class I took from Wendell Arneson: think of a season, or a time of day that resonates with you. Go through old magazines and tear out pictures with colors that represent that season or time. Then make a collage with those colors.
9. Draw a page full of very small things (no bigger than an inch).
10. Create a still life from the goody bag you get at the dentist’s office. Then draw or paint the still life. Then go brush your teeth (you’ll be thinking about it the whole time you’re drawing).
11. Draw or paint a garden tool at an interesting angle on the page.
12. Draw a power strip with cords plugged into it.
13. Make a viewfinder: cut a small rectangle or square from the center of an index card or a piece of stiff paper. Draw what you see through the viewfinder.
14. At a restaurant, draw the stuff on your table before your food arrives.
15. Make really fast gesture drawings of people in a crowd or at the beach.
16. An idea from a visual journaling class with Jane Fasse: pop a bowl of popcorn. Draw interesting pieces of the popcorn, from different angles, or larger or smaller on your page. Then eat the popcorn!
17. Draw or paint to music… move with the music and make marks and lines all over your page.
18. Make a color record: select a favorite object, or book cover, or greeting card, or photo, or package, or advertisement, and record (with paint or colored pencils or chalk or pastels) the colors used to create the thing (don’t draw the actual thing, just the colors). Use that color palette to create a picture of your own.
19. Find an interesting pattern, like floor tiles or on fabric, and draw the pattern.
20. Draw your jacket, or a towel, hanging on a hook.
21. Make an intricate drawing of a leaf.
22. Draw or paint the ingredients of your favorite recipe.
23. Paint an emotion using only color and line.
24. Make a memory map of a place from your childhood: the rooms of your house or apartment, the neighborhood where you lived, or your route to school.
25. On a separate, large piece of paper, make big lines and shapes with ink. After it’s dry, cut it into interesting pieces. Glue some onto your journal page in a new arrangement.

Happy journaling!

still life of a jade tree

My latest visual journal entry began yesterday evening as a contour line drawing with a pencil. Then I started to add the shadows on the leaves… and then the light started to fade. The edges of light and shadow were shifting and blurring. My pencil drawing was turning to mush. I wasn’t happy with the result, and even started to doubt my drawing ability.

I told my pesky internal editor to scram and pulled out my gouache palette. One nice thing about gouache is that with a little water, the blobs of dried paint on the palette come back to life.

By now I had turned on the lights: the light and shadows describing the jade tree were drastically changed. I couldn’t refer to it for visual information any more. What I could do is lay down areas of line and color that were suggested by the drawing itself. And so I did:

I started with observation, and moved into abstraction by removing the shadows and making the leaves (and the spaces between them) flat areas of color. There is still a distinct jade tree quality to the shapes, but the picture has become more about line and color and rhythm and composition.

the last step: abstract journal page complete

Remember what was going on with my visual journal page yesterday? I think I’ve come to a resolution, at least for now, to the forms, lines and colors on this particular page. And I have to tell you, it got a lot messier before I was able to pull things together.

That brings me to a point: visual journal pages don’t have to be complete, or finished, ever. My journals have pages which I’ve taken to a complete sort of state (in my head), but they also contain doodles, quick sketches, sketches with notes about color, or the light or the day in general. They can contain experiments with and notes about mixing colors. You can stick photos or clippings or bits of fluff in them. They are what you observe, or think up, or collect on any given day; they are whatever you want to do, when you want to do it. If it turns your crank or trips your trigger, put it in your visual journal. That’s what makes it your unique record of your individual life.

Now, I happen to enjoy taking a page from a beginning (like drawing from a collage) to a place where I think I can stop, or where it feels like a “finished” piece. But, that’s just me. Other people are all over the map regarding their visual journals. Wander over to the gallery of work by artists who use Moleskine notebooks and sketchbooks. You’ll see sheer variety and the endless creativity that we humans can produce. It’s delightful!

Oh, and here’s where my journal page got to:

taking steps to abstraction

I’m working on abstracting the photo collage again. The first drawing I made from it (see abstract thinking, August 1, 2011) was done with pencil. I was, and am, drawn to the diagonal lines and patterns and how they branch off from the vertical elements. In that first one, I captured linear elements from the collage pretty literally, and changed the levels of dark and light.

For this next interpretation, I want to begin with what sparks my interest. So first, I drew the bare bones in colored pencil.

One thing you learn in art school is to use the entire page; start thinking about the composition of the drawing space right from the start. While I spent a little more time on the right side of the page, I managed to get a sense of the whole idea.

Next, and still with the original collage in front of me, I started to make some stronger lines and shapes, in color, with both gouache and pencil.

Although the original was still suggesting forms to me, some new forms began to enter the picture. The diagonal lines are still there, but there are curves, too. I think they add something lyrical… something that helps link everything together.

Here is where my visual journal entry has gotten to, today:

Now there are new elements, lines, shapes, colors, and textures that I added without referring to the original. I’ve created a big compositional field of complexity. Or, you might call it a mess! I do this in my paintings, too… it seems to be the natural course of how I work. I’ve grown to accept it as part of my process.

Now, my challenge is not only to simplify, but to add detail where I deem it important. It’s to create a whole, but to keep the small elements which contribute to the whole alive. I may glance at the original which started the process, but will be more likely to work from what I have here.

For me, the way the puzzle comes together involves striking a balance. On one side of the scale, I’m making intuitive decisions based on what I feel is being suggested to me by what’s already happened on the page. On the other side, my logical brain steps in making decisions about composition, and clarity, and color.

More tomorrow!

using an artist’s journal for abstract thinking

If I draw or paint something recognizable from what’s out there in the world, that’s realism. The more I capture and replicate an exact likeness of a person, place, or thing, the more realistic my drawing or painting is said to be. For instance, here’s a realistically drawn face:

I love drawing people in a realistic way. For this one I first primed the page with an acrylic wash. Then I drew with pencil and added highlights with white gouache.

But, I also love abstraction. Abstraction can start as a representation of the real world, or it can be entirely imagined. The more I remove details, reduce the perceived depth and perspective, simplify, step away from realistic color, and/or pay attention to the elements of composition on the page, the more I step into abstraction. And then, of course, there is the non-objective, when there is no subject— out there— which I am trying to capture on the page.

I think it was an art professor who taught me one interesting process for pulling abstract ideas out of reality. I’ve done it many times and enjoy every step.

First, you select a few photographs or images from a magazine. Then you cut them into pieces (I photocopy the precious ones and cut the copies up). Then, reassemble the pieces into a new array. Here, I cut up and reassembled some landscape and architectural imagery:

Then I made a pencil drawing from the collage:

The collage was an abstraction in and of itself. While drawing, I chose lines, shapes, and patterns that I wanted to be part of my composition. I wanted more continuity between the light and dark strips in the collage, so extended some of the elements between them in the drawing.

This one has been really interesting to me. I think I’ll do it again. Maybe this time I’ll draw from the drawing and abstract it further. Or maybe I’ll go back to the collage and see what else I can pull from it.

There’s an excellent article on that explains how abstract art is created, using a music analogy. It’s got some ideas for getting started making abstractions, if you’re so inclined.