My son was having friends over for a playdate, so that was my cue to get a few hours of quiet sketch-time downtown last Sunday afternoon. After filling my stomach with a large burrito, I stood out on F St to draw a panorama which includes the Old City Hall (now City Hall Tavern) and the little package delivery shop. I stood next to the bins near the Paint Chip art shop. I listened to podcasts about (a) History and (b) the X-Men. After two hours of drawing all the ink (I coloured it in at home) I stopped, and went for a pint at de Vere’s, where I read (a) a magazine about history and (b) an X-Men comic. They both make perfect sense now.
Why do I like sketching panoramas in January? Perhaps it is because I am so busy and it is a way of concentrating on something else for a while, more complicated than a smaller one-page drawing, with a bit of meat that I need to come back to and maybe colour in at home (or next day on site in this case). Or maybe it’s because sketching in January in Davis is usually sunny, not that cold, and with leafless trees giving a better overall view (I don’t really like drawing foliage). Maybe because I liked last year’s panoramas so much (I made lots of mugs of them, you can buy them here) that I’m just trying to recapture past glories, trying to one-up myself from what I’ve done before. Maybe it’s because panoramic sketches, filling the whole spread as they do, eliminate that white space that nags at me in my books (I like to draw maps or maybe write pointless barely legible notes on the unused pages). Perhaps it is vanity, I like how they look when I am showing them to people, in person or in shows when they are laid out on a table, even though on my sketchblog they look much so smaller, and you have to click on them to see more detail. Or maybe it’s because of that, knowing that to see it you have to make that extra effort of clicking once with your finger, maybe it makes it worth more? I think it’s a mixture of all of these things. I draw more in January than in December, like despite being busy in my day job I am trying to fill some sort of post-Christmas void, the decorations are down so I’d better draw stuff. In truth it is the counter-balance; January is traditionally my busiest work month (working with graduate program admissions) and being busy gets my creative juices flowing, so it’s a kind of release.
This sounds very much like I am trying to justify my constant need to be drawing stuff. “What is it for?” is the most common question you get when out sketching. It’s a natural question, but one which often makes us the sketcher feel nervous and uncomfortable, as if we’re being put on the spot (which we usually are not, except in rare cases, and I’m not going to go into those here). There is always this nagging feeling that the world at large expects us to be doing something for a clear purpose, that we have to prove that this drawing outside thing we do is of actual value (I have actually had someone recently actually say to me while complimenting me on my work that the world doesn’t see art as having any actual importance. Thanks a lot, those paper snowflakes didn’t just make themselves you know). This is almost always not the case and people are almost always genuinely interested and even inspired by seeing you out there drawing, and if they are artists themselves they will let you know and maybe that evening they will go home and draw something amazing. If you are someone who is intimidated by drawing outside, as I once was (and occasionally still am), for fear of interaction with people who may witness your work in its raw unrefined state, just remember that your very presence out there creating and observing is making the world a better place, and most people really do see it that way. “What is it for?” When asked this question, the answer is always, always that it’s because you love to draw. Regardless of what it is really for, commissions, learning about architecture, spying etc, that is always the best (and truest) answer.
As I was drawing this, which is of the Chemistry buildings at UC Davis (I always see fire trucks outside, which is a bit worrying) sketched from Bainer Hall, home of Engineering, (that sculpture in front is related to something to do with engineering, how’s that for detail, I only walk it past it every day of my life), one of the janitorial staff on campus stopped to chat, as he was emptying the bins, a nice chap he was, very interested in drawing. He told me that he draws too, and also does woodwork, that was his personal creative release. I”m always well impressed by woodworkers, but I think he recognized straight away the need to create, and though he asked at first if I was studying art, when I said I was a staff member he understood right away, no need to ask “what’s it for” because it was just for the love of it. That was nice. I told him that one of the things I like to draw on campus are the bins, I never leave them out to make something look nicer, in fact I vehemently keep them in to the point of obstinacy. This brief interaction made me smile, and so having had my one allowable interaction while sketching I put my headphones back on and pulled down my hat so that nobody would bother me again (only joking) (kind of).
This was actually sketched over three lunchtimes, standing up, the first being only about twenty-five minutes (I had to eat), the second almost exactly an hour (I still had to eat, but I ate fast) and on the third day I added the paint, which took about two-thirds of my lunchtime, but I spent that sitting down. I was sitting down for almost the whole time while writing all this too and I’ve been here for a good hour already so it all evens out. There is another panorama ready to be scanned and posted, with one more on the way so stay tuned, there is more to come folks…