Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vacation Sketchbook

I've taken a week off from studio work and have been able to enjoy some time in my sketchbook (and I've also spoken to my family once or twice). A few selections from the week, with extended thoughts...

I spent the weekend with the Monks at Priory Abby, a nice place to get away from the world for a short time. The chapel, built by master architect Gyo Obata, was a perfect spot to spend time drawing. A woman came in while I was drawing to practice on the organ for Sunday Mass. The songs were unspeakably beautiful- notes made without effort. The residue is a confluence of a space and a time recorded on a notebook. I could have been drawing while perched on Saturn's rings, the point of view felt so fleeting and unlikely. Drawing on location is very different than just visiting a place. Even different than intentional touring, the act of drawing forces you to experience an extended slice of time in a place you normally would not. (On a similar theme but different subject, I think this also happens during prayer, when God is encountered not at a place or by an act, but only in a stretch of time.)

Part of the magic of drawing that I've long since understood but rarely heard articulated is how firmly drawing creates memories. Sure, drawing creates visual libraries of information like "How to Draw a Wood Duck." But, for me, drawing also firmly records my own presence next to the information about that wood duck.

When I draw, I remember.

See, I could draw this abby chapel again and again, perhaps with my eyes closed- because I took time to study how it worked and record it in a space that was connected to my hand. My hand was also connected to my ears, and my ears to my eyes. Drawing, I think, might be valuable to me because of these encoded time capsules. Drawing offers a way to capture the ephemeral in multiple vessels.

A drawing-in-church from today- a familiar parable I'm sure.

I have spoken to other artists about a similar drawing phenomenon, including the great Dan Zettwoch, that has to do with encoded memories in drawings. I have experienced, when looking at an old drawing I've created, a kind of narrative sensation that has to do with the audiobook I was listening to while creating the images. Each section of the drawing can carry a little parcel of the story or reveal a sensation about the narrative that comes to share part of the image's story as well. For example, the American Illustration 28 cover I worked on last year happened to collide with the first time I listened to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I can revisit particular sections of the drawing and the story comes rushing back, like a cracker-jack prize. Did that story affect the visual ideas for this cover? Not sure, but they are connected, to me, regardless.

School resumes in a few weeks- and I'll be posting my the final images from my newest book, which I just finished last week, very soon. "Nurse, Soldier, Spy: Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Woman" comes out in January.

Speaking of the end of summer- my pool has a community reading shelf that cracks me up. A few observations:


MJC *-* said...

"the act of drawing forces you to experience an extended slice of time in a place you normally would not" man that's just perfect!

blewis said...

My memory works the other way as well-- when I listen to something again (podcast, usually) I recall what I was doing when I listened the first time.