Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sketching by the Water Off to A Good Start!

Hello all,

Sketching by the Water began yesterday under a beautiful blue sky. Somewhat gusty winds but warm, nonetheless. Four students are participating. We have chosen these five locations to work in:
Squamscott River, Exeter, NH (tidal river in a town setting)
Plum Island National Wildlife Preserve, MA (salt marsh)
Crane's Beach, Ipswich, MA (beachy stuff) or Old Town Hill, Newbury, MA (tidal river in a rural setting)
Bunker Meadowsw at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield, MA (fresh water pond)
Rye Harbor Marina, Rye, NH (ocean, boats, buildings)

There's still time to jump in if you're interested! Call or email me for registration information.

The primary focus of this class is learning how to design pleasing pages in your sketchbook. It's one thing to go out and record your surroundings with various sketches and notes. It's quite another to put down these notes in your sketchbook in a thoughtful way. We'll use some design elements, more legible handwriting, and thoughtful arrangement of it all. With this as our focus, there will be very little drawing instruction; more emphasis on composition and realizing what it is about the surroundings that captures YOUR attention. Ample "alone" time will be given during classes for students to tap into this process.

Our first class took place along the Sqaumscott River in Exeter. This is a tidal river which flows about 8 or 9 miles out to New Hampshire's Great Bay, leading you out into the open ocean. It flows through about 5 towns along the way. As a tidal river it attracts all sorts of wildlife, from migrating birds to resident river otters and muskrat. Lots and lots of insects use the area, as do a wide variety of plants. Here you'll see a few photos of students at work and what they produced during class.

What makes a pleasing page to look at? Thoughtful composition is key. We began with a 20- 30-minute sketch of the landscape. Each student chose a view that interested them. Using a viewfinder, we focused on how much of that view was reasonable to put down on paper and filled approx. 20-30% of the page. Once that was complete we began to look at the variety of stuff living, growing, passing through and using this habitat. It can be overwhelming to choose! We started this part as a group, relying on the drawing skills learned in previous courses. The river was at hightide, so no wading birds were around. But gulls and cormorants were! Using binoculars, we captured these shapes in a small area on the page. We put down a few words to indicate what species of birds we were sketching. From there we began to focus on smaller things, like the plants and insects around us. At this point we worked individually. Soon it was time to head back to the car, where we compared our work to the examples from well-known artists like Hannah Hinchman and Cathy Johnson, which were shown at the beginning of class. We discussed what was successful on each page and what each student might consider changing to make the page more pleasing; more graphic and decorative in essence.

Now that the students have been through this process of "thoughtful page design", the homework assigned is to repeat the process once again. Begin with a landscape sketch, move on to document some of the details within that landscape. Also, I asked each student to research some artists and come in next week with an example of a pleasing sketchbook page, prepared to discuss what it is about their choice that they find attractive.

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