I just read this article in the NY Times and it articulated something about museum going and art appreciation that I strongly believe.
I urge you to read it — then let me know what you think.
Here’s one of the pages I filled waiting with Jenny at the DMV.
A couple of days ago we were invited to attend Sting’s new Broadway show. The music was good, the story and characters less so. During the second act, I pulled out my little Moleskine and a couple of pens. It was so dark I couldn’t seem my book at all and wasn’t sure what I was scrawling. During intermission, I flipped through my pages and, heartened, kept going after the curtain went up again. When I walked out of the theatre, I had the story of the whole evening recorded in my book and my grey cells.
This sort of quick, take-no prisoners kept me fired up and, over the next few days, I drew a bunch of people in the street and from photos too.
Another reminder that — as in rock ‘n’ roll —sometimes speed and volume are just the ticket to loosen you up and silence your inner monkey.
Oh, and that Sketchbook Skool has the power to change your view of the world.
Even if you just work there.
Artist and author Danny Gregory has led a life as colorful as many of his paintings. Formerly creative director at a multinational advertising agency, his journey from “ad man” to “art man” began in his mid-30s when he started sketching the urban surrounds of his native New York.
“I’ve been trying to encourage kids at all ages to feel good about being creative. Little kids are naturally creative and don’t really need a lot of help, but when kids reach late middle school they can start to get anxious about their creativity and feel judgmental about the things they are making,” he noted.
One thing I keep encountering when I talk to people about starting to draw: fear. People are terrified of pens, paper, and brushes. Art is scary.
So I propose we call it something else. Drawing or journaling or sketching or doodling or sketchbooking or testing your pen. I call it ‘art with a small a‘.
Here’s how I look at it.
There are so many things we are willing to do that we know other people do much better. There are all sorts of amazing chefs on TV doing incredible things with scallops and opening four-star restaurants, but we are all still willing to cook some burgers for dinner without being terrified. We don’t say, I just can’t use a microwave, I didn’t go to cooking school.
We may not be ready for the NBA but we’ll toss a basketball around with some buddies. We won’t be headlining at Madison Square Garden or winning any Grammys but we’re all still willing to sing in the shower or whistle while we work. We may not be on the Pulitzer shortlist but we can still write an email or a birthday card. We are just doing it to have fun. Or because it’s an essential part of life. And I think art can be both.
We don’t need to label ourselves chefs, or basketball players, or musicians, or writers. So why does art have to be so different?
If you want a painless, unscary way to start expressing your creativity, sign up for the best semester yet of Sketchbook Skool. Thousands of people who are rusty as barn door hinges are doing it. Join us!
(A somewhat funky video I made in my hotel room in China)
Learning to draw is not like learning to drive. You don’t have to master the fundamentals, take courses, pass tests, put thousands of dollars of equipment at risk. You just have to start.
Drawing isn’t a learned skill so much as it’s a process of discovery that starts with skills you have had since you were a toddler. And that process requires a willingness to stretch and practice, things that can be scary or boring if you approach them with the wrong set of expectations.
One thing that has been reinforced with me over the past few weeks that I have spent drawing with kids is that the most crucial thing is to have fun. If you are all enjoying yourself and slopping ink and paint around, well, you want to keep it doing it. As as you do it, you encounter new situations, you have questions, you want to stretch. And that’s where a decent teacher can step in and show you how to make progress. You also start to feel more comfortable with what you are doing so you are willing to make mistakes and take new risks, and that’s how your adventures to new places begin.
We all need to accept that creativity is not about immediately achieving some sort of awesome finished piece; it’s an exploration of discovery, not a straight-line commute to Perfection.
Of course, this insight isn’t just for junior high. It’s the core idea behind Sketchbook Skool: having new experiences, having fun, exploring with friends, and having opportunities to grow. Speaking of which, the new semester is about to begin. I assume you have already signed up, but if not, get over to our site and enroll.
If you’d like to learn even more stuff about all sorts of things, hurry and enroll for the best semester yet of Sketchbook Skool. See you in klass!
Remember the cafeteria ladies who worked in your high school? Their last serving of chipped beef may still be lurking in your colon but your probably never knew much about the ladies themselves, not even their names.
I decided to do portrait of some of these hard working people when I was in Beijing, to learn a bit about them and share it with the students who are coming by my studio. I’d been looking at a lot of posters of proud workers from the Cultural Revolution and this take on Soviet realism inspired me. I thought about drawing them on location but I would have just gotten in the way of the preparation of the dozens of dishes they make for thousands of hungry kids. The head of catering took me behind the scenes and we got three women to agree to pose for my camera. Those photos became the basis for a cardboard painting in shades of yellow, red and gold.
When I had completed my painting and had written down what I knew about them in English and Chinese, we invited the models to see what I’d made of them. They were flattered and pleased.
The next day, one of the cooks (the one behind the safety mask) returned — with an amazing drawing she had done of me. Our studio assistant explained that the cook had always wanted to be an artist, and when she was young she had applied to the main art school in Beijing. There was just one remaining place in the class and it was given to a man. So she gave up her dreams and went to work in the kitchen — but she still kept drawing. Now she’s a grandmother but her skills are still exceptional.
Over the next few days, we saw more and more of her art and the school began to celebrate her. Soon there will be articles and videos about her story and hopefully she will be able to live her dream and share her at with the world.
What a strange serendipity. And a wonderful one.
BTW, you’ll find lots of people who are looking to get their art making back on track at SketchBook Skool, those whose skills are rusty as an old barn hinge and those who have been let their love of drawing stay buried beneath a distant failure.
Ready to get out of the kitchen and join us? Come over and enroll.