17 June 2012
How I became an urban sketcher
Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. - Greg Anderson (founder of the American Wellness Project)
I'm an urban sketcher in Quebec City. This has not always been so, however. Like so many people, I've spent most of my life believing that I had no talent for art and shouldn't even try. But as a cancer survivor I came across a book by Danny Gregory, titled Everyday Matters. It's a small book that tells the story of Danny and his wife, who suffered a horrible accident that changed their lives forever.
To deal with the stress and trauma of their situation, Danny started learning to draw. The first paragraph of his book tells it all: "I only started drawing fairly recently. But I've found it has a power to change my life and the world around me so profoundly and I'd like to share it with you."
Sketching helped Danny overcome depression and despair and caused him to realize that everything around him was special in its own way. He became re-engaged in life through his sketching and came to appreciate what he had rather than worrying about what he did not.
More important, by the end of the book Danny Gregory made me believe that the process of sketching, not whether I was a great sketch artist, was the important thing. And now, eight months later, I believe even more strongly that he is correct.
When I started sketching I gave myself thirty days to 'try' to draw. I'm glad I insisted on the 30-day trial as the first couple weeks of sketching were pretty frustrating. Maybe I couldn't do it, but I tried to draw something every day for 30 days. Some days I just doodled; some days I tried to sketch particular objects or places. Those sketches were mostly horrible, but every once in a while a sketch actually looked, sorta-kinda like the thing I was trying to sketch. The notion of 'can't' slowly slipped away and was replaced with 'wow...I'm having so much fun' and 'I'll never be bored again.'
My view of the world had changed. I was seeing things I'd never seen before, because I was actually looking at the world around me rather than ignoring my surroundings. I could look at anything, anywhere and find something interesting to either sketch or study, looking at the object's shape, shadow and textures. There was this embarrassing time when I was caught looking at a guy's butt as I walked behind him in Place Laurier. I was trying to see how the folds in his checkered pants changed as he walked but I doubt the old woman who gave me a strange look would believe that.
Now, eight months later I can't imagine not sketching. Sketching has connected me to Quebec City in a way that nothing else ever has. I've come to love the city architecture, which is unique and varied. Have you noticed how many different kinds of lamp posts exist in Quebec City? Did you know there are many types of fire hydrants in our town, each with its own personality? And have you ever looked up while walking? We drive and walk under a lot of things worthy of our gaze. The Plains of Abraham, the old city, the old port area, and many other locations are great sketching spots. The Parc Lineaire, along the St. Charles river provides 32km of things to sketch. The options are endless.
You might be asking, "Why not just take photographs?" I do take a lot of them. But taking photographs doesn't hit the brain in the same way. When I sit to sketch, everything else disappears. My brain relaxes, all tension and troubles go away. It's just me with paper, a pointy device and I'm drawing lines. In many ways it's similar to meditation. It's rare in our hectic lives to achieve that sort of mental singularity and it sure feels good.
And so after eight months as a sketcher, I look forward to sketching as a kid looks forward to a trip to the candy store. Sketching feeds me. Sketching has become central in my life. Sketching, for me, is necessary. If you're a sketcher, let's get together and go sketching. If you haven't tried sketching, do so; you'll like it. And if you have any questions about sketching, feel free to contact me in the comments below, or via my blog.