MCBA Visual Journal Collective: What Happened in July

July 23, 2009



Above: watersoluble colored pencil journal sketch of the crowd at Lake Harriet Band Shell ©2009 Roberta Avidor. Read on for more information about Robert and her artwork.

Monday night was the July meeting of the MCBA Visual Journal Collective. Nineteen journal keepers gathered to share work, ideas, and inspiration. The goal for the evening was for each person to bring artwork that derived from journal work. Wow. I have only one regret. I didn’t take photos as people were talking. I did, however take some notes which I’m going to share with you now, so that you can get a taste for the meeting. (I’ve also asked attendees if they post images of their work on their own blogs or websites to send me a link, and I’ll update those at the end of this post. I've provided links to websites or blogs of the artists involved, when I've known of them.)

After a brief bit of looking through the on-going Altered Book Journal Round Robin journals we settled down to business.

First up was Theresa who put up with my incessant questions about her cool cigar-box purse and then went on to show us how from working with the doodles she makes in her journals (abstracts of line and color) she created an entire installation for a show. It was a great example of how end results often travel far from the first impulse, but that first impulse or germ of an idea is needed.

Jean delighted us with an accordion book filled with sketches of Japanese toys that she made years ago when the Walker had an exhibit of such toys. She made repeated visits to the exhibit to sketch the toys which captured her imagination. Later she ended up living in Japan, where her interest in the toys produced there received new attention. She learned the technique of Japanese woodblock printing and brought a print made from one of her toy drawings! The connections, across time, were clear to see. The message was clear: journaling pays off!

Anita, besides sketching during the meeting (see one of her sketches on Urban Sketchers—Twin Cities), shared other on-site sketches she makes with her favorite pen: the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. She also had on hand a travel journal in which the trip was visionary or internal, something that expressed her need to get away, when the going wasn’t feasible; a great way to keep working creatively.

Carol shared her non-dominant hand sketches of pine cones. It was fun to see the development and detail. (Carol draws exceedingly well with either hand!) It reminded us all to keep working regardless of injuries and other impediments.

Laura, a new visual journal keeper, shared her positive attitude that if she didn’t like something on a page she reminded herself to “just turn the page.” She is smitten with life drawing and drawing people in public: “People who read hold really still!”

At this point in the meeting there was some cross discussion about using gesso to cover up “unwanted pages.” Like Laura, I’m a firm believer in just turning the page. I like that there is a record of progress. And I always find I learn the most from pages that are the least “successful.” Also over time how I judge the success of a page changes, perhaps because I see the learning more clearly and so value it more. Nevertheless, Mary is quite right that gesso is a powerful and useful tool. It can completely cover images we wish to forget, or partially cover them, allowing us to create new or layered pieces on a page spread. We also talked about absorbent ground (a gesso-like product) which allows you to paint over with watercolor. I have found Golden’s Absorbent Ground to be an excellent product.

Next Lynn shared her approach to working in her journal. Hers is a large journal (it looked to be in the 9 or 10 inch square range) and she fills it with colorful pages covered with images and writing all of which document and commemorate the art she does outside of the journal. Additionally she will make color photocopies of her old journal pages and use them in her collages!

Janice shared several lovely watercolor landscapes she has been painting in her journal, showing her skills at capturing a sense of place, light, and atmosphere. She couldn't fool us into thinking she hadn't been busy!

While Beth claimed she didn’t have anything to show as she was just starting out, the group provided her with some helpful nudging and suggestions at my instigation, because I’m just that way! Beth had a commercial book she was going to alter and we are looking forward to seeing where it takes her.

Marsha’s work provided the group with a complete tutorial from sketch to finished printed illustration. Beginning with pencil sketches of various plants in her journal Marsha worked through value sketches with markers on vellum tracing paper, to finished pen and ink stipple illustrations, to copies of the printed magazine where the illustrations appeared. Marsha worked her illustrations at greater than final printing size. Working in the 160 to 200 percent range is normal for illustrators working in pen and ink. The resultant reduction in size for printing tightens up the line work and makes detail more easily attainable when drawing at the larger size. You can see an example of one of Marsha's illustrations here.

A small pamphlet style Moleskine is the bedside journal of choice for Briana. She used this small journal to jot down ideas as she is falling asleep or waking up. Her sketches are in pencil, with notes. Her finished paintings, one of which she brought along, are as colorful and vibrant as her visual journal work in her larger journals (she admitted, with a laugh, to keeping “many, many journals”). Capturing those fleeting moments of brilliant ideas as we leave or enter our day is a useful technique to keep the wheels of creativity turning, while resisting the pesky internal critic.

Poets use journals, visual journals and written journals too. Molly shared that as a poet she is always jotting down ideas—even when she is in the car! She finds that these ideas go into her poems often years later. She has a title she is still holding on to, waiting for the work to surface. It’s an ongoing process that unfolds. Journals are a great receptacle for such work.

Roberta, whose image opens this post, admitted that her journal was just for observation and practice. She works as a layout artist and is always called upon to sketch anything imaginable. The images become stored in her mind when she draws them, later to surface in her work; but she doesn’t refer back to the journal. One of the things that most intrigues Roberta is present day garb. She is always looking at people to sketch what they are wearing and how they are wearing it so that her client work can reflect current practices. A veteran sketcher in public places Roberta advised the group to sit where there is a bench and draw—be comfortable. That yielded better results than searching around for “the thing” to draw. I’m already seeking out air conditioned locations with large windows onto public places!

Ken used his time to give a plug to the Urban Sketchers—Twin Cities. If you sketch out on location in the Twin Cities area (including the suburban areas—we’re talking greater metro area here) you should contact Ken at the blog about posting your work.

Ken_LHB Left: Sketch of the crowd at Lake Harriet's Band Shell from Ken’s large journal; ink and colored pencil. ©2009 Ken Avidor.

I asked Ken, whether he had started a new journal, since the book he was showing work from was larger than I had remembered. He explained that the larger format (8 x 10 inches or so) was useful to him when he was going out on location and wanted to do larger drawings. He had started this journal when he sketched at the Republican Convention (held in 2008 in St. Paul, MN; he had press credentials and he didn’t get beat up) and additionally there were State Fair sketches at the back of the book. Ken is concerned that Google is killing the urge to sketch out in public. You can easily find reference photos and images of items you need for your sketching—he wants people to sketch out instead, despite the fact that if you “set up an easel in a K-Mart parking lot people are suspicious.”

At my urging Ken shared a humorous story about one of his solo sketch outs. He was stationed in a safe area on a median strip, sketching a billboard. It was post 9-11. A security guard came up and told Ken to move along: “You can’t photograph or sketch a parking ramp.” “I was sketching the billboard,” Ken replied (you have to know Ken, he can make such comments with complete wide-eyed innocence, not sarcasm; though there is mischeviousness). What ensued was a philosophical probe into the rights of painters: Ken—Would you let Van Gogh do this?

So Ken wondered if it wasn’t him, if it was perhaps the medium? Watercolor? No. Oil? No.

Finally the frustrated security guard called the police, who arrived and and turned their lights on Ken, who was sketching.

“Him?” asked the cops, in disbelief. When the guard confirmed it was Ken who was being the problem the cops cut short Ken’s attempt to discuss his rights, nodding in acknowledgement.

“We know you have every right to do it—everyone’s nervous. Don’t cause trouble. Don’t draw ugly things,” said the policeman, whom Ken described as a “really nice guy, an art critic with a badge.”

“Instead, draw something nice like…” the policeman pointed to the IDS tower (one of the tallest, if not tallest, buildings in downtown Minneapolis; a glass box of a structure—but I don’t want to be judgmental on beauty).

Yes this whole episode is strange. And apologies to Ken for not telling it with his verve. (We need to video tape his recounting.) Yes people get nervous. But I guess (as did most of those present) it would make me more nervous if someone sketched the IDS tower than a billboard—if people sketching made me nervous, which they don’t.

One point of all of this is that we all need to sketch out a lot more. So much more in fact, and in such great numbers (whole gaggles of artists) that we stop making people nervous, and that everyone starts looking more closely at his environment, perhaps even sitting down to sketch with us.

One thing we all agreed: Do not EVER try to draw in a casino. Roberta and Ken tried to do that and were relegated to the lobby. I’m a huge fan of the Discovery Channel, so I already knew that there were issues with such endeavors—the casino owners are concerned that you note safety and surveillance equipment, count cards or other such illegal activities. You might just find yourself talking to someone from the federal government!

Too bad, as Roberta pointed out, because the people in casinos make (or would, I’m not saying that I have ever sketched any there…) because of their intense focus on the activities at hand. 

Ken and Roberta are hoping to get a group of sketchers together for the Tom Petters’ trial in October.  Sketching is allowed in courts!

New member Carol admitted to losing her creative current, and being in one of those periods at present. She had a lovely handbound textblock (no cover yet and I suggested she not worry about that and focus instead on filling the book) which contained her calendar, and typically her journal entries. She works as a graphic designer and was dealing with projects for others and needed a kick in the butt. Several group members offered her one. Anita empathized and offered that “Nothing is so scary she can’t draw it” and that realization led her to a more spiritual place, and freed up her drawing. I pointed out that Anita’s approach was proof that drawing brought you into the present moment. And it is the only place where we can use our energy to take action—not in the past, which is gone, not in the future, which hasn’t happened yet. Lynn suggested Carol try a different medium to break out of the rut. Mary suggested a deadline (the group suggested our next meeting!). Anita bounced in with a suggestion of a grid, mirroring Carol’s calendars— “do small things in each rectangle.”

Mary took us on a journey through quick gesture sketch of a friend, to color study in watercolor, to finished portrait using collaged paper and watercolor. It was a wonderful example of how simple beginnings can capture the artist’s eye and lead to powerful final artworks. I am particularly interested in how the process develops through different media, from pencil and paint to collage.

Dave, another new member, is also new to visual journaling. He came Monday night in hopes of connecting with people who sketched out. There is safety in numbers and we’ve got several possibilities for Dave coming up. He has got the sketching bug and shared images he sketched while riding shotgun on a roadtrip to Wisconsin with his wife. We all hope he can convince his wife to keep driving because the result was a series of wonderful iconic landscapes which captured the sense of Wisconsin in bold black pen strokes.

Clare was the last member to share work and the table before her quickly filled up with an explosion of color. She showed journal pages of gesture sketches of people at meetings (and on television) and explained that the meetings started her thinking about the faces we put on, public and private. This lead to a series of papier-mâché masks which showed one outward face, but when you looked into the masks as if you were about to put one on you saw a totally different face. When displayed as an installation they they had been hung in front of, and slightly away from a large mirror so both views were visible.

Earlier this year Clare experienced a medical emergency: a burst appendix. The next project she showed us was her “explosion” journal. Recuperating from the operation and complications Clare didn’t have a lot of energy, and was bed-ridden. She managed to create a journal made of color photocopies from previous journals, which had been “exploded” into new entries to fill the pages of a large circle accordion book, which was also an explosion of color.

It was an amazing night, full of inspiring artwork and stories. My head is still full of the echoes of oohs and ahs as various artworks were unfurled and unfolded. Hearing about the variations in process (we agreed it was a long continuum on which we all fit at different stations) made me feel good about the health of journaling as an artistic tool and medium.

Wherever you fall on this continuum I hope that you visit your journal frequently!

Future Meetings:
The MCBA Visual Journal Collective meets the third Monday of the month (with no meetings in May or December).

If you are in the Twin Cities area I urge you to join us on Monday, August 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. when we have our State Fair Warm-Up. The Avidors will provide suggestions for sketching the people and crowds. I’ll be giving you tips on sketching the animals (with a few dietary suggestions thrown in). Following the presentation there will be ample time for members to share current journals and past State Fair journals with the group.

September we will be watching the “1000 Journals” video; and in October we will be having our second “My Favorite Tools and Supplies” meeting. There are enough new members, new to sketching, that the group decided it was about time to revisit this topic. Join us for these meetings to be inspired, to learn something, or just because it’s so darn fun to hang out with other journal keepers!

Note: If you were counting, what happened to the 19? One member had to leave early so she wasn’t involved in the discussion. Also after Clare spoke we’d reached 9:10 so I adjourned the meeting. Never knowing how many members will show up at a given meeting I brought a number of photographs of artwork derived from journals and chatted with people on a looser schedule, about my process. (All the types of things I share on this blog.)

    • Donna
    • July 24, 2009

    First of all, I enjoyed your report of your meeting, how fun. I REALLY enjoyed your accounting of Ken’s sketching experience with the police. He must be a hoot. However, I am intrigued with what you said about sketching in courtrooms. I have wanted to do that, googled for info on it before, looking for the rules about it and came up empty. And sometimes, I think if you ask permission, it will be denied. So, if you or Ken have further info on this, please elaborate. Thanks.

    • Roberta Avidor
    • July 27, 2009

    I just loved reading your summary of the journal meeting. It was a rich, intense session with all those stories!

    • Roz
    • July 27, 2009

    Roberta, you’re funny. So did it sound like the metting you attended!!!

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