How I “Doodle” AND Get Ready for the Minnesota State Fair

July 23, 2014


Above: This is the way I doodle. Sketch a figure. Then sketch something on the next page (here a chicken head, because I need to practice chickens for the MN State Fair), then try to link the two together and because nothing jumped to mind, put the figure on a box as if he's practicing public speaking, and then let an idea pop into my head and have fun labeling the box. In this case when I was working on the chicken I really pushed all sorts of levels, not to get a cohesive image of a chicken, but to try different things for when I go to the fair. I sketched (from a 2012 Fair photo) with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Then I added layers of gouache. Then I ended up using a fine tipped white gell pen for some of the lines. See the detail below.

For the past couple months I've been working in Japanese Lined Notebooks with paper that definitely isn't supposed to take wet media—but I've been using wet media on it and having a ball. For the background in the image that opens this post I begain by covering the page with random strokes of orange, raspberry, and pink Montana Markers (acrylic paint). When that was dry I used some red rubber stamp ink from a re-inker to make some random smears on the verso (left) page of the spread. I also stamped some word stamps on the far left and on the right (top right and far right), though a lot of that was obscured by what came later. I stuck down washi tape, painted over the washi tape, and then rubbed some green rubber stamp ink on both spreads. I also did some stenciling on both pages (most notably behind Charlie's head on the verso page). The pre-painted pages stayed empty for a couple days until I started sketching. For the order of the sketches and my emerging idea read the caption above.

DetailBackgroundPre00966Left: A photograph of a portion of the prepainted page spread before I did any sketching on it at all. It's a photograph so the color isn't as correct as that shown in the scan. This is the bottom of the left-hand page. Click on an image to view an enlargement. 

In the detail of the prepainted page before I sketched on the spread you can see the pearlescent ink which appears throughout the spread. It's visible in the first detail photo because I shot the photo at an angle.


Above: A detail of the Rooster's head so that you can see some of the different things I was trying. At "A" you can see thin white PEN lines over the layers of gouache. At "B" you can see small squiggles and dots also made with the white gel pen over the gouache. Elsewhere the white is all gouache, including the strokes at "C" and the dots leading up from that to the right, where the pen dots begin. For the strokes at "C" I took a filbert, pressed the water out of it, dipped the tips of brush's hairs into moist paint (not wet paint), pressed the hairs of the brush between my thumb and index finger so that the ends spread out and then stroked in the lines. I like this type of line more than the white gel pen line, but I wanted to see if the gel pen saved me any time. It actually didn't.

For me the journal provides a great space for working out visual vocabularly—how do I want to attempt to handle striated feather patterns? Are the options I try too labor intensive for the conditions I'll be sketching under? Are the options visually appealing? How can I best show small detail, such as skin texture on the comb—do I need to avoid it (as too fussy or time consuming in the conditions I'm working in); is it fun to get fussy; how and I going to deal with issues of available light and paint drying time; can I apply enough gouache in the time frame I'm considering to make it a useable approach; and which pigments do I want to be sure to bring along?

After thinking about all those things and doing a bit of a dry run I hope to come up with a plan of attack to use at the Minnesota State Fair.

The reality is that even with a plan of attack I may just toss all the planning aside and go in a totally different direction. But I always find that evey second of this type of pre-planning and doodling makes me comfortable to toss planning aside when I'm at the Fair.

Page spreads like this also allow me to judge whether or not the paper I'm working on is a suitable paper for mixed media. I have to say that the notepaper I was working on here is actually amazingly versatile.

I don't know yet what type of journal I'll take to the Minnesota State Fair or which pens I'll take. I'll probably take a palette with pans of gouache—since the gouache brands I use Schmincke and M. Graham) both rewet well and make lovely light washes so it's like getting two paints in one.

I know I won't be taking these Japanese Lined Notebooks to the Fair because they are too floppy. While they have sewn signatures and open flat, the covers are soft and the large size would be difficult to hold open in the crowd jostled confines of the MN State Fair barns.

I hope to be able to go multiple times to the Fair this year, so I may try multiple approaches. I also know I hope to video tape people sketching at the 6th Annual Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out so that we can have a fun record of the two-day event.

The planning phase is all part of the excitement of the Fair for me.

I hope you're making your own plans for the Fair. But even if you can't get to the Minnesota State Fair this year, or any fair near you, I hope you're working out modes of attack in your visual journal.

Note: The 6th Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out will be held on Saturday, August 23, AND Tuesday, August 26. More details to follow shortly.

  1. Reply

    Ever tried one of those CLAIREFONTAINE lined notebooks?

    You make a good argument for switching up supplies to invigorate the creative experience. Re-visiting our sense of what is ‘ideal’ helps to look at the work with a fresh mindset. I saw an interview with Robert Crumb years ago, doing some exquisite observational ink drawings: urban landscape and portraits from a yearbook. He was using a regular lined school notebook, though I expect it may have been a good quality like CLAIREFONTAINE. Only familiar with his popular illustrations of the 70’s, I was blown away by the power of these drawings because they did something entirely different. I think he liked the paper for the way it took inking, which would make sense if it was created for note-taking. It is true that prior to recent years when premium quality/variety was introduced into the choices of commercial sketchbooking– the paper was hideous for inking. I am thinking of those basic bound books, student-priced: hairy paper, bleedy, terrible with a dip pen.

  2. Reply

    Ellen, I’ve used the Clairefontaine notebooks since at least 1990 for my writing journals. A stationery store in town carried them. I love that they have sewn signatures. I mostly use the soft covered ones that are about 8.5 x 11 inches and have a fabric covered spine, but I’ve also used hardcovered ones.

    I have used them for writing mostly because they are so heavenly to write on, such smooth paper.

    I use the smaller ones that are about 6 x 8 for my computer log and also for my blog-log.

    I have also used them for project journals for sketches and collage. I haven’t painted on the pages much recently, perhaps because I’ve been so happy with the books that I make myself for my visual journals, but since I enjoy the Japanese Lined Notebooks it might be worth experimenting with that paper again, because my tolerance for buckling is pretty relaxed.

    There is a movie about Robert Crumb that I think came out in the 80s or 90s. I’ve seen it a couple times. It’s really a very good movie and I recommend it. In it he draws from photos, I can’t remember if it’s a yearbook or some other reference book, and he is helping his son draw and my recollection is that they are in inexpensive lined notebooks.

    They were fun to see.

    Any paper that takes ink well is going to be fun to use some of our pens on, and perhaps the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

    What amazes me is how some notebooks don’t even take the ink that they are supposed to be handling!

    The Japanese Lined Notebooks are really made well in that they have sewn signatures and paper that really does accept ink well. If they had slightly stiffer covers like the soft-bound Clairefontaines it would be hard to look at anything else.

  3. Reply

    What fun Julana. I hope you and your family have a great time at the Ohio State Fair.

    Airconditioned buildings???!!!!! Well we don’t have anything like that at the Minnesota State Fair. It was all built before central air and it will probably always be that way. It’s usually OK if we have a cool week the week before the Fair because the large old stone and brick buildings chill down and hold the coolness even when it gets really really hot. And in the barn they have GIANT fans running all the time.

    The exotic animal auction sounds interesting. If they didn’t want you to photograph it they must have been doing something illegal!

    I don’t believe that people should own exotic animals. They haven’t been domesticated. And individuals aren’t prepared to deal with the needs for space and diet.

    Even wolves and hybrid wolf/dogs are something I don’t think people should own. When you take a wolf who is naturally cautious and even shy around people (so he’ll stay hidden) and mix it with an animal who isn’t you have a possibility to create a wild animal with no checks on expression of that wildness and that’s a bad deal.

    And it always reverberates back to hurt responsible dog owners.

    So when you ask what I would have made of the exotic animal auction I can say I would have sketched, taken photos, and when asked not to photograph would have asked why, researched, and reported them if they were in violation of laws.

    I’m kind of a hard ass on things like that.

    • Julana
    • July 24, 2014

    Yes, I don’t think people should own wild animals, either. We were visiting Amish country, and heard about the auction, and just dropped in. It was kind of surreal. I saw they have changed the name to Alternative Animal Auction, and have posted some stricter parameters.

    Minnesota is generally cooler than Ohio, so you are lucky that way. We will have a hot 85 degrees when we go on Saturday, but 70 high Monday, which will be great. Our animal buildings have big fans, too.

  4. Reply

    Don’t know how the temperatures will go for our Fair. Sometimes at the end of August we get the last blow out hot days of summer. Last year the sketch out was on a 93 degree day with a heat index over 100 or something like that. Crazy.

    Sometimes it’s in the 80s. If we have several 90 degree days then it’s very warm even in the morning, in the barns because the heat doesn’t always dissipate.

    We’ll see.

    Drink plenty of water. That’s what I always plan to do.

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