Last week the Minneapolis Star Tribune posted a pop-up interview with me in their Currents section. It’s a way to pose a couple questions to people who are in someway connected with the outdoors—to find out what is catching their interest and focus now.
I’m not sure why the editor asked me, except that we’d had some contact in the past. I was happy to oblige. I’ve always got lots of projects and ideas moving about in my head, with others gestating. The questions offered an opportunity to check in with myself.
What I found when I sat down to look at where my focus was didn’t surprise me.
There is a lot of loss in my life right now: loss of functionality, loss of loved ones, loss of plans that aren’t going to happen because of recent changes. Without setting out to write about loss that’s exactly what I did because it’s what I’ve been working through, with the help of my broad range of interests.
Unfortunately, in order to make the piece fit the constraints of the “series” some key parts of my responses were edited out.
There are little things, like the reasons I’m watching Endeavour, and another show that didn’t make the cut. But most important, some realizations about my vision and teaching.
I am posting the entire piece below so that blog readers can read it in its entirety, know me a little better, and understand what is coming.
My Complete Responses
[Bold indicates the questions I was asked. And because on the blog I’m not limited as to space, I have included a couple side notes and links. Indented and bracketed material I have added here to help you find additional information.]
My reading right now seems to be a looking back at the origins of some of my lifelong passions. I’m reading a book of critical essays “John Ruskin: Artist and Observer.” It accompanied a show of the artist’s work. Nineteenth Century artist and art critic John Ruskin has been important to me since age eleven when a mentor gave me a copy of his Elements of Drawing.
[Dover Publications prints a low-cost edition.]
Recently a student asked me who started the “modern” sketchbook movement and without pause I explained how it was John Ruskin. Elements was not only was a best seller in his life, it put a stamp on pretty much every art-instruction book written in English to this day. Looking over large plates of his work and reading the interpretations of his work from scholars reminds me of how great an impression his work made on my life, my interests, and my artistic approach.
[You can read my post—John Ruskin: The Father of Modern Sketchbook Practice here.]
I don’t often work with landscapes, yet I’ve been examining my relationship to landscape art. This has led me to a delightful exploration of the work Eyvind Earle, a Disney artist who designed the look of “Sleeping Beauty.” I’ve been considering the ways in which mass, value, color temperature, and pattern transform landscape into a character in the narrative of a single painted image, or over the span of an animation or film. (Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle, and Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volumes 1 and 2 : The Walt Stanchfield Lectures.)
I don’t like spending time on the internet as work already requires so much screen time. In the last year or so I started posting on Instagram and discovered a stream of illustration posts from young illustrators. It’s exciting to see the influences of the Disney animators and other animators like Chuck Jones at Warner Brothers, and even the artist Alphonse Mucha in their drawings, and often their reactions against those influences as they formulate a new way to describe visual space in their work. The ease with which they use the digital tools they grew up with is mesmerizing. It makes me very hopeful about the future of illustration across media types as well. I love watching the artist Loish’s video captures of her digital sketching process—watching her mind make choices. [“Loisvb” on Instagram.]
I am definitely a child of the television age. I enjoy a wide range of show types. My viewing tends to be skewed heavily on “mystery” shows. Not only do they present puzzles, but when done well they contain complex characters.
[If you want to know more about what I’m watching on TV you can check out this recent post on “What Has Happened to Hercule Poirot” and use the blog’s category list to check out “Television.”]
I started in on the new season of Endeavour, on PBS. In an effort to reconcile actor John Thaw’s portrayal with the young Morse portrayed by actor Shaun Evans I rewatched all of Inspector Morse before the prequel began. Endeavour should be depressing considering the outcome, but I can’t tear myself away from the achingly tender job Evans is doing.
I was sad to see the end of Into the Badlands [0n AMC]. Every frame was so stylistically curated that it was simply watching a graphic novel on the screen.
Not a fan of zombies I came five years late to The Walking Dead, making my way to catch up over one winter while riding my bike on the trainer. I’m still watching—it’s about loss and survival of that loss. Not unlike mystery series.
I don’t listen to music while I work. I like hearing the street sounds, the alarms, the sirens, the birds in the trees singing.
[By omission I don’t listen to podcasts or audiobooks. The last audiobook I listened to was being broadcast on MPR. I was driving and had to pull over I was sobbing so hard. And as for listening to podcasts—when I’m working I just want my own thoughts in my head. I don’t really believe in multitasking. I believe in serial productivity: many things done in small or large increments over the course of the day, one after the other, i.e., serially, resulting in…well, results.]
After down time recovering from eye surgery I’m back on the outside bike, enjoying the daily ride along Minneapolis’ beautiful parkways. There’s a pair of nesting eagles, tons of foxes, a few coyotes, and two large flocks of wild turkeys on my route. Something jaw dropping happens every day.
Every year I take time off to sketch at the Minnesota State Fair. I’m gearing up for this busman’s holiday right now by weighing paper, paint, and pen selections. I’m setting goals for the approaches I’ll use and the experiments I’ll attempt. I am positively giddy thinking about all the pigeons, chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, and cows I’ll be up close and personal with in a few short weeks!
[I’m back coordinating the Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out. If you would like to join in the fun check out this post “Mark Your Calendar: the 11th Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out.” The buttons are already here! We’d love to see you.]
I’m also spending time now apologizing to my drawing students from the last 30 years. Turns out the post-surgery loss of 20 degrees peripheral vision 0n each side has made my peripheral vision normal. I’ve spent 30 years encouraging my students to draw with their side eye (so as to not startle their live animal subjects). They would frustratingly complain. Now they are graciously forgiving me. As a teacher I try very hard to do no harm!
So that’s the full piece.
If you are a past drawing student who might not be currently enrolled in a class with me, or who hasn’t heard from me because you fell off my mailing list, please re-read the final paragraph above. I have been graced with wonderful students. I appreciate how hard you always try when I set you a task. Tasks I’ve always first done myself. However, I made some assumptions about my “original” equipment; turns out I did have ninja sight after all.
So go ahead and stop trying to draw with your side eye—but everything else I ever told you to do, keep on doing it.