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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Training To Overcome The Fear of Sketching Out in The Wilds

A-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n Spread, completed
Stillman & Birn Zeta, 7 x 7 inches
Ink & Wash 
The idea of stepping out into the world where anyone might want to take a peek at the pages in our sketchbook can be daunting. Especially if we're new to the idea or at the beginning of developing our skills. Of course, this make an adventure like An Imaginary Trip Made Real To England seem huge, but it's not!

It boils down to performance anxiety. We're afraid of disappointing ourselves and others. What would we do if we went and then couldn't get anything worthwhile down on the page? Eeeek!

Let me ask this: if you were doing a speech in front of 150 people, would you wing it or would you write and practice your speech for days, if not weeks, in advance? If you decided to run a 5K race, would you wait until the day of the race to start building your endurance? Of course not!

My friends, sketching is no different! It takes practice, a willingness to leave our comfort zones and a sense of adventure. 

To begin conditioning yourself means starting to sketch NOW. Today. 

And that's where things like a-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-i-o-n pages come into play. For me, anticipation pages began as a way to practice and psyche myself up for the "big event." Eventually, I realized that I kept creating them because they gave me a great deal of enjoyment. I like the build up of excitement before the actual trip.

By doing anticipation pages, I "knock the rust off" of my skills if I've been lazy about sketching on a regular basis. When I create pages in my home environment, I try to work from life, but sometimes that's not possible. Since I don't have any chickens, I went to the computer for inspiration. I worked from the screen rather than printing out a photo. Same goes for the soccer ball.

I had a champagne cork so I used that as my model, but I didn't have any cheese rolls lying around, so it was back to the computer. This time, I found out what cheese rolls looked like and then drew them in the composition I wanted for my page. The umbrella and tea cup were my own and I drew from life to strengthen my eye and hand coordination.

Taking It To The Next Step
While you're definitely in training when you're sitting in your kitchen sketching away, working outside of our normal work area, is an entirely different experience and one that should be practiced as well.

When I first decided to sketch on location, I waltzed out the door and went to a town about twenty minutes from me. The downtown area was full of interesting old buildings and mostly deserted on a Sunday morning. I was making sure there was no one about, but it didn't matter, I still failed spectacularly! I had not yet discovered a new mindset.

Since working on location totally blew my mind, I decided to begin again with baby steps—I started in my kitchen. I would pull a chair away from the table and draw something with my sketchbook in my lap. I sketched and painted whatever was outside the window or I'd set a leaf or pot of flowers on the window sill and draw.

After a while, I became bored with this set up and went outside and drew in my backyard. My backyard's not all that exciting so it didn't take too terribly long before I decided to go to the park and sketch. Sure, I chose an area where I wasn't likely to run into anybody, but I was still getting out there. I eventually went into town to sketch and then a restaurant and so on until I conditioned myself to sketch anywhere. Not all sketches were successful, but the training was!

I would occasionally gather up my courage and go sketching around a bunch of people in a busy location. Sometimes it worked out and other times it looked like a rabid squirrel had scribbled all over the page. My nerves would get the best of me and I'd panic.

But you know, I survived. And with each attempt I became a little stronger, a little gutsier. I also realized that most people have no clue what I'm doing. They don't notice. They're too busy with their own dramas to be worried about me and my little sketchbook.

There's also something about interacting with people, by choice, that lends another layer of patina over the whole experience. Most folks that stop and talk to you, who want to see what your doing, want to be like you. They want to be brave enough to sketch "out in the wilds." They want to be creative. Just listen to them. You'll hear it in their voices when they speak.

Changing Your Mindset
When sketching in the wilds, it requires a different mindset than sketching in familiar [safe] surroundings. First and most obvious, is the amount of time we'll have. When we work in our homes, we can work as long as we want [in comfort] on something, usually while working from a photo.

When we're on location, we have a much more limited amount of time and we must adjust our expectations to match the amount of time we have as well as the current skill level we possess.

Rather than viewing the time limit as a bad thing, use it to challenge yourself to see just how much you can get done on location. If you're not getting much down on the page, start looking for ways to work quicker. This usually means leaving out details or suggesting them rather than meticulously recreating them.

Another big change to consider is this: if you don't get finished on location, you can always take a quick snap with your phone and use it for reference later. Knowing you can take a photo helps to reduce the amount of pressure we place on ourselves to get the page finished in one sitting. Sure, that's the long term goal, but we're in training and that goal will be met eventually.

Last, it's a sketch. It's not a mini-masterpiece! When we're on location, dealing with the elements, the light changing, people walking around and other distractions, sketching becomes a mini-adventure within the bigger trip! It takes on a life of its own that becomes an indelible memory that queues up every time you look back at your sketch. And I will share a secret with you...even lousy sketches still serve as a great portal back to the moment in time where it was created!

So instead of postponing a marvelous adventure like An Imaginary Trip Made Real To England until "you're ready," go ahead and sign up today! Then start training for an adventure unlike any other. Challenge yourself to sketch something each and every day. Even if it's for just 15 minutes a day, you'll have logged over 30 hours of practice before we leave for England!!

And remember, once we're in England, you'll be with likeminded people and I'll be there by your side to help you create a sketchbook full of great memories!

How do you prepare for a big art trip? Any "training tips" you'd like to share that help you move past fear?


  1. Fantastic post!! You really helped me see my issue in a very different light and given me hope that I can improved! Thank you.

  2. This is just brilliant, Laure, thank you! wonderful.

  3. You have spot on descriptions of the experience and approach. I am also addicted to anticipated pages. The bigger the trip the more planning and research. If I have booked my overseas tickets months in advance, I then need to draw the coins and notes I have, my passport, and all sorts of things.
    I also like your analogy with speeches and marathons. When people say "oh you are so good, such talent", I explain it is practice, like playing the piano, building your skills by practice and passion, and overcoming the stages where things dont work out

    And finally - IT Is just a sketch- (not to downplay it) and it does not have to be finished and complete. For me , the unfinished travel sketch tells a story - !

    1. Alissa, reading your words was liking hearing myself speak! We are of like minds...it is just a sketch and it's a portal whether it wonderful, awful, finished or somewhere in between!

      Years ago, I heard a comment about Michael Jordan (super basketball player) by someone who's name I cannot recall, but it went something like this, "Sure he's talented but without the daily practice he puts in, he'd just be average." Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great opportunity, Cathy. Folks should Google "My Travel Journal" or "My Travel Sketchbook" or similar words. Lots of travel sketchbooks are on the net.

  5. Yes, and lots of them published as well, Lee! I have a collection of reproductions of historic travel sketchbooks...

    1. What a wonderful thing to collect. I'm still enamored of your vintage art supply collection!

    2. Thanks, Laure...I do have some cool stuff, a bit of which I actually use, if it's not something that will be hurt by it. Pens for instance! And yes, the old artist journals are wonderful in part because the view of things that are gone or very much changed now. Some of them are repros of explorer's journals, and some are military--before cameras, military campaigns used to train young men as artists, so they could map the terrain, draw the camps, and even spy. As a reenactor of the 18th C., that's an amazing source of visual images of common people!

    3. In 2015, we were in London and walked into a bookstore looking for published sketchbooks. "I can't help you with that," the man said, "but I have something you may be interested in." He brought out an actual sketchbook by a n English soldier who was at the battle of Gallipoli in 1915. The little sketchbook was 100 years old. I loved it. "Would you think five pounds a fair price?" he asked. Ha! It is now on my bookshelf with my 50 or so and many others.

    4. What a treasure, Lee! I have a couple of cartoon sketchbooks drawn around the early 20th C., and they're fun but this would be fascinating. Some of the repro sketchbooks I have are from young soldiers.


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