Sketching People at Classis

I was away the past two days at Classis, our denomination’s biannual regional meeting for pastors, elders, and deacons to discuss church business, planning, and policy. This was my first time as a delegate to an actual Classis meeting, as our spring meeting was by Zoom, due to Covid. I am not ordinarily a fan of business meetings and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about sitting through an evening meeting followed by much of the next day in meetings, but I loved being at Classis.

Of course it helped that Classis was held Camp Connri, a beautiful location in the quiet Northeastern corner of Connecticut, where I could sketch outside before it all started Wednesday and then early yesterday morning.

There was such an atmosphere of love for God and of a desire to honor him by serving and loving people, both those in the church and in the community at large, that the deliberations were inspiring to me on multiple levels. I especially enjoyed connecting with other delegates and hearing their thoughts and experiences of prayer and of ways of encouraging spiritual growth in ourselves and others. It was a privilege to meet with these very inspiring pastors, elders, and deacons in our region! I also was very inspired by sharing sketches and ideas with a fellow deacon from our church who’s also an artist and with an artist we met who is a leader in an Indonesian church in New Hampshire.

Of course I sketched people throughout the meetings, and as I look at my sketches now, I am reminded of those people and of some of what they said during the meetings and in conversations I had with them; in that sense my sketches function as notes, and also as prompts for prayer.

Recent Sketches

I’ve been enjoying sketching a variety of subjects recently. A few friends and I have been meeting weekly via Zoom for drawing sessions. One person selects photos and pins them, and then we all sketch them for 20 minutes. We do three photos each week, sharing our drawings after each photo. It’s been a very enjoyable and inspiring way to meet during this ongoing time of Covid distancing. Some weeks we have sketched dancers, since one of the artists has a niece who is a dance instructor and is also a wonderful photographer, and other times we’ve sketched wild mustangs. I think one of these weeks we might sketch elk and bison. I have always loved sketching wildlife and have been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed sketching dancers.

Three quick sketches of one image in 20 minutes; I liked the idea of overlapping and also using different mediums.

(Click on images to view full size)

I took my mother for her two Covid vaccinations in February and, while she was inside the Westchester County Center, I waited outside sketching people. Some were standing on line waiting to go inside; others, like me, were waiting for family members who were inside. I also sketched a couple of the National Guardsmen and local policemen who were keeping it all organized. It was chilly (okay cold), but, as always, I enjoyed the challenge of doing quick sketches of people who weren’t holding one position for long. I think my Zoom drawing sessions have helped me capture proportions more quickly. I sketched on location with ballpoint pen and later added watercolor to one of my sketchbook pages. Ramble was with me, and he loved all the attention from people who came over to admire and greet him.


We’ve had a wonderfully snowy February, and Ramble loves leaping in the snow. I took some photos of his joyful cavorting while snowshoeing in Choate Audubon Sanctuary behind my mother’s house, and later sketched from my photos.

After one snowfall the branches were all frosted with white, so I did a gouache sketch of one of our old black locust trees with snow-topped branches.

When I was back home after a week away (I got snowed in at my mother’s), I sketched Stephen and Ramble as Stephen read to me by the fire.

Holidays in Ink Week 2 Sketches

I’ve had another enjoyable and sometimes challenging week of Holidays in Ink sketching. I’m finding the challenge and self-imposed accountability of daily sketching in ink is helping me in more ways than I expected. When I have not felt inspired or motivated, instead of deciding not to sketch or to only sketch what is familiar and easy for me, I have pushed myself to get started or to push beyond my comfort zone, and have invariably found that inspiration has followed effort. That’s been encouraging on those days and a good lesson for the future. Of course I have experienced that lesson in the past in many different contexts, but this has been a good refresher on that lesson and a good reminder that art is often a paradigm for the rest of life.

I have also very much benefitted from seeing what friends have done with their ink sketching. It’s always inspiring to me to see how others work and motivates me to tackle subjects or approaches I hadn’t previously considered. Of course, along with that comes the temptation I’m guessing most of us deal with to compare our work and ourselves to others, but that, too, has given me opportunity to evaluate my attitudes and to clarify my reasons for pursuing my art. I draw, sketch, and paint because I love doing it, because it is an ability God has given me for my own enjoyment and to bless others, and because I cannot not do art. Even on the rare occasions I decide not do it for some reason, I find myself doodling or, at the very least, sketching what I’m seeing in my mind or evaluating the colors, shapes, and beauty surrounding me– God’s amazing artwork in his creation.

Last Tuesday I pulled out Stephen’s photos of the Sharp-shinned Hawk I had sketched from life on Sunday. First I worked slowly and carefully sketching it in color, trying to get details just right. That sketch turned out looking like an uncomfortably stuffed taxidermy specimen. That evening before I went to bed I grabbed my Tombow Gray/Black Dual Tip Brush Pen and did a quick (about three minute) sketch of the Sharpie. I like the more spontaneous feel of that sketch much more than the carefully overdone version. (For some reason it scanned as green, but it’s actually gray.)

One artist I really like is Rien Poortvliet, a Dutch artist who sketched and painted many dogs, wild animals, and people. I especially love his fox sketches, and I’ve been wanting to get a better sense of fox structure so I can more successfully sketch them from life when they pay us their brief visits, so I decided to use some of his paintings as references.

After sketching the foxes, I decided to do a study of Canid skulls to become familiar with some of the similarities and differences. I did those over two days, since they took lots of time and focus. That was definitely not a relaxing subject for sketching!

After the first day of skull sketching I decided to return to one of my favorite subjects– trees. First I sketched one of our black locusts from the window of my prayer bungalow using a new-to-me ink that my friend Jamie Grossman had given me- Cacao du Bresil. What a fascinating color, somewhere between brown and gray with hints of pink and purple! I loaded it into a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and sketched the tree from the its western side in morning light. Then in the afternoon I sketched the eastern view of the same tree from our deck (it was chilly but sunny) using Yama Guri ink in my Hero 578 bent nib fountain pen. I love doing comparison sketches like that, and I love this gnarly tree who is full of character from many years of living.

After refreshing myself by doing tree sketches I was ready for a challenge again and finished up my skull sketch, then moved on to doing some contour line drawings, something I have only done a few times. The idea is to draw the outline of the subject in one continuous line, without shading, looking mostly at the object. I enjoyed this much more than I expected. Acadia kept moving, so I did several rather quick sketches of her.

Then yesterday I decided to move on to Blind Contour Line Drawings. That was much more challenging, even though I “cheated” a fair amount, so it wasn’t totally “blind,” as in drawing without looking at the paper at all. With the flowers I made the mistake of using water soluble ink, so when I went over it with watercolor, the ink ran, but I kind of like the effect. Maybe it distracts from how far off the mark my lines are. ūüėČ After struggling with the flowers (I always struggle with florals, even when looking at both paper and flowers), I decided to do a blind contour sketch of my favorite tree. That went better, and I will continue doing this exercise with subjects I love.

I’m looking forward to another good week of Holidays in Ink! This week I’m hoping to pull out Yupo paper and some markers to play with some different forms of ink, and I might also do a drip painting. That will definitely stretch me out of my comfort zone but should be fun!

Holidays in Ink Week 1 Sketches

I have had a great time sketching in ink this week! I’ve been enjoying familiar subjects and methods, as well as experimenting with new-to-me subjects and approaches. I’ve especially appreciated the motivation and momentum I’ve gained from doing this project with others and having the detailed prompt lists. My friend Jamie Grossman, who came up with the Holidays in Ink challenge, is always inspiring with her abundance of creative ideas and her willingness to step outside the box and try things that are beyond her comfort zone, That has inspired me to also step outside my comfort zone and, as Jamie said in her recent post, Holidays in Ink Week 2, that can be uncomfortable, but it has also been exciting as I am learning new approaches and tackling subject matter I never thought I’d try drawing.

Below are some of my sketches from this first week. I am still trying to develop more of a rhythm in how I approach my sketching (as I am in much of my daily life), and I have all sorts of things I want to try in the coming weeks. Mostly, though, I am enjoying the calming effect of sketching along with the invigorating effect of stretching myself as I try new approaches.

The first day I had big plans and had been bursting with eagerness to get started with something challenging, but I felt like I hit a wall and couldn’t get enthusiastic about drawing anything. I finally decided to start with something I knew and loved sketching– a tree. It was a somewhat warm, sunny day, so I took a chair out into the yard and sat quietly and meditatively sketching for over an hour, until my fingers were getting stiff from the dropping temperature. I came inside chilled but feeling peaceful and with my spirits lifted, and I did some calligraphy of a verse that corresponded to my sketch.

On Wednesday and Friday I again drew trees (I skipped sketching on Thanksgiving Day).

On Saturday Stephen and Ramble and I went for a hike, so I did some quick sketches on location and then did a more careful sketch at home based on one of my sketches and a photo I took.

I had a great time sketching on Sunday! First, we had a Sharp-shinned Hawk visit in one of our shrubs for long enough for me to do a fairly detailed sketch from life. That was a treat! Then our pastor showed a picture of an angel painted by Raphael (he’s talking about angels in the Bible during Advent and showed some images of how people erroneously picture angels). I have been reading Raphael, Painter in Rome: A Novel, by Stephanie Storey, so I decided to try the “Copy a Master” prompt. That was way outside my comfort zone, but turned out to be fun and was a lot more successful than I expected. And then in the evening I did some portrait sketches while Stephen read The Two Towers by J.R. R. Tolkien to me (the book was at a very scary part, so sketching helped me not get too tense).

On Monday I read about Notan design or Notan sketches (one of the process prompts), which was completely new to me. It’s the idea of only sketching in two or three values, capturing light and shadow, in order to increase the impact. I decided to do it with just two values, and I really enjoyed doing that! The two sketches on one page are based on photos, and the one of Stephen is from life, again while he was reading to me (now we’re starting The Return of the King by Tolkien).

I am looking forward to week 2!

 

Preparing for Holidays in Ink

I am eager to join my friend Jamie Grossman in her Holidays in Ink Challenge, which will run from Tuesday, November 24, 2020 to Saturday, January 2, 2021. In fact I’m so eager that I was all set to start tomorrow, November 1st, until Jamie reminded me that it doesn’t start until two days before Thanksgiving! I have way too many pens of all sorts (if it’s actually possible to have too many pens), and I love experimenting and drawing with inks of various colors. I’m looking forward to sketching familiar subjects with my accustomed methods and also to stretching myself with new subjects, new techniques, and new supplies (what artist doesn’t love the idea of new supplies!).

One thing I very much appreciate about Jamie is her enthusiasm for learning and trying new things; she’s a great example and is also very generous with sharing her ideas and knowledge. She’s always encouraging her friends to grow as artists, without pressuring them to do what she does. In that vein, Jamie has come up with two prompt lists, one of subjects and one of process prompts. There’s no pressure to follow the prompts in any order or even to follow them at all; they are a resource to encourage experimenting and playing with new ideas while doing Holidays in Ink, not a prescription that must be followed.

See below for links to Jamie’s post about Holidays in Ink and for downloadable PDF’s of the prompt lists.

Here’s Jamie’s post with nitty gritty details and prompt lists: Holidays in Ink Challenge– Details and Prompt Lists

Below are downloadable PDF’s of the prompt lists:

HOLIDAYS IN INK PROMPTS SINGLE PAGE

HOLIDAYS IN INK PROMPTS 2-SIDED

Sketches of Stephen

Stephen reads to me nearly every evening; this has been part of our end-of-day routine for years now. We’ve probably read through¬†over a hundred books by now, the majority fantasy or science fiction, with a smattering of classics and a few other genres. I really look forward to the time to connect, to unwind after the fullness of each day, and to enjoy a good book together. I often sketch while¬†Steve reads, sometimes making cards or sketching the view out the window, but more often than not sketching him as he reads. Here’s a selection of sketches from the past year or two. These are all done without preliminary predrawing; sometimes I have a hard time with proportions, but I’m getting to the point I think I could sketch him from memory. ūüôā

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Sketched using a very old set of childrens watercolors– rather odd colors, but fun to play with
Reading lying down when his back was hurting

Sketched in gouache– no predrawing

 

Sketching as Prayer Retreat Sketches

We had fabulous weather for the Sketching as Prayer retreat two weeks ago, so all of the participants and I spent quite a bit of time outside on the beautiful grounds of Holy Cross Monastery. The cloisters are lovely, peaceful places from which to look down over the fields to view the river and the hills on the far side of the river. There are also numerous places to sit, either on strategically placed benches or on convenient rocks or fallen trees by the river, where one can relax to the lapping of river waves, while watching boats and birds pass by. Once when I was sketching by the river I heard light steps behind me and turned to see a doe walking in my directions. I sat very still, and she came to about six feet from me and started browsing on low branches before she saw me. She startled and ran a short distance, then stopped to study me before ambling slowly on her way.

The monastery was in retreat silence, so other than in our meeting room and over dinner, there was no conversation in the building or on the grounds, so we had a very peaceful, meditative atmosphere– perfect for our retreat! I had prepared short power point presentations for each session, which included discussion of the various topics and approaches, and then we all dispersed to sketch and pray or meditate and just to enjoy our time of retreat.

Here are a few of my sketches (click on the image in order to view larger image):

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Sketching as Prayer Spring Retreat– May 21-24, 2019

I’m excited that I’ll be leading my “Sketching as Prayer” retreat at Holy Cross Monastery again this spring. I first held this retreat last October, and had a wonderful time with the participants who had a¬†variety of artistic experience from beginner to very accomplished artist and who brought¬†a¬†broad spectrum¬†of spiritual perspectives. I think we were all enriched by hearing one another’s thoughts and by sharing ideas and enthusiasm. I am hoping we can have a similar variety of perspectives, beliefs, and experience this spring.

Lodging is in comfortable rooms that were formerly monks’ cells, and all meals are included (the monastery has a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who prepares delicious meals). Holy Cross Monastery overlooks the Hudson River and has beautiful grounds with paths to wander through the field and woods bordering the river, as well as many comfortable places inside and out to sit and relax. See the link below or email me (melissafischerartist@gmail.com) for more information.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.‚ÄĚ
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Seeing heaven here on earth and recognizing God’s presence, whether in the wildness of a burning bush or in the subtle budding of a shrub in spring, requires slowing down, stepping aside from our busyness, and becoming receptive for what we haven’t yet perceived. Sketching can be a pathway to seeing, to noticing the ways God is speaking through creation, and to becoming aware of his presence in the world around us. And in the process we are drawn into prayer, either with words or in silent communion with God, and into worship of the Master Artist.

In this retreat we will open our sketchbooks, eyes, and hearts to God’s presence in his creation. We will cover the basics of sketching and some basic watercolor techniques to capture the essence of a subject, whether person, animal, or landscape. In the process we will look with eyes of faith into the world to see God’s touch all around us, as we enter into prayer through the pages of our sketchbooks.

Sketching as Prayer Information and Registration

Overlook Mountain Hike

We finally had a comfortable, cool, cloudy day– perfect for a vigorous hike. We’ve been staying at a friend’s house in Woodstock this week while our hallway floor was getting sanded (it was covered linoleum with tar paper underneath that had probably been there well over 100 years, maybe over 200 years, so it was due for refinishing), and we’re not far from Overlook Mountain, so that’s where we hiked today.

The ruins of the old hotel make me think of Cair Paravel in the book Prince Caspian

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Woodland sunflowers? Whatever they are, they are beautiful!
One of several large glacial erratics
I always love gnarly, old trees; they are so full of personality.

It was too foggy for a view from the top of Overlook,  but it was pretty up there anyway. We also hiked down to Echo Lake and back,  which was pretty with the lake view, as well as many interesting,  gnarly trees and glacial erratics along the trail.

Normally there is a fabulous view to be seen from this spot– not today!

Ramble on the fire tower at the top of Overlook Mountain– we only went up to the first level- I think he’s laughing at me ūüôā

All together with going up to Overlook then down to Echo Lake and back up to the trail junction, ¬†then back down Overlook, ¬†plus a little detour to get some photos, it was 9 miles and 2,500′ elevation gain, ¬†so we are feeling well- exercised this evening. This was Ramble’s first mountain hike, ¬†and he enjoyed it and did great. And this evening he is content to hang out quietly, ¬†which is nice for everyone.

Stephen using his “Peak Finder” app to identify the peaks we would be seeing if it were clear
Sketching at Echo Lake, while Ramble watches a pair of Canada Geese
Echo Lake and unfinished sketch — unfinished because mosquitoes drove us away

Musings on “Copy, Paste and Share”

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My first thought when I saw the Bible passage from my daily reading schedule was that it was rather irrelevant to my life:

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal¬†an altar¬†to the¬†Lord, the God of Israel,¬†31¬†as Moses the servant of the¬†Lord¬†had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses‚ÄĒan altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool¬†had been used. On it they offered to the¬†Lord¬†burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings.¬†32¬†There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses.¬†33¬†All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the¬†Lord, facing the Levitical¬†priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born¬†were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal,¬†as Moses the servant of the¬†Lord¬†had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.

34¬†Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law‚ÄĒthe blessings and the curses‚ÄĒjust as it is written in the Book of the Law.¬†35¬†There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them. Joshua 8:30-35

As I read it, my second thought was, “How incredibly tedious that must have been!” Imagine having to write on stones a copy of the law of Moses! I pictured all the people standing around while Joshua carefully chiseled the Ten Commandments into stone. I wondered what the letters looked like, whether or not he was tempted to use abbreviations, and whether he lightly scratched the words in first to make sure he had room for all ten commandments on his stone. Did he make mistakes and have to start over?

As I read further, though, I saw that “there was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly…” Whoa! That’s a lot of words, way, way more than just the Ten Commandments. While I might read the Ten Commandments carefully, I tend to skim over much of the law, because of how much of it there is and how many details. It can take me days just to read through it all.

The process of writing a copy of the law of Moses on stones must have taken a really long time. And then he read the whole thing to the whole assembly, including women and children… Tedious indeed, both for Joshua and for all the people in whose presence Joshua did the writing. How many days did it take? Maybe weeks? How in the world did they keep those children occupied while Joshua chiseled words into stones? And how did they keep the children quiet while he read the whole thing? We sure do have it easier, being able to simply copy, paste, and share… Or do we?

Yes, it certainly is easier to copy, paste, and share. After all, I copied and pasted the passage into this post, rather than type it all out, to save time. But what if I had typed it out? Or what if I had hand written it? When I’ve written out Bible passages or a poem in careful calligraphy to give as a gift to someone or to have in my sketchbook, I dwell on and in those words in a way that sinks into my soul, rather than simply skimming across the surface of my consciousness. Then when I go about my day, those words remain with me, shaping and enriching my thinking in a way that copying, pasting, sharing, and saying I’ll ponder them never does seem to.

It’s the same idea as when I sketch a scene, rather than simply snapping a quick picture. When I see a tremendous cloud formation and snap a photo with my cell phone, I might remember to look back at it. But when I stop, settle on a stone, and slow down to sketch the sky, I connect with the¬†clouds and with the world around, and¬†especially with myself and God in a way that I¬†never do when I am rushing through my day, saving time.

Yes, it does save time to quickly skim a passage rather than dwell in it; to snap a photo rather than sketch it (or take a carefully studied photograph); to quickly copy, paste, and share an interesting meme; but to what end and at what cost?

Darkness and Dawn hi res