Reasons for a system of practice

Last night I was looking for something and came across one of the sketchbooks I promised myself I would get back to this summer. It was 9:30pm but I proceeded: 15-20 minutes of drawing. By the end, I was half-asleep. Again, not my best effort… not particularly excited about it either. This morning, I defiantly added some Micron and felt better about it.

There would have been a time for me that this was not good enough to share. Some say: why keep doing something if you don’t like to do it? (I have asked myself this!) But I think it is important to follow through. The process of making art takes work and practice – even if one is not up to it and even when it doesn’t look the best.

I think I have outgrown this sketchbook to be honest, but I’ll continue to chip away at it as a convenient way to document the botanicals in my life. I notice my interests in mark making have changed. It also holds a record of the last four years and is a good way to see where I’ve been keen to draw and when life/distractions/duties have intervened.

Included, a few pages illustrating drawings I’ve done over the years. This idea for a perpetual journal came from the phenomenal botanical artist, Lara Gastinger. I am grateful for her sharing and have made peace with the fact I will never have the patience (or eye sight!) to draw the way she does.

All drawings, B. Wanhill. 2018-2022.

24 Days of Drawing… and baggage.

The sketchbook where I am keeping my 24 Days of Drawing studies. Pencil case by Verna Vogel. Photograph B. Wanhill 2022.

I started reading The Barren Grounds last weekend and almost immediately was triggered not by the Indigenous content but by references to art within an educational setting. Please read the book if you are so inclined – I will not get into the details of the story but it is wonderfully written by David A. Robertson and as it is a Kid Lit. novel, fairly easy reading.

As a child I drew… made things, but the story that has played in my mind for over 4 decades is that formal art making was really an escape mechanism for me to deal with being physically and mentally humiliated by my friends on a fairly regular basis starting in elementary school. It became my tool for some social preservation with my more academically inclined peers as I moved through the public education system.

By grade 10, you could find me firmly entrenched in the art room at any point when I did not have to be in another class and my teacher fostered that feeling that this had become part of my identity. This was so much the case that when I was invited to join a class for honours students and I asked if I could major in something else besides art, my teacher reminded me that art was why I was asked to join.

I continued on and worked hard to live up to the gold standards of realism that seemed to be the hallmark of a real artist and I always felt there was something quite forced about what I was doing – something I didn’t understand that came naturally to others who drew all the time.

Nevertheless, that continued hard work ethic I learned from my family, art scholarships and the offerings of job opportunities in creative work (parks and recreation leader, graphic artist, picture framer/gallery attendant, history of art slide monitor, illustrator) helped me continue down the path in visual art without thinking there could really be anything else.

Eventually, I became an educator and have now been working 18 of almost 20 years in a charter school system as an elementary art specialist.

The baggage I carry as an art teacher is the memories of my own childhood and why I created art, why I chose to try to create a specific kind of art and why I couldn’t let go of that way of working.

As a teacher, in class, I intentionally keep my demos short, I encourage students to create art in the way they want to and perhaps, unfortunately, I don’t push students with skill for realism to go further with what they are doing because I worry it will feed a perfectionist tendency and perpetuate the idea that “good art” takes a lot of time and is realistic looking.

This 24 Days of Drawing practice I have set for myself has allowed me to be aware of how I am feeling when I make a mark. I am practicing not worrying about whether the proportions are correct or the image is cohesive. Working on 1″ x 1″ a day also fits into a time frame that is realistic for me in a life that I have built with another that includes other pursuits not related to visual art. I am keeping skills up, but more importantly, I am learning to explore what it means to communicate something visually in a mentally healthy way. I think this is something valuable I can pass on to my students.

April 24 Days of Drawing (wip). Pencil crayon work from digital photos of my garden. B. Wanhill, April 2022.
March 24 Days of Drawing. Plant inks and Sakura Micron pens. B. Wanhill, March 2022.
February 24 Days of Drawing. My dad’s geometry set, pencil crayon, white gel pen. B. Wanhill, February 2022.

Practice through a perpetual journal

I’m not sure how I found her, but awhile ago, I started following Lara Gastinger on Instagram. Her illustrations of botanical subjects are exquisite. At the end of December she described her perpetual journal process and invited others to join her in this way of working. I misunderstood at first and thought it was a daily drawing entry, but rereading her process again, I found out that she only enters one drawing a week. In this way, there is room for subsequent years of drawing.

I started by recording pieces of the winter wrapped garden and quickly realized that I was more inspired by my new fascination with houseplants. So I will record the houseplants I have and by the time spring arrives, I plan to move outside to record the garden.

This is a wonderful low commitment way of practicing observation drawing – especially during the busy months of work. It will also help me keep track of the plants I have and their development over the years (space allowing!).

Perpetual journal 1Perpetual journal 2Perpetual journal 3Perpetual journal 4