6 months of 24 days of drawing

“Sometimes artists [art teachers] don’t find the time to draw every day, so other artists help them out by creating daily art challenges.”

That is how I introduced #abstractadvent to my elementary art students at the beginning of December 2021. And of course I was talking about myself, routinely back off the routine of a daily art practice.

I enjoyed that month of drawing so much that I continued on – giving myself a personal challenge of making marks 24 days out of every month. It has worked. I’ve emotionally problem solved through what it means for me to be a mark maker. It has allowed me to visually play and explore with materials again and know more firmly what I want for my students (not rigid ideas about what good art looks like!). My inspiration has come from my garden, my young students, my family, past art experiences and the people I have met living in Calgary.

This month I ended up working on two explorations: one for Inktober and another documenting plant structure through mono printing.

November is a busy month and I will also be travelling briefly, so I will not commit to a November entry, but I look forward to picking this practice up again in December.

Please find enclosed my sketchbook entries from May to October 2022. (You can find previous entries here and here.)

May 24 Days of Drawing. Frottage, collage, pencil crayon, velum, typewriter, Micron pen. B. Wanhill, May 2022
June 24 Days of Drawing. Botanical observations. Micron Pens. B. Wanhill, June 2022
July 24 Days of Drawing. Kit of Parts: frottage, linocut print and collage. B. Wanhill, July 2022
August 24 Days of Drawing. Homage to Richard Nelson‘s Tri-Hue: pencil crayon. B. Wanhill, August 2022
September 24 Days of Drawing. River rock studies: pencil crayon. B. Wanhill, September 2022
October 24 Days of Drawing, Part 1. Inktober prompts. Various ink pens and water. B. Wanhill, October 2022
Oct. 24 Days of Drawing, Part 2. Botanicals: monoprints, red onion skin & acorn ink, commercial ink. B. Wanhill, Oct. 2022

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.