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Being Prepared

August 8, 2011

The story goes that poet Robert Burns was a farmer, and that one winter day, while working in his field, he discovered he had plowed through a mouse’s nest.  Thus was born his famous poem, To A Mouse, which includes the line “The best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray.”

I don’t think many of us can really plan our future.  I think we can chart a path, sort of lay out a rough roadmap of where we think we want to go, but the best we can do is a loose guideline.  Things change, in our personal lives, and in the world around us.  If I could have known exactly what lay ahead of me in life, there are an awful lot of mistakes I could have avoided.  There are also a lot of really good things that wouldn’t have happened either.  This can become a real convoluted thought process, though.  Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  We could probably say that one of the laws of life is a variation on that: for every action there is a reaction.  Add Murphy into to the equation, and life becomes completely unpredictable.

Don’t get me wrong.  Planning is good.  But preparation is an important exercise as well.  Last year, I wrote an article titled “Fooling Around with Old Flames“.  The idea was that, after four years of doing nothing but paint with gouache, I felt the need to reconnect with drawing and sketching, reacquaint myself with pencil and pen & ink work, as well as experiment with transparent watercolor and some other things.  At the time, I’m not sure I fully appreciated how all this would relate to where life was headed.

Even though it may still be a long way off, we move closer each day to the reality of pulling the motorhome out onto the highway and beginning our exploration of America.  When we actually do hit the road, I suspect my life as an artist is going to change dramatically.  Trying to find the balance between satisfying our 20-plus years of wanting to travel and see the country, and spending time as an artist will take some doing, especially in the beginning.

One of the biggest things I’ll have to deal with is the question of how and when to try to sell my work.  Maybe it won’t take long to realize that a gallery isn’t such a bad idea after all, assuming the economy makes gallery sales a viable option again.  We’ll want to sell at shows, but how many, really, will we want to do?  The more I think about the logistics involved with being in the right part of the country at exactly the right time, the more I question whether we’ll do more than two or three shows a year.

What I do want to do is find a way to combine my art, in all its forms, with the time we spend traveling, to produce something which people, myself included, will enjoy.  It would also be good to sell some things along the way.

Right about now, you’re probably wondering what all these sketches, especially the sports subjects, have to do with any of this.  It goes back to the idea that we can’t necessarily know what to expect.  I have no idea what’s going to lie down the road, what kinds of sights we’ll see, what picturesque locations we’ll stop at.  But if I’m going to chronicle our adventures, I need to be prepared.  No, I don’t anticipate doing live action sketches at sports events.  But I do anticipate finding myself at some venue where there will be people doing things.  I want to be able to do quick live sketches when possible, or work quickly from photos we may take,  and post those sketches in the blog to describe what we saw.  And some of those sketches and studies will, hopefully, along with photos, serve as reference material for complete finished paintings.

In a conversation with one of my sons-in-law recently, he questioned whether one could “practice” creating an emotional reaction to a scene or subject.  My explanation was that while, no, one can’t practice the emotional aspect of it, one certainly needs to practice the mechanics.  One needs to constantly develop the ability to look at a scene or subject and know enough about the materials being used to do the work quickly.  In other words, I am practicing looking and sketching with pencil and pen & ink.  And I can do it with things that are right within reach.  The first image of the lady came from a fashion insert in the daily newspaper.  The sports subjects were all action shots found in the newspaper’s sports section.  The little sidewalk street scene came from a photo in my reference files.

All of these sketches were done on rough 30lb newsprint.  All but the last one was done with 8B sketching pencils and the last was done with a rollerball writing pen.  In these cases, there is no intent to sell, they are used strictly for my own learning, and posted here for educational purposes only.  What’s important is that, because I don’t know what to expect down the road, I need to spend my time practicing with the materials, exercising my ability to see, edit and compose.  Some time doing this in public, with real, moving people will be called for as well, and that will come with time.

For now, I’m just enjoying spending some time with pencils and paper.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2011 4:48 am

    Lovely Sketches Ralph. You are doing the right thing practicing quick sketching. I love doing that myself. All I can say Ralph is I hope you get where you want to go. All the best.
    Vic.

  2. August 29, 2011 2:01 am

    Hi Ralph,
    Sketching is always worth the time and effort. Too bad so many painters don’t sketch more. Some really need it. I still sketch and draw and there aren’t too many napkins in restaraunts safe from me. Good read here Ralph.

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