From time to time I see Facebook posts from artist friends who’ve gone outside to do a bit of plein air painting — in their yards. Now, I’ve done this a bit, not so much with painting but with sketching, but every time I do go out to sit and look around, I wonder again, “Just what am I supposed to paint here?”
Although we love our house and yard, it’s not what I’d consider a place of “scenic wonder”. I’ve sketched most of the trees, I’ve literally drawn inspiration from the skies, and as for anything urban — houses, cars, streets — count me out on that. I’m not an urban sketcher, nor do I want to be.
I want to do landscapes, mostly in oil. I love painting rivers and lakes, oceans, and forests. Alas, our yard isn’t the place for such beautiful scenes.
Our yard, however, has been a fun place for my nature sketching. I find that I truly enjoy sitting outside with my nature journal and my gansai, and now I also have a fun new set of Graphix markers. And while we don’t have a beautiful garden of flowers — or much of anything else this year — I can always find something to sketch.
My husband planted sunflowers this year, but apparently the birds ate the seeds before they sprouted. Last year he planted a row, but only a few came up. And somehow one of the seeds from one of those plants found its way into an old dirt-filled tub sitting at the corner of the house.
This wild sunflower has been growing and growing, and it’s just about ready to open up. I was sitting on the porch a short distance from it last weekend, and I decided to sketch it in my simple, nature-journaling fashion.
Now, if you take a close look at this, you’ll see that it’s mostly scribbles. I used one of those Graphix markers and, yes, I scribbled a long, tall stalk. I scribbled a few leaves here and there, trying to place them as accurately as I could, but not trying to capture precise detail. I scribbled in the old tub, and I scribbled a few marks to represent bits of grasses and weeds growing around it.
What next? Well, next I took my gansai and more or less scribbled bits of color here and there. I dabbed in strokes of blue for a sky. I added color to the tub, and I used a sort of dry-brush technique to put in a bit of grass.
This is done on standard copy paper, so needless to say, the paper doesn’t take paint and water very well, but that’s part of the point in doing this. This relaxes me. This is done purely for the pleasure of sitting outside and enjoying both nature and art.
Now, this might sound like an odd thing to say, but the fact that I can “scribble” little drawings like this makes me feel that I’ve really come a long, long way as an artist, simply because I can scribble and create something recognizable. I’ve always marveled over those sketchy, scribbled sort of drawings I’ve seen other artists do. I’ve always wondered, “How do they scribble and end up with something representational?” For a long time, it baffled me.
But now… I’m smiling here. Now, I can pick up a pencil, a pen, a marker, and I can scribble. I can forget about trying to make clear, precise lines that capture exact details. I can be wild and crazy. I can make marks going in different directions, and yet all the while I can turn those scribbles into something meaningful.
Little things like this have helped me broaden my understanding of art, and especially my concept of what it means to be an artist. Although I’m not naturally an artist, I’ve played around long enough that I’ve actually developed my own sort of artistic sensibility.
I think I find this sensibility most easily in our garden. I think I can become so relaxed there, can feel such a sense of peace there, that I can truly let loose and let myself draw — and scribble — freely. It’s a good feeling, a very good feeling.
And right now, the morning is early. My husband and I have been walking around, looking at the trees we’ve planted, our blackberries bushes, our beans and tomatoes. I don’t want to sit here in my studio. I want to be outside again, sketchbook in hand, gansai with me. I want to step outside now and enjoy a morning in the garden.