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Artist & the Sketchbook Class at SAIC

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You may have seen a few photos on Instagram / Facebook from the class I've been taking... I was in Drawing: The Artist & the Sketchbook at the School for the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.) They have a really good continuing studies program and I happened to find out about this class and was able to sign up the day before it started. It was a 5 week course, 9am-4pm on Saturdays. My professor was leaving for Korea before the end of the class, so we had a make-up session last week and we'll do a follow-up in August to share our work from the summer. I can't believe it's already over, but it was such a great class and I'm so glad I jumped in and took it!

Our first week, we had a great demo on basic bookmaking along with a really good lecture about paper. Then we went to Blick as a class to buy the paper we needed for our books and came back to make them. After we made our books, we had a great intro lecture to how some of the great artists of the past used sketchbooks as a part of their process and looked at different samples. It was so cool!

Artist and Sketchbook - Handmade Sketchbook - Gwen LafleurThe second week we started out with a watercolor demo and then went across the street to the Lurie Garden at Millenium Park to do some plein air sketching. I wandered around a bit taking photos, and then went across a small hill and was suddenly struck by the most stunning view! One of the volunteers at the garden stopped to chat with me about what they had done - it was landscaped as part of a contest. So beautiful! Especially with that fantastic skyline in the back. This is the view I settled in to try and capture.

Artist and Sketchbook - Garden and SkylineEmphasis on try. Surely you can't tell that this is my first attempt at this kind of watercolor sketching?

Artist and Sketchbook - Sketchbook page 1 - Gwen LafleurIt kind of sucks, but I learned a lot by doing it, and that's what matters! Just turn the page... I did a couple of pencil sketches that turned out better, I think.

Artist and Sketchbook - Sketchbook page 2 - Gwen LafleurI also got a few pictures in other parts of the garden. They had these gorgeous white anenomies all over the place and I loved them! I took this picture while under great personal danger from an extremely angry bird who apparently had a nest nearby. All was well, though... I got my picture (because I obviously wasn't going to sit there to sketch!) and backed off and we made peace. Or at least he didn't chase me. lol.

Artist and Sketchbook - AnenomiesAnd see? I did learn something from that first disaster sketch... practice makes better. It's not a blob. Yay!

Artist and Sketchbook - Sketchbook page 3 - Gwen LafleurWeek three was about primitivism and its impact on modern artists, especially Picasso. We had a great lecture and then went over to the museum where we went through a bunch of the works in the Modern wing (really fascinating lecture!) and then our teacher took us to the Native / Meso-American and African displays for us to sketch (African art had a huge impact on Picasso and others at that time, which makes total sense now that I know that.) I also went to the nearby Asian galleries and sketched Vishnu and Buddha before going back and sketching a bunch of African statues and masks.

Artist and Sketchbook - Sketchbook page 4 - Gwen Lafleur
Artist and Sketchbook - Sketchbook page 4 - Gwen Lafleur
Artist and Sketchbook - Sketchbook page 4 - Gwen Lafleur
Artist and Sketchbook - Sketchbook page 4 - Gwen LafleurBoth sketching days, the teacher would come around and find us and look at what we were doing and offer suggestions. It wasn't a drawing technique class, but we got a lot of tips and I saw improvement even in just a few sessions.

The last two classes were all about learning to use our sketchbooks as springboards for larger works (like so many others - I love Delacroix's sketchbooks!) He had challenged us to think of taking the different things we'd done and using inspiration to take something we'd sketched in class and turn it into something bigger. I had been really impressed by several of Picasso's works, but I also loved the sketch I'd done of an African headdress (2 photos up.) Below is a photo of the actual headdress:

Artist and Sketchbook - African HeaddressI decided I wanted to try and blend this with Picasso, and the teacher gave me a little guidance on how I might try and take it further than I'd originally planned. Here's the Picasso I was using as inspiration - It's called Still Life, February 4, 1922.

Artist and Sketchbook - Picasso Still Life

You can totally see why I thought they went together, right? lol.

So I did an initial sketch on the brown paper on the table and got super excited about it. Then I did a first iteration (we were encouraged to do multiples of the same thing in a row for practice and progress.)

Artist and Sketchbook - Final Project 2 - Gwen LafleurI absolutely loved my original sketch (obviously, since I cut it out and kept it!) But I was trying too hard on the first "real" attempt... trying to match Picasso's lines using pen and ink instead of a brush. I was also sloppy in my background and it was too bold without reason. But it was a fabulous learning experience. I started a second one and the teacher was pretty psyched about what I was doing at the end of that class. I picked it up again in the last class and then quickly moved to a 3rd version after talking to him and identifying what I loved about my sketch and didn't like about my first two versions.

Artist and Sketchbook - Final Project 3 - Gwen LafleurI took his guidance and applied pretty much all of it, adding touches that kind of called out to me. Here you can kind of see the whole progression:

Artist and Sketchbook - Final Project 1 - Gwen LafleurShape, lines, color... I learned so much from this process!

Artist and Sketchbook - Final Project - Gwen LafleurAll of the work on my final project was just done with acrylic ink. Some I used undiluted, some was diulted with water, some was mixed with Golden acrylic glazing liquid to get a glaze.

Anyway, I'll definitely keep working in my sketchbook! I'm signed up to start Sketchbook Skool in July, and also registered for another class at SAIC - Beginning Drawing, also starting in July. I can kind of draw, but I have no formal foundation aside from exercises I've done from books and infrequent attempts at drawing stuff, so I really want to go back and start filling in some of those gaps so I can get better.

Anyway, this class was awesome - I learned a lot, and it really opened my mind and took me out of my comfort zone. I can't wait to keep going with new classes! How lucky am I to have pretty much the best art school in the country right here? Along with one of the best museums in the country? And I've already been to two art festivals this summer. I have to say, I'm liking living in Chicago so far! (Of course, I haven't been here during a whole winter yet. Let's talk again in March. lol.)